There are going to be friends who will say I am a traitor to my upbringing in Boston, but that’s just because they are not parsing the situation in the proper manner. Let’s get this out of the way: I would not root for the New York Yankees if they were the last team on earth. But I am rooting for Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter to pile up as many hits as he can. I think we may be in on something special here.
So this is what I am looking for the rest of September: Jeter goes four-for-four and the Yankees lose, 6-5. Just keep on notching those base-hits, Derek. I say this because we may be watching slow-motion baseball history in the works. Right now we have an advanced-age Jeter swatting hits as if he was 28 not 38. He already put himself on the exalted, 3,000-hit level last year. Now with every swipe of the bat, it seems, he surpasses another Hall of Famer’s hit total.
Going into Monday’s games, Jeter had 191 hits this season and was batting .324. I figured Jeter would pass a number of players on the all-time list this year if he cranked out 160 hits. But he has been a raging conflagration, on fire all season. A year ago there were 27 players in the 3,000 hits club and Jeter wasn’t one of them. Today he ranks 11th all-time with 3,279 hits. That puts him four hits behind Willie Mays, so he will likely surpass Mays in the next couple of days to move into the top 10.
Since the 2011 season began these are the players Jeter has passed as he zooms up the list: Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Wade Boggs, Cap Anson, Rafael Palmeiro, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Rickey Henderson, Craig Biggio, Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, Paul Waner, George Brett, Cal Ripken, Nap Lajoie, and Eddie Murray. That is definitely an all-star cast.
During the 2012 season we have seen Bartolo Colon of the A’s and Melky Cabrera of the Giants be suspended for 50 games each for violation of the Major League baseball substance abuse policy, in their cases taking performance-enhancing drugs. Not long ago, Skip Bayless, the frequently controversial sports talk show figure said on television that Jeter is playing so well any rational baseball fan would have to ask himself if drugs were involved. He didn’t say that he was accusing Jeter of taking performance-enhancing drugs, but he said the question had to be raised. Bayless’ partner in debate, Stephen A. Smith almost leapt across a table to strangle Bayless merely for broaching the subject.
In Smith’s mind Jeter is a Yankee god and above reproach. Smith’s retaliatory comment was that Jeter does not look bulked up and that he not suddenly smashing home runs when he didn’t before. Nonetheless the ugly topic was out there and while Jeter shrugged the entire flapdoodle off, it was a more legitimate issue than most people were willing to admit.
Jeter is an icon and held up as an example of a player who plays the right way, always going hard, a Yankee who symbolizes the pinstripes. It would indeed be an awful blow to the sport if Jeter was discovered doing something illegal. To me he just doesn’t seem like the type to risk his hard-earned reputation, built on a statistical base that would carry him into the Hall of Fame anyway.
With this fantastic season Jeter has leap-frogged so many men on the hits list that I just wonder how far he can go. If he never duplicates this season (which I doubt he will), but drops down to the 150-hits-a-year range for another year or two he could rank as high as fourth all-time, right behind Hank Aaron. But if Jeter can keep playing, even in a part-time role, for a couple of years beyond that, the sky is the limit.
Pete Rose‘s record of 4,256 hits seems unassailable, yet a little bit of me retains hope that Jeter can make a run at it. It will be fun to watch, anyway.