The result of yesterday’s odd and disjointed game is all but an afterthought, today is a day to celebrate a player who we almost take for granted. With one of his classic, inside-out swings he sent a hard ground ball past a diving Luke Scott to surpass Lou Gehrig in the Yankee franchise record books. As Yankee fans we’ve watched him grow up from the young man that was drafted with the 6th pick of the 1992 draft to the man we know and love today:
(Love the purse, Derek)
But seriously, Derek has been one of the cornerstones of this franchise almost since the day he arrived in the bigs in 1996 when Mariano Duncan hurt his elbow in Spring Training. We saw him make adjustments that first season and adopt the inside out swing that has become his trademark. Over the past 14 years, there have been so many memories. From the speech that closed the old Yankee Stadium, to the ‘flip play’, to diving into the stands vs the Red Sox and too many magical post season moments to list. It’s worth noting that two of his most famous plays (Flip play/diving into stands) are ones that don’t show up in the box score as anything other than an ordinary out. Watching them live you knew they were anything but. Yankee fans have long argued that Jeter’s impact goes beyond the numbers. Just the tone he sets as the team’s biggest star and the way he goes about his business sends a subtle message to his teammates and opposing players that the Yanks play the game a certain way. You don’t always see that leadership on other teams. He now has the kind of longevity where the numbers are catching up, and beginning to give a sense of his place in Yankee history.
Assuming he stays healthy, he’s a lock for 3,000 hits. If he keeps a pledge he made to Gene Michael 2 years to ago (at age 33) to play 10 more years, he could possibly make a run at the All Time Hit Record. He plays every day and his swing and approach at the plate is one that promises to age well, so it’s not unreasonable to contemplate. He also has the DH role as an option to extend his career and keep him rested as he ages. He’s already ahead of where Rose was at the same age, the bigger question will be where he plays defensively and where he fits in on future Yankee teams. He would need to average 180 hits per year to pass Cobb by age 43 and 190 hits per year to pass Rose. Hank Aaron is more likely, he would only to average 125 hits per season over the next 8 years to pass him. 4,000 hits is also in reach, that would require him to average 156 hits per season. Even if he was to fall short of Rose, who spent his entire career in the National League, if he could pass Ty Cobb he would seize the American League mark.
I’ve long contended his future is in Left Field. Center field is too physically demanding and requires great speed, which Derek will obviously be losing as he ages. First base is occupied for the next 7 years and Third base is occupied for the next 8 seasons. I don’t see asking A-Rod to move to the outfield, in what would represent his second position change for Jeter’s sake. Although, if Alex’s hip or any other medical reason forces Alex to change positions on his own, a shift to 3B for Derek is possible. But these are matters for another day, Derek has played SS this year as well as he has at any time in recent memory, so talk of changing positions will have to wait until he shows signs of decline.
Fans familiar with Yankee tradition and history know there are two distinct ‘bloodlines’ in Yankee tradition. There are the flamboyant, larger than life Yankee sluggers who trace back Ruth. This would include the likes of Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and to today with Alex Rodriguez. Then there is the quiet professional, the player who goes about his business producing day in and day out with little use for fanfare or the limelight. That is the Gehrig tradition, and it includes such luminaries as Joe Dimaggio, Bill Dickey, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams and to today with Derek Jeter. It is fitting that the Gehrig mark would be surpassed by one of his successors.
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