We are now about a month into the first, Floridian leg of Derek Jeter's retirement tour. The announcement created plenty of buzz: a little burst of paeans in words and images, a press conference, fans standing to applaud his first spring training at bat. But Jeter's decision was no surprise. After all, he is coming off a season of appearing in only 17 games because of ankle injuries. He will turn 40 in June, he is on a one-year contract, and here is a chance for one of the truly great Yankees to go out on his own terms. Yes, it's time.
That impeccable logic makes it easy to forget that just 16 months before Jeter's retirement announcement -- as he was wrapping up a 2012 season in which he batted .316 and led the major leagues with 216 hits -- there was all kinds of talk and rumination about just how robust he was at 38 and how, wait for it, Jeter had a real shot at breaking Pete Rose's record of 4,256 hits. Analysts broke it down: With his 3,304 career hits at the end of the 2012 season Jeter could get there by averaging 191 hits over five seasons, or maybe 159 over six. However you looked at it, the Captain had a chance!
It was Jeter himself -- knowing his body, knowing the task—who provided the best measure of reality: "I don't think about that, really," he said in 2012. "Why would you think about something that is 1,000 hits away?"
Or as Rose once said to me: "The last 1,000 are the hardest."
Anyway, Jeter's total of 12 hits in 2013 really put a crimp in the number-runners' plans. He's now set to enter the 2014 season 940 hits from tying Rose. And if Derek Jeter, who has played 19 seasons, essentially injury free until last year; and who has averaged close to 700 plate appearances per full season (leading the league five times); and who has batted a superb .312 (among active players with more than 13 years of service only Todd Helton's .316 is higher); if Derek Jeter is still that far away from the hits record, then who on God's green diamonds is going to come close?
You know who's second among active players in career hits? Alex Rodriguez at 2,939 -- a figure that, it is safe to say he will not be adding to anytime soon. There are just nine active players, including A-Rod, who are even halfway to Rose's mark, and 33-year-old Albert Pujols is the only member of that group who is younger than 34.
To get to 4,256 hits a player could average 200 hits a season for 21 years and he'd still fall short. Rose is 72 years old and no one is going to come close to breaking that hits record in his lifetime. Period.
EXCERPT: The Pete Problem remains a question with no easy answers
Along with Jeter and A-Rod, there's another prolific hit-maker on the Yankees -- Ichiro Suzuki, who at age 39 has rapped out 2,742 major league hits, putting him third on the active list. Ichiro also got 1,278 hits for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan Pacific League for a total of 4,020 hits in pro ball. (Rose's pro ball total, bringing in his minor league work, is 4,683.)
That had some folks talking about Ichiro as a 4,000-hit guy even though there is nobody in baseball who seriously thinks that getting hits in Japan is comparable to getting hits in the Show. One way to clarify this is to observe the list of Japanese Pacific League MVPs includes former major leaguers such as Tuffy Rhodes (a .224 batting average in parts of six big league seasons) and Alex Cabrera (.263 in his 80 big-league at bats).
So neither Jeter nor anyone else will catch Rose, but the Yankees' marvelous shortstop could indeed make some hay on the hits chart during this swan song of a season. He's already 10th alltime. Tenth! Four more hits and Jeter moves into ninth place. Get 105 knocks this season and he passes Honus Wagner to go into sixth all-time. And if Jeter can just produce 120 hits this season -- ankle stable and creek don't rise he's got a good shot; he averaged 190 hits in his five seasons before 2013 -- he will wind up with more hits than any right handed hitter in baseball history save Hank Aaron.
Now that is something worth talking about on a retirement tour.
Kostya Kennedy's new book, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, is out on March 11 and available here.