I know what Derek Jeter ate for breakfast this morning.
Okay, so I don’t actually know what he ate, but I feel like I do given all the intense media coverage of The March To 3,000 – now just two hits away. Ever since Jeter passed Lou Gehrig to become the Yankees’ all-time hits leader in 2009, there’s been an incessant stream of stories chronicling his every move as he closed in on the 3,000 hit plateau. While that feat is certainly quite an accomplishment for any player, Jeter has received much undue coverage and sickeningly effusive praise. Every hit prompts banner headlines, as does every hitless game: “Jeter Hitless, But Still Super Fucking Awesome.”
The coverage is not surprising. Jeter is the Lady Gaga of baseball. As the Yankee’s captain, he’s the most visible, indelible and – above all – most popular member of the most popular team in baseball. And yes, Jeter is an incredible baseball player, a guy who is arguably the best hitting shortstop in history.
That doesn’t mean, however, that all of the coverage is deserved; nor that it should be so prevalent in virtually all sports media. Reading through the countless stories about Jeter, I’m forced to think back to one of my favorite players from my childhood: Craig Biggio.
I liked Biggio because in addition to being an amazing player, he seemed like a nice guy – humble, gritty and consistent. He played two solid decades in Houston, ultimately smacking his 3,000th hit in 2007. Biggio was a doubles machine, ranking fifth all time with 668. He also did anything necessary to get on base, refusing to duck away from inside pitches, a ballsy tactic that made him the most-hit batsmen in the modern era. Somewhere, Coach from “Cheers” smiled.
Despite his accomplishments, no one was slavering over his pursuit of that hallowed baseball stat. There were stories here and there as he approached the mark, and many more once he got that hit. The Astros had even installed a hit counter at the start of the season in anticipation of him becoming the first player in franchise history to notch 3,000 hits. But the coverage was nothing like it’s been for Jeter.
Comparing Jeter and Biggio is fairly apt because their similarities are striking. Jeter earns accolades for being a great hitter at what isn’t necessarily a hitter’s position – shortstop. Biggio came up as a catcher and switched to second base, two positions also not often held down by phenomenal hitters. Jeter is known for his durability, having played at least 150 games in 12 of his first 15 full seasons; Biggio did so ten times, including three seasons in which he played every game, something Jeter has never done. Jeter has won five Gold Gloves to Biggio’s four, though most modern-era metrics consistently rate Jeter as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game.
Both players are also known for having spent their entire careers with just one team. For Jeter, the stay in New York was a no-brainer. The Yankees are perennial contenders, and he’s won a fistful of rings with them. Houston, by contrast, often sucked during Biggio’s tenure. But he stuck with the club through it all, even though he could have jumped ship for bigger bucks elsewhere. Biggio earned a max salary of $9.7 million, though he typically made something closer to $6 million; he played for the relatively small sum of $3 million towards the end of his career. Jeter raked in $22.6 million last year alone, and has amassed over $200 million throguhout his entire career. Why would any player leave a city that’s so eager to shower him in riches?
Biggio’s greatest flaw, it seems, was playing for an oft-ignored small market team. It was as if when he finally reached 3,000 hits, people were shocked to realize that Houston had a good player not named Bagwell.
Even as a Red Sox fan, I don’t hate Derek Jeter anymore. He’s a great player who, despite being a Yankee, doesn’t come off as an egomaniacal jackass like, say, A-Rod. Really, on the “1 – Rodriguez” scale of punchable faces, he registers somewhere around a three, maybe a four.
I’ll truly be happy for Jeter when he breaks into that storied club. And I’ll read some of the coverage and the retrospectives when they inevitably pour forth as well. In a way, I’m even eager to see him get it over with so writers will move and start covering something else – like Jeter’s pursuit of 3,001, 3,002 and 3,003.
- by Jon Terbush