New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is making his slow, albeit historic crawl towards 3,000 hits. But what’s the significance of 3,000 hits, really? Sure, it’s a nice round number and considering the relatively small number of ball players to accomplish this feat, how special is it?
Well, many of the game’s greatest players aren’t a member of the 3,000 Hit Club. Ruth, Mantle, DiMaggio, Bonds, Griffey, Gehrig, Foxx, Banks, Morgan, Fisk, Schmidt and hundreds more never accomplished the feat. When Jeter finally collects that 3,000th hit, he’ll be the 23rd player to join the ‘Club’ and be tied for 22nd for most all-time with Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente.
For those that appreciate math, think of it like this: If a Player A plays for 15 full seasons, never misses a game, plays 162 games in each of those seasons, averages four at-bats per game, and hits .300 for his entire career… He would still need 84 more hits to reach 3,000.
There’s the rub: Health, longevity and talent all have to come together. Consider Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time. Rickey played for 25 seasons and yet, he ‘only’ has 3,055 hits. Everyone knows how great Albert Pujols has been in his career and he’s played relatively injury-free (well, he’s hurt now! I know that!) throughout his 11-year career. Pujols ‘only’ has 1,978 hits. At this rate, he would need to play six more uninterrupted, great seasons to reach 3,000.
And here we are with Jeter, only a handful of hits away at the time of this article’s publishing (2,994 career hits). How good has Jeter been in his career? Well, the Hall of Fame will surely be in his future, but can he hold his own among the game’s legends?
The easiest modern-day comparison is Barry Larkin. Both players won a World Series (Larkin 1, Jeter 5), each had 10-plus All-Star Game appearances (both with 12), Gold Gloves (Larkin 3, Jeter 5), Silver Sluggers (Larkin 9, Jeter 5), decent power (Larkin 198 HRs, Jeter 236), could steal bases (Larkin 379, Jeter 330), and strong OBP (Larkin .371, Jeter .383). Now, Larkin has yet to make the Hall of Fame in his first two years of eligibility but he did win the 1995 NL MVP (which should have gone to Greg Maddux but that’s another discussion) and Jeter has never won a MVP. But, he is of course one of the most popular players in the game and an icon in the biggest baseball city in America (sorry Boston).
The bottom line being, Larkin is easily one of the best modern-day shortstops when considering his all-around game. But, Jeter is better and the career WAR numbers solidify that point (WAR: Larkin: 68.9, Jeter: 70.1 & Offensive WAR: Larkin: 66.6, Jeter 83.5).
So then, where does Jeter rank among the best shortstops of all-time? Well, he’s a solid third on my list and I can understand the argument for possibly putting him at No. 2.
1. Honus Wagner
2. Cal Ripken Jr.
4. Robin Yount
5. Ozzie Smith
6. Luke Appling
7. Arky Vaughan
8. Lou Boudreau
9. Barry Larkin
10. Joe Cronin
I don’t count Alex Rodriguez or Ernie Banks since both players switched positions about halfway through their careers. Although to give proper respect here, Banks was way ahead of his time for power-hitting shortstops. Other names to consider are Luis Aparicio, Joe Sewell, Omar Vizquel, Alan Trammell, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, and Dave Concepcion.
Where does Jeter rank on your all-time list? Do you think Banks and A-Rod deserve to be listed in the Top 10? Voice your opinion in the comments below.