Hit Men

Alex Rodriguez’s 500th dinger ocasioned much speculation as to whether he will some day overtake Barry Bonds’s still-growing home run crown, described ad nauseum in the press as the “most hallowed record in sports.” Nevermind that, outside the Americas, this record is of little interest. In fact, there was a time—and it was not so long ago—when the home-run record was not the most hallowed record in American sport, or even in baseball itself. For most of the game’s early history, the record that mattered was the career hits record. (Note that when Babe Ruth took over the homer record, in 1921, he passed Roger Connor, who had 138—not exactly a magic number.) Records change, as does their relative value.

One thing that doesn’t change: sterling character has never been a prerequisite for holding an important baseball record. Today, as we collectively sigh over the fact that such a bad seed has taken the dinger title, keep in mind that the last three holders of the hit crown have been Cap Anson (reigning 1880-1922), who was instrumental in establishing the color barrier in major league baseball; Ty Cobb (1923-1984), also a racist, possibly a murderer, and almost certainly a gambler on baseball; and Pete Rose (1984-present), still banned from the game for his own gambling transgressions and general jerkitude. Hank Aaron, historically, is the anomalous figure, not Barry Bonds. So if you’re still obsessing about 756, get over it.

Getting back to A-Rod, it’s worth noting that Alex has a very outside shot at the Rose record (4,256, in case you’ve forgotten that touchstone), and a somewhat better (but still slim) hope at the 4,000 hit mark, held only by Rose and Cobb. At age 31, Alex has over 2,200 hits. He averages about 175 a season. Do the math. Another player with a shot at 4,000: Derek Jeter, who at 33 has more than 2,300 hits. Certainly, both men are capable, even likely, to crack the all-time top 10 (Eddie Collins’s 3,310 is the target for that goal). Who knows—sometimes even nice guys finish first.

15 comments… add one
  • So, wait, who are the nice guys we’re talking about?
    Kidding, kidding.

    Bullfrog (SF) August 21, 2007, 10:37 am
  • A-Rod averaging 175 hits for another 11 years? I don’t think so, as great a player as he is. And Jeter to add 1700 hits after the age of 33? Forget it – that’s 8 years of 200+ hits. Not gonna happen.
    Top 10 would be an amazing (and, as you say, doable) accomplishment. Both will get there, I think.

    SF August 21, 2007, 3:07 pm
  • I’ve got an example for you of a record held by a good guy:
    Last hitter to win the Triple Crown: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967.
    And no, you don’t have to be decent and likeable to set a record. But you do if you want the fans to respect you for it.

    Hudson August 21, 2007, 4:48 pm
  • Yaz is popular in Boston, but he also opposed Marvin Miller and his work to secure the rights of players less priveleged than himself, and has generally been associated with ultra-right wing political ideas. So I guess the definition of “good” is a serious matter of perspective. The Babe wasn’t perfect. Mickey was a complete lout. Those guys are loved pretty universally.

    YF August 21, 2007, 5:04 pm
  • Lou Gehrig. Iron Horse.
    Lifetime BA: .340
    Career OBP: .447
    Career slugging: .632
    Lifetime average RBI/season: 149
    Lifetime average HR/162-games: 37
    Games streak until Ripken came along
    Character: Impeccable
    Enough said

    Iron Horse (yf) August 21, 2007, 5:09 pm
  • While I don’t agree with most of his political beliefs, I think it’s unfair to lump Yaz in with the likes of Ty Cobb.

    LocklandSF August 21, 2007, 5:53 pm
  • Arod, and well… I’m guessing close to 50% or more MLB players cheat on their wives. So they are out of the running I guess too.

    LocklandSF August 21, 2007, 6:04 pm
  • Jeter has wisely sidestepped that issue by not having a wife. I dare ya to find something wrong with him, besides the, ah, herpes thing.

    AndrewYF August 21, 2007, 6:29 pm
  • ultra-right wing political ideas.
    I guess this a., depends on your definition of “ultra” right wing, and b., needs an explanation of why certain political beliefs apparently make you a worse person.
    I’m curious if YF would have typed that sentence if Yaz had ultra-left wing political ideas?
    For the record, I’m ultra-moderate, or something like that.

    Paul SF August 21, 2007, 6:40 pm
  • do we get a game thread?

    rootbeerfloat August 21, 2007, 7:09 pm
  • my point regarding yaz (and with this whole post), was that thinking about whether ballplayers are “good” or not is pointless, especially when definitions of “good” are shifting, and there is a great divide between the public and actual behavor of players.
    being a conservative doesn’t make you a bad person. but holding certain opinions, and supporting certain ideas, that are most assuredly not good, makes someone, to my mind, less than admirable.
    jackie robinson voted republican. i admire him immensely. but some right wing positions are abhorent, and the people who support those positions are responsible for supporting abhorent postions. Yaz supported a lot of truly abhorent ideas. I admire his ability to play baseball, and pretty much nothing else about him.

    YF August 21, 2007, 7:10 pm
  • This is through last year, since this season hasn’t ended yet:
    Age 32 Season:
    Derek Jeter was up to 2150 hits.
    Pete Rose was up to 2152 hits.
    Age 30 Season:
    Alex Rodriguez was up to 2067 hits.
    Pete Rose was up to 1724 hits.
    So it’s not out of the question to both reach Pete Rose. Especially if they play til their early 40’s.
    If you look at the stats through age 30 A-Rod also has a chance at being number one in career runs scored, runs batted in, total bases, strikeouts, runs created, and extra-base hits.

    Lex August 21, 2007, 7:46 pm
  • I don’t think “thinking about whether players are ‘good’ is pointless at all,” considering that they are among the best-paid and most venerated members of our society (for better or worse).
    As a kid, I followed sports avidly — baseball, football, tennis, skiing, you name it. Kids today are no different.
    Isn’t it at all important to us that athletes either try to be role models, or at least not set horrendous examples (e.g. Barry’s “oils,” A-Rod and the bimbo, Vick’s abuse of animals)? I don’t expect these guys to be pure as the driven snow, but at least they could try to keep the seamy stuff to themselves.

    Hudson August 21, 2007, 9:56 pm
  • could i get some links to yaz’s “ultra right-wing” politics? thanks.
    also, jackie robinson later apologized for the work he had done in support of nixon.

    redsock August 22, 2007, 1:35 pm
  • Not sure whether it’s worth bringng this back up, but I was also curious what ideas Yaz supported that were so abhorrent. If he supported Hitler (like Lindbergh did), then sure. Not good. But it’s hard to say someone is a bad person, even if they support political ideas you believe are abhorrent.
    After all, look at abortion. The country is basically equally split on this issue, with each side considering the other’s an abhorrent position. So which side consists of the “bad people”? As another example, I think it’s abhorrent to deny the right of civil marriage to a person based on the gender of his or her proposed spouse. My parents disagree; are they bad people? No.
    So, outside of being a Klan member or supporting genocidal dictators or something similar, I still question why we should be determining the goodness or badness of a person based on deeply held moral beliefs — which they may hold for a variety of reasons unknown to any of us.

    Paul SF August 22, 2007, 7:11 pm

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