How Jeter Became the First Yankee to Get 3,000 Hits
Derek Jeter’s home run for his 3,000th career hit during a 5-for-5 day that included the game-winning single in the eighth inning was, in my opinion, one of the five most memorable single-game performances by any New York Yankee in the 109-season history of that most successful of all Major League Baseball teams.
It was not that Jeter’s 3,000th hit came during a vital or extremely important game since it took place eight days ago during a routine, mid-season game with the Tampa Bay Rays. It was simply the most incredible effort imaginable by a man for whom such deeds seem to be second nature.
The greatest Yankee shortstop in team history described his own effort perfectly by saying, “If I had written it and given it to someone I wouldn’t have even bought it.”
Jeter’s long anticipated 3,000th hit was the second of those five hits and the first Yankee Stadium home run of 2011 by the 37-year-old most popular Yankee of his generation. It was achieved by a player some people considered over the hill and now only capable of hitting a few ground ball singles that trickle through the infield.
But for pure, thrilling baseball theater, Jeter’s big day was on a par with Babe Ruth’s game-winning 3-run homer in the first game at the original Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923, giving this most famous of all baseball arenas the moniker “The House That Ruth Built.”
The other one-game spectaculars of note by Yankees that Jeter matched were Allie Reynolds’ second no-hitter of the season for an 8-0 victory over the Red Sox to clinch the American League pennant for the Yanks, Sept. 28, 1951; Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in game five of the 1956 World Series, October 8, 1956, as the Yanks went on to win the WS in seven games; and Reggie Jackson’s three consecutive home runs in the sixth and final game of the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving the Yanks the game, 8-4, and the WS, 4-2.
One of the most surprising things about Jeter getting 3,000 hits is that he is the only Yankee in history to reach that rare pinnacle of MLB success.
However, each of four men who collected 3,000 hits played a part of his career with the Yankees. These include Dave Winfield, who got 1,300 of his 3,110 hits with the Yanks, 1981-1988 and 1990; Rickey Henderson, with 663 of his 3,055 hits as a Yankee, 1985-1989; and Wade Boggs, who had 702 of 3,010 hits while playing for the Yankees, 1993-1997.
Paul Waner, known as “Big Poison,” became famous as a Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder, 1926-1940, before playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the Boston Braves. He finally spent his last two MLB years on the Yankee roster, 1944 and 1945. Waner came to bat only seven times during those two Yankee seasons and got only one single, which was the last of his 3,152 hits.
Derek Jeter became the 28th MLB player to join the “3,000 Hit Club” and only the 10th one to get all 3,000 hits playing for just one team.
While Jeter was getting closer and closer to the 3,000 mark, many fans wondered: With all those great Yankee hitters throughout the team’s history, why didn’t any other Yankee get 3,000 hits?
Taking them chronologically, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle were the Yankees most likely to get 3,000 hits while wearing pinstripes. But these Yankee heroes fell short of the lofty goal for good but quite different reasons.
First was Babe Ruth, the Bambino, who began his MLB career in 1914 as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. During six seasons with Boston, Ruth played in 391 games, including 158 as a pitcher. He was a position player, primarily in the outfield, in the other 233 games.
As a result, Ruth came to bat only 1,110 times in six Red Sox years and got only 342 hits before being sold to the Yankees after the 1919 season. He was 25 years old when he began his 15-year career as a Yankee. Ruth was strictly the Yanks’ right fielder for all those years, a position player batting third in the lineup who was counted upon to get lots of big hits. He did as expected.
Ruth ended his career playing 28 games for the Boston Braves in 1935 during which he got his final 13 hits for a career total of 2,873 hits. He hit 2,518 of them as a Yankee for an average of 168 hits per season with the Bronx Bombers. Had Ruth started as he finished by playing the outfield every game averaging 168 hits a season with the Red Sox, he would have totaled about 3,500 hits for his career.
Lou Gehrig was 18 days short of his 22nd birthday when he pinch hit on June 1, 1925. The following day manager Miller Huggins put Gehrig at first base in place of Wally Pipp. Gehrig played every one of the Yanks’ next 2,128 games for an MLB record of 2,130 consecutive games played. That is how he got the nickname “Iron Horse.”
Cal Ripken Jr., a member of the “3,000 Hit Club,” broke Gehrig’s record by playing in 2,632 consecutive games during 17 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, 1982-1998.
Gehrig was, like Jeter, the Yanks’ team captain, and was surely headed for the 3,000 hit plateau when, on May 2, 1939, at age 35, the “Iron Horse” asked then Yankee Manager Joe McCarthy, to take him out of the lineup. He was replaced by Babe Dahlgren and never played in another game.
Lou Gehrig, who had difficulty keeping his balance and swallowing, was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known more simply in those days as “ALS.” Gehrig’s fame and popularity drew the attention of an entire nation when he unexpectedly sat down. Because of the notoriety surrounding his departure from the game and death two years later from this dreadful disease, “ALS” is now best known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Gehrig had a total of 2,721 hits for an average of 160 hits per season. Actually, from 1925 through 1938 Gehrig got 2,638 of his hits in those 14 most productive of his seasons. Had he not been stricken by this fatal “ALS” disease and gone on to play for three or four more seasons, Gehrig would easily have gotten 3,300 or more hits.
Joe DiMaggio was a Yankee rookie in 1936 but got to play only 13 seasons as a Yankee regular. First of all, he missed three years, 1943-1945, because of Army service during World War II. Then, in 1949, he played in only 76 games because of a bone spur in his right heel that resulted in surgery. The “Yankee Clipper” was hampered during his two remaining seasons with the Yankees after that injury and played only 116 games in his last season, 1951, before retiring.
DiMaggio got 2,214 hits in his Yankee career. Had WW II never happened and had “Joltin’ Joe” not come afoul of a bone spur, he probably would have played until at least 1955 and thus surpassed the 3,100 hit mark.
Finally, there is Mickey Mantle, whose legs simply gave out while he drank himself into retirement. “The Mick,” like Lou Gehrig, had a disease. But Mickey’s was alcoholism.
Mantle collected 2,415 hits in 18 years with the Yankees, 1951-1968. But he was unable to perform 100 percent of the time in many of those seasons such as 1963, when he played in only 65 games due to leg problems, or 1966, when he was in only 108 games.
Mantle suffered serious leg injuries as a high school football player in Commerce, Okla. This led to osteomyelitis that hampered him throughout his baseball career. He was heavily taped from thigh to ankle before every game.
If Mantle had been able to play more regularly during his Yankee career the chances are he would have gotten over 3,000 hits.
Jeter became the first Yankee to get 3,000 hits largely because he is an everyday position player who only once sat out any length of time due to injury or illness. He missed 36 games after suffering a dislocated shoulder on opening day, April 1, 2003. Jeter returned after six weeks and got 156 hits for the season.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
More like this story