I hadn’t watched the Yankees game yesterday and when my nephew mentioned that Derek Jeter had gone 5 for 5 in getting past the 3000 hit mark I didn’t quite believe it . Jeter had just come off the injured list and 5 for 5 seemed like an impossibility . It turned out that it was true as Derek achieved the milestone with a virtuoso performance . He singled his first time up ( Hit # 2,999) , then homered off Ray’s lefty David Price ( hit # 3,000) and then lashed another single, a double and yet another single to win the game. The only way he could have bettered his performance was to have hammered a triple instead of that last single ; that would have meant he hit for the cycle ( single , double , triple and HR) , something he has never done .
When I was talking with my son later in the afternoon , he said 3,000 hits was an example of a meaningless milestone since baseball is a team sport and the pinnacle of success is a World Championship. Well , yes but even in a team sport the only way to measure individual brilliance is through individual records . It is not possible to win a world championship single-handed and thus the number of championships is no measure of how great a player is . The number of hits , HRs , BA , W-L record , ERA etc do serve to judge a player’s performance ( and provide fodder for any number of discussions around the water cooler).
With his performance yesterday , Jeter moved into the pantheon of all-time Yankee greats and leapfrogged over Roberto Clemente into 27th place on the all time list of hits . Where exactly he will finish on that list when he calls it quits and where he fits on the Greatest Yankee list have at once become matters for speculation . If he continues at his present pace and retires when his current three-year contract ends , he will most likely end up in 9th place overall behind former Boston Red Sox great , Carl Yastrzemski ( 3,419) and ahead of Paul Molitor ( 3, 319). If he continues to play after 2013, he will slide up a few places but has no chance of catching the top three : Pete Rose ( 4,286), Ty Cobb ( 4,189) and Hank Aaaron ( 3,771). As for his place in Yankee history , most fans rate him fifth ( behind Babe Ruth , Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle ) and just ahead of Yogi Berra.
One thing that I’d agree with my son is that while records are A measure of greatness they can be misleading . Furthermore , they are useless when comparing players from different eras. For instance , Jeter is the first Yankee to reach the 3,000 hit mark but no one is about to anoint him as being greater than Ruth , Gehrig , DiMaggio or Mantle. Those luminaries played in eras where a baseball season consisted of less than the present 162 games , when the ball was nowhere near as ” lively” and when the league consisted of fewer teams meaning that the overall quality of the opposition was better. On the other hand , Jeter has played his entire career at Shortstop , the most demanding position that there is . His play may have fallen off a little as of last year but it is remarkable that he is still starting at SS for the Yankees. The only other SS who had more than 3000 hits over a career is the Flying Dutchman , the legendary Honus Wagner ( 3,420 hits) who played for the Pirates almost a hundred years ago.
So , forget all the comparisons . The only thing we can say with certainty is that Derek Jeter is a great player .The answer to the question ” How great ?” is wholly subjective and will vary from person to person.
Playing for seventeen seasons , having career records of 3,003 hits , 236 HR’s , a .312 batting average , 12 All -Star appearances , five Gold Gloves and 5 world championships should guarantee Jeter a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible . It couldn’t happen to a nicer person ; Jeter simply oozes class and grace . A clutch player who has always put the team first , he commands the respect and affection of fans everywhere. In Boston , I once saw a woman wearing a T-shirt proclaiming ” I HATE ALL N.Y YANKEES ” on the front . On the back , it said ” … EXCEPT DEREK JETER ”
What more is there to say…