In what has already been a banner year for Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees shortstop can add another honor: Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award. Jeter was chosen as the magazine’s 56th honoree (the Dec. 7 issue will hit newsstands on Wednesday) and becomes the first Yankee to be named SI’s Sportsman.
Jeter’s selection caps another outstanding season for the 35-year-old team captain and future Hall of Famer. In 2009 he batted .334 while leading the Yankees to their fifth World Series title in his 14 full seasons, their first since 2000 and their record 27th in franchise history. On Sept. 11 he passed Lou Gehrig’s franchise mark for base hits, which now stands at 2,747…… He was named an All-Star for the 10th time, including the sixth time as a starter, while winning his fourth AL Silver Slugger as the best hitting shortstop in the league and his fourth Gold Glove as the league’s top defensive shortstop…. During the Series, Jeter was named the American League recipient of the Hank Aaron Award, given to the best hitter in each league, and the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who best displays skill on the field while giving back to the community off it.
It was that combination of on- and off-field achievement that helped make Jeter this year’s Sportsman. Said Sports Illustrated Group Editor Terry McDonell, “Derek Jeter has always presented himself with class; he does numerous good works for the community with his Turn 2 Foundation, which is one of the most efficient, effective foundations of its kind; and he’s extremely generous with not just his money but with his time, which in many cases is more valuable. He also had another signature year on the field.
Jeter was an excellent choice for all of the reasons noted in the excerpt, with the other viable candidates likely being Kobe Bryant, Tim Tebow, and Roger Federer. However, Joel Sherman believes that another Yankee would have been a better selection:
Alex Rodriguez should be the Sportsman of the Year. Before you hit me with how that title should go to someone who embodies the best in sports let’s remember that both Pete Rose and Mark McGwire have won the award, and before long we might remember that Tiger Woods has won twice.
Jeter has a brilliant year in which he became the all-time Yankees’ hit leader while remaining a high-level star who wears his pinstripes well on and off the field.
But sports are publicly messier these days, and we should not run away from that. Heck, the initial broken story on Rodriguez’s steroid use was published by Sports Illustrated. He also touches on the advancement of sports medicine as he came back successfully from significant hip surgery months after undergoing the operation. And he was again a great player, this time finally in the postseason, as well.
In the end, A-Rod offers a story of second chances and redemption. He was a better teammate and was rewarded with the most positive feedback yet as a person while scoring that elusive championship.
Rodriguez does not offer a life well-lived as much as a fascinating life. Sports in 2009 are no longer just about the games, and Rodriguez touches on so many of those other important elements while remaining a unique athlete.
If the competition were A-Rod vs. Jeter, it is not even close: Rodriguez is the Sportsman of the Year.
I have to disagree with Joel here. I am a huge A-Rod fan and always have been, but the steroids morass that he found himself in during spring training eliminates him from contention for this award. The Sportsman award has always been presented as being about more than just competitive success. Rather, it includes off the field behavior and playing the game “the right way.” While I have stated on many occasions that I find the whole steroids scandal to be one giant bore that has been blown out of proportion, I have to concede that taking steroids is certainly not “sportsmanly.” Although McGwire and Rose did win the award, that happened prior to their indiscretions being revealed to the public. While sports has become more complicated and A-Rod does represent that reality, the fact is that an award like this one is attempting to recognize the ideal rather than come to terms with the hard truth. Nobody represents the ideal athlete of 2009 more than Derek Jeter.
A-Rod had a great season and his story is a classic sports tale of despair and redemption. If the steroids issue had never come up, he would have been a lock for SI’s award. However, now that we know what we know about him, it is hard to suggest that he should have been named SI’s Sportsman of the Year. Congratulations to Derek Jeter on a job well done.