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Sweeny: Derek Jeter Returns And So Do The Questions

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Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees at bat during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on July 4, 2011. (credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees at bat during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on July 4, 2011. (credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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By Sweeny Murti
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And the countdown rolls on…

Derek Jeter moves on towards 3,000 hits, back in the lineup Monday night three weeks after the latest reminder that he’s getting older. The calf injury cost him 18 games, his 37th birthday came and went, and now Jeter is once again on the verge of a milestone that seems to be more cause for concern than celebration.

What did we think was going to happen? That Jeter was going to hit .320 the rest of his life and that he would knock down a few more 200 hit seasons and start knocking on Pete Rose’s door? But getting to 3,000 hits is supposed to be a career achievement that makes us remember how great a player he has been, and all we keep talking about is how much his decline is hurting the Yankees.

I was just about 8 years old in 1978 when I saw Pete Rose get his 3,000th career hit. I don’t remember if the game was nationally televised, but something tells me it was if I can remember seeing that hit on TV in Pennsylvania in 1978 when the aerial pulled in 6 or 7 channels, tops.

What I do remember, right around the time I started learning things about the history of baseball, is how remarkable a feat this was being portrayed as. Numbers are relative at 8 years old—you think five dollars is a lot of money. But that number—3,000—it stood out. It was a big round marker telling me that I was watching one of the best hitters ever to put on a uniform, and it wasn’t supposed to make me think anything else about the player in that uniform. He was great, and that’s all I knew.

Like Jeter (assuming it doesn’t take another month to get six more hits), Rose was less than a month removed from his 37th birthday and was known for his ability to rack up hits and win baseball games when he achieved the milestone hit. I knew at that moment, when I saw his 3,000th hit, that I was watching a great player. I hope that’s what we think when we watch Jeter get his 3,000th hit, likely sometime this week. But I already know that’s not what many of us will think.

The problem now comes with not just watching and appreciating an aging superstar. It becomes about keeping a winning team on the field. That’s not the normal equation for players on the verge of this milestone. Of the last 15 players who have reached 3,000 hits (starting with Rose in ’78), only Eddie Murray (1995 Indians) played on a team that reached the World Series. With Jeter, it’s not enough to watch a great player and celebrate the milestone. If there is even a hint of doubt that his team isn’t better with him in a lesser role, then the conflict begins to stir and the questions start to get asked.

Jeter is not the same player he was a few years ago. That’s easy to see and easy to say. I know we are going to spend endless hours and days talking about his position in the field and his spot in the batting order. That is the kind of thing for which sports talk radio was invented.

I only hope that we can look past it long enough to appreciate the milestone ahead. It is about career achievement, and it deserves to be celebrated. The other stuff will still be here after hit 3,000 and 3,001, and so on. There’s nothing wrong acknowledging a great career and letting the moment be.

Sweeny Murti
Yankees@wfan.com
www.twitter.com/YankeesWFAN

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