On Wednesday, July 7, the day after the Detroit Tigers' designated hitter/outfielder scraped out his 2,500th career hit, followed by a game-winning home run, Americans awoke to the reality that some of us have been aware of -- and worried or horrified by -- for quite some time:
Obvious caveats -- such as premature injury or a sudden desire to quit baseball and take up leper tending -- aside, to say that the 36-year-old Damon is going to reach 3,000 hits is merely to make an observation of fact.
Assume that Damon runs up as many hits in the second half of this year as he has in the first. That would leave him 423 hits shy of 3,000, and needing to average 141 hits from ages 37 through 39 to do the deed within three years. Six post-integration players have hit safely at least as many times at each of those ages, including the hardly immortal likes of
Damon is going to do it, and then he'll make the Hall. (Every eligible player with 3,000 hits has done so.) This is a man most famous for not shaving, a two-time All-Star who, aside from leading the American League in runs scored, stolen bases and triples one time apiece, has never led or come near leading the league in any other significant category, and whose signature accomplishment --playing for championship teams in Boston and New York -- has more to do with where he has played than with the man himself.
Really, that Damon is especially famous at all is largely testament to the vast narcissism of the Acela corridor. He has never been, or been thought of as, one of the best players in baseball and may not even be one of the 15 best outfielders of his own generation. His 48 career
That said, should Damon make the 3,000-hit club and the Hall, he'll be no disgrace to either. He has already had a better career than
The most interesting thing about Damon's steady lurch toward history, actually, is what a vivid example it provides of just how irrelevant traditional standards for career value are becoming.
Another way to put it would be that should Renteria, just 33, manage to make it to 2,500 hits, he'll join Rodriguez, Vizquel, Jeter,
Of course, should Renteria and Beltre end up cracking these distinguished lists, they'll simply linger there as curiosities. But just as Damon will, they'll also stand as fine representations of three important points about the modern game.
First among these is that money has not, in fact, changed everything. In days of yore, one argument commonly made against paying players a lot was that it would spoil them and lead them to early retirements. That a player of Renteria's mildly dubious stature has hung around long enough to move as far up various leaderboards for his position as he already has is as perfect a refutation of this idea as one could hope for.
Second is that changing standards aren't just the result of PEDs leading to lots of home runs. One reason that Damon, whose main attribute may be his ability to avoid injury, is almost certainly going to reach 3,000 hits is just that there are so many more players now in the majors than there once were. There are twice as many teams now as there were through most of baseball history, and as a matter of odds, it was inevitable that someone who wasn't all that great would reach the mark.
Third is that the devaluation of old standards is a good thing, because they do little but distract us from real excellence. If Damon, Renteria and Beltre are players no one thinks of as Hall of Famers who are nonetheless putting up Hall of Fame numbers, what of their counterparts, players who are also putting up such numbers without anyone noticing?
Having nothing against Damon, an effective and entertaining player, his march to 3,000 will probably do less to convince anyone of his greatness than it will to convince them to ignore such crude measures as raw hits totals as markers of the kind of excellence deserving of a bronze plaque. If for no other reason, wish the man health over the next few years. The likes of Edmonds and Rolen need his help.