Derek Jeter currently has 3,163 hits. He will turn 38 years old on June 26. Pete Rose is baseball's all-time hits leader with 4,256. Barring a career-ending injury, the NY Yankees captain will surpass Rose's record.
Jeter is the perfect candidate to become baseball's all-time hits king. He has the slight physical frame to continue playing into his 40s without breaking down, he has the burning desire to compete and, as a bachelor, he doesn't have a wife or children to draw him into retirement.
Pete Rose retired at the age of 45, averaging only 104 games played over his last three seasons (121, 119 and 72). Despite retiring with a .303 career batting average, his average suffered in his final five seasons (.271, .245, .286, .264, .219).
But after being named player-manager upon his return to Cincinnati in 1984, he was able to dictate his own inclusion in the lineup for his final three seasons, even as his skills declined.
Last season, Jeter hit the disabled list in June with a calf strain. He had 2,994 career hits to his credit and was batting only .260.
Denbo had been Jeter's first manager in the minor leagues in 1993, and he worked with the shortstop to stay back on the ball and not collapse his swing too early.
When Derek returned to the lineup he hit at a torrid pace, cruising past 3,000 hits with a home run off David Price (he went 5-for-5 and had the game-winning RBI that day) and finishing the season with a .297 average.
Through 55 games this season, Jeter is batting .319 and shows no signs of slowing down at the plate.
Of course, luck is part of any equation that involves longevity, and the Captain has had the luck to remain mostly injury-free throughout his career. In 2003, he played in just 119 games, due to a dislocated shoulder suffered in a collision when sliding into third. He still finished that season with 156 hits.
In 2010, it appeared Jeter was undergoing an age-related decline. He finished with a .270 average, the lowest since his rookie season in 1995 (when he played in only 15 games), and still managed 179 hits. But the work with Denbo last year seems to have revitalized Derek at the plate.
He needs over 1,000 more hits to pass Rose—1,094 to be precise, which is no small task. But the key fact is that Jeter is in much better shape than Rose was.
A compulsive gambler, Rose was also notorious for taking amphetamines, and admitted as much to David Letterman in 2006 (via FoxNews.com). Known affectionately as "greenies," Rose admitted that he didn't think they "would ever help you do anything," but he took them to help lose weight.
Plus, it was the style at the time. This admission did not come as a surprise from a player who ran to first when he drew a walk.
In the waning years of his career, it was plain that Rose was merely staving off retirement so he could attain the all-time hits record, then held by Ty Cobb at 4,192.
Jeter has a considerable way to go before he can surpass Rose's mark, but each hit brings him closer. Through 55 games this season, he has already amassed 75 hits. He passed George Brett in late May, and with 22 more hits, Jeter will pass another legendary shortstop, iron man Cal Ripken, Jr.
He will likely pass Nap Lajoie and Eddie Murray later this season, and Willie Mays, Eddie Collins, Paul Molitor, Honus Wagner and Carl Yastrzemski during the 2013 season. Tris Speaker will be bested sometime in 2014.
That would leave Jeter with somewhere around 3,600 hits to finish his current contract (assuming he takes the player option in 2014). The 40-year-old would then have only Stan Musial (3,630), Hank Aaron (3,771), Ty Cobb and Pete Rose ahead of him.
He could retire at that point and would be a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Or he could keep on hitting.
He would perhaps have to move from the shortstop position to save his legs if he desires to continue playing into his 40s. With Alex Rodriguez cemented at third base until 2017 and Mark Teixeira contracted to play at first through 2016, he would likely have to move to the outfield.
Jeter would probably also cycle at the DH position with A-Rod as he pursues Barry Bonds' home run mark.
It's hard to imagine Jeter playing for any team other than the Yankees, and he's sure to undergo a certain amount of deterioration as he grows older. If he remains at shortstop, at least it isn't a position that is expected to produce major offense.
In order to make a serious run at Rose's record, Jeter would probably have to play until 2019 when he will be 45 years old. Granted, that is a long way away. He would also have to stay relatively healthy and maintain at least modest production in the twilight of his career.
But considering his tremendous work ethic and dedication, plus sports medicine advancing by the day, it's entirely possible that the Captain could play for seven more years.
Assuming he can average 140 games played per year, that would yield roughly 560 at-bats. If Jeter can maintain just a .250 average in those final five seasons, he would accrue 140 hits a year, and 700 over those five seasons.
That would put him on pace to finish with about 4,300 hits.
So, it's by no means a lock, and would entail a process of attrition, but he is the perfect type of player to continue playing well into his 40s. If his health and his luck hold up, Derek Jeter will find himself the all-time hits king when he retires.