Appreciate Jeter While You Can

Pretty soon, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter will become the 28th player in baseball history to achieve 3,000 hits. Before suffering a calf injury against Cleveland on Monday night, Jeter was seven hits shy of a magical number that has propelled every eligible player that has it — save the disgraced Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro — to the Hall of Fame.

The 3,000-hit club is an interesting one. Before 1992, only 16 players reached that milestone between Cap Anson in 1897 and Rod Carew in 1985, an average of one player every 5.5 years. From the time Robin Yount and George Brett got their 3000th hit in 1992 until Rickey Henderson’s double for 3,000 off John Thomson on Oct. 7, 2001, nine guys got there in a 10-season span.

And since 2001, only two players, Palmeiro in ’05 and Craig Biggio in ’07, have reached the plateau. That’s a total of 27, until Jeter reaches it in the coming weeks.

What’s interesting about Jeter is that he has a chance to pass everyone. Only the top five hit-getters of all time: Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker reached 3,000 before their 38th birthday. Jeter will turn 37 on June 26, and should be ahead of Rose, who was 37 years and 21 days old when he got there, when he gets to 3,000.

Isn’t it amazing that Jeter is slightly ahead of Rose’s pace? Now, Rose picked up 1,290 hits in the eight years after he turned 37. Is Jeter that enamored of all-time records to stick around until he’s 45 years old? And does he have the staying power of Rose, who played when amphetamines were rampant in MLB? In the seasons in which he was 37-40 years old, Rose had 198, 208, 185 and 140 hits, with the 140 leading the National League in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Without the pick-me-up of amphetamines, it seems unlikely that players are going to succeed deeply into their careers as their predecessors.

Jeter can certainly get to the top six all time, and set a standard for any player whose career ended after 1980. Paul Molitor had 3,319 hits. If Jeter can average over his new three-year contract what he’s averaged over the last three seasons, he’ll have 3,496 hits, which would place him sixth on the all-time list. Not only that, but Honus Wagner’s 3,420 hits leads all shortstops, and Jeter could eclipse him. Clearly, for a guy who is continually voted among the most overrated in baseball, Jeter is going to accomplish what 99 epercent of other players can only dream of.

Another thing that seems clear is that the aforementioned 1992-2001 stretch will likely go down as the best for hitters ever. Seven players got to hit No. 3,000 in the 70s: Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Rose, Lou Brock and Carl Yastrzemski. Otherwise, you had one in the 1890s, two in the teens, three in the 1920s, none in the ’30s, one in the ’40s, and one in the ’50s. Nobody got their 3,000th in the ’60s and one player did in the ’80s.

On the horizon after Jeter is teammate Alex Rodriguez, who is just over 260 hits away at the age of 35. Until you get to 31-year-old Albert Pujols, who is just over 1,000 hits away, you have a large group of players like Pudge Rodriguez, Omar Vizquel, Johnny Damon, Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero, who simply have a long way to go with not enough time to get there. Among the top 50 active players, only Pujols (19th, 31 years old, 1,971 hits), Carl Crawford (42nd, 28 years old, 1,542 hits), Miguel Cabrera (44th, 28 years old, 1,471 hits) and Mark Texiera (49th, 31 years old, 1,379 hits) are under 32 years old.

The ’90s were a unique decade, and perhaps the steroid era had something to do with so many players getting to 3,000 hits. That being said, the nine who did it — Yount, Brett, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken and Henderson — have pretty much stayed above the steroid discussion. Jeter started in that decade, and in that era, but has never been connected to steroids either. He’s a unique player, and he’s also perhaps the last of a breed.

Not many players are going to get to 3,000 hits and a select few — perhaps only Jeter and Pujols — will be talked about as having a shot at 4,000. Jeter may also be among the last superstars to play his entire career with one franchise. He’s an amazing performer, and when he gets to 2,998 or 2,999, pay attention. The 3,000-hit man is heading toward extinction, so while you have the opportunity to appreciate Jeter, take advantage of it. He’s that rare, special performer the likes of which you’re unlikely to see again.