It’s hard to collect 3,000 hits in a Major League career. It takes a long time. And for a long time it was a barometer of greatness. It is one of those baseball numbers that fascinates me and I have enjoyed the heck out of Derek Jeter‘s rapid climb up the all-time list the last two seasons.
One of the things I wonder about this off-season is how the New York Yankees shortstop breaking his ankle during the playoffs will affect his ultimate standing on the hits list. Jeter was playing as well as ever in 2012 and then the year ended with a major problem. There have not been many reports emanating from the Bronx about Jeter’s progress, but it was not an old-age injury, a piece of his body coming unglued because of so many years spent in the game, so that offers encouragement.
In any case, Jeter is currently No. 11 on the hit parade with 3,304 base-hits. He is 11 hits behind Eddie Collins (3,315), and 15 hits behind Paul Molitor (3,319). He is 115 hits behind Carl Yastrzemski (3,419), 116 hits behind Honus Wagner (3,420), and 131 hits behind Cap Anson (3,435). Anson was the first player in history to reach 3,000 hits. The air gets pretty thin after that, but it’s a long way to Pete Rose at the top, sitting on 4,256 hits.
There are 28 members of the 3,000-hit club and almost all of them are in the Hall of Fame. Rose is not because he was banned from the game for gambling. Craig Biggio, 21st with 3,060 hits, is not because this is his first year on the ballot. And Rafael Palmeiro, 25th at 3,020 is not because voters aren’t voting for him because he got caught taking performance-enhancing drugs. The only other player on the list not in the Hall is Jeter because he’s still active.
Part of my fascination with the hits list revolves around who didn’t make it to 3,000 that you thought would have. This includes Barry Bonds (2,935), who would have if he could have convinced a team to hire him for one more year of play. Another is Babe Ruth (2,873), probably because he walked and struck out so much and let his conditioning go as he aged. Also, Ted Williams (2,654) because he walked so much and because he missed parts of five seasons during the prime of his career for military service during World War II and the Korean War.
Hall of Famer Sam Rice had 2,987 hits, the player closest to the 3,000 threshold without reaching it. Hall of Famer Sam Crawford, 2,961, is next. I just don’t think there was as much emphasis on the number when they were active decades ago. Frank Robinson, 2,943, fell short because he became player-manager of the Cleveland Indians. The first African-American manager, Robinson concentrated more on trying to win games than he did on his own playing time at the end of his career. He probably still could have made it if he played himself more often.
What Jeter is doing is pretty special and hopefully he will recover fully and keep climbing the hits mountain.