Commentary

For Jeter, the hits keep on coming

A year after he seemed on his last legs, The Captain is keeping up with Pete Rose

Updated: August 5, 2012, 7:46 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The man with the good sense to never consider trading Derek Jeter as a prospect even had his doubts.

Gene "Stick" Michael led the front office that nurtured Jeter in the minors. He saw Jeter's mental toughness allow him to go from 56 errors in A ball in 1993 to sprinting through the minors from Class A to Double-A to Triple-A in '94 to eventually become the captain of the New York Yankees.

Jeter
Denny Medley/US PresswireWhy is this man smiling? It's not because he's leading the league in hits.

Still, after he hit .270 for a year and a half, beginning in 2010, even Michael started to think Jeter's greatness might have expired.

"You had to wonder," Michael told ESPN New York, while sitting in the back of the press box Sunday afternoon. "I think everybody was wondering how good he would be after that."

That thought is now erased from Michael's mind and nearly everyone else's, for that matter, because day-in and day-out Jeter shows he is far from done. He may be in overtime of his Hall of Fame career, but there are no signs that say the buzzer is about to go off.

On Sunday, Jeter's fourth-inning RBI single pushed him to 139 hits on the season. In the eighth he led off with an infield single for hit No. 140. It was just another ho-hum 2-for-5 day in the Yankees' 6-2 win over the Seattle Mariners.

Over his past 10 games, Jeter is hitting .381, and he's at .350 since the beginning of July. No batter in the entire American League has more hits than Jeter. Only Melky Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen have more knocks.

Just don't tell Jeter about it.

"Why?" said an incredulous Jeter when a reporter asked if he knew he was leading the AL in hits. "I mean, 'Why?'"

Jeter is not a big fan of questions about his personal success -- or his failures, for that matter. Really, he doesn't seem to be a big fan of any questions of any kind. He is usually polite about it, though.

Jeter went on to say he only knew about his hits total because he sees them during his at-bats when the team puts the statistics on the large video board.

"I don't pay attention to it," Jeter said.

He may not, but with a mere 55 games to go in the season the man who 13 months ago became the first Yankee with 3,000 hits is better at piling up the base knocks than almost anyone in baseball. And he is 38.

Pete Rose turned 38 in 1979. After the games played on Aug. 5 of that year, Rose, in his first season with the Phillies, had a .318 average. He owned 3,299 career hits and would go on to play nine more years.

Following Sunday, Jeter is hitting .314 on the season. He has 3,228 career hits, just 71 fewer than Rose. The man who seemingly has everything still seems most at home and happiest on the diamond. In other words, there is no evidence that Jeter will ever want to quit.

He was always going to be the last to know when to go. His incredible belief in himself is probably the biggest reason that he has been able to make such an incredible comeback.

So after what has transpired from 2010 until today, who could blame him if he always feels he is about to turn it around?

During the tough times -- especially in the first half of 2011 -- Joe Girardi did his best to defend his captain, trying to buy time. Even Girardi now admits that Jeter's comeback is a little shocking to him.

"I think if you were to look at Derek Jeter at 25 and to say he would be playing every day at 38, hitting .310 or whatever he is hitting with a chance to have 190 to 200 hits, you would probably say, 'At 38, I don't know if a guy can do that,'" Girardi said. "But knowing Derek and knowing the way he handles and the way he takes care of himself, am I surprised? A little bit, just because of the type of person he is. I don't know when it is going to end for Derek. This guy is playing at a high level and I think it is because of what is in inside of him."

Michael also said that it is Jeter's makeup that separates him. His preparation is uninterrupted by distractions.

In fact, maybe he just likes to ask the questions instead of answering them.

"About five years ago, I was in spring training and I was in the trainer's room and he said, 'Stick, how long do you think I could play?' I said, 'What?'" Michael said, recalling a story he has told before. "I said, 'One year.'

"He said, 'No, I'm serious. How long do you think I can play?' I said, 'Maybe two, three, four years. Why did you ask me that?' He said, 'I'm going to play 10.'"

Jeter won't say that to reporters. But at this point, who can really doubt that he won't play as long as Rose did. It may sound a little crazy, but Jeter is really neck-and-neck with the all-time Hit King. And he's showing no signs of slowing down.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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