The ’90s were a marquee era for Major League Baseball. The bats got lighter, and the players got bigger. While a cloud lingers over this era thanks to steroids, it still exists in a positive light for the many MLB fans who experienced it. Three particular players, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra, were up-and-comers.
As three wildly different shortstops, however, many people loved to debate who was best. Twenty years later, you can make a compelling case for each of them.
Alex Rodriguez is easily one of the most complete MLB players. In the ’90s, he was easily one of the most exciting young stars in baseball. It took no time for him to show off his batting ability. Many of his 696 career home runs occurred when he was with the Mariners during this stretch.
On top of that, he was one of the best fielders in the league. His Gold Glove would have to wait, but Rodriguez was the complete package at an early age. However, thanks to the cloud that steroids left on baseball, Rodriguez’s numbers will always be questioned by fans.
Although he claims that his first steroid use didn’t happen until 2003, once a player gets caught using, many throw his entire career out. Judging by his reputation in the late 1990s, however, one could make the case that Rodriguez was the best shortstop on defense.
It’s hard to look past the cloud that remains over his career, however, and he may have disqualified himself from any serious conversation about the best.
Jeter always defied numbers. Take the name and the team out of the equations, and it is hard to pinpoint what made Jeter so great in the eyes of MLB fans. He rarely belted more than 20 home runs out of the park. Plus, his defensive numbers sometimes showed he was more trouble than advertised for the Yankees.
For 20 years, however, Jeter made himself the biggest Yankee since Babe Ruth despite these flaws. As the winningest player of the bunch, this worked. Jeter’s greatest strength did not lie in his numbers, however. They relied on a presence that superseded statistics.
Naysayers may point to his struggles on defense and offense to show he’s overrated. But, come the big moments, Jeter always showed up. Jeter never fell off considerably nor rose far above his expectations when it came to stats. His career was built on big moments. Hitting the ball at the right time, diving into the crowd for a catch, Jeter was a different kind of star that one had to see to appreciate.
To say that Garciaparra is better than two titans like Rodriguez and Jeter might be blasphemy at first. He didn’t have the bat of Rodriguez, nor the penchant for big moments as Jeter. What put Garciaparra above the others, however, was his consistency. Rodriguez may have been the better player, but people always question his legitimacy. Jeter may have won, but his individual numbers were sorely lacking.
For Garciaparra, however, his consistent knack for hitting 30 or so home runs combined with his near-perfect ability to field the ball exactly where it needed to make him the answer. He didn’t need performance enhancers or big moments to secure his legacy. His consistent play as a Boston Red Sox shortstop spoke for itself in a way that legends couldn’t touch.
The race for the best player can be discussed until the end of time. But when one thinks about the best shortstop of the late ’90s, Garciaparra may be the silent leader of the pack.