Baseball is obsessed with numbers and milestones. We know who has the most steroids-free home runs in a single season (Roger Maris, 61), a career (Hank Aaron, 755) and the most hits in a career (Pete Rose, 4,256). If you follow baseball, you know these facts pretty much off the top of your head. But quick, answer this: Which NFL quarterback threw for the most yards in a career? No Googling!
So it comes as no surprise that when a baseball player reaches the milestone of 3,000 hits, its a big deal. When it’s Derek Jeter, well, it’s huge.
Only 27 players have done it. Of those eligible, all but one have been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (the one exception: suspected steroids user Rafael Palmeiro).
Babe Ruth never did it. Neither did Joe DiMaggio nor Mickey Mantle.
We know that Jeter is not a player in the league of Ruth or DiMaggio or Mantle.
But the importance of being Jeter is to know it’s not about the numbers.
Derek Sanderson Jeter is about leadership and class. He practically grew up under the cold scrutiny of the New York media. He had been the most eligible bachelor in this town for more than a decade, and yet we never had to hear about any late-night partying or drinking stories or stories of jilted girlfriends.
Jeter may be the most boring interview in baseball (“I just go out and give 110 percent. . . “), but we never hear stories about sniping behind other player’s backs (reporters have tried hard, particularly in connection with his rocky relationship with Alex Rodriguez).
When Jeter faked getting hit by a pitch to get on base, it became a national incident. Jeter detractors tried to use this as proof that, well, he’s human. Or just a great competitor.
My appreciation of Jeter is about the little things. I remember trying to teach my daughter how to field a grounder, and after getting blank stares and little cooperation, I finally said, “Just watch Jeter, and do EXACTLY what he does.” Of course, it worked.
In fact, Jeter has been unafraid to take on the mantle of role model, while most other multi-millionaire players say it’s not in their job description. I remember a few years ago watching a Yankee game where they were down by about ten runs in the ninth inning. Jeter hit a grounder to short, and almost beat it out. He was running all-out, the way he’s always done it.
Nowadays we hear that Derek Jeter is done, that he can only hit ground balls. Well, one thing is certain: He can still CATCH ground balls, something all the young vaunted Yankee backups have not been able to do.
When the chips are down in the playoffs, I know who I want at shortstop.
And by the way, the answer to our football quiz question… who has thrown for the most passing yards in NFL history? Brett Favre. And in so many ways, he is no Derek Jeter.