When Derek Jeter was 25 years old, in 1999, he led the American League in hits.
Now he's 38. And he's leading the American League in hits.
Jeter, of course, cleared 3,000 career hits more than a year ago.
So what about 4,000 hits? What about Pete Rose's record?
Before you scoff, remember that Omar Vizquel is seven years older than Derek Jeter. And still playing. Give Derek Jeter another seven seasons and ... Well, it's worth considering, right? One obvious problem, though: Jeter probably won't be a shortstop for much longer. The Yankees have tolerated his sub-par defense for quite a long time, but even their patience must eventually run out. And while Vizquel's hung around forever, he hasn't been a full-season everyday shortstop since he was 40.
Which leads to the obvious question, asked here by Joshua Prager in a long piece about Derek Jeter's future:
Jeter has played 2,498 games at shortstop, 44 at designated hitter and zero elsewhere. Looking ahead, where should he play?
There are many opinions. The retired pitcher Jim Kaat, a baseball analyst for MLB Network, suggests that in time, Jeter will D.H. a lot, adding, "The only other logical place would be first base." But Rob Neyer, a columnist and editor for SB Nation, points out that Mark Teixeira is signed through 2016 and says that Jeter’s inevitable decline as a hitter will render his use as D.H. nonsensical.first baseman
Third base, he says, might fit Jeter (were Alex Rodriguez to D.H. more), as might left field. But Kaat said he believed that left field would prove too much ground for Jeter to cover well.
Prager doesn't ultimately make a prediction -- he's a reporter, not some wild-eyed columnist -- but I will: Derek Jeter won't become any of those things. Not for long, anyway.
Jim Kaat's right about left field. While there have been plenty of slow left fielders over the years, the Yankees seem to prefer left fielders with some range and Jeter's definitely slowing down. He's got only eight steals this season, and no triples at all. More to the point, I doubt if Jeter would consent to become an everyday left fielder; I don't believe his dignity would allow him the inevitable growing pains out there.
Third base is tough, too. Cal Ripken did make the switch, but 1) he was only 35, and 2) there's the same old problem of playing a really tough position in one's 40s. Essentially, Graig Nettles is the only third baseman who's played every day into his early 40s. One guy. And he'd had a LOT of practice before then.
If Derek Jeter wants to play until he's 43 or 44 or 45, I think there's one realistic possibility: Start working hard every winter and every spring training at learning to play third base, second base, first base, left field, center field ... all those positions which he might someday play ... with the idea of becoming a superannuated super-utility player, sort of like Vizquel these last few years, but with an outfield glove and a batting average.
But I don't think Jeter is interested in doing that. I don't think he's all that interested in playing if he can't play shortstop almost every day. And even if he does become a sort of utility player and go until he's 45, he won't play often enough to approach Pete Rose's record. The Hit King can breathe easy. The Hit King will always be the Hit King.