Every year at the beginning of the season I like to review Major League baseball’s all-time statistical lists to see who might be moving up among the all-time greats. This happens to be a season when there is likely to be little movement near the top of those lists, however.
The two players closest to the top in major categories both belong to the New York Yankees. One is shortstop Derek Jeter and the other is third baseman Alex Rodriguez. And right now both of them are injured and on the disabled list. In the case of Jeter we might hear from him within a few weeks. In the case of Rodriguez we have to wonder if he will play at all in 2013, or if he will ever play again, though he says he is not retiring.
For two years in a row Jeter was zooming up the all-time hits list passing retired players in bunches, not merely one at a time. Last October, in a playoff series against the Detroit Tigers Jeter broke his ankle. At the time he was playing as well as he ever had. Jeter spent the entire off-season recovering and still has not made it back to 100 percent.
Jeter began the 2011 season with 3,000 hits in reach. He played so well, collected so many hits, that right now he sits 10th on the game’s all-time list with 3,304. He is only 10 hits behind Eddie Collins and 15 hits behind Paul Molitor, though then the gap begins to widen.
As long as Jeter returns to health once he begins to play this year he will pass those guys within a week or so. Pete Rose, of course, is the all-time hit king with 4,256. Jeter is 38, so the odds of him catching Rose and a few of the other guys near the top of the class are unlikely. This is how the list reads: 1) Rose; 2) Ty Cobb, 4,191; 3) Hank Aaron, 3,771; 4) Stan Musial, 3,630; 5) Tris Speaker, 3,515; 6) Honus Wagner, 3,430; 7) Carl Yastrzemski, 3,419; 8) Molitor; 9) Collins; 10) Jeter.
How high can Jeter go? It depends on health and age. But if he resumes playing the way he did in 2012, he can at least threaten Musial.
As for Rodriguez his situation is so iffy that it’s hard to predict whether he will be able to play again, will recover from hip surgery this year, will ever recover, or will be suspended from being embroiled in fresh drug use allegations because his name was linked to the Biogenesis Clinic records in Florida.
Putting the extracurricular stuff aside and taking the leap to the belief that Rodriguez will be able to play a couple of months this season in some reasonable kind of hitting form his lifetime numbers leave him on the cusp of some amazing milestones.
Rodriguez has 2,901 hits on his resume, certainly putting him within shouting distance of the 3,000-hit club. He has 647 home runs, which is fifth on the all-time list already and 13 homers behind Willie Mays. Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), and Babe Ruth (714) are the only others ahead of Rodriguez. Still, given Rodriguez’s recent injury history it’s difficult to see him passing anyone but Mays in that group.
Just about as impressive is Rodriguez’s standing on the all-time RBI list. He ranks seventh, one RBI behind Stan Musial and with 1,950 just 50 shy of the 2,000 barrier. The all-time leader is Aaron with 2,297. Ruth is second at 2,218. They are the only ones to reach 2,000. Those between Rodriguez and Ruth are Lou Gehrig (1,997), Barry Bonds (1,996), Ty Cobb (1,961), and Musial.
Rodriguez also has scored 1,898 runs, ninth on the all-time list. The leader is Rickey Henderson with 2,295, followed by Cobb, Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Rose, Mays and Musial. Musial is 51 ahead of Rodriguez. After Rodriguez comes Gehrig and Speaker, then Jeter. Jeter is just 30 runs in arrears of Rodriguez.
As for the rest of the hitting world, the active player next closest to 3,000 hits is Omar Vizquel, who has 2,877 and has been trying to stay active. Johnny Damon has 2,769 hits, which may surprise people. And then comes Ichiro Suzuki starting the year with 2,606 hits in the U.S. Suzuki did not make his Major League debut until he was 27 because he played a decade in the Japan League where he collected 1,278 hits. It would be remarkable if Suzuki, 39, was able to reach 3,000 hits in the U.S. with his late start and quite impressive if his combined total edged out Rose and Cobb, even if it would not count in the same way.
Over on the pitching side there is no one challenging for any kind of top slot in any category except saves. The all-time leader is the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, who came into the season owning the record with 608 and will break his own mark every time he saves a game this year.