Derek Jeter was the golden boy who could no wrong, but as soon as he began his descent into the twilight of his career last season, fans, critics and even handfuls of his most staunch supporters turned on him. Everything from his range to his contract squabbling to his hairline has been fodder for debate. The New York Yankees captain became a piñata. Maybe this generation, who has been raised on steroid-aided baseball, just isn't used to seeing a player naturally decline in the latter half of his 30s. But let's take a timeout to praise the best shortstop the Bronx Bombers have ever had.
The 500 Home Run Club has gone from hallowed, private fraternity to an everybody-gets-in organization. The PED era has obliterated it to smithereens. Even the 600 Club is stained with the name of Sammy Sosa, not to mention Barry Bonds and the 700 Gang. Is there an equivalent RBI Club? Not really. 1,500? 1,600? 1,700? Who can name them? Probably Ralph Kiner, because he knows everybody who ever hit a baseball, but that's about it. But the 3,000 Hit Club is still a gold standard. Sure, there's one blotch at No. 24 (Rafael Palmeiro), but otherwise, 3,000 hits is still 3,000 hits. Muscled-up players haven't been able to make mincemeat of that mark. So what Jeter has accomplished is special, and the achievement doesn't come with any asterisks, "buts" or shoulder shrugs.
There are only 28 baseball players with 3,000 or more hits, and with Jeter now past that milestone, only three-and-a-half shortstops have reached that magic number. Honus Wagner, the greatest ever to play the position, notched 3,420 hits, good for seventh place all-time, Cal Ripken totaled 3,184 hits (14th place) and Robin Yount, who played 11 of his 20 seasons at short, accumulated 3,142 hits, which puts him at 17th place. And with all the Yankees' records and Hall of Fame players, Jeter is incredibly the first Bronx Bomber to pile up 3,000 hits. His first came on May 30, 1995, in the old Seattle Kingdome against Tim Belcher, and the 3,000th came against Tampa Bay's David Price. His 32 hits off Tim Wakefield are the most against any pitcher.
There's no getting around what Jeter has accomplished. He made it to 3,000 hits, not because of East Coast bias, PEDs or because he's been surrounded by talented teammates on powerhouse teams, but due to immense talent and hard work. He may be slowing down, but his career now has the official stamp of greatness on it. He was already a no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer, but this achievement just makes him a double-no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer.
And now on to the other top stories in the world of New York sports.
So Long, K-Rod: The New York Mets shipped Francisco Rodriguez off to Milwaukee on Tuesday night. Well, they really sent that $17.5 million option packing. K-Rod will most likely be remembered for two things in his time with the Mets: Pummeling the grandfather of his children at Citi Field and giving Met fans agita by loading the bases before wiggling out of the jam for a "save." The Mets will receive two players to be named from a list of prospects drawn up by the Brewers. It was a good trade for the Mets even if they only receive a 57-year-old Sixto Lezcano and an order of bratwurst in return, since dumping that option was at the top of the team's wish list. Jason Isringhausen and/or Bobby Parnell (with Pedro Beato possibly thrown into the mix) will most likely take over the closer role. We know Isringhausen has the mental makeup for the job, but will his arm hold up? While Parnell has the opposite concern -- he has the arm, but does he have the brain?
Into and Out of the Break: The Yankees were stumbling with Jeter back in the lineup, but then Saturday happened and the rest of the weekend was a magic carpet ride. The Yankee captain went 5-for-5, notched his 3,000th hit with a home run (he and Wade Boggs are the only pair to accomplish that feat -- the two guys know for poking hits to the opposite field, go figure) and drove in the winning run with a grounder up the middle in the bottom of the eighth inning. It was a storybook ending, a fairy tale, the whole magilla. The following day, CC Sabathia was the star, throwing a complete-game shutout, and he hasn't allowed a run in his last three starts. But now the bad news: Alex Rodriguez elected to have surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and will be out approximately four to six weeks. How about if he gets some of Bartolo Colon's stem cells shot into him while he's at it? Maybe the whole team should try that, since they're not getting any younger and all the old guys are pretty beat up. Colon has enough fat on him to go around for everyone. At any rate, it's Eduardo Nunez time again. Enjoy his offense but cover your eyes whenever a ball is hit to him at third. And the first game back after the break? It looks like the team needed one more day of rest, and Colon himself may need another round of stem cells.
