With every base hit, Derek Jeter is climbing further up Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leaderboard. Two more hits will tie him with Craig Biggio and three will push him into baseball’s all-time Top 20.
Each subsequent base hit is also doing more and more to silence the waves of criticism he faced earlier in the season.
The first half of the season could be called anything but standard operating procedure for Jeter. A .260 batting average as a middle infielder will probably get you a job, but it’s hardly fits the Hall of Fame statistics we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing from Jeter.
Whether it was age, pressure from his looming 3,000th hit or just a slump, Derek Jeter was simply not Derek Jeter.
Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long tried to work with Jeter, but it didn’t take. Long had previously found success with Nick Swisher last season, and his work has led to Curtis Granderson assembling an MVP-caliber season this year. Unfortunately, Long's work did little to help Jeter.
As it would turn out, the best thing for Jeter would be the calf muscle strain that put him on the DL. There is nothing good about being injured, held out of the lineup or shipped off to train in Florida in the middle of a hot summer. But it worked for Jeter.
A lot of it has to do with Jeter’s first professional manager, Gary Denbo. Denbo worked vigorously with Jeter during his injury stint and hours spent in the batting cage led to Jeter working on his swing. The story was first broached on the documentary Derek Jeter 3K and has been gaining attention ever since.
Rather than Long’s approach of changing his stride, Denbo worked with Jeter on staying back and not drifting forward. Staying back improves plate vision and allows the hitter to see the ball better. It also improves the ability to drive the ball.
Whether it was Denbo, relieving the strain of chasing 3,000 hits or something else entirely, the results are clear: Ever since his stint on the disabled list, Jeter is batting .358. The average that once stood in the .240’s is now just a base hit away from .300.
Derek Jeter is back to just playing like Derek Jeter.
Any arguments about Jeter’s ability to start for the Yankees have been silenced. He’s axed any questions about whether he should be batting leadoff, or even in the top of the order. His batting average has been pumped up 43 points in less than two months. All of a sudden, Jeter is fifth among shortstops in batting average.
The calls for retirement, the changing of his swing, questions about his age—this year, none of it mattered. There will come a time when Jeter will retire and walk away from the game. But it’s not this year and it’s no longer a topic on the table of discussion.
The blogosphere will take over and move onto the next story. Past 3,000 hits, and past his early season struggles, Jeter will fade back into just doing what he’s done every year he’s been a Yankee—play for a championship.
End of story.