By Larry Teren
Baseball is the most beloved American sport probably because of the way one can pour over the performance statistics and twist it anyway he wants. That is part of the charm of kids looking forward to getting baseball cards and comparing the stats of the players with the cards friends have. Football may have more intensity to its current popularity but it is a team sport. Outside of yards gained by a running back or receiver and the ubiquitous quarterback rating there is not much for the average fan statistics-wise to drool over. C’mon- how many people compare one player’s sack count or passes deflected or intercepted to those of another defensive back?
It used to be that baseball fans were suspicious of the individual accolades given to all those New York Yankees baseball players after each season. The worst example of hometown favoritism was in 1941 when Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio won the second of his three MVP awards. It was the year Joe hit in 56 straight games but it was also the year Ted Williams hit .406 for all 154 games. Some people said that Ted Williams got shut out for a couple of reasons, the main one being he was surly to reporters and there were more of them in New York than in Boston. Sure- Joe Dimaggio helped the New York Yankees win the World Series that year- as usual, or so it seemed, while Ted Williams helped the Red Sox finish second again, as usual, too.
Maybe the scribes felt that what Joe Dimaggio did was that much more difficult to accomplish even though it was for only a portion of the season. Maybe they thought it was too easy to bat over .400 for an entire season. Ted Williams had a .400 average on the last day of the baseball campaign. He chose to play rather than risk making enough outs to lower it below the magic line. When the pressure was on, he stood out and did so well that the average climbed another 6 points. It’s true that we like to see one clear winner, but maybe they should have let Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams share the trophy that year as they were both clearly that much better than everyone else.
The nice thing about baseball statistics is that a lot of is is based on a level playing field. All eight non-pitcher players must bat. It doesn’t matter how tall, muscular, speedy or good a fielder you are. It doesn’t matter whether you get a single, double, triple or home run. Or whether your hit won the game or was wasted in a blow out. One safely hit ball in four at bats is still a .250 batting average at the end of the day.
I thought it would be interesting to see how Derek Jeter matches up to several other greats when it comes to getting on base, which is what is expected of a non-pitcher. As the following table shows, Derek Jeter holds up pretty well, if not better than some of the others in hits per game during his career.
|Games Played||Hits||Average||On Base Pct.||Years Played||Hits Per Game|
Among all the baseball greats listed above, Derek Jeter is ranked near the top of the list in hits per game played. You can argue that the record held by Ty Cobb is skewed because he played in an era when most guys were “punch and judy” hitters just trying to get on base. Derek Jeter has thrived in an era where every other batter is trying to jerk one out of the park.
Even in the era of free agency, a ballplayer cannot pick all of his teammates nor know for sure how they will respond under fire and through adverse situations. Derek Jeter has been on five World Series Championships and has played on the same ball club since the first time he put on a uniform. This is partially a wise decision on the part of New York Yankees management as well as the loyalty of a guy born across the river in New Jersey.
Ironically, Derek had more at bats this past season than any other of his 18 in the majors and at the very end he sustained a potentially career ending injury. It’s tough for a guy at age 38 to come back let alone a younger, faster healer athlete. If this marks the end of a remarkable career, let’s give a tip of the cap to another New York Yankees future hall of famer.