Jeter 3K: One Year LaterThe Captain has come a long way in the last calendar year
Last July 9 was also, unofficially, his own Independence Day.
America’s Independence Day, July 4, had marked Jeter’s return from a three-week stint on the disabled list with a strained calf. But well before he left his last game prior (against the Indians on June 13) with that injury, there was a lot of talk, with the subject a grim one: Jeter was done.
Sure, it had happened before, as people had been writing off the Captain, either offensively or defensively, for years. But after he slumped through 2010 en route to the worst statistical year of his career, Jeter’s poor start to 2011 just magnified the situation – with many going as far as saying that the three-year, $51 million (minimum) contract the Yankees had just given him was a huge mistake, one born out of pride rather than production because he was, in fact, Derek Jeter.
Jeter was hitting just .260 when he went on the DL last June, a number that was right around where he had been hovering most of the last season-plus but well below his career mark. And, while he was never considered a “power hitter,” the fact that Jeter had just 12 extra base hits – compared to a career where he had averaged 31 doubles and 15 home runs per year – was further proof that we were witnessing the beginning of the end, watching daily as the Yankees’ Samson had his strength sapped by Father Time.
And then came 3K.
When Jeter returned on July 4, 2011, it was in the Yankees’ 83rd game of the season. The Captain had missed the previous 18, and he went into the game against Cleveland with 2,994 hits and a whole lot of questions.
That was 371 days and 165 Yankees games ago…and not once since has anyone even remotely thought about calling the Captain washed up.
Jeter has played in 152 of those 165 games, roughly the equivalent of a full season. He’s batted .318 with 201 hits over the last calendar year, and in that time he’s gone from 28th place all-time to 14th, passing more than a dozen of the best hitters in baseball history – brand names like Clemente, Boggs, Brett, and Gwynn.
And, even in a season where injuries to others has prevented Joe Girardi from resting his 37-year-old shortstop as much as he wanted, Jeter keeps trucking along; he’s played in 83 of the team’s 85 games this year, was hitting over .400 into May, and still sits at .308 at the break.
Jeter’s “mistake” of a contract runs through 2013, with a player option or 2014 that looks more and more likely to be exercised every day. On the pace he’s currently on, he would finish 2012 with 214 hits (giving him 3,302), and if he repeats his July 9-July 9 pace again over the next 365, he’ll sit sixth all-time in hits, sneaking up on Tris Speaker for fifth, come this time next year.
Derek Jeter will be 39 years old at that point, with only a handful of accomplishments and maybe one more contract negotiation standing between him and baseball immortality. But even then, whether he’s hitting .360 or .260, everyone will likely think twice before they count out the Captain.
After all, the 13 men ahead of Jeter on the all-time hits list all have two things in common: they were all over 40 when they retired, and with one or maybe two exceptions, were all still pretty good hitters on the day they hung them up.
With his own revival now a full calendar year in the rear-view mirror, Derek Jeter looks like he’s on the road to joining them.
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES