4,000 Career Hits Within Reach for Jeter

By Jason Klein

Originally Written For Ed Randall’s Talking Baseball – 7/9/11

One thousand hits to go.

Derek Jeter will get to 4,000 hits. Guaranteed.  No joke.

Sure, his much celebrated 3,000thhit, a home run off David Price of the Tampa Rays, was only written into the record books earlier today, but there’s no need to let the ink dry before looking ahead.  There are still plenty of base-knocks left in his clutch bat – at least one thousand more to be exact.

4,000 Hits Within Reach for Jeter

That’s how the Captain of the New York Yankees has always operated – good or bad, the past is the past and he will reflect back when his career is over.

Mr. 3,000 now.  DJ4K then.

There will be skeptics.  Many will claim he is slowing down, his skills are diminishing, and that the end is near.  Go ask Yogi, he’ll tell you when it’s over.  Despite what critics say, Jeter will continue to push forward.  That’s all he knows how to do.

He’ll celebrate number 3,000, as he should.  It’s a remarkable achievement – one that only 27 other men in the history of the game can share with him.  He is also the first Yankee to ever reach the milestone.  But Derek Jeter has made a career out of achieving greatness without losing focus.  This will be no different.

When it happens, Jeter will join the only other two players in baseball history to reach the 4,000 hit mark: Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,189).  It’s easier to compare Jeter with Rose than it is with Cobb.  Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time, Cobb had a 3-year head start on both Jeter and Rose, breaking into the big leagues at age 18.  As a result, he collected his 3,000th hit as a youthful 34 year-old in 1921.

By contrast, both Jeter and Rose broke in as 22 year-old rookies (at age 21, Jeter did play 15 games in 1995, but didn’t qualify as a rookie until 1996).  Also, both players reached career hit number 3,000 at age 37 – Rose got his on May 5, 1978.  Rose went on to play another 8 years, but it only took him 6 more seasons to eclipse 4,000, turning the trick on April 13, 1984 – one day before his 43rd birthday.

Currently, Jeter has 74 hits in 2011, giving him an even 3,000 for his career.  If he collects another 100 hits over the next few months, he will finish the season at 174, and 3,100 for his career – very doable for a player who has averaged 194 hits per year over the last 15 seasons.  Under those very realistic pretenses, Jeter would only have to average 150 hits per year, over the next 6 years, to reach 4,000 by the age of 43 – just like Rose did.

Still don’t think Jeter can do it?  Consider this: he has never failed to reach 150 hits in a single season.  The closest he came was in 2003, a year he lost significant time to a shoulder injury.  He only played 119 games that season, and still had 156 hits.  True, those productive campaigns all came from a much younger Jeter, and he is bound to take a step back as he continues to age, but it won’t be significant enough to prevent one of the most consistent players of all-time from reaching Club 4K.

As Jeter battles both opposing pitchers, and Father Time, en route to 4,000 hits, there are four concessions he must make:

He has to change positions.  Making the move to the outfield, and spending more time as the designated hitter, will make Jeter a more flexible piece within the Yankees plans.  He could even see time in a third base/DH platoon with Alex Rodriguez.  Sure, as a shortstop, he won his fifth Gold Glove Award in 2010 at the age of 36, and continues to prove doubters and statistical analysis wrong, but he won’t be able to keep that up as he gets into his forties.

He must take a pay cut.  Prior to the 2011 season, the Yankees gave Jeter a new contract that takes him through his 40th birthday – the final year is an option year.  The financial terms of the deal were very aggressive for a player of his skill level and age.  However, he got paid, in large part, for his intangibles and his legacy with the franchise.  When this current deal expires, he will need a new three-year deal to reach 4,000 hits.  Jeter will not be able to command the same dollars then.  While money is never an issue for the Yankees, they will have little interest in giving a 40-43 year-old Jeter the same $15-$17M annually that they gave him at age 37.  If Jeter wants to preserve his legacy and collect his monumental 4,000th hit in pinstripes, he has to take less money.

He has to stay healthy and smart.  Jeter, the definition of consistency, has only missed significant time twice in his career – the aforementioned shoulder injury in 2003, and this latest DL stint for a bum calf.  Throughout his career, he has made a habit of playing through injury and shrugging off any suggestion that he might need to take a rest.  For him to successfully make it through the next six seasons, he will need to avoid any major injuries and be smart about which minor ones he decides to play through.  His body will heal slower as a forty-year-old.  He must understand this and not push the envelope and risk further damage and missed time.

He needs to chase a personal goal for once.  Forget Charlie Sheen, Derek Jeter is all about #winning. The unselfish Jeter has never been about personal statistics.  Instead, he focuses all of his efforts towards the team’s mission statement: World Series championships.  That has to change, slightly, during his quest for 4,000 hits.  No doubt, the opportunity to add additional rings to his collection will motivate Jeter to continue playing, but his statistical contribution to the common cause will start to diminish.  He must accept this, check his pride at the door, and be willing to play a few seasons below the “Jeter standard of excellence” in order to compile the necessary hits he needs.

If he can do the four things mentioned, and make 4,000 hits a priority, there is no doubt he will achieve it.  After all, when has Derek Jeter not succeeded at something he set his mind to?

One thousand hits to go.  No joke.

Mr. 3,000 now.  DJ4K then.

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