Pete Rose is the all-time hits leader with 4,256 hits, and there are rumblings throughout baseball that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter just might have a chance to break that record. It’s a remote (im)possibility, because Jeter, at age 38, only has 3,304 career hits. If he even hopes to approach Rose’s record, he’ll have to average approximately 188 hits over the next five seasons. For a player on the verge of 40, it seems highly improbable.
Joe Posnanski of Sports on Earth recently spoke with Rose in an extended interview (which you should go read in its entirety), and the subject of Jeter and reaching Rose’s all-time mark became a point of extended conversation. And it appears that Rose has thought about this a lot, because he logically worked through Jeter’s future career progression to arrive at a conclusion: Jeter has no chance at his record.
Here’s Rose’s thought process:
“‘I don’t think he will break the record,” Rose says. ‘First of all, I don’t think he wants to leave the Yankees. And the Yankees, they’re about winning. Jeter had a great year this year, but he’s what? Thirty-eight years old? And he’s a shortstop? How many 40-year-old shortstops you see walking around? Not too many, right? And they can’t put him at third because A-Rod’s there. They can’t put him at second ’cause Cano’s there. He don’t help them in left field — he’s got to be in the center of things, you know what I mean? What are they going to do? Put him at first base?
‘He still needs 950 hits, right? He had a great year this year, but you think he can do that again? At 39? A shortstop? Let’s say he does it again. Let’s say he gets 200 more hits next year. And let’s say he gets 200 more hits when he’s 40, though I don’t think he can. OK, can he get 200 more hits when he’s 41? You think he can?’
‘[…] I don’t think he can get 200 more hits at 41, but let’s say he does. OK, now he’s 42. He’s gonna get 200 more hits then? At 42? Let me tell you, I’ve been there, the body locks up. Jeter’s a great hitter. I’d say he hits like I did. But he’s gonna get 200 hits when he’s 42? I don’t think he will. And even if he does all that, he’s STILL 150 hits short.’
One beat of silence. Two beats of silence.
‘I’d say Jeter will probably end up in batting average about where I was. We’re about the same — me, Derek, Hank, Willie. We were all hitting about .311 or .312 or .313 when we got into our late 30s, maybe Willie was a little lower, and we all ended up around .303 or .305. Jeter will probably end up where I did, right around there. So if his average is around the same as mine, he has to get about as many at-bats as I did. I got 14,053 at-bats. What’s he got? Ten thousand? Eleven thousand? He’s a great hitter. How’s he going to get 3,500 more at-bats? I think time’s running out.'”
There’s nothing particularly earth-shattering in here; Rose’s record is seemingly safe, though his in-depth statistical defense is intriguing, if only because of his ability recall such stats with ease. At the very least, it’s clear that he’s done a good deal of thinking about this.
Rose goes on later to speak about his desire to win, saying:
“You know who I like? Bryce Harper. That guy plays with enthusiasm. He’s from here, you know. Here in Vegas. His dad says he was a fan of mine and raised Bryce to play like me. That’s smart. No, really. When you watched me play, how could you not want your kid to play like me? I wish I was playing today. There are a lot of guys in the game I could take advantage of. They’re talking of making Adam Dunn comeback player of the year. Do you know what he hit this year?
[…] You play to win. That’s why they have those million-dollar scoreboards. What’s on the scoreboard matters. I played to win. I didn’t care if it was an All-Star Game or a World Series game. I played to win.”
His outright denigration of this statistical obsession is rather interesting, considering his keen awareness of its direct impact on his own baseball immortality. But that this is something, that Rose is so protective of his record, speaks towards a larger truth about baseball, one that should be altogether irrelevant but still permeates the baseball discourse at large.
Baseball is a game of records – useless and relatively untelling records, that is. They celebrate longevity over anything else, yet they’re used as finite markers of greatness. But this focus acknowledges a fundamental fact about baseball, that it’s an individual game framed in a team dynamic. Rose, for his part, sees winning and stats-mongering as fundamentally separate entities – you can achieve both at the same time, but neither relies upon the other. In reality, however, baseball is a summation of individuals – a bunch of singularly successful performances leads to victory. Pile up enough individual feats on one team and you have winning baseball.
Only in baseball does individualism not detract from the greater whole, because players operate on isolated planes. Pitch the ball, hit the ball, throw the ball, be in the right place. There are no choices in baseball, making the “right” or “safe” play. Get a hit, throw a strike, don’t make an error. Of course there’s team morale and locker room chemistry and all that publicly traded fodder which can, at times, unhinge team success, but baseball is a largely “if…then” statement. If individuals play well, then the team plays well.
Bringing this back to Derek Jeter, for a moment – no amount of hits or records will alter his overall baseball ability. He’s a great player, with or without the hits record. But haggling over degrees of minute separation is baseball tradition. If Jeter does become the all-time hits leader, he’ll be vaulted to an entirely different level of adulation, even if the only thing that happened is that he didn’t retire.