Derek Jeter: N.Y. Yankees Icon Sets Sights on Willie Mays

James MorisetteCorrespondent IIIAugust 21, 2012

NEW YORK - JULY 16:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees pumps his fist after completing a double play to end an eighth inning rally against the Chicago White Sox on on July 16, 2006 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Just over one season ago, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter earned his 3,000th hit. Since that day, when Jeter thwacked an exhilarating home run off Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, Jeter has climbed 17 spots on the MLB’s all-time hits list.

Along the way, Jeter has bypassed greats like Roberto Clemente, Cap Anson, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr. and Nap Lajoie.

With his first-pitch, first-inning home run Wednesday vs. the Chicago White Sox, Jeter thrust himself into 11th place all time in hits—past Eddie Murray.

Jeter’s feat comes just 10 days after the Baltimore Orioles honored Murray with a bronze statue as part of the Orioles Legends Celebration Series. With the unveiling, Murray was immortalized alongside Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver and Frank Robinson in the left-field picnic area at Camden Yards. For Murray to be celebrated with these other Orioles greats says a lot about this ballplayer.

Selected by the Orioles in the 1973 MLB draft, Murray became an instant fan favorite in Baltimore.

A quiet, humble yet resolute ballplayer, Murray was masterful in the clutch. The home crowd buzzed when Murray came to bat with runners in scoring position, for fans felt something special was set to happen at any moment. 

Per ESPN, Murray is one of just three big-league ballplayers to have 3,000 hits and 500 homers in his career.

A first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2003, Murray’s No. 33 was retired at Camden Yards in 1998, 21 years after he won the AL Rookie of the Year.

Civil insider trading cases aside, for Jeter to pass Murray on the all-time hits list is indeed an honor.

Now with 3,256 hits, Jeter stands on the edge of passing a whole new world of legendary hits leaders.

Hall of Fame players like Stan Musial, Tris Speaker and Hank Aaron are Jeter’s for the taking. And with Jeter’s renaissance, some say Ty Cobb and Pete Rose might still be in play.

But first Jeter must pass iconic San Francisco Giants outfielder Willie Mays (3,283 hits).

For Jeter to be mentioned in the same breath as "The Say Hey Kid" is a blessing in its own right.

A lifetime .302 hitter, Mays was the pioneer of “the catch.” By pioneer, I say many center fielders have made similar looking catches over the years. But every time players do this, many players cannot help but think of Mays.

Mays’ achievements are numerous and well-catalogued. And his No. 24 is officially retired. But even at 81 years old, Mays is a central figure in baseball, just like he was when he roamed major league outfields.

Hank Aaron summed up Mays' magnetism in those days during an interview with ESPN’s Howard Bryant in 2011.

From Aaron:

Willie did everything big…I remember we were at an All-Star Game playing cards one year. It was all of us—Frank [Robinson], [Roberto] Clemente, [Bob] Gibson, me—and when Willie walked in, he just took the room over. He was the center. I don't even know if he knew he was doing it, but that was just Willie. He couldn't be one of the guys because he was Willie. He was Willie Mays.

Now just 27 hits away, Jeter is on the cusp of passing a man who revolutionized the game of baseball.

Looking at the MLB schedule, the Yankees will play the Orioles at Camden Yards from September 6-10. This is 14 games from August 21.

Thus, it is possible—barring injury—that Jeter could pass Mays in Baltimore.

As a baseball fan, it would be a tremendous honor to have Murray and Mays on hand at Camden Yards if Jeter were to pass Mays in hits.

It would also provide yet another great memory for fans that have enjoyed this already memorable 2012 season.