Mr. 3,000

Derek Jeter stands just two hits away from reaching a batting landmark that others can only dream of. But for him, does it really matter? Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Three hundred wins. Five hundred home runs. Three thousand hits. All of these statistical milestones are said to be the benchmarks for no-doubt status as a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer.

Every eligible member of the 300-win club is in the Hall of Fame. The only three eligible members of the 500-home run club not enshrined — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro — have steroid allegations, and the only players with 3,000 hits not in Cooperstown are Craig Biggio (hasn’t been retired long enough), Palmeiro (steroids) and some guy named Pete Rose (who I’d put in the HOF, but that’s another story for another time).

As Derek Jeter approaches the 3,000-hit plateau, his Hall of Fame status is imminent. A contract extension this summer would make him the face of the world’s most successful franchise for a nearly 20-year period. Love him or hate him, Jeter will go down as one of the most successful athletes in history, in terms on-field production, championships, and I guess what Rod Tidwell called “the quan”: “Love, respect, community… and the dollars too. The entire package.” Derek Jeter is Mr. New York Yankee, and soon enough he may be Mr. First Ballot Hall of Famer.

Jeter is in a tier with immortals of our sporting culture: the Larry Birds, the Mario Lemieuxs, the John Elways. When I think of these players, the next word to come to mind is “greatness.” It’s a greatness that goes beyond statistics, though they have the numbers to back it up, anyway.

AP Photo/Frank Franklin

Maybe it’s the quan, or perhaps even the eye-test, but these players also have the respect that goes with being great. Just as Bird certainly isn’t Michael Jordan, Jeter is not Babe Ruth, yet their names are idealized as if they were the greatest to ever play the game. Is Barry Bonds the best hitter ever to walk the Earth? You could argue that. But is he the greatest to ever play? Few people would support you there, largely because he also happens to be one of the biggest jerks ever to put on a uniform. Greatness cannot be achieved without respect, and it’s a trait Jeter has by the boatload. It also happens to be just as important as stats when looking back on a player.

An awful big deal is being made about Jeter’s quest for hit No. 3,000. It’s a marketing opportunity for the Yankees, but as a student of baseball (and even as a guy with Jeter’s face on my bedroom wall), I’m really not sure it matters. Currently sitting on 2,998, he’ll have one more hit than before when he gets 2,999, and one more than that when he reaches 3,000.

This is Derek Jeter we’re talking about. He’s not a borderline guy like Mike Mussina, whose HOF stock would’ve drastically improved had he reached a major milestone like 300 wins. Even if he gets in an accident on the way to Yankee Stadium this weekend and can never play again, Derek Jeter is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who goes down as one of the best to ever play the game.

Even those who knock Jeter’s defense can’t argue against how great his offense was and is, especially in a position that was not known for hitting. Jeter’s offensive wins above replacement is the third-best ever among shortstops, only behind Alex Rodriguez, who switched to third base so Jeter could play shortstop, and Honus Wagner, whose rookie season was 1897. In terms of regular WAR, even with his weaker defensive abilities in a normally defensive position, he is still 55th all-time, and every player ahead of him a Hall of Famer, save Pete Rose (banned), Bill Dahlen (rookie season 1891), Barry Bonds (steroids), and the players who haven’t been retired long enough yet to qualify.

In the movie Mr. 3000, Stan Ross comes out of retirement to collect the last three hits in his 3,000 that were taken from him when a counting mistake was uncovered after he went of the Hall of Fame ballot.

The sportswriters didn’t vote him into the HOF probably because he was a jerk, and without 3,000 hits they could point to that as a reason for rejection. He needed the last three base knocks to potentially elevate his Cooperstown status, as well as secure the chain of “Mr. 3000” stores he owned in Milwaukee.

Derek Jeter doesn’t need any of that. All he has left to do is pick out a head shot for his plaque in Cooperstown, and,this may just be a hunch, but I don’t think he’ll have to worry about money after retirement. Unlike Stan Ross, Jeter is married, and has his life together. The spotlight has never been too big for him and he has always handled the media very well.

Another milestone for Jeter is like buying a Christmas present for someone like him: what do you get a man who has everything? Three thousand hits is nice, but not only does it not matter to Jeter, it doesn’t mean that much to anyone else in his position who achieves the feat. Anyone who gets that far already has a slew of achievements, and the 3,000-hit club is the least exclusive of three major milestones.

There was hardly as much fuss about 3,000 hits when Craig Biggio became the club’s 27th member; most of the hype is because the player is the captain of the Yankees, not because it matters that much.

Twenty-five players have hit 500 home runs and 24 players have won 300 games. When Jeter becomes the 28th player with 3,000 hits, you might say 28 isn’t that far from 25 and 24, but it is when you take into account the differences in today’s game. Baseball may never have another 300-game winner. CC Sabathia currently has the best shot, but he is just over halfway there. It looks as if a few players could surpass 500 home runs, but with steroids finally on the way out, long ball totals will taper off, as we are already seeing this season.

However, 3,000 hits is a milestone that will be passed again. A-Rod, for example, will be in the chase towards the end of next season. Will anyone care?

