Derek Jeter overcame a leg injury, thunderstorms and a yearlong homerless streak at Yankee Stadium to complete his quest yesterday for 3,000 hits.
The New York Yankees’ captain sent a 3-2 pitch into the left-field seats to reach the milestone, becoming the first to do it with baseball’s most successful franchise and the 28th in Major League Baseball history.
The milestone hit, Jeter’s second on his way to a 5-for-5 performance, came off the Tampa Bay Rays’ All-Star left-hander David Price during the third inning yesterday.
“Hitting a home run is the last thing I ever thought about,” Jeter, who drove in the winning run in New York’s 5-4 victory over the Rays, said in an interview with the YES Network. “The most important thing is we were able to win and I’m happy to contribute.”
Jeter joins Wade Boggs as the only players to hit a home run for their 3,000th hits. Jeter had gone 286 at-bats without a home run at his home park since an inside-the-park feat on July 22, 2010, against Kansas City.
“It is a monumental achievement, and Derek has climbed the mountain,” Boggs said in a statement. “It won’t be too long now before we are on the veranda in Cooperstown at the Otesaga Hotel celebrating his induction to the Hall of Fame.”
Of the previous 27 players with 3,000 hits, 24 are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Pete Rose is banned for gambling on baseball, Rafael Palmeiro has been linked to steroids and Craig Biggio isn’t yet eligible, having played within the past five seasons.
First Since Biggio
The Yankees’ shortstop is the first major-leaguer since Biggio in 2007 to reach the mark, and the fourth in the past decade. Jeter and Biggio also collected at least five hits during the game in which they accomplished the feat.
“Derek has always played with a relentless, team-first attitude and that mind-set has helped sustain this organization’s objective of fielding championship-caliber teams year after year,” said Hal Steinbrenner, Yankees’ general managing partner, in a statement. “It’s only fitting that he reach 3,000 hits during a victory against one of our American League rivals.”
Jeter, who elevated his batting average to .270 from .257, moved into 27th place for all-time hits at 3,003, three ahead of the late Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente and four shy of Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers. Pete Rose holds the major-league record of 4,256 hits. Jeter, Kaline and Clemente are among the 11 players to hit 3,000 with the same club.
Jeter’s 3,000th hit ball was caught by 23-year-old Christian Lopez of Highland Mills, New York, who gave the ball back to Jeter, the 16th player to reach the milestone in his home stadium.
In return, Lopez received four front-row seats for today’s game; four season tickets for the remaining games in 2011, including postseason; and three bats and balls and two jerseys signed by Jeter. The ball could have fetched as much $250,000, said Doug Allen, president of Chicago’s Legendary auctions.
“Jeter is an icon, he deserved this,” Lopez, who attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, and sells mobile phones, said in a televised interview. “He’s worked so hard for it. I’m not really a person to take something away from him.”
Jeter’s first major-league hit was a single off pitcher Tim Belcher of the Seattle Mariners on May 30, 1995. He won the American League’s Rookie of the Year award in 1996 and has a .313 career batting average.
Jeter’s chase for 3,000 hits was delayed for three weeks when he strained a calf muscle on June 12, the first time he has been on the disabled list since 2003. He returned to the active roster July 4.
“To have the most hits for the most prestigious franchise in all of sports is pretty special,” said Paul Molitor, who hit his 3,000th on Sept. 16, 1996, with Minnesota at Kansas City. “If Derek stays healthy, he has a good chance to rack up a lot more hits.”
He had an unscheduled day of rest on July 8 when thunderstorms forced the Yankees to postpone their home game against the Rays. Tampa Bay refused to agree to a doubleheader yesterday that would have given Jeter another game to reach 3,000 before the Yankees went on an eight-game road trip after the All-Star break.
The leader among active players in hits, Jeter signed a three-year contract extension in December that’s worth between $15 million and $17 million annually. The deal came after Jeter hit .270 last year, his lowest batting average for a full season.
“I love what I see of Derek Jeter,” said Robin Yount, who tallied his 3,000th hit on Sept. 9, 1992, with the Milwaukee Brewers against Cleveland. “He is the complete package: a leader, clutch player, and lots of success on baseball’s biggest stage, New York. Being the complete package is something every player dreams of.”
Upon his return from the disabled list, Jeter went 0-for-4 in his first game, against Cleveland. The next night, he collected two hits against the Indians to move within four of 3,000, and ticket prices for the Yankees’ next home stand doubled on resale sites. In the last game of the Cleveland series, he hit a double to move within three of 3,000.
The Yankees opened a four-game home stand with the Rays on July 7 and Jeter led off the bottom of the first inning with his 480th career double. He followed with four ground outs as the Yankees lost 5-1 before the rainout.
Washington Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez is the next closest active player to 3,000, with 2,842 hits through July 8.
Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle has more than 3,600 hits in his professional career, getting 1,278 in Japan before joining the Mariners.
Jeter’s hit total doesn’t include the 185 he’s accumulated in 14 postseasons.
For more than a decade, Jeter has been the face of the Yankees. It is a franchise that from the 1920s through the 1960s produced Babe Ruth, who made the home run a common part of baseball; Lou Gehrig, who played in a then-record 2,130 games in a row; Joe DiMaggio, who hit in a record 56 straight games; and Mickey Mantle, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player.
Jeter has played during baseball’s steroid era, with his name never linked to drugs. His space in the tabloids has been limited to relationships with singer Mariah Carey and his fiancée, model and actress Minka Kelly.
Face of Yankees
When the team closed out the old Yankee Stadium in September 2008, Jeter manned the microphone during the ceremony. In 2010, in the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium across the street, he spoke from the field again at ceremonies marking the death of owner George Steinbrenner.
“This was the only team I ever wanted to play for,” Jeter said after signing his new deal with the Yankees in December. He’s under contract through 2013 and is set to make $15 million this year, $16 million in 2012 and $17 million in the final year of the deal.
Jeter’s endorsement deals include Nike Inc. (NKE), PepsiCo Inc.’s Gatorade brand and Procter & Gamble Co. (PG)’s Gillette unit. Sports Illustrated put his annual income from payroll and sponsorships at $23 million, 22nd among North American athletes.
Jeter’s Hit Documented
Jeter was named the greatest New York athlete in history in a Siena College Research Institute Sports Poll in March, beating out Ruth with 14 percent of the vote.
Jeter’s march to 3,000 hits will be the subject of an MLB- produced documentary on Time Warner Inc.’s HBO Sports. Cameras followed Jeter at home and at the ballpark, compiling hundreds of hours of film for the one-hour special.
Jeter is the first major leaguer to reach 3,000 hits while playing shortstop as his only defensive position.
Honus Wagner was at shortstop when he became the third member of the 3,000-hit club in 1914, though he also made starts in the outfield and other infield positions. Former All-Star shortstops Yount and Cal Ripken Jr. changed positions before getting to 3,000 hits, Yount moving to center field and Ripken to third base.
“This is just the end result of Derek playing as well as he has,” Ripken, 50, said in a July 5 telephone interview. “You think of Derek as a clutch performer, as a winner and someone who’s out there each and every day and is going to end up at around 200 hits at the end of the season. It’s a celebration of your whole career.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com