(Pause to allow the boos to subside)
Consider the list of players with the majority of their at-bats at short since 1901, grouped by OPS+:
|Honus Wagner||152||Alex Rodriguez||148|
Wagner and Vaughan are already Hall of Famers, A-Rod and Jeter are sure bets and injuries have robbed Nomar of his place in history.
Keep in mind, the only player on this list who stayed at short longer than Jeter (to a later age) was Wagner, who played the 6 into his 40s.
The point is ceded that it's better to be a mediocre defensive player at an unimportant defensive position than a truly dreadful player at a key one. To be sure, Jeter has been dreadful in the past as a defensive player. But an improved offseason regimen seems to have corrected some of Jeter's glove flaws. After scoring abysmal -22 and -34 scores in 2006 and '07 (per John Dewan's Plus/Minus system), ranking 31st in the league both years, Jeter ranks 23rd in the Majors with a -5 rating. It's not average, but it ain't terrible, either. This year, it's fair to say that his defense is improved.
While his bat has lagged a bit this year, he's got a useful 13 Win Shares. Purely for comparison, I cherry-picked the numbers for some starting Major League shortstops: Jose Reyes, 20; Michael Young, 15; Jimmy Rollins, 14; Hanley Ramirez 21. With plenty of season left, and a monster lineup hitting behind him, Jeter's got a pretty respectable total against some excellent players in their prime years.
He's got a historically great past and is a valuable player into his mid-30s. Long ago, Jeter booked his e-ticket to Cooperstown. People will always treat him as such. But there's legitimate case to be made that Jeter is the best career shortstop of his generation. I'm not sure he's viewed as such.