If a lesser player (say, Johnny Damon) ever achieves the milestone, he may need to have “3,000 hit club” flashed next to his name on ESPN to give him credibility when they’re discussing his name for HOF potential. For players like Jeter and A-Rod? ESPN will have a hard time fitting that one in.

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It’s MLB Playoff season

It’s that time of year again. We’re well into the NFL season and the temperatures are starting to drop. That defrost setting in your car becomes important again and Tim Hortons has their Pumpkin Spice flavor shot ready to fill you up on holiday spirit. No, it’s not Christmas season (although  there’s a manager in the back room getting the Christmas decorations ready at a JCPenny’s near you). It’s MLB Playoff season.

Not yet, Mariah.

What a season it’s been. Perfect games, milestone homeruns, rookie sensations, and the perfect game that wasn’t. Let’s also not forget some of the greats that the game lost this season. I caught SportsCenter’s baseball season in review video this morning, and it was awesome. Chris Berman did a Top 10 of baseball plays from this season, which was also well-done.

I could watch that every day of the year. While most of the league will be watching from the couch this postseason, eight solid teams qualified for the postseason (sorry, Padres).

I’m a Yankee fan, but if you need a team to root for, I would watch the Cincinnati Reds. They’re a lot like Buffalo over there. They have been pretty bad for quite some time, but this year there were able to put it all together (and keep it together), ending a 15-year playoff drought. That’s slightly longer than the Bills, who last made it in 1999. They have some talented young kids to go along with some seasoned vets. Jay Bruce and Aroldis Chapman are very young and very good, and Joey Votto and one heck of a year (.324, 37 HRs, 113 RBIs). I don’t know what kind of shot they have against the Phillies, but it’ll be exciting baseball.

Before I get to picks, take a look at each teams’ starting rotation. The first round is best-of-five, so each team may only use the three pitchers listed. Last year the Yankees rode three pitchers all the way to a World Series title.

AMERICAN LEAGUE


—Best AL rotation: On paper it’s the Yankees, but I have to go with Tampa. I’m not afraid of the Twins, and Tampa has owned Cliff Lee this year.

—Best NL rotation: Phillies. Three aces back-to-back-to-back.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Philadelphia looks hard to beat. They were tough last year, and I almost think they got better. Cole Hamels will need to be on his game. For the American League, I can’t see anyone but an AL East team going to the World Series. The Yankees and Rays have struggled a little bit down the stretch, but they’ve been the two best teams in baseball for 90 percent of the year. The Twins will be tough though; they went on a tear after the All-Star Break and haven’t looked back since.

It’s just under two hours until the first pitch will be thrown, so these picks can’t wait any longer. These games don’t have any lines. I’ll do fine.

ALDS- Yankees in 5, Rays in 4
NLDS- Phillies in 4, Giants in 4

ALCS- Yankees in 7
NLCS- Phillies in 5

World Series- Phillies in 6
A rematch of last year. Picking the Yankees over the Rays is more a result of being a fan than anything. Tampa always gives New York trouble. It could be the Rays in the finals against the Phillies, but I don’t see them losing either way.

Teaching an old dog new tricks, Yankee style

Or maybe he’s just not that old of a dog. Whichever the case, I credit Johnny Damon’s stay in New York with showing him the light.

After being placed on waivers and claimed by his formerly beloved Red Sox, Damon announced today that he will not waive his no-trade clause, and will stay in Detroit.

He claims it’s because he loves the city he’s in and the team he’s on. But let’s face it, nobody could love Detroit right about now. You think Buffalo has problems? Detroit is to SAT as Buffalo is to daily reading quiz.

So all that leaves is the team. The Tigers have some good players. Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez could make any team in the league better. Justin Verlander’s no slouch either. But after the top players, the drop off is fast. Detroit only has five pitchers with winning records (Verlander 14-8, Coke 7-2, Thomas 5-1, Bonnie 4-1, and Zumaya 2-1), but after Verlander, the other four have only three starts between them. Damon really wants to be on a team where only one starting pitcher has a winning record?

If that doesn’t do it for you, how about this stat: Detroit has a LOSING RECORD. They currently sit third in the AL Central at 62-63, 10 games out of first (and 15 out of the wild card). The Boston Herald has Damon quoted as saying about his teammates, “They feel we can make a strong push — at least make this (AL) Central race interesting. That’s why I’m going to stay.”

Strong push? Kansas City is closer to Detroit than Detroit is to Minnesota! They’ll need a push not to fall farther behind once September call-ups arrive. Ten games is not insurmountable at this point in the season, but it would be one for the ages if the Tigers come back.

Maybe he looked in the mirror

The only logical explanation for Damon’s decision is that something must have happened to him in New York. And if it made him realize he should never go back to Boston, it was something good. He won championships with Boston, but winning it with the Yankees was different. The 2004 title may have been more important to his city, the aura of Yankee Stadium set him straight.

