There have been 17,000 men in the big leagues, with literally hundreds of millions sharing this fantasy. Twenty-seven out of the seventeen-grand have amassed 3,000 hits. Until today. In ultra-dramatic fashion, with a mighty home run, Derek Jeter became ballplayer number twenty-eight.
It is difficult to put this feat into a context for a baseball fan, and likewise next-to-impossible even for the most baseball-knowledgeable cricket follower to drink in this achievement. (Even though, as explored throughout our book, transcendent statistical feats are easily appreciated by both sets of fans.)
Jeter started this perfect-weather July 9 afternoon two hits shy of the mark. He is thirty-seven, and though what the late owner George Steinbrenner surely would have called “a warrior” and “a lion,” DJ is in the twilight of his career. He still has that great arm and reflexes that I, Evander the blogger, could only dream of having. But his fielding range and batting have slowed just enough to make a difference in his game.
Never on the natural-talent scale with Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, Alex Rodriguez, and perhaps many others thro the incredible history of the New York Yankees, Jeter nevertheless is the only one among them all to reach the 3,000 milestone. With the possible exception of Thurman Munson, in my lifetime DJ is the most competitive player that I have had the fortune to watch on a regular basis. His charismatic competitiveness is like Mantle or DiMaggio’s in the sense that it is not of the Pete Rose or Ty Cobb or even Munson variety of fierceness. Jeter simply shows up every day ready to do something transcendent.
Never a power hitter, never a pull hitter, and as noted in his decline, Derek Jeter’s mythic flair for the dramatic almost guaranteed a long home run as his milestone blow. The ball must have traveled 420 feet into the left-field bleachers.
On a personal note, I rarely attend baseball games for reasons not worth going into. Two months ago, in May, I had promised a neighbor we would go on July 9; and I planned to get advance tickets. But it became obvious, as the weeks rolled by, that this date would not work for me. Last night, when the Yankees were rained out, with DJ two hits shy of destiny, I came to realize this would have been the game. Game Six of the 1996 World Series represented a similar situation. The Yankees were being clobbered and looked as if they would be swept. I had a firm feeling that they would come back, and had an opportunity (most fans had given up, let’s face it) to take a chance on buying a rare Game Six ticket to witness, at my only World Series game ever, the first championship in eighteen years. Sigh. (At least my cousin, Peter, a fine baseball player himself long ago and the ultimate Yankees fan, is at today’s game.)
By the way, Jeter also collected five hits in five trips to the plate, a rarity in itself. Caps tipped to Derek Jeter, the immortal shortstop of the New York Yankees.