New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter chasing 3,000

July 04, 2011|By Ben Bolch and Kevin Van Valkenburg, Tribune Newspapers

He is Mr. November, and every other month in which Major League Baseball is played.

He has more hits than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, a higher career batting average than Mickey Mantle and a higher postseason average than Joe DiMaggio.

And it won't be long before Derek Jeter is a new lord of New York Yankees lore.

With six more hits, the shortstop will become the first player to collect 3,000 hits while playing exclusively with the most storied franchise in baseball. He resumed his pursuit Monday against the Cleveland Indians after spending the last three weeks on the disabled list with a strained right calf.

"Some of the best players to ever play this game have worn the pinstripes," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "So you would just assume that a few of them would have gotten to 3,000 hits. But it just shows you what elite company it is."

It is a group that includes 27 players, only 10 of whom have reached the milestone with one team. Every member of the 3,000-hit club is a Hall of Famer with the exception of the recently retired Craig Biggio and scandal-tainted Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro. Biggio is expected to be a first-ballot inductee when he becomes eligible in 2013.

Jeter, who turned 37 late last month, will become the sixth youngest player to reach the threshold, trailing only Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, Rose and Tris Speaker.

One of a kind

What puts Jeter in even more exclusive company is his near-universal appeal. He possesses a personality suitable for all audiences, a squeegee-clean image unsullied by steroid accusations or unseemly moments documented on YouTube or Twitter.

"I've seen girls cry when he's given them batting gloves in the stands, and that's not even in Yankee Stadium," Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "That's in road ballparks. Everywhere we go, you see a huge number of signs for Derek Jeter, or jerseys with No. 2 on them. That just speaks to the kind of person he is, and what he means to people."

Jeter's popularity is also attributable to his reputation as a gamer who plays through injuries — his recent trip to the disabled list was his first since 2003 — and a gracious teammate reluctant to criticize others in the clubhouse. He avoids controversy by refusing to say anything contentious, or much of anything at all.

Asked about his legacy before the Yankees played Cleveland last month at Yankee Stadium, Jeter said, "I don't think about it, and I don't know what people are saying. I got nothing for you, buddy."

What about your sustained success?

"I don't know, man," said Jeter, a career .312 hitter who had never batted worse than .291 in a full season before 2010. "I really don't think about those kinds of things. My job is to try and come here and help us win. That's pretty much all I think about."

Jeter's clubhouse locker is, in some respects, a reflection of his personality. He keeps his shoes — everything from his cleats to his flip-flops — perfectly aligned. His clothes hang neatly from plastic hangers. Designer T-shirts are on the left, batting practice warm-ups and game jerseys in the middle, pants on the right. There are no pictures of his family, fiancée Minka Kelly or friends on the inside of the locker.

He left one black sock on the floor when he went out for batting practice prior to the game against the Indians, but snatched it up immediately when he returned, as if he hoped no one would notice it had been there.

Smooth off the field

Jeter has made a habit of cleaning up the rare messy moment. When the late George Steinbrenner famously criticized his star player in 2003 for partying into the early morning hours in Manhattan, the duo teamed up to shoot a Visa commercial in which they conga danced together at a nightclub.

"I think he is the blueprint of a Yankee player," said Larry Bowa, who spent two years in New York as the team's third base coach under former manager Joe Torre. "He realizes he's representing the Yankees not only for nine innings but 24 hours a day. He's aware of how big he is and he's sort of left a legacy of how to handle yourself on and off the field."

In the unofficial biography "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter," the shortstop credited his ability to avoid saying anything worthwhile to Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, his former hitting coach with the Yankees. Mattingly said he took that as a compliment.

"Obviously, here and there both, there's a lot of attention about what the team's going through and everybody wants to make a story right then," Mattingly said. "I think you have to be able to avoid that. Basically, say nothing. Or bore you to death."

Smooth on the field

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