By Sweeny Murti
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After his leadoff home run Tuesday night, Derek Jeter sat at 3,256 hits—exactly 1,000 away from Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader. And so begins the countdown. For the little boy whose mother would not let him use the word “can’t” we begin to wonder if Jeter can actually will himself toward No. 1 on the hit parade.
The transformation Jeter showed from a 37-year-old with diminishing skills into a 38-year-old who looks like he could hit forever is pretty remarkable. In his last 162 games (through Monday night) Jeter was 226 for 686 (.329 BA). In his previous 162 games (going back to July 2010) Jeter was 184 for 677 (.272 BA).
Most aging players begin the slide and never come back. This one did an about face that is simply astounding.
But here is where it gets harder to do, and much harder to predict. When does the real decline begin? And how quickly does it occur?
Rose was at 3,256 in 1979, in the middle of his 10th—and final—200 hit season. He would need another six years to catch and pass Ty Cobb (4,191) and another year after that for his final total of 4,256 hits. Rose was willing to be a part-time player for his final four seasons (and put himself in the lineup as player-manager for the last two seasons) because of his obsession with Cobb and the hits record. And that’s probably where Jeter will fall short in the end.
How obsessed you ask? When Rose and his second wife gave birth to a son in 1984, less than a year before he would break the record, he named his son Ty. Tyler to be exact, but the meaning was clear.
Jeter will slow down at some point. When exactly is anybody’s guess. But when he does, Jeter does not appear to be the kind of player who will hang on (and even change teams) in order to get those last few hundred hits. And Jeter certainly will not be named player-manager and be given authority to write his own name into the lineup.
Rose’s record isn’t even a goal that Jeter is willing to discuss. He is always about the next hit, the next at-bat, and the next game. YES Network’s Jack Curry’s take on Jeter’s approach is a good one, which you can read here.
I will take Jack’s idea of Stan Musial’s 3,630 hits as a goal and take it one step further. Hank Aaron sits at 3,771 and that is 3rd on the all-time list behind only Rose and Cobb. That is a little over 500 hits away. It is a minimum three year proposition. And that means it will require a contract beyond Jeter’s current one, which only runs through next year (plus his player option for 2014. I’m not that certain he simply picks that up—if he has another year similar to this one in 2013, he could decline and negotiate for a new deal altogether as a free agent).
If Jeter gets as far as Musial and Aaron, then it’s time to reevaluate and then see how far he can go. At that point we will surely bring up all the same arguments about his age, his position, and his salary. And it will be an almost daily argument.
Earlier this year when I asked Jeter about Rose’s record he said it would not even be something he could wrap his mind around unless he got to 4,000. If he got to that point, would anybody doubt he could go the distance?
But the real deal-breaker in whether or not Jeter breaks Rose’s record will be his own desire and obsession with it. To this point in his career Derek Jeter has not shown any of the qualities of a man consumed by the individual record and his place in history. And that will most likely be what keeps him from getting there.
But should we bet against him?
Are you betting on Jeter to take over the all-time hits record? Be heard in the comments below…