(Greg M. Cooper/Reuters)
Derek Jeter singled in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox in his last major league at-bat.
When New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter removed his pinstriped uniform for the last time, Major League Baseball was left with several holes to fill. One of those voids is who will assume the role of inspiring young African-American baseball players.
Is Derek Jeter the last African-American baseball player of significance?
Let history show Derek Jeter’s final Major League at-bat was an infield single.
Only in Derek Jeter’s world can he have the game-winning hit in his last at bat in Yankee Stadium. Jeter’s career in Yankee pinstripes has been one worth bearing witness to. The 1996 Rookie of the Year finishes his career as a 14-time All-Star, five-time world series champion as well as a two-time World Series MVP. He finishes his career with 3,465 hits (6th all-time), 11, 195 at-bats (7th all-time), 1, 923 runs (9th all-time) and a career batting average of .309 (tied for 77th all-time). Jeter has never won an American League MVP Award, but when you’re a part of the Yankees success for two decades, personal success takes a back seat.
Since baseball’s integration in 1947, African-Americans have played a pivotal role in advancing the game into what we see today. However the alarming drop off of African-American players in the Major Leagues — which is stands at 8.3 percent — has left the game sans a star with the magnitude of a Derek Jeter.
For nearly 70 years, there has been an African-American player of close to if not iconic status in Major League Baseball. Jeter’s retirement coupled with the lack of current dominant African-American players has Major League Baseball scrambling for the next great New York Yankee (Former Yankee second baseman, Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners last off-season) and a player who will continue revitalizing baseball among African-American youth
The performances of Jackie Robinson West from the South Side of Chicago and Taney Recreation Center in South Philadelphia served as an inspiration for inner city youth and their parents nationwide. Jackie Robinson West was the first team to consist of all African-American males and Taney’s female pitcher Mo’Ne Davis was one of the most dominant players during the 10-day tournament.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim center fielder Mike Trout and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper are the new faces of Major League Baseball and deservedly so.
Derek Jeter could be the last African-American player of iconic status in my lifetime. Realistically, the next possible icon sits somewhere between grade and high school. When the question entered my head on Friday, I tried to think of a current everyday player(s) who could approach the impact of Jeter.
Here are my findings:
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves Outfielder, age 25 – Jason Heyward was compared to the great Willie Mays as a celebrated minor leaguer. Heyward homered in his first major league at-bat — further whetting out appetite. Over the next three seasons, the 2010 Rookie of the Year has shown flashes, but has yet to tap his potential with the Braves. Heyward has yet to scratch the surface of his potential, but we are hopeful for a power surge in 2015.
Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles Outfielder, age 29 – Jones is a four-time All-Star who has led the baseball revival in Baltimore. Jones is one of the reasons the Orioles have been in the postseason two of the last three seasons after a 14 year drought. The three-time Gold Glover and a Silver Slugger award winner in 2013 is one of the best center fielders in baseball .If the Orioles can continue their resurgence in the AL East, Jones could be a player we hear about for the next 6-8 seasons.
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers Outfielder, age 30 – Matt Kemp has the perfect setup to be the pied-piper for the next generation of inner city ballplayers. Playing in the second-largest sports market with a perennial contender makes Kemp a prominent figure. In 2011, Kemp had two-thirds of the Triple Crown and finished second to the Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun — who later tested positive for excessive testosterone. Kemp’s health and consistent play are important to him remaining in the mix.
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates Outfielder, age 27 – The reigning National League MVP is in a prime position to at this point. Pittsburgh isn’t a huge market, but the team has a loyal fan base and boasts a rich history. McCutchen is a four-time All-Star and a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. With the Pirates in the post-season for the second year in a row, the Steel City has become a lure for free agents who wish to play with McCutchen. The 2012 Gold Glover is the best center fielder on the planet not named Mike Trout. The Pirates are looking to stay in contention with McCutchen as their leader.
For decades, African-American ballplayers have been able to pass the torch to the next great young player. Larry Doby and Jackie Robinson passed the game on to Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson, who left the game to Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray and Willie Stargell who passed on to Dwight Gooden, Tony Gwynn, Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry. Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas along with Derek Jeter were the bridge as the game spanned into the new millennium.
Who reaches for the torch as Derek Jeter prepares for Cooperstown or is the flame already out.