Kris Bryant can become the next Derek Jeter — and more


Reigning NL MVP and World Series champion Kris Bryant is on the verge of sports superstardom. Elsa/Getty Images

Kris Bryant is too good to be true.

In the past five years, the precocious Bryant has earned the National College Baseball Player of the Year, a top three pick in the MLB Draft, the Minor League Player of the Year, two All-Star appearances, National League Rookie of the Year and a Most Valuable Player award in his second year. Oh yeah, he also led the most deprived franchise in the history of sports to a World Series championship. No one has ever accomplished that cocktail of feats in the history of the sport, and Bryant did all of that over a five-year span.

There have been few more undeniable impacts created in life than the rocket ship that has been Bryant’s career to date. Most comparable storylines have come either from the pages of DC Comics or from New Testament lore.

OK, while that last part is bit hyperbolic, the scene is set. Baseball has been looking for a savior of sorts for a while now. It has been more than 20 years since Ken Griffey Jr. became the sport’s last mainstream crossover star. In the wake of that era, there has been a shifting visage of what player is the game’s foremost presence. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter have each carried that flag in some fashion or form at different points, all for various reasons. With all due respect to the fleeting (and later tarnished) impact some of them have made, it was a very select member who was able to stand tall throughout it all.

Derek Jeter became that man.

He was a tall, good-looking guy for whom the moment was never too big, the guy who wore the Yankee pinstripes as if they were his own personal baseball tuxedo. All the while, he was the biggest man in the biggest city in the world and embraced the requisite lifestyle it provided. Who doesn’t want to take a lap around his infamous "dating diamond" and see the treasures it beholds, and who else wouldn’t want to be the greatest winner of his generation and be in the inner circle of greats for the most renowned franchise in sports history as well?


New York Yankees great Derek Jeter transcended his sport like few others before him. Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Jeter hit for the cycle in life and became the most popular baseball player alive because of it. But for as much as Jeter’s popularity came from the fact that he was a quarterback in a game without any others, he also stayed afloat while others sank. Unlike his original contemporaries Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, he had level staying power. He was clean in a dirty world around him, never coming close to a PED rumor or failing in the most intense spotlight in the game.

The early championship pedigree he laid out allowed him liberties to grow and become the Frank Sinatra of the game, whose image aged incredibly well and a legend that has continued to grow after hanging up his cleats for the last time. Despite all of the October moments, the All-Star appearances, the endorsement deals and the million-dollar smile, that is what truly set Derek Jeter apart: his staying power through historic resiliency.

How does that apply to Bryant? Well, in a way, it is everything that is laid before him. He has a similar set of circumstances in which he could follow down this path. He is one part Rodriguez and another part Jeter, the headline personality to go with the eye-popping numbers. Jeter was never a regular-season MVP but always a champion. Conversely, A-Rod dominated the game (and stuffed his trophy case in the process) but could never find a title prior to joining Jeter’s empire in the Bronx. After two years in the game, Bryant has checked every box possible. He led the way to the title at the same precocious age that Jeter did, but he did so via the box score-dominant ways that Rodriguez established himself. It is because of this that Bryant has the chance to be all things in the game over the next decade.

Admittedly, Bryant doesn’t have the mystique, the undeniable je ne sais quoi that the Captain possessed. Jeter reigned supreme with a different type of popularity, one that was accomplished in a more James Bond-like fashion than anything else. Bryant is already a married man, thus never to build the mystique of Jeter’s evening romps through Manhattan. He is also a bit more coy than the confident, borderline cocky Jeter ever was. Perhaps Bryant is more destined to be a hero of the Mickey Mantle ilk than the Joe DiMaggio Jr. that Jeter became, and that is just fine in regard to legendary lore.

Yet, do not let that fool you for a second about the beast that lies within Bryant. Behind that boyish smile lie many stories about an obsessive hitter who puts in hours and hours of unsatisfied work in the batting cages and the film room. Being the best on the diamond is an obsession for Bryant, who very well could dwarf his initial MVP campaign of 39 homers, 121 runs and a .939 OPS multiple times before his first contract is even completed.

