Saturday, September 5, 2009
New York Yankees shortstop and captain Derek Jeter is about to pass Lou Gehrig for the most hits all time as a Yankee. After getting a hit in the 8th inning of todays game against the Blue Jays, Jeter is just 6 hits away from being the all time Yankee hit leader.
Babe Ruth. Joe Dimaggio. Mickey Mantle. Titans of baseball history. Jeter currently has more hits than all of those legendary players, and he about to pass The Iron Horse himself, Lou Gerhig, whose career was cut short by the disease named after him. The most famous and winning franchise in all of sports history has had hundreds of players pass through its ranks, but only one Yankee player will ever attain 3000 hits, which Jeter will be able to achieve in the next 2 years if he stays healthy. And that, is the crux of this achievement: consistency.
Jeter has never been considered the best overall player in baseball. Although he hit very well from 1996-2000, during that time his hitting ability was somewhat overshadowed by Nomar Garciaparra from perrenial Yankees rival The Boston Red Sox, who hit .357 and .372 in consecutive seasons in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, Ichiro Suzuki came over from Japan an immediately became the best hitter in baseball - which he remains to this day - he is currently hitting .360.
His defensive skills, while certainly good enough to win him several gold gloves at shortstop, have never been considered by scouts and baseball statistics experts to be extraordinary. His baserunning abilities, while not flashy like base stealing experts Carl Crawford or Jose Reyes, are good enough for him to be a threat anytime he gets on: his caught stealing percentage is always below 20%, the cut off where the statistics dictate it is no longer profitable to steal. Beyond Jeter's physical skills are his often cited intagibles - the mental qualities that cant be quantified. From players to coaches to analysts, everyone agrees Jeter has these intangible winning qualities in spades, more so than perhaps any player that plays the game.
But what wraps all this ability and talent together into a Cooperstown worthy package is a singular quality: consistency. Derek Jeter takes the same approach to playing the game of baseball game in and game out, year in and year out. Whether he is 100% healthy, or playing hurt, whether its a meaningless game in late September or game 7 of the World Series, you know Jeter is going to bring total focus and intensity to every at bat and every play in the field.
Every single time in my entire life I have seen Jeter hit a routine ground ball out to an infielder, he runs with 100% effort down the first base line. I cant tell you how many extra hits he has gotten that way, and how many extra hits other players who dont run as hard miss out on by simply not playing the game correctly. You play to win the game. You play, to win - the game. Every single thing that you can do to help your team win, you do and you do it every single time. Its amazing to me how many extremely talented players - some even more talented than Jeter - I have seen that simply dont play baseball correctly, they simply dont play the game to win. They might be playing for stats or just trying to stay fresh or stay healthy, but they arent playing to win 100% of the time. Derek Jeter is one of the few players I have seen in my life that always, even if hes hurt, even if he doesnt have his A-game, he always plays the game of baseball to win. Thats why he is special, thats why he is different. Thats what makes him one of the very best players in the game, and one of the greatest of all time.