Home News Yankees’ Anthony Volpe has shadow over him Derek Jeter didn’t

Yankees’ Anthony Volpe has shadow over him Derek Jeter didn’t

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Derek Jeter didn’t need a lot of help to build the career he built. You don’t assemble 3,465 hits and a .310 batting average across 20 major league seasons on strictly outrageous good fortune. You don’t fall one vote shy of unanimous inclusion to the Hall of Fame — and that lone holdout has still refused to raise his hand — merely because the ball happens to bounce your way a time or two. 

But Jeter did have one fortunate thing on his side. 

Actually, 10 of them. 

He had Tony Fernandez. And Mike Gallego. And Spike Owen. And Andy Stankiewicz. And Alvaro Espinoza. And Rafael Santana. And Wayne Tolleson. And Bobby Meachem. And Roy Smalley. 

These were the 10 men who bridged the 15 years between Jeter’s rookie year and Bucky Dent, the previous Yankee shortstop to make an All-Star team back in 1981. And if you’d care to go back 20 years farther, to Tony Kubek’s final All-Star appearance in 1961, you can add 20 years’ worth of Ruben Amaros and Horace Clarkes and Stick Michaels and Jim Masons and Chicken Stanleys. 

Thing is, we tend now to look at the patch of dirt that’s the home office for the Yankee shortstop as one of the regal positions in sports, and it is — because of two men: Jeter and Phil Rizzuto, who stopped playing in 1956 but played the position vicariously from the broadcast booth for 40 more. 

Anthony Volpe’s rookie season has so far been a mixed bag.

Jeter didn’t have a Derek Jeter to follow. 

But Anthony Volpe sure did. 

And even though Didi Gregorious and Gleyber Torres and Isaiah Kiner-Falafa spent a few years keeping the job warm after Jeter said good-bye for the final time in 2014, there has only been one anointed heir since June 3, 2019. That was Volpe, a local kid out of Delbarton School in Jersey, who hit the ground running in the minors, who pounded the ball all spring, who became the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop at 21. 

The results have been decidedly mixed. He’s had some missteps in the field but his defense has been mostly good and he owns an elite arm. He has 13 steals without yet being thrown out, and walking him almost feels like an instant double. 

But he will take a .193 batting average into Tuesday’s Yankee Stadium tilt with the White Sox. His on-base percentage is an unacceptable .268, his OPS+ 74, meaning he’s 26 percent below a league-average player. His power is there (nine home runs) and he put Sunday’s game against the Dodgers out of reach with a two-run blast. 

In short, he has been a quintessential rookie: some good things, some bad things, some outstanding things, some concerning things. At this point Aaron Boone gets a lot of credit for sticking with him, for rolling him out there essentially every day, and if there have been any whispers at all about changing that course they haven’t been heard. 

He’s going to get a real shot. 

Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter didn’t have a legend hovering over him when he took over as the Yankees’ shortstop.
Getty Images

But through no fault of his — and, truthfully, no fault of the Yankees — it has become standard to instantly compare Volpe to Jeter. And let’s just say it here plainly: That is a comparison equal parts ridiculous, unfair, and insane. Jeter was one of the handful of greatest baseball players ever born. You don’t just wish that on someone. 

What was true on Opening Day remains true, and will be true for as long as Volpe owns the job: You can have a long and prosperous career as shortstop for the Yankees, you can make a few All-Star Games and, with luck, win a few titles, and when your time comes to say goodbye you may even be remembered quite fondly. And you still might not belong in the same paragraph as Derek Jeter, let alone the same sentence. 

Jeter saw how replacing Don Mattingly weighed on his friend Tino Martinez, and he saw what replacing Tino did to Jason Giambi. 

Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe can't get to a ball hit for an RBI single by Los Angeles Dodgers' James Outma
The Yankees don’t seem to be backing off Volpe, despite his struggles.

“The fans are going to have their say, that’s their right, always,” Jeter said in April 2002, when boos regularly cascaded on Giambi. “You just can’t let that get to you.” 

Jeter was so good that he probably could have replaced Derek Jeter and been just fine. But he didn’t have to do that. There were no shadows lurking behind him in 1996. There is certainly one lurking behind Anthony Volpe right now. We really should do the kid a solid and just ignore it for the time being. 

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