Whenever anybody asks me what my favorite class is, I answer history, just like I have been since fourth grade. It isn’t the actual history that interests me—I could care less about what was going on in Medieval Europe—but comparing what happened in the past to what’s going on in the present? That’s where it gets fascinating.

Whenever anybody asks what my favorite sport is, I answer baseball, just like I have been since second grade. It’s not the games themselves that interest me, —I’ll admit it, probably the most boring of any major sport—but comparing players from 1880 to those of 1980 to those of today? That’s where it gets fascinating. I can punch in a player from any time in baseball history into Google and two seconds later, BAM, I can tell you exactly what happened during each at-bat in their career.

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the third inning of their MLB Cactus League spring training baseball game in Glendale, Arizona, March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL) - RTXXTOO
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the third inning of their MLB Cactus League spring training baseball game in Glendale, Arizona, March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL) – RTXXTOO

Even better than Google is YouTube. I can see most of those at-bats. I can judge a player not only by his numbers, but by actual footage. I can know what happened and how it happened in every at-bat of a player’s career. Yet, even with all the stats and data in the world, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what that player’s significance was in his clubhouse, in his sport, or in his city. I love stats and sabermetrics, —don’t get me wrong—but there’s a certain level of intangibles that separate a good player from a great one and a great one from a legend.

When you can live through a players career, you’re able to pick up on those intangibles. You can figure out what makes them tick, and what they mean to any group of people. No number or video or book can tell you that. It’s why baseball isn’t played on a computer. It’s why, when we see those legends firsthand, it’s something to savor.

Last week, we had the combo meal of the century. We were able to witness two legends, two guys that will fuel many a barbershop argument, cap off achievements worthy of fighting over. For Derek Jeter, it was a career blessed with what some might call good luck and others might call once-in-a-generation talent. For Clayton Kershaw, it was a year on the mound on par with Sandy Koufax.

Check out Koufax’s 1963 stats (the 27-year-old won both the MVP and Cy-Young) and Kershaw’s stats this season:

W-L IP ERA WHIP SO FIP WAR
Clayton Kershaw (2014) 21-3 198.1 1.77 .857 239 1.81 7.7
Sandy Koufax (1963) 25-5 311.0 1.88 0.875 306 1.85 10.7

So, Kershaw has nearly as many wins, strikeouts, and wins above replacement while pitching more than 100 fewer innings. AND his ERA, WHIP and FIP are all better than Koufax’s.

I was in Dodger Stadium Wednesday night as the Dodgers looked to clinch the NL West and Kershaw looked to win his 21st game, and I can tell you first hand that the greatness the sold out crowd was witnessing wasn’t lost on anybody. Yes, there were some pitches that baffled the batter and charmed the crowd, but pitching was only a third of Kershaw’s contributions. He laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt in the third inning, only to out-do himself with a triple (yes, a triple!) ripped into right-center field to tie the game in the fifth. Defensively, he made one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, whipping his glove behind his back to snag a grounder and hold runners at second and third.

Vin Scully described it best, as he always does, “A remarkable play by a remarkable pitcher…whoa!”

Even when he wasn’t throwing pitches so nasty they should be illegal and performing acrobats to field a grounder, Kershaw was making his case to be mentioned with the all-time greats. There was a moment in the third inning with the bases loaded, one out, and Buster Posey, the Giants’ best hitter, in the batters box. Kershaw threw his signature, looping curve, and Posey grounded into a double play to third, just as Kershaw needed and wanted to do. What could have caused the game to take a turn for the Dodgers’ worse was reduced to nothing but history.

Then Thursday came, complete with the second-most magical baseball moment of my life (game six of the 2011 World Series comes in first). Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium would have been incredible no matter what he did, but Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter, and he had to go out in the biggest way possible.

By now, you’ve already seen the video of his ninth inning walk-off single. You’ve seen a grown man crying, and you’ve had too many fans like me come up and explain to you why Jeter and that hit was so amazing.

Jeter is baseball’s Tim Duncan. Look at their stats, and neither jump out at you as an iconic star in their sport. Look at their career, though, and they’re prolific. Up until this week, Jeter’s Yankees were only mathematically eliminated from the playoffs once before the end of the season. He’s played in 21% more playoff games than the next guy, Jorge Posada, who played with Jeter his whole career. Bernie Williams, third in playoff appearances, played on Jeter’s teams 11 out of his 16 years. Those five World Series rings? Those don’t happen on accident. Neither do nearly 3500 career hits.

Notice how I said “his teams.” The Yankees haven’t been the Steinbrenner’s the past 20-years. They haven’t even been New York’s. Derek Jeter is the first thing anybody born after 1990 thinks about when they think about the Yankees. Derek Jeter is the first thing anybody born after 1990 thinks about when they think about New York. So don’t complain that the media is paying Jeter’s retirement so much attention. He deserves it. Sure, he never hit for the most power, drove in the most runs, or made every play at shortstop, but there’s no doubting the impact he’s had since he was called up in 1992. He wasn’t just the face of baseball, and he wasn’t just the face of the Yankees. He was the face of the biggest city on the continent.

We can’t talk about Derek Jeter without mentioning his once-in-a-lifetime, mind warping, and unreal knack for fairy tale endings. There was his 3,000th hit that came on a homerun ripped into left field. There was the “Mr. November” hit, when—just after the clock rang midnight, Nov. 1—Jeter cranked a home run to right field to win Game 4 of the 2001 World Series. There was Game 4 of the 2000 Subway Series between the Mets and the Yankees. The Mets, coming off a win, had the momentum until Jeter, hitting leadoff, started things off with a homerun and didn’t look back in the 4-3 Yankee win.

Jeter isn’t known as a home run hitter. His career high was 24 in 1999, but look through all those defining moments, and you’ll notice that most involve him hitting a bomb. It goes to show what he’s all about. He isn’t the best player on the field, until you need him to be, and then, he’s the best baseball’s ever had.

There are certain names in baseball that everybody in the country knows. Your Ty Cobbs, Babe Ruths, Joe DiMaggios, and Mickey Mantles. There hasn’t been another name to add to that list since Pete Rose.

At least, not until this week.

Now, we’ve got two.

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