Maybe it was the tradition. Maybe it was the thrill of being expected to win it all every year. Perhaps the professionalism of shaving woke him up. And his arm wasn’t really that bad, he just wanted to play in front of Monument Park everyday. Heck, maybe he even fell in love with the power numbers a short porch in right provides.

Maybe he just thought pinstripes brought out his eyes. Whichever the case, the Boston chapter of Damon’s life was closed for good today. Check that–slammed shut. The most iconic figure from 2004 run just told the team he’s too good for them, and they can thank the Yankees.


In a related story, Chuck Norris released a statement today, in which he claimed the Yankees reduced him in stature. “All along I thought I was the only one who could teach an old dog new tricks, but here come the Yankees, putting me in my place. ‘Not again,’ I thought.”

My Twitter embargo for Alex Rodriguez

While Alex Rodriguez sits on 599 career home runs, I recently noticed that I was also in the vicinity of 600. Six hundred Tweets, that is.   

In the spirit of A-Rod hitting a career milestone and my own willingness to participate in obscure, yet humorous, sports promotions, I too will sit on 599. That’s right–I’m not Tweeting again until Rodriguez goes deep. When I do, my 600th will be in honor of his.   

All I want for Christmas is for A-Rod to go deep Tuesday. Photo via SI.

You can click on the sidebar button to jump to my Twitter. The site currently has something against me having a picture (no matter what picture I try to upload it won’t work. I even tried one of Woody and Buzz to make sure my computer wasn’t just messing with me…), but my last Tweet reads, “Just like Alex Rodriguez, I am at 599. For me its Tweets, for him its HRs. Until he hits number 600, I’m staying at 599 too.”   

The MLB is using specially marked baseballs for A-Rod’s at-bats. YES had a great shot of the balls during today’s game, which appear to just have an “R” written on them (presumably for Rodriguez), along with the ball’s corresponding number to the set.   

Say what you want about the 600-club not mattering, but with his next blast A-Rod will become just the seventh card-carrying member in MLB history, and he will get there faster than anyone before him. So here’s to seeing history be made; well, I hope.   

—–
SI’s Joe Posnanski has a good column about A-Rod and the 600-club.

All-Star Game quiz -plus- Remembering George Steinbrenner

As you watch the All-Star Game tonight, test your knowledge of some ASG trivia. Thirteen questions for the game on the 13th day of July. Answers are at the end… no cheating. 

1.) When was the last year the National League won the ASG? 

-What was the score? 

-Who was the winning pitcher? 

2.) What player was selected to the most All-Star teams? 

3.) Who was the last pitcher to win ASG MVP? 

4.) True or False? A first basemen has never been an ASG MVP. 

5.) True or False? The ASG used to be a double-header. 

6.) More recent history: What was the score of last year’s ASG? 

-Where was it played? 

7.) Which league leads the all-time series in ASGs? 

8.) True or False? Canada has hosted multiple ASGs. 

9.) True or False? The AL’s 13-year undefeated streak is a record for ASGs. 

10.) The first ASG MVP award was awarded in what year? 

11.) Since the ASG has decided home-field advantage in the World Series, how many World Series has the NL won? (hint: they haven’t won an ASG since) 

12.) What is the biggest blowout in ASG history? 

13.) Who won the first ASG? 

-Where was it held? 

David Ortiz won the Home Run Derby last night

ANSWERS:  Comment your score, we’ll see who wins.

 1.) 1996, 6-0, John Smoltz 

2.) Hank Aaron, 21 times 

3.) Pedro Martinez, Boston, 1999 

4.) False. Most recently Fred McGriff in 1994, also Steve Garvey (twice) and Willie McCovey 

5.) True. Last in 1962 

 6.) 4-3 American League, Busch Stadium in St. Louis 

7.) National League, 40-38 (two ties) 

8.) True. Toronto in ’91 and Montreal in ’82 

9.) True. Due to the tie in 2002, the American League has 12 wins in the last 13 years, which is a longer undefeated streak than the NL’s 11-year streak from ’72-’82 

10.) 1962 

11.) Three of seven; Florida in ’03, St. Louis in ’06, and Philadelphia in ’08 

12.) The AL won 12-0 in Boston in 1946 

13.) The AL won the first ever ASG, 4-2 in 1933. Held in Comiskey Park in Chicago 
——

1930-2010

In other baseball news, today Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees mourn the loss of longtime owner George Steinbrenner, who died early this morning due to a massive heart attack. He was 80-years-old. During his tenure, the Yankees were seven-time World Series champions and captured 11 American League pennants. 

In 1973 Steinbrenner was the leader of a group who purchased the club from CBS for $10 million. Today, they are worth an estimated $1.3 billion. Steinbrenner will be remembered for changing the owner’s role in the game, virtually creating competition for free agents, and making the New York Yankees the global, iconic figure they are today. Whether he’s the reason you love the Yankees or you hate them, everyone in the game respects what he did for Major League Baseball. 

Ownership and control of the team have been passed to his sons, Hal and Hank, in recent times while George was in declining health. Yankee players in tonight’s All-Star Game will wear black armbands in remembrance. 

Longtime Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard also recently passed away at age 99.