What ties the retired shortstop and the reigning MVP is a quiet, focused intensity that drives them to the regularity of success that each has experienced. It is a drive that propels them not only to on-field dominance, but pulls the gravity around them up and lifts their teams (and profile) along with them. It is more than being the most valuable player; it is being the most valuable commodity overall.

Even if he wasn’t the most undeniably accomplished baseball player in the game today, the guy would still sort of be a living, breathing cheat code. He’s a six-foot-five-inch, dark-haired, blue-eyed 25-year-old who has the requisite model looks and the type of charisma that amplifies those attributes to a worldwide level.

Simply, it is just a matter of time before Bryant takes over the world and, by association, takes baseball along with him.


Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant already owns a World Series ring, NL MVP and NL Rookie of the Year award at 25 years old. Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports

Bryant is the rare presence in the game that can transcend the sport. He can be the all-too-infrequent presence that stands at the front of his generation in driving the popularity of the game with the same undeniable force with which he often drives baseballs out of Wrigley Field — an embodiment of the type of kismet between mainstream popular and in-sport dominance that has been missing from the game for so long.

He is the right man, in the right place, at the absolute right time. The Cubs have a legitimate chance to become baseball’s first true dynasty since those Jeter-led Yankees of the 1990s and early-2000s. Both arrived at the perfect time in the histories of their respective franchises, rebuilds ready to burst through, with plenty of talent around them and a city eager to put its full support behind them. All they needed was the catalyst that the Captain was… and that Bryant has become.

Jeter won the first of his five titles at age 22; Bryant took his home at 24. While history is yet to be written for the latter, the prognosis is eerily similar. Jeter was surrounded by an entourage of Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, all of whom would form the basis of a generational run for the Yankees. They were the linchpins for a revolving core of veterans who played their part along the way, but they were always supporting actors carried by the “Core Four.”

Fast-forward to the present day. Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber look very much ready to form a "Rat Pack" around Bryant’s Sinatra on the North Side of Chicago as well. All are inked through at least 2020, plenty of time for a new-age dynasty to get underway. 


Addison Russell , Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant give the Chicago Cubs quite the young, talented core. Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

Yet in an era where there is an unprecedented amount of talented highlight-creating, number-producing players in Major League Baseball, none quite has the ability to make as large of an impact as Bryant. Unlike in the NBA or NFL, simply being the best does not automatically equal being the face of the business. There is a realistic chance that Bryant will never be an equal to Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in raw numbers and awe-inspiring play, and that’s just fine, because there is just as easy of a chance of them never leading a team to any substantial victories after the calendar turns to October.

Beyond that, there is the ever-important element of marketability as well. Bryant is made for the type of billboards and displays that his visage already appears on in his early days as a breakout star. Express has made him the face of its line already, along with none other than two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. And this should be just the beginning. In time, there is little doubt that Bryant will see the type of fame that is reserved for the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks in the sports realm.

Time (a freshly turned 25 years old), place (media powerhouse city of Chicago) and performance (revisit the résumé) virtually assure that he can become not only the winningest, top-tier statistical producer in the game, but also the most famous crossover hit as well.

The world is at the feet of Kris Bryant. All baseball has to do is to wait and ride this supernova’s tail.

Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

PLAYERS: Kris Bryant
TEAMS: Chicago Cubs
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Score:
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CF
Dexter Fowler
DH
Kyle Schwarber
PR-DH
Albert Almora
3B
Kris Bryant
1B
Anthony Rizzo
LF
Ben Zobrist
SS
Addison Russell
C
Willson Contreras
C
David Ross
PR
Chris Coghlan
C
Miguel Montero
RF
Jason Heyward
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P
Kyle Hendricks
P
Jon Lester
P
Aroldis Chapman
P
Carl Edwards
P
Mike Montgomery
P
Pedro Strop
P
Jake Arrieta
P
Travis Wood
P
Hector Rondon
P
John Lackey
P
Justin Grimm
RF
Jorge Soler
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