The Glass Is Half Full (Or Is it Half Empty?): For all the gritty, feel-goodness of the first half for the Mets, they stumbled into the All-Star break with two straight losses and find themselves seven-and-a-half games behind the Atlanta Braves in the wild card race. On the positive side, though, they had a winning California road trip (with the Scott Hairston ninth-inning home run off of Grizzly Adams, er Brian Wilson, being the highlight) and they're still above sea level, at one game over .500. But their undermanned lineup + a gang of All-Star pitchers = not many runs. And add in all kinds of sloppy defense to the mix in their last few games, and that's something they just can't afford. Reinforcements may be on the way, though, with Jose Reyes and David Wright on the horizon, but Ike Davis and Johan Santana aren't anywhere close to returning. Of course, Carlos Beltran may be not be around when some of his teammates get back.
Did Anybody Show Up? With all the pull-outs and replacements around the league, it's easier to name the players who weren't selected for the All-Star Game than the ones that were. Reyes and A-Rod are on the DL, so they had an excuse to skip the Midsummer Classic. Sabathia was originally snubbed then selected but was then ruled ineligible because he pitched on Sunday, so I guess he gets a pass. Mariano Rivera begged out to nurse a sore arm, but David Robertson earned a spot on the roster, and Beltran ended up in the starting lineup as the NL's DH, and it turned into a showcase for the Met right fielder as Giant closer Wilson lobbied for Beltran when he introduced the NL lineup. And the shine has already worn off Saturday's magical day for Jeter, as he was on the hot seat for bailing on the game. He's not on the DL, so should he be obligated to at least show up? Probably. What was his excuse? "Something suddenly came up"? (R.I.P. Sherwood Schwartz) The debate was on, with players around the league taking sides, and even Bud Selig piped up and defended Jeter.
More Jeter News: The fan that caught his milestone hit, Christian Lopez, keeps getting hosed but people everywhere are coming out of the woodwork to help him out. He performed a gracious, selfless act in giving the ball back to Jeter and what does he get for passing up a huge payday? A big tax bill. The Yankees gave him free seats to every game for the rest of the season, and now he'll owe the IRS thousands of dollars. But it looks like Topps, Miller High Life and Modell's will pitch in to pay the taxes owed and even assist him with his student loans. You mean the Yankees couldn't have done that themselves? Besides giving him a couple of bats, couldn't Jeter pay off the guy's loans as well? The Yankee shortstop probably has $100,000 lying around in his couch cushions. It would be like buying a newspaper to the rest of us mere mortals. Lopez is not even bitter at the Yankees or the IRS and has been nothing but a gentleman throughout this whole thing. Who is this guy? He's my new role model.
Oh Yeah, the Game: All kinds of ideas have been thrown around in an attempt to make the Midsummer Classic relevant again. The game used to be competitive because the players cared about winning; it was a source of pride to beat the other league. The last couple of decades, though, players have treated it like a trip to Disney World, with all the intensity of a shuffleboard game aboard a cruise ship. If the Pete Rose/Ray Fosse incident is an extreme example of the game in days gone by, the Barry Bonds/Torii Hunter horseplay in the 2002 game (which ended in a tie) is a symbol of the "nobody cares who wins" modern exhibition. But this year, Bruce Bochy managed to win (hey, home-field advantage helped his team win the World Series last year, so why not?), and his NLers won their second consecutive game. As for the New Yorkers, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano went a combined 0-for-4, Robertson threw a scoreless inning and Beltran contributed to the win with a single and he came around to score the first run for his team on Prince Fielder's three-run homer.
Taters and Dingers: In yet another battle between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Cano edged out Adrian Gonzalez in the final round of the Home Run Derby on Monday. Cano may have seemed like a slightly odd choice to participate in the contest (though Rickie Weeks was the longest long shot to have been chosen), but anyone who's seen him take batting practice knows he can launch moon shots at will. And in a nice footnote to the story, his father, Jose, was his pitcher. The elder Cano did have a cup of coffee in the majors with the Houston Astros, appearing in six games in 1989, recording a 1-1 record, with a 5.09 ERA. He originally signed with the Yankees in 1980 as a non-drafted free agent. His last-ever appearance was a complete-game victory over the Reds, when he let up two runs and scattered seven hits. Maybe the Yankees should give him another chance. He's only 49 years old, and with Colon and Freddy Garcia liable to fall apart at any minute, the Yanks may be looking for some more pitching.
Mistrial: The prosecution in the Roger Clemens perjury trial threw a broken bat at the justice system on Thursday when they brazenly tried to sneak in inadmissable evidence, which led to the judge ordering a mistrial. Whatever you think of the trial -- a waste of time and money, he's guilty, he's innocent, who cares? -- the judge's decision was stunning. With all these high-profile cases turning out the wrong way, we need to paraphrase Casey Stengel: Can't anybody here prosecute?