Derek Jeter sits at 2,997 hits, three shy of becoming the first player in New York Yankees history to amass 3,000 hits, as the Yankees open a four-game series at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays. Let's hope Yankee fans shower Jeter with their appreciation for the next four days, turning this into the celebratory occasion it should unquestionably be.
It seems like we have been reading about Jeter's quest for 3,000 hits forever now, partially because it was interrupted for several weeks by his stint on the disabled list. But, while everyone has been tracking his approach to 3,000, it doesn't seem like anyone has really been celebrating it. And that's a shame.
It seems like knocking Jeter has become somewhat of a national pastime. He can't go to his left -- tell that to Cleveland's Austin Kearns, by the way, who Jeter robbed of a hit with a brilliant diving play up the middle Wednesday. He doesn't hit for enough power. He's got five World Series rings because he has been surrounded by great players. He's only thought of as great because he's in New York. He is in decline. How much longer can he stay at shortstop? Or, at the top of the lineup.
Can we please, for a few days, put aside the nonsense and celebrate one of the greatest players baseball has ever seen? Jeter is one of the six greatest players in New York Yankees history. Put Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Mariano Rivera and Jeter in any order you want those are the top six players in the history of a team with far more world championships than anyone else.
Lost in all the discussion of Jeter's declining range and batting average is just how great of a player Jeter has been throughout his career.
How great? Jeter has never tried to measure his career by statistics, only victories. ESPN's Jayson Stark, though, looked at the numbers Jeter has compiled and found few players in the history of the game that have done what the Yankee shortstop has.
Only five players have gotten to 3,000 hits faster. Only five other players have gotten 190 or more hits in a season at least 10 times, as Jeter has. Only two other shortstops have reached 3,000 hits.
Stark summarized Jeter this way:
Look, nobody loves debating whether this man is one of the most overrated or underrated players in history more than me. I did, after all, write a book about that once (shameless book-plug link). But there's other stuff to talk about.
And I would never dismiss the importance, to the Yankees, of the clear reality that Jeter isn't the same player he used to be. But there's other stuff to talk about besides that, too.
The reason is this: What Derek Jeter is now -- as a player, as a hitter -- has very little to do with how he got to the precipice of 3,000 hits.
You know what got him here? Greatness. That's what.
Pure, relentless, machine-like greatness. For a decade and a half. Nonstop.
Jeter is about to accomplish something no Yankee has ever done. That should say enough. At 37, he isn't the same player he was at 27. Discounting a juiced-up Barry Bonds, you would be hard-pressed to find any athlete who has ever been as good or better at 37 than at 27.
He is one of the best players the game has ever had. Also one of its best people. A great ambassador, a guy about whom there has never been a whiff of controversy -- an amazing thing in this age of Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle.
There has always been jealousy because of the fact that Jeter is a Yankee, because of the championships, because of the beautiful, well-known women who have always attached themselves to him. That, largely, is what has driven much of the anti-Jeter sentiment for the past several years.
For the next few days, though, there should be only appreciation for one of the greatest careers baseball has ever seen. And celebration at Yankee Stadium.