Jeter was honored on Tuesday night for winning Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award. This was an ideal culmination of this award season for the Yankees shortstop. This award honors not merely the athletic achievement, but the road to the athletic achievement; not only the victory but the journey to the victory. Spanning the global possibilities of all sports, winning this award is, in a way, the ultimate recognition for a richly deserving career and an equally deserving individual.
Jeter had already won one award that transcended baseball. That was the 2009 Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who combines achievement on the field with charitable activities and contributions to the betterment of the community off the field.
There was also a fourth Gold Glove. That was particularly relevant because Jeter's work in the field this season was like a renewed commitment as well as an answer to the critics who said he was on an inevitable defensive decline.
There was also a fourth consecutive AL Silver Slugger Award, signifying that Jeter was the best hitter at his position.
That was sort of a given, because Jeter had already won the Hank Aaron Award, which honored him as the AL's best offensive player.
In this one instance, you have to put up the caution flag. The best hitter in the American League in 2009 was Twins catcher Joe Mauer. He led the league in batting average, setting a record for catchers. He also led the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Mauer had a season of historical worth. No one else in the AL was in quite the same hemisphere.
But maybe it evened out. In the MVP voting, Mauer was a landslide winner with 27 of 28 first-place votes. (The fact that Miguel Cabrera got that one other vote indicates that in any given election mistakes can be made.)
But the point of the Most Valuable Player as it pertains to Jeter in 2009 was that he was the captain of the team that had baseball's best regular-season record with 103 victories. His tangible achievements were obvious, but he was also the living, breathing embodiment of what was best about the Yankees. That point was made again when the Yankees won the World Series, although the voting for this award took place before the postseason began. Jeter was third in the MVP voting, but in one important way, based on what his team accomplished and what he meant to his team, he was as valuable as anybody.
But as we have seen, overall, Jeter was not slighted in the 2009 awards department. There will be people who will say that he only won all these awards because he played for the Yankees. With the Yankees back on top of baseball, envying them is now back in season. This is America. You have the right to be wrong and loud about it at the same time.
These Yankees, rich and powerful as they might be, would not be the same team without Jeter. His work on the field has spoken volumes for itself. But his contributions have gone far beyond even that.
With all of the awards he won, the largest prize was still the World Series championship. Jeter's career has been one long tribute to the concept of a team player, and that, in 2009, was its own reward.
With all these awards, with all these victories, one difficulty for 2010 would be coming up with a suitable encore. But Jeter does have a part in a comedy to be released next summer, "The Other Guys." It's not a huge part, but would an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor be out of the question?