Thursday, September 10, 2009

Some Perspective On Jeter And Gehrig

Today is Thursday and the Yankees are off, as they will be every Thursday for the remainder of the regular season. As such, news is hard to come by, so we will be given more and more of the Jeter/Gehrig Story.

While the mainstream media continues to beat that drum, in the Yankee blogosphere the narrative has turned to the coverage overkill by the mainstream media. It's a warranted criticism, perhaps best summarized by Bronx Banter's Cliff Corcoran.

Jay and I have both been guilty of giving this story more legs that it doesn't need. However, much like our friend Jason at IIATMS, Fack Youk is trying to supply a little perspective on this achievement. The mainstream media is making this out to be a little bit more than it is. The inevitable backlash from elsewhere is probably selling it a little bit short. As usual, the truth likely lies somewhere between.

Keith Olbermann had blog post earlier this week lamenting Gehrig once again being knocked from the record books, and fearing that the Iron Horse might some day be forgotten. I can appreciate Olbermann's sentiments, but I can't agree with them. As I stated this morning, Gehrig is amongst the best baseball players ever. Period. His peers are Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Aaron, Musial, Mays, Cobb, Mantle - the best ever to play the game. If Gehrig were ever to be forgotten, it certainly wouldn't be because Jeter passed him on a leaderboard that while glamorous because it belongs to the most celebrated franchise in the game, is relatively meaningless in the big picture of baseball history. If anything, perhaps the recent media storm will actually increase the profile of this all-time great.

Jeter's latest accomplishment is something to be recognized and is as good a reason as any to celebrate his remarkable career that has been at times both over and under rated. But lest we lose sight of just how incredible Lou Gehrig was, let's take a look at what Jeter and Gehrig did with their 2,721 career hits:

The point isn't to say that Derek Jeter isn't the slugger that Gehrig was. They are two very different players in that regard. The point is to illustrate that while Jeter will soon surpass Gehrig in total number of hits, the New York Yankees franchise will have received far more value out of Lou Gehrig's 2,721 hits than they did out of Jeter's 2,722.

Gehrig still sits comfortably atop the Yankees all-time double and triple lists, and is safely third on the all-time home run list. He sits behind only the imcomparable Babe Ruth on the franchise's total bases leaderboard. Jeter is fifth, within five total bases of Joe DiMaggio in fourth, but a good two seasons behind Mickey Mantle in third, and light years behind Ruth and Gehrig. Consider this: Derek Jeter has 718 career extra base hits. Lou Gehrig has 697 combined doubles and triples before even counting his 493 home runs.

Of course, the object of baseball is to score runs, and they key to scoring runs is reaching base safely. While hits are the most valuable way to do that, it's just one of three ways to reach base safely. Here's a look at the franchise's all-time leaderboard in times on base:

Jeter will likely sit atop this list one day as well, but it will take him a good two and half to three more years to get there. And that doesn't take into account his on base percentage, which is currently 7th amongst all Yankees with at least 4,000 career plate appearances. And as Steve Goldman pointed out earlier this week, Jeter's OBP will likely begin to fall as he enters the decline phase of his career.

None of this is meant to discredit what Derek Jeter has done over the past fourteen seasons, has done this week, or will do this weekend and over the remainder of his career. He is sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer and is undoubtedly the greatest Yankee shortstop ever. Lou Gehrig is amongst the select few members of the Hall of Fame who are deserving of their own wing. Jeter is on the shortlist of the greatest players in Yankee history. Gehrig is amongst the best players in baseball history.

Though people of my generation have been treated to all-time Yankee greats like Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and less recently Bernie Williams and Don Mattingly, more than any of them, Derek Jeter is the name in recent Yankee history. This milestone, and all the others Jeter will reach before his career is over, will be deservedly trumpeted. However, next time someone waxes nostalgic about Gehrig losing another record, or next time someone in the paper or on TV gets overly hyperbolic about Jeter setting this record, please try to remember the context.


  1. heck, most of Ruth's non-Yankee records have been broken now but as they say in that Yankeeography ad that plays 12 times per game, "a thousand years from now, people will still be talking about Babe Ruth"

  2. Here's a interesting thought: in 25 years what will people remember...

    1. Derek Jeter is the Yankees all time hits leader
    2. Derek Jeter has 3,000 hits
    3. Derek Jeter won 4 (maybe more) WS
    4. Derek Jeter was all class, a great teammate, and the envy of every Yankee fan.

    In my opinion, the order goes: 4,3,2,1

  3. Appending ot Jorge's list:

    5. Bedded a significant number of Maxim's Top 100, likely marrying one or two of 'em.

    Then the order goes: 4-3-2-5-1