Still, Cal Ripken Jr. was the better player. Better defense, more power. This is a view that drives a lot of people crazy. Why, Jeter is "Mr. Clutch"! He's "Mr. Yankee"! Nobody has been the hitter at SS that Jeter has been, year after year!
Well, as someone who's not a Yankee fan, calling him Mr. Yankee is hardly a compliment. But I digress. The question has to be settled by the numbers. How else can you do it? Otherwise it's just opinions backed up by air. And when you put the facts forward, you see there's really no comparison-Ripken had a far more impressive career.
First, let's look at fielding. Jeter has always been a weak shortstop defensively. In all but three years of his 18 season career, he's had a negative defensive WAR, totaling up to -8.7 over those years. (In retrospect, it was foolish not to have moved Jeter to third when A-Rod was acquired).
By contrast, over his 21 year career, Ripken never had a negative defensive WAR. Some might say, "I saw Ripken at the end of his career, after he'd been moved to third, and he wasn't very good." Maybe, but he still didn't lapse into negative territory, and at their peaks, when Jeter was a mediocrity defensively, Cal was worth 2-3 wins a year with his glove.
Next, compare them with the stick. While Rip was hitting 20-some HR's a year on average, with a peak of 34 in 1991, Derek was averaging in the teens, with a high of 24 in 1999. Jeter did have a higher career OPS (.838 to .788), and his offensive WAR is higher, 91.5 to 72.8.
But throw offense and defense together, and you see Ripken's edge-Cal's at 107.3 WAR total, Derek at 82.8. That's almost twenty five wins.
Before you say, "But Cal played longer!", yes, his career now exceeds Jeter's by about 500 games. But that means it includes more of the Oriole's decline phase. Certainly Jeter, if at all possible, will play a year or two more, which will equalize things a bit.
And on that clutch stuff-Cal still has the edge. Mr. Oriole had a .866 OPS in post-season play, compared with his .788 in regular season play (though it's true he didn't do much against the Phillies in the 1983 World Series). Mr. Clutch had a lower OPS in the playoffs than Cal, at .838, compared with his .829 regular season figure.