There are several obstacles cluttering unfettered enjoyment of Derek Jeter’s quest for his 3000th hit. The only legitimate one is Derek’s poor statistical season thus far. But that’s easily cancelled out by the Yankees’ overall excellence. The rest are manufactured by either a burgeoning wave of critics feeling the need to diminish the player, question his contract and place in the batting order, or by a thundering chorus of fanboys and girls drooling over every dribbler. Count me with the latter I suppose, if I have to choose sides.
But screw all of that. Just because there is a lot of noise and nonsense surrounding the hit doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to relish the moment on our own terms. For me that means several hours on baseball-reference.com sifting through the leader boards. One of the things you hear about Jeter’s milestone is that it’s surprising that no other Yankee has ever accomplished the feat. And the first few times I heard that, I mindlessly agreed, “Yeah, where’s the Yanks’ 3000 hit guy?”
But upon further review, it’s not that common, or easy, for a franchise to be able to “claim” a 3000th hit. There are 27 players with 3000 hits. Only 14 of them have acquired hits one through 3000 for their original team. And if you want to ease the requirements on the claim to getting your 3000th hit on the same team for which you accumulated the most hits, we can add another five. In all, only 15 franchises can claim a 300oth hit for their ledgers in this way. And that includes franchises like the Giants and the Braves that moved around during their players’ quests (Mays and Aaron).
Four franchises are lucky enough to have two. The Cards (Musial and Brock), the Tigers (Kaline and Cobb), the Pirates (Wagner and Clemente) and Cleveland (Speaker and Lajoie). Only Detroit has two pure claims as both Cobb and Kaline went wire to wire in the Motor City. The Yankees of course did have three players eventually get 3000 hits, but none of Winfield, Henderson nor Boggs achieved the milestone while Yankees. At least Winfield got more hits in a New York uniform than in any others, but that’s not enough to stake any kind of claim.
And obviously, it’s not just that Yankee fans are whining about not getting a fair distribution of the 3000 club. We’re surprised they’ve had such great players, among the best ever, and even still don’t have a clear 3000th hit. But among those titans of the game, they’ve never had the right mixture of health, peace, and free-swinging needed to amass such a huge total.
When Jeter gets number 3000, he’ll be only the 15th player to get his first 3000 hits with the same club. The Yankees are used to draping themselves in banners and tripping over trophies, and yes this has eluded their clutches thus far, but it’s not as surprising as it might seem. It’s really special, and I didn’t appreciate it fully until now.
We can’t ignore the fact Jeter is in the middle of a down year, but does anybody else remember so much scrutiny over other recent fading stars and their victory laps? Craig Biggio hung around until he was 40 and had the worst year of his career. But he came up short, so he returned at 41, had an even more dreadful year before ringing the bell. Winfield was crumbling in the worst season of his career (up to that point) at 41 when he got the big hit. Cal Ripken enjoyed an outlier renaissance the year before his 3000th, but he was crap during and all around the milestone.
All I remember from any of these marches towards history was celebration and adulation. Jeter deserves the same – especially playing for a first place team.
So in that spirit, I tried to come up with a memory of one specific hit. With the help of baseball-reference, this could have been a week-long tumble into the inter-hole. But he’s at 2996 now, so time’s a-wasting.
I was away at college when Jeter became a Yankee. I had come back to the team in earnest in 1993 when they retired Reggie’s number. But I had left New York the following year, so when the Yankees approached the 1996 division crown, I was watching from afar. I knew Derek Jeter was a promising rookie and had hopes, like everybody else, that he’d stick around for a long time and prove to be a good player. But I had no sense of him yet.
College was down in Baltimore’s television market, and I tuned in when the Yanks squared off against the second-place Orioles on September 18th. The Orioles were three games back and this was the last chance they had to catch the Yankees for the division crown. The Orioles led 2-1 in the late innings. Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the eighth and I thought, I really want him to get a hit here, and he lined one to right. The Yanks did not score though.
Bernie tied it in the ninth. Mariano held the O’s scoreless and Derek Jeter led off again in the tenth. I thought, I really want him to get a hit here, but that’s not fair to this rookie. He already came through in the eighth and this is a lot of pressure and all. But Jeter got the hit and scored the run. The Yanks won the game, the division and the series. As the ball squirted between short and third and into left field, I remember it occurring to me, “Maybe the Yanks have found something special here. Maybe this is a guy who is going to come up big when they need it most.”
He didn’t always come through, of course, but he did often enough to make it feel safe to hope for it. Derek Jeter has never been my favorite player. But between Jeter and Mariano, they make the Yankees seem like one epic roster that has stretched from 1995 to today. They are the Yankees of my young adulthood. They bridged the end of my schoolboy playing career to start of my family.
Three thousand is a lot of hits. I am glad I saw so many of them.
[Photo Credit: USA Today]