New York Minute

September 2, 2009 1:09 PM

Jeter On The Brink Of History

There are some critics of Derek Jeter who believe he’s slipping.

He’s not the player he once was, the critics say, and believe his skills have diminished significantly since he was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996.

Those critics haven’t been watching this year.

The future Hall-of-Famer is poised to step into history sometime over the next few days, when he will become the all-time Yankees hit leader. After getting another hit last night in a 9-6 win over Baltimore, Jeter is 10 hits away from surpassing Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,721 hits. He could surpass Gehrig this weekend in Toronto.

Don’t let that information pass without giving it some thought. In the history of the Yankees, baseball’s gold standard and the team with the most World Series championships, the team with legendary names such as Ruth and Mantle and Berra and DiMaggio and Jackson, Jeter will have more hits than any of them.

When Jeter’s career is over, he will have a lot more than all of them. He already owns the record for most career hits by a shortstop, passing Luis Aparicio earlier this year, and he’s among the candidates for the MVP award. Jeter has collected a lot of hardware, but never an MVP trophy.

This has been another vintage year for Jeter. He’s hitting .333, and ranks fifth in the American League in hitting. He’s second in the league in runs scored and hits, sixth in on-base percentage and ninth in total bases. Pick a hitting statistic, and you can usually find Jeter’s name among the league leaders.

When Jeter was a rising young star back in the mid 1990s, more than a few wondered who would be the better shortstop of the course of their careers: Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra or Miguel Tejada.

The conversation almost seems laughable now. Garciaparra and Tejada started off well, but their careers have slipped noticeably in recent years. Tejada is now with his third team, and rumors of performance-enhancing drugs have clouded his career statistics. Garciaparra is with his fourth team, and has played more than 120 games only twice in the past seven years. He is nearly 1,000 hits behind Jeter for his career, and is not even a shortstop any more.

Jeter, by contrast, continues to play almost every game at the most demanding defensive position. He has been in the lineup 2,111 times and will soon pass Yogi Berra for third for most games played with the Yankees. He has played 148 games more every season since 1996, except for 2003 when he missed 43 games with an injury.

Jeter’s name pops up frequently throughout the Yankees record book, but the career hits mark might be the most significant. With all of the Yankees legends that have worn the pinstripes over the years, Jeter will have more hits than any of them.

Hopefully we will have the privilege of watching Jeter play for a few more years. He is still a treat, and any critic who thinks No. 2’s skills are eroding simply isn’t paying attention.

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