Derek Jeter Passes 3000 Hits

09:05 Sun 10 Jul 2011. Updated: 17:13 10 Jul 2011
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I wasn’t going to write about this milestone, but the manner in which Jeter achieved it left me little choice.

More than any other sport I know of, baseball is fascinated with numbers and statistics. There are so many things to track, and the nature of the game lends itself to tracking them relatively easily—the ball is in play for limited periods, and the beginning and ending of a play is very starkly delineated; further, the players involved and their contributions are very clear. Individual events are distinct and easy to track. This is unlike American football, and less like basketball, and very far indeed from soccer[1].

The most fundamental unit of offensive output in baseball is not the home run, although that is the most famous one; nor it is the number of runs scored, because (home runs aside) scoring runs depends on contributions from your teammates—the most fundamental offensive contribution is the “hit”: an at-bat that results in the batter making contact with the ball, putting it in play, and safely advancing to at least first base[2]. The hit is what the batter is trying to achieve[3]. Naturally, the total number of hits a player gets in their career is an important number.

As a species, we like round numbers. There’s no club for people who have scored 43 or more goals in their international soccer careers; or 28,720 or more points in their basketball careers; there are no contracts rewarding running backs for surpassing 991 yards in a season. Instead we look at the numbers and at what’s impressive and then round to the nearest significant-seeming number. For career hits in baseball, that number is 3000[4].

Yesterday Derek Jeter, shortstop and captain for the New York Yankees, became the 28th player in Major League Baseball history, and the first Yankee, to reach that milestone, at Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter was of course highly aware that he was approaching 3000, and there’s been a lot of media attention on him for that reason, and this only makes it more impressive that for the 3000th hit itself, he marked the occasion by not merely getting a hit, but getting a home run[5]. That’s really like something out of a Disney script, but Jeter made it real. That wasn’t enough, though; he also had a hit in all five of his at-bats in that game, a rare achievement[6].

Oh, and one of the hits broke a tie, putting the Yankees ahead for good. And he threw in a stolen base for good measure.

He’s an amazing, amazing player. And despite both the tremendous hype about him (shortstop for the Yankees brings fame more or less by itself) and criticism of his defense by statistical analysts, you could still make the argument that he’s actually underrated.

[1] Baseball might be most similar to cricket in this way, but my positive feelings for baseball are approximately equal to my negative feelings for cricket, which stands in the nether regions of my sports cosmology, a sport apparently spawned from bureaucrats and accountants, close to golf in temperament, having at least the sense to take up less space, but taking up easily as much time, time enough to fill countless afternoon broadcasting slots whose usurpation was deeply resented by my early-adolescent self. As George Bernard Shaw stated: “The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.”

[2] Technically it’s possible to do this without a hit, if a fielder is judged to have made an egregious mistake without which the batter would not have reached base.

[3] You could argue that they’re trying to get on base, and thus trying to get either a hit or a walk; you could further argue that given the lack of practical difference between a walk and a single, walks should be counted as hits, as indeed they were at one point.

[4] Two players, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, have over 4000 hits, but that hasn’t erased the significance of 3000.

[5] This being baseball, it’s known that only one other player has hit a home run for their 3000th hit: Wade Boggs, 1999.

[6] Interestingly, none of the first 17 players to reach 3000 had more than three hits in the milestone game. But four of the last 11 have had four or more hits in that game: George Brett (4 in 1992), Tony Gwynn (4 in 1999), and Craig Biggio (5 in 2007), and Jeter.

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