Writing back in the 1990s, I posed the question of how the great 1906 Cubs (116-36) would have done if they had had a chance to play against a team composed of the likes of Mark McGwire. My hyperbolic supposition was that the question would have remained unanswered because their first reaction would have been to scream, “Agh! Giant!” and run like hell. The same goes for Jeter. As the title of Laurence Ritter’s classic oral history of the Deadball era tells us, Wagner and his contemporaries were the glory of their times—but that is all they were too small, too poorly trained, to ill-nourished, too untested by real competition to be the glory of ours.
Jeter is not the greatest shortstop of all time, but he is one of the greatest and that is enough for us to know that he was a better player than anyone born in the 19th century. Either that’s true or all the greatest players in history played in the years before World War II, when a man could hit .424 out of his pure superiority to the puny .310 hitter of today.
That belief would mean that baseball history stopped some 70 or 80 years ago and that the game has only declined in the years since. You can believe that if you want to; Lord knows people have believed stranger things in our time, but if you do then you have my pity, for what a sad, pessimistic, and stultified world you live in. Honus Wagner was a great player in the days of William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, a primordial great. Derek Jeter is better. It’s not even his fault; it’s just an accident of timing. To assert otherwise is to assert a false nostalgia and fail to see the great things that are happening before your own eyes.
Thanks to Los.
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