July 6, 2011 -- As Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is poised to reach 3,000 career hits in Major League Baseball, ABC's Rick Klein considers the Jeter FAQ. And for another perspective, ABC's John Berman answers those same FAQ's witha distinctly Beantown point of view HERE.
Q. Has anyone ever reached 3,000 hits before Derek Jeter?
A. Indeed they have. Among the 27 other men to have accomplished the feat are Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Cap Anson, and even Carl Yastrzemski and Wade Boggs (who, in fairness, needed a few years with the Yankees to get it done). Oddly, Ted Williams is not on this list. In one of history's great injustices, Nomar Garciaparra finished his career only 1,253 hits short of the milestone.
Q. Doesn't Derek Jeter's tenure with the Yankees exemplify the kind of loyalty rarely seen in sports these days?
A. Yes, it does, though "loyalty" does not fully describe the meaning of the relationship between franchise and player. Jeter has been the anchor of a team that's featured three players (Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada) as teammates for 16 seasons -- a run that's unprecedented in American team sports. The fact that these three gentlemen have won five championships, and have chosen to stay in pinstripes, is mostly an accident of a scouting system that identified their potential when they were little more than boys.
Q. Is Derek Jeter the greatest Yankee ever?
A. Certainly not, and it's a testament to Jeter that he wouldn't pretend to have been even the greatest player on any of the teams he's played on. Perhaps it's not fair to expect superlatives to ever apply to players on a franchise that had Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, but Jeter would never pretend to have breathed their exhaled air. Also, he's never been a home run hitter.
Q. How important is Jeter's gentlemanly behavior off the field?
A. This is of only moderate significance. The fact that Jeter has conducted himself like a Yankee is a piece, but only a piece, of his success and popularity. He's been lucky to play in a sleepy media market like New York, under emotionally stable ownership like that of George Steinbrenner, and to have done nothing so scandalous that it couldn't be spoofed in a Visa commercial.
Q. Isn't Jeter the glue that holds the Yankees together?
A. No. That is a faulty analogy, unless you understand the glue as the bonding agent that adheres great pieces to each other. Playing shortstop, hitting at the top of the lineup, achievement in big situations -- those are important. But Jeter's team's stuck together without him during the rare stretches of injury, and the less-rare episodes of extended slumps.
Q. As Captain, hasn't he established an extraordinarily high standard for sportsmanship in the clubhouse?
A. Yes. The "Bronx Zoo" only describes a zoo in the Bronx again. In an era where the greatest lights have been dimmed by the smudges of performance-enhancing drugs, Jeter has never been linked to steroids, either directly or indirectly. He bloodied his nose while others were bloodying their socks, or were too bloody grumpy to play.
Q. Is this record more significant because Jeter is a Yankee, and the Yankees represent something special to America?
A. No. Notwithstanding their 27 World Championships, their multi-generational greatness, their deep roots in American culture, or the values and ideals they represent, the Yankees do not represent something special to America. Jeter does not merit, and would not want, extra credit for getting all of his hits as a Yankee.
(Disclaimer: This Yankees fan once thought that Jeter was the third-best shortstop in the American league -- behind Nomar and A-Rod -- but has since learned better.)