Derek Jeter and Phil Rizzuto: One of the Two Greatest Yankees SS was Never MVP

There is no doubt that Derek Jeter is the greatest New York Yankees’ shortstop ever, but the player that was the best Yankees’ shortstop prior to Jeter, Phil Rizzuto, won the MVP award in 1950.

Jeter’s best showing was when he finished second in 2006.

Phil Rizzuto received 16 of the 23 first place votes to easily walk away with the 1950 MVP award.

The “Scooter” batted .324/.418/.439 with seven home runs, 66 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. In a close pennant race, the Yankees finished three games ahead of the Detroit Tigers and four games ahead of the Boston Red Sox.

Despite not having Jeter’s statistics, Rizzuto was recognized as irreplaceable.

Ted Williams Ted Williams, when he was a member of the Veterans Committee, stated “Rizzuto was the main difference between the Yankees and Red Sox. If we had Rizzuto in Boston we would have won all those pennants [during that era] instead of the Yankees.”

Vic Raschi, who won 21 in 1949, 1950 and 1951, was asked which was his best pitch. He responded “My best pitch is anything the batter grounds, lines, or pops in the direction of Rizzuto.”

One of the most beloved (?) all-time greats, Ty Cobb, who thought that players were better in his era, made two players exceptions.

“Phil Rizzuto and Stan Musial were two of the few modern players [at the time] who could hold their own among the old-timers.”

Imagine what Williams, Raschi and Cobb would have thought of Derek Jeter.

Unlike 1950, teams in 2006 had to qualify for the playoffs by either winning their division title or finishing with the best record among the also-rans. That season, the Yankees were the Eastern Division champions but lost the ALDS to the also-ran (wild card) Detroit Tigers.

Jeter had a great season, hitting .373/.417/.483 with 14 home runs, 97 RBIs and 34 stolen bases. He finished second to the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau in the MVP balloting, receiving 12 first place votes to Morneau’s 15.

Morneau batted .321/.375/.559 with 34 home runs and 130 RBIs. Morneau doesn’t steal bases.

Although some feel that Jeter should have won the award, the truth is that Morneau was the better choice. The Yankees finished 10 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays while the Twins edged out the Tigers by a single game.

The Yankees won 97 games, the Twins won 96 games and the Tigers won 95 games.

In all likelihood, the Yankees would have finished ahead of Toronto without Jeter. The wild card is the wild card in this discussion because without Morneau, the Twins don’t finish ahead of the Tigers. They probably still would win more games than the Blue Jays to make the playoffs.

The bottom line is that both Morneau and Jeter were equally valuable to their teams.

It is unlikely that Jeter will ever be voted MVP. It is certain that five years after he retires, Jeter will be voted into the Hall of Fame.

Wade Boggs, Lou Brock, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Tony Gwynn, Al Kaline, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Duke Snider and Dave Winfield are among Hall of Famers that never were their league’s MVP.

Derek Jeter will be in good company.

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