Jeter marches ahead on baseball's hit list

TORONTO -- The names above Derek Jeter's on baseball’s all-time hit list continue to fall. On Sunday, it was Paul Molitor. By August, it could be Carl Yastrzemski. And by September, Honus Wagner.

And who knows? If he has what we have come to know as a Typical Derek Jeter Season -- discounting only 1995 and 2013 over his 17 full seasons, he has averaged 194 hits -- he could be knocking on the door of the top five, an exclusive room right now occupied by Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker.

Pretty exalted company. But as remarkable as it may seem, if somehow, Jeter reaches 199 hits this season -- a total he has exceeded eight times, including as recently as two years ago -- he will displace Speaker (3,514) and take his place in that very small and select club.

That is something to think about as Jeter heads into his final Opening Day at Yankee Stadium as player on Monday, not only what this guy has done, but how few others have done it.

Maybe it is because many of us have seen his career in its entirety -- and some us, myself included, are shocked by how quickly it came and went -- but it seems entirely too easy these days to dismiss Jeter’s accomplishments and to denigrate what he has meant to the this franchise.

OK, so he doesn’t have Yogi’s 10 rings, or Mickey’s Triple Crown, or DiMaggio’s brooding mystique or even a single MVP award on his shelf.

And yes, he did have Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill and Joe Torre and George M. Steinbrenner’s seemingly bottomless wallet as supporting players in this two-decades-long saga.

But that doesn’t change the hard fact that in the annals of the greatest offensive franchise in baseball history, Derek Jeter stands atop the five in six of the 10 categories, and in the top 10 of all except for triples. And in all of baseball history, there are now only seven names ahead of his on the all-time hit list.

"We’re the ones always yelling for the baseball when he gets a hit so we're aware of what’s going on," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But when you think about some of the names that he’s passing at this point, it’s pretty amazing."

Jeter had two hits in Sunday’s 6-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, the first one a typical Jeterian inside-out line drive to right in the third inning that tied him with Molitor at 3,319, and a sharp grounder past first baseman Edwin Encarnacion in the fourth that put him ahead.

Most Hits in MLB History

"It's special. I grew up watching Paul," Jeter said. "I played against him briefly. I have a lot of respect for him and his career. Anytime you talk about eighth in anything, it's special. It definitely means a lot."

But when asked if he ever allowed himself to look at the names still above his on the list, and to think about the significance of possibly catching them, Jeter went into his familiar "I don’t look beyond today" routine.

"I really haven’t," he said. "I'm aware of it when I get close to someone, but it's not like I have some sort of a checklist at home that I'm going over. This year I, in particular, I'm just happy to be back out there playing. I'm sure someone here will remind me if I get close to somebody else. I try to enjoy it, especially when it's someone like Paul -- someone that you know and that you appreciate and respect. You try to enjoy it a little bit, but I don't know who's next."

Told that it was Yastrzemski and he was still 99 hits away, Jeter smiled and said, "Then you’ll leave me alone for a while."

That relentless method of self-insulation has served Jeter well. It has allowed him to focus on the immediate, not the long-term, and without that kind of laser-like focus he never could have become the player he is.

Even in this victory lap of a season, during which he vowed during spring training to "soak it all in," Jeter has remained careful to let the adulation roll off his back. He was happy with the commemorative ceremony in Houston before the second game of the season, mostly because of his brevity, and was moved, in his own non-emotional way, of course, by the display of respect shown by the Houston Astros when they emerged from their dugout to applaud him before his first at-bat in that game.

"Houston caught me off guard because I didn’t know the opposing team was going to come out like that," he said. "That was something that was unexpected. I don’t know if you can ever expect that."

And he said he has "no idea" of what to expect at Monday’s home opener, although I think we can all take a pretty good guess. Jeter even professed not to know he would be part of a Core Four ceremonial first pitch that would reunite him with Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada until a reporter told him about it.

"I saw them all in Panama, but it will be nice to see them all together again," he said. "But I've caught first pitches before and they're really 30 seconds, so that won't interfere."

Right to the end, Jeter is determined not to let anything, be it adulation, ceremony or his own indefatigable march up the road to baseball immortality interfere with his pregame routines, or the self-protective shell he has so carefully constructed over the past 20 years. He has marched behind it since 1995 and he will continue to march behind it until the end of the season, and he hopes, beyond.

"It feels good. I'd be lying to you if I said otherwise," Jeter said. "It's an accomplishment. I take a lot of pride in it. But I'm not going to go home and celebrate because we have another game tomorrow."

And not just any game, but his last home opener at Yankee Stadium, along with everything that goes with it.

While Jeter is focusing strictly on playing the Baltimore Orioles, allow yourself to take one more look at that all-time hit list.

And to imagine where, when it’s all over, Derek Jeter's name will finally come to rest.