My friend barely turned his head in my direction when he muttered, “I know you’re a Cardinals fan, but I thought that maybe you could at least appreciate Jeter’s accomplishment.” I wasn’t sure why he would say that, because as a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I’m generally viewed as the classiest and most intelligent of baseball fans. But regardless, of course I can appreciate Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit this past Saturday. How could anyone not appreciate it?
Jeter became the first player in his franchise’s storied history to record his 3,000th career hit, and he did it in perfect New York Yankee fashion – with a home run. He became just the 28th player in Major League Baseball history to accomplish the feat of 3,000 hits, and only the second to do it with a home run (Wade Boggs) and while going 5-for-5 at the plate during that game (Craig Biggio). And with all reasonable probability, he’ll be one of the last few to hit 3,000 for quite some time.
Currently, the list of active players trailing Jeter’s 3,004 career hits looks like the Who’s Who of “Really? He’s Still Playing?” Pudge Rodriguez ranks second with 2,842 hits, and I could see him trying to catch on another season or two to get his milestone, but even 158 hits is a stretch for him. Alex Rodriguez is already sitting at 2,762 so you can bet he’ll be the next to hit 3,000, but after that it’s a shallow pool. Albert Pujols will cross the 2,000-hit threshold this season, but even if he has one hell of another decade, will he even do it with the same team?
That’s why Jeter’s feat is so entirely remarkable, even enough to get the most fervent Yankees haters giving a half-assed slow clap out of respect for something we’re probably never going to see again. Jeter has done this all as a Yankee. Not Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Joe DiMaggio, or Lou Gehrig. Only Jeter wore the pinstripes while recording his 3,000th hit, not that those other losers ever even reached the milestone in any uniform.
But my fascination remains with the stigma of the Yankees uniform. We’ve witnessed players arrive for a number of teams with great cavalcades of hype, and we’ve laughed at the schadenfreude as they melted down and disappeared in a matter of seasons. But not Jeter. He did it right, and he did it in the Yankee spotlight. His career began in the middle of the 1995 season, and with it he became a star. And he handled it all with dignity, class, and some of the hottest girls in the world hanging from his arm.