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Jeter deserving of AL MVP Award

Jeter deserving of AL MVP Award

If Albert Pujols is a slam-dunk to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award, Derek Jeter is not too far behind to take the American League MVP Award.

When Jeter passed Lou Gehrig's record that had stood for more than 70 years over the weekend for most hits by a Yankees player, he sealed the deal.

Sure, you can argue the honor should go to the Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer, or even Jeter's teammate, Mark Teixeira, but if the Yankees captain isn't MVP, the voting baseball writers should be investigated.

When Jeter collected his 2,722nd hit at Yankee Stadium late Friday night, it was another of those cherished moments in baseball history -- like the night in 1985, when Pete Rose passed Ty Cobb's all-time hits record, or 1995, when Gehrig's consecutive games record was shattered by Cal Ripken Jr.

The legendary Gehrig, also a Yankees captain, was beloved and respected and for someone with the same admirable qualities to now hold this record is fitting.

The MVP Award should go to the player whose leadership and value has contributed to his team's success more than any other individual. Jeter has been that player for the Yankees as they storm to another AL East title.

There may be teammates who have higher batting averages, hit more homers, driven in more runs, but no one has been more valuable to the Yankees this season.

The Yankees are the most successful, renowned team in Major League history. When you think of them, the names of Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle come to mind. Years from now, Jeter's name will be uttered in the same breath.

All those iconic Yankees made their marks, but none collected more base hits in their careers than Jeter. Ruth had 2,518 hits, Mantle had 2,415 and DiMaggio, 2,214. It's amazing none reached the 3,000-hit standard.

"For those who say today's game cannot produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement after the record fell. "As historic and significant as becoming the Yankees' all-time hits leader is, the accomplishment is all the more impressive because Derek is one of the finest young men playing the game today."

When I read Steinbrenner's words, I thought back to a day in his Tampa office at nearly a decade ago when he complained about the fact Jeter's nightlife was a distraction to his on-field play.

The Boss had learned his shortstop had been out late the night before a game at a birthday party.

"Let me put it this way: I think Derek had better pay more attention to the ballgame than he does the women," Steinbrenner said. "I love him, but during the season, I want him completely concentrating on the team."

To seal the relationship not too long after, the Boss and Jeter made a Visa TV commercial that made light of the Jeter's late-night escapades. It was hilarious.

Jeter, 35, grew up a Yankees fan and has worn the prestigious pinstripes with pride.

"Being a Yankee fan, this is something I never imagined, I never dreamt of this," Jeter told reporters in the wee hours of Saturday morning after he broke the record. "Your dream was always to play for the team. Once you get here, you just want to stay and try to be consistent. So this really wasn't part of it. The whole experience has been overwhelming.

"When you look at all the great players who've played in this organization, to have more hits is extremely hard to believe. It means a lot. I think it means I've been consistent."

Through Sunday's games, Mauer leads the AL with a .366 batting average. Jeter is fourth at .332, with 17 homers, 63 RBIs and 192 hits.

When Dustin Pedroia won last year's MVP Award in leading Boston to a Wild Card berth, he scored 118 runs, hit 17 homers, drove in 83 runs, stole 20 bases and batted .326. With the Yankees poised to win the AL East title, Jeter's numbers project similarly. He's on pace to score 113 runs, hit 19 homers, drive in 71 runs, steal 29 bases and bat .332.

For now, though, talk of the MVP Award is far down Jeter's list of priorities.

The closest he's come to the honor was in 2006, when he finished second to Minnesota's Justin Morneau.

Gehrig was MVP just once -- in 1936, when he batted .354 with 49 homers, 152 RBIs and 205 hits.

"I've always had a tough time in my career enjoying things as they happen, because I'm always trying to look to the next game," Jeter said. "It was devastating and a great disappointment not getting to the playoffs last year. Returning is our main goal now."

Around the Yankees clubhouse, Jeter is the MVP.

Manager Joe Girardi won't say that, but puts his sentiments this way: "Derek is doing everything for us. He's stealing bases, playing good defense and getting on base early in the game.

"The way he gets us started is incredible. He's up in the first inning, and it is like he's saying, 'It's time to play right now. Let's get started. Let's not wait three or four innings to go after them.'"

When outfielder Johnny Damon came to the Yankees after playing for the Red Sox, he said, "There's something about Derek that I found out: He makes everyone around him play better."

Jeter is not only a leader when he's wearing the pinstripes in the clubhouse and on the field, he carries that same persona away from Yankee Stadium.

I can never remember him embarrassing the Yankees. He seems to always take time for most anyone who approaches him, even on dark days.

Girardi believes sometimes people take for granted what Jeter contributes. "I think sometimes people take that as, 'That's just a normal year.' Well, this is not a normal year for most people."

No, this is arguably Jeter's finest year and it will be a shame if MVP voters don't examine closely his season. It's much more than mere numbers.

He has to be the AL MVP.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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