Jeter is already assured of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but if he can stay on the field for most of one more season, or even two or three, he will be continue passing legends on the all-time hits list.
With each additional base knock, the seventh Yankees captain since the 1930s improves his standing in the pantheon of baseball's greats. Due to his resolve and single-minded pursuit of championships, he will play until 2016 and take dead aim at the greatest St. Louis Cardinal ever.
Hits List Hitman
Jeter currently has 3,316 hits, one more than Eddie Collins, and sits at 10th on the all-time list. If he can remain healthy enough to play most of 2014 and notches 120 hits, he will pass four other Hall of Famers in Paul Molitor (3,319), Carl Yastrzemski (3,419), Honus Wagner (3,420) and Cap Anson (3,435).
Once he gets that far, he will have Tris Speaker (3,514) and Stan Musial (3,630), in his sights. Only three men stand above them in Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb and Pete Rose. Jeter is unlikely to make a run at Aaron as he still needs 455 hits to reach "Hammerin' Hank," but his conditioning and determination will give him a great shot at passing Musial.
Jeter managed just 63 at-bats in 2013, owing to three separate DL stints. It was the first time since his rookie year that he had less than 482 ABs, the number he reached in 2003 after Toronto Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby separated the Yankee captain's shoulder on opening day.
Jeter hit the DL in June of 2011 with a strained calf and looked to be in rapid decline. Then he enjoyed a fantastic return in which he batted .331 down the stretch and smashed his 3,000th hit with a homer off David Price. He continued that superb play in 2012 when he batted .316 and slapped 216 hits before breaking his ankle in the playoffs.
Jeter was never 100 percent in 2013, and now some pundits are sounding the death knell on his career. However, the 39-year-old still has the hunger and the talent to succeed, and he will have a full offseason to get healthy. Look for Jeter to get roughly 450 ABs in 2014, bat at least .275 and pass Yaz, Wagner and Cap.
But how long after 2014 will Jeter want to play, and how much longer will the Yanks keep (over)paying him to sell tickets while shuffling around at shortstop? That all hinges on his health and durability, but if he reaches 450 ABs next season, look for him to hang around for two more years before riding off into the sunset.
Let's assume Jeter bats .275 in 450 ABs gets 124 hits in 2014. That would put him 190 hits behind "Stan The Man" for fourth all time, a total easily attainable over two seasons even allowing for regular days off after he turns 40. Get ready for the Derek Jeter retirement tour in 2016, when he will pass Musial and receive gifts on each road trip like Mariano Rivera. These will likely include some cowboy boots, a sculpture depicting the "Flip Play" and a portrait of The Captain standing with the most prolific hitters in baseball history.
Sean Hojnacki writes about baseball and football for Time Warner Cable and basketball for Bleacher Report. His writing has also appeared on The Classical, Salon.com and briefly on Twitter. He lives in Jersey City, NJ with his wife and a cat named after Melky Cabrera.
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