But of course, Derek Jeter was deservedly the story of the night. Exactly one year after he surpassed Babe Ruth for second place on the Yankees all time hit list, he tied The Bambino's long time partner in crime, Lou Gehrig. Last night's events came exactly one week short of the one year anniversary of the last time Jeter and Gehrig were intertwined in a historical achievement.
On September 16th last year, Jeter came to bat against the White Sox' Gavin Floyd in the bottom of the first with Johnny Damon on first base and no one out. Just as he did in his record tying at bat last night, Jeter jumped on the first pitch, grounding one under the glove of third baseman Juan Uribe. The play was scored a hit, giving Jeter 1,270 at Yankee Stadium, surpassing Lou Gehrig's ballpark record of 1,269.
Yet here we are nearly a full year later and Jeter is just now tied with Gehrig for the franchise hit record, meaning Gehrig still has a sizeable advantage over Jeter when it comes to hits away from the Bronx. Here's a breakdown of both men's 2,721 career hits:
Gehrig: 1,269 at Yankee Stadium, 1,452 away
Jeter: 1,360 at Yankee Stadiums, 1,360 away, 1 at a Shea Stadium "home game"
Some interesting stuff there, besides Jeter's virtually even split between home and away games. Gehrig still leads Jeter by 92 road hits, meaning we'll likely endure another "chase" late next season as the media looks for another storyline with the season winding down.
But more interesting, Lou Gehrig accumulated about 53.36% of his career hits on the road. Percentage wise, this isn't a huge difference, but he had 183 more hits, nearly a full season's total for him and about 13 additional hits per season, away from his home ballpark.
Why is this? Yankee Stadium, particularly in its pre-1976 incarnation, was a great ballpark for left handed hitters like Gehrig. So why this difference?
Unfortunately, b-r.com doesn't have detailed split information pre-1954, so we can't hammer down on the cause for Gehrig's discrepancy. We can assume that Gehrig, since he played everyday, would have had roughly the same number of plate appearances at home and on the road. Considering that the Yankees won seven pennants and had just one losing record in his fourteen full seasons with the team, we know that the Yankees won a ton of games in Gehrig's career. As such, he may have picked up a number of ninth inning at bats on the road that he didn't get at home, but certainly not the 538 additional at bats it would have taken a .340 career hitter like Gehrig to accumulate an additional 183 hits.
So perhaps it was Yankee Stadium itself that was the cause. With its inviting right field porch just 295 feet away and no one near his own skill level batting behind him, Gehrig drew 1,508 career BB, good for 15th on the all time list. We can't know for certain without the split statistics, but perhaps the lion's share of Gehrig's walks came at home, reducing his number of at bats, and consequently his opportunities for hits, there.
Another potential cause could be Yankee Stadium's cavernous pre-renovation deah valley (487 to feet to straightaway center and 490 to left center). Even though Gehrig was a left handed hitter, he assuredly lost a number of hits to the cavernous centerfield dimensions. But I'm not quite sure that explains the difference, particularly with the extra hits Gehrig likely accumulated thanks to the short right field.
So what about other big Yankee bats to follow Gehrig? It's tough to find a good comparison for Gehrig, who's one of the top 5 to 10 offensive players in the history of the game. Mickey Mantle is closest, but was a switch hitter and the first three years of his career pre-date b-r's split data. The first seven years of Yogi Berra's career pre-date the split data. Roger Maris didn't play nearly the number of games with the Yankees as Gehrig, was not a power threat for the final two seasons of his Yankee days, and may have incomplete split information. Reggie Jackson was a power threat on the same order as Gehrig, but not nearly as complete a hitter and spent his entire Yankee career in the remodeled Stadium. Ditto for Don Mattingly, whose power abandoned him gradually in his sixth season and completely by his eighth season.
Still, here are the percentage of career Yankee hits accumulated on the road for those five men:
Berra: 51.56%All the exclusively left handed hitters are over 50% and Maris' percentage exceeds Gehrig's 53.36%. Perhaps when it came to accumulating hits, not just home runs, Yankee Stadium wasn't as kind to left handed hitters as its reputation would have led us to believe. What do you think Fackers?