(Note: this story was edited on 7/20)
Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit recently, had you heard? Not only did he notch his safety, he owned the game in which he reached the cherished milestone. I thought that was as remarkable as the career achievement – with so much promised, he still managed to over-deliver on the contract.
The fans didn’t have to wait around for it. He needed two hits and and got them his first two trips to the plate. It was homer to boot. And then he stuck around, got three more hits and won a dramatic game versus a division rival with a tie-breaking hit in the bottom of the eighth. He turned his 3000th hit into an unforgettable event. That’s Jeter’s gift; that’s his style.
I had to wonder if any other member of the 3000 hit club ever rose to the occasion in such a fashion. I remember Pete Rose pursuing 4000 and Ty Cobb’s record. And at that time Rod Carew was piling up hits and sealing his place in rap lyrics. But honestly, how they got there was lost to me.
I wonder if that is an unconscious reason behind the rampant Jeter bashing surrounding the hit and All-Star pass? His performance and Yankee fans’ constant retelling of his performance will make his 3000th hit indelible. But other Hall of Famers are not so lucky. Is it because they didn’t do it with as much style as Derek? Or is it another example of the New York Yankees and their fans blocking out the sun?
Turns out, I think, to be both. I checked out each milestone hit from Pete Rose’s 4000th all the way through Derek Jeter’s 3000th to see what I missed, what I should have seen, along the way. Look, there’s no way around it, Jeter’s milestone game was the best. The homer and the five hits would have given him a solid argument, the game winning RBI in the eighth ends the discussion.
But I had no idea how many other great Hall of Famers just dominated their games like Jeter did. As recently as 2007, Craig Biggio also had five hits on his big day. I confess, until a few mentions in the media after Jeter’s five hits, I had no idea that happened.
Tony Gwynn and Geroge Brett had four hits a piece. Wade Boggs had three hits and was the first to celebrate 3000 with a home run trot (that I remembered). Paul Molitor, who also had three hits, is the only guy to do it with a triple.
I was paying attention as 15 players passed huge hit totals, and ten of them did it with multi-hit games. Seven had three or more. Their cumulative average in these 15 games is .594. It’s too small a sample from which to draw a conclusion, but it does make you wonder if elite players, pumped up for this kind of moment, might benifit from the extra adrenaline or something.
As bad as it was to take shots at Jeter as he approached 3000 (of these 15 players, eight had OPS+ below 100 during their chase and only two or three of them could be considered to have had “good” seasons), it is equally terrible to celebrate his triumph as if it has never been done before.
It’s like the Red Sox fans celebrating the 2004 World Series as if it was the first title ever won by anybody in the history of anything. When you lose context, you piss off everyone but your core constituents. And as much as Derek Jeter deserves to celebrate, the celebration is about putting his name directly underneath and alongside Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron and all the other all-time greats in this club.
He didn’t jump to the top of the list just because he went five for five.
That was his gift to Yankee fans.
When I revisited this story in my head last night I realized a mistake. It’s not Boston’s fans or Jeter’s fans who are to blame for over-reacting to the 2004 World Series or to the 3000th hit. They’re not the ones who are required to interject perspective during their uninhibited expressions of joy. It’s the national media who are responsible. But instead of playing that role and providing context for the rest of the sporting world, now they pander to the local fan base to make a buck.
And of course, being a good winner about such things and not rubbing it in goes a very long way to dispelling the blowback. So that’s where the fans come in, and as we all knows fans of all stripes, every faction has their guilty parties.