Because of my Boston origin, my wife, Susan, and I taught our kids that the proper name of the New York American League team is "the dreaded Yankees." But New York's Derek Jeter, who today became the 28th member of major league baseball's 3,000-hit club, deserves honor for his honest work and hustle.
Baseball's other offensive-statistic-based club, that for players with 500 or more home runs, has 25 members, but the steroids that apparently aided two 70-home-run cheaters, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, have tarnished that membership. No one has called Jeter a druggie, though, and he's always been human-scale, not like the incredible mini-hulk Sammy Sosa became.
Besides, steroids don't seem to help batters get more singles, which are more a matter of timing and patience than strength. Jeter's play has always been more balletic-the dive into the stands to snare a foul pop, the jump throw from the shortstop hole-than ballistic. Highlight films sometimes feature sluggers slamming balls into the stands, but the bang-bang defensive plays like those on Jeter's resume drop my jaw.
Some baseball wonks say that Jeter's range is not that impressive anymore, that he's statistically a below-average defensive shortstop, and that at age 37 he should no longer be a leadoff hitter. Maybe, but Jeter is still high on my list of what still gives baseball on-field integrity, even if he is dreaded.
And who's next for the 3,000-hit club? Venerable shortstop Omar Vizquel and turning-40 catcher Ivan Rodriguez both have over 2,800 but only play part-time now, so they probably won't make it. Yankee Alex Rodriguez, with over 2,700, is probably next, but he seems all-ego and at least a bit of his career was apparently drug-propelled, so his ascension to the club won't warrant the celebration that Jeter's does.
Way to go.