Sports are better with rivalries, as legendary shortstop Alex Rodriguez admitted. On the podcast "The Corp" hosted by Alex Rodriguez and Barstool Sports personality "Big Cat," when asked who was the bar that Rodriguez was trying to clear, it took the former New York Yankees legend no time to answer the question:
“I think about Michael Jordan trying to beat the Pistons, for me it was trying to beat the Yankees and it was, you know, Jeter.”
One of the things that makes baseball so interesting is that it's a team sport based heavily on individual performance. A third baseman isn't going to have his career affected by the second baseman on his team as a quarterback would be affected by his wide receiver.
During the first half of his career with the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez was superior to Derek Jeter in most metrics. Prior to teaming up in 2004, Jeter had outhit Rodriguez by just over 10 hits (with one less season under his belt). However, Alex Rodriguez outslugged Derek Jeter by more than 100 home runs and 375 runs batted in.
Alex Rodriguez credits Derek Jeter with making him a better player through competition
In fact, in 2003, Alex Rodriguez had agreed to be traded to the Boston Red Sox, hoping to be a key piece in ending Jeter's New York Yankees dynasty. The trade however, was vetoed by the Major League Baseball Players Union as the Red Sox requested that Rodriguez take a paycut.
While Rodriguez agreed, the Players Union refused. Rodriguez would end up joining Derek Jeter. After switching from shortstop to third base, "The Captain" won his fifth and final ring of his Major League career.
May 18, 1996: Young @AROD with a beautiful play at shortstop on a Cal Ripken hard grounder. Nice grab by Brian Hunter at 1B too.
As A-Rod mentioned, that era when he was competing with Derek Jeter was something of a golden age for shortstops. As the league was transitioning from Hall of Fame shortstops such as Ozzie Guillen, Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Larkin, the young guns were arguably doing a better job in carrying the torch.
In addition to Jeter and A-Rod, Nomar Garciaparra was established as a Red Sox legend and Omar Vizquel was displaying a level of defensive wizardry that was uncanny during that era.
Having that level of intense competition made Rodriguez a better ballplayer, and if pressed, Derek Jeter might confess that competing against and then with Rodriguez during his career made him a better player.