All hail the Yankees' new hit king; so what will Jeter do for an encore?
Three knocks in one night, and the crowned king of Yankeeland is tied with
His team is on pace to win 105 games. His defense, long mocked by more or less everyone save Yankees fans and Gold Glove voters, is as good as it's ever been, maybe better. And perhaps most impressively, he's hitting as well as he always has.
As of Thursday, Jeter is hitting .330/.397/.470. Thirty-five-year-old shortstops aren't supposed to do this. Other than the peerless
This being so, let's stipulate that Jeter is great, as winning a winner as ever won, and get to the three big interrelated questions raised by his historic season. In no special order: Does he have a shot at
If the first question is the easiest to answer ("NO"), it's worth bearing in mind that easy answers are often wrong. Jeter doesn't have much of a chance, to be sure, as he would have to rack up more than half again as many hits as he already has to get the record, but he does have a shot. Rose didn't have much of a chance at 4,256 hits, either. (He ended his age-35 season with 2,762; right now Jeter's 41 behind at 2,721.) The unlikely is not the impossible.
Including this year, when he's on pace for 215 hits, Jeter's established level is 200 hits a year. Most likely, as shown in this
Actually, it is. Say he ran up 170 hits at 39 (nine men have done it, including
As improbable as it is that Jeter would enjoy seven straight seasons of near-historic significance, it can at least be imagined, because he's the ideal player in the ideal situation. Other than a freak mishap on the bases in 2003, he has never been seriously injured. Not counting that season, he has garnered fewer than 188 hits in a season just twice in his career. He hits at the top of the lineup for a team that will have a great offense for the foreseeable future. And most important, the Yankees can run him out on the field no matter what.
This last point, which also relates to our second question, is probably the biggest thing that Jeter has going for him aside from his own talent. There have been lots of 40-year-olds in baseball history who could have run up 155 hits in a season; that's about a .260 batting average over 150 games. The problem is that teams won't play them full time, because they're usually lousy on defense and because the time and money are better spent on a kid with a future.
A player of Jeter's stature, though, can lay claim to about as much playing time as he wants, given his health and some minimal competence. And the Yankees, who always have a terrific offense and have played the likes of
Jeter isn't quite as assured as Rose was of being able to get at-bats once he's an irrelevant hitter, but he's about as close as you can get without being your own manager. The real issue is how many of them he might get at shortstop. Since integration, only 13 shortstops have qualified for the batting title at age 36 or older, and they've done it a total of 26 times, with none turning the trick more than four times. Given this history, it's a safe bet that Jeter will be moved off the six by 2012 at the latest.
This is an issue that people make too much of, however. In strict baseball terms it isn't going to kill the Yankees if Jeter hangs around in the middle infield after he has started to rot; statistically wretched defensive play at shortstop has never kept the team from winning its annual 95 games during the Jeter era. And as famously ugly as the ends of some shortstop tenures have been, Jeter, to be cynical about it, has a lot invested in his image as a gracious team player and isn't likely to make things unpleasant for the poor schmuck -- perhaps
This brings us to our third question, which to my mind may be the least interesting in baseball. Jeter is never going to play for any team other than the Yankees. When the time comes they'll sign him to a new contract for more money than his on-field contributions will be worth, and no one will think twice about it. I'd guess that Jeter will sign for an annual salary near the $22.5 million AAV that
All of this is less his fault than anyone's, but there are probably college freshmen with no clear memories of the last time Jeter won a ring. It would be nice to think he doesn't have anything left to prove. But is it really true?