Derek Jeter ties Willie Mays on the all-time hits list

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Obviously they’re two different kinds of players, but it’s kind of cool to see Derek Jeter tie Willie Mays on the career hits list.

Number 3,283 came on a seventh inning RBI single last night during the Yankees 2-0 win over Boston.  It was his 195th hit of the year, which leads the majors. So, bone bruise in his ankle notwithstanding, he’s not just limping past people on the all-time hits list.

Jeter and Mays are tied for 10th* all time. Getting higher up the chart will have to wait until next year, however, as Eddie Collins stands 32 hits ahead, while the Yankees have 19 games to go.  Assuming a healthy and productive 2013, however, Jeter could pass not just Collins, but Paul Molitor, Carl Yastrzemski, and Honus Wagner.

If he wants to move higher, he’ll either need a new contract that takes him into 2014 or else he’ll need to exercise his 2014 player option and be still good enough to get regular playing time. If that happens, there lies Tris Speaker at fourth place and Stan Musial at third.

That seems like a reasonably possible place for Jeter to top out, leaving only Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb and Pete Rose ahead of him. Then again, no one really figured Jeter would have a 200-hit season at age 38 either, so who the hell knows how far he’ll go?

*Fun times: when I first wrote this early this morning I had Jeter and Mays at 11th. Why? Because when you go to Baseball-Reference.com and look at the hits leaders, that’s where they are, and dammit, as an Internety baseball writer, Baseball-Reference.com is the word of God.

However, I did not take into account Cap Anson. Baseball-Reference.com lists him as sixth all time on the hits list with 3,435 hits.  But they’re alone in this, however. Official statistics of Major League Baseball, the Elias Sports Bureau and the like don’t include Anson’s National Association totals, obtained in the first four years of his career in the 1870s. That’s over 400 hits he’s docked, putting him down in Wade Boggs/Rafael Palmiero land.  I spoke with Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com about it this morning, and he explained to me that while scholarly and research consensus on the matter consider the National Association to be every bit as much a major league as the National League was back in the day, Major League Baseball disagrees.

Should we feel bad for Major League Baseball’s refusal to recognize all of Cap Anson’s hits? Nope! And not because I have any insight into why his National Association hits should or should not be discounted. Rather, it’s because he was also a total jackwagon racist scumbag who bore large responsibility for baseball’s segregation, and if it meant docking him 3,000 more hits I’d do it in a second because he helped cost America the chance to see Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and those guys play against Major Leaguers on a regular basis in their primes.

But I suppose that gets us rather far afield of statistics.

Sports teams do not “heal” cities or nations

Associated Press
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story today in which he talks to Cleon Jones, Ken Harrelson, Art Shamsky and others from the 1969 Mets about their Amazin’ World Series title run. The story is tied to the upcoming commemorations of the 50th anniversary of that phenomenally unexpected and improbable season.

And that’s fine as far as it goes, but as so often is the case with nostalgic remembrances, it goes too far:

They will gather together in New York later in June, rehashing stories from 50 years ago, reminiscing about the year they turned the baseball world upside down, becoming perhaps the most beloved team in history.

The 1969 Mets.

The team that helped revitalize a city in ruins and heal a nation in turmoil, showing the world you can turn the inconceivable to the improbable to the possible to the incredible, in a way only sports can possibly do.

Now would be a good time to remember that the city the Mets allegedly revitalized found itself on the brink of bankruptcy in the early-to-mid-70s and experienced urban decay and spiking crime rates for the next 20+ years. It would also be a good time to remember that the nation the Mets allegedly healed witnessed the Kent State shootings a few months later, among other bits of strife for the next, oh, 50 years and counting.

Yes, I am being flip and superficial here, but I do so simply to illustrate how flip and superficial “[Sports Team] healed [City/Nation]” narratives invariably are.

We see these sorts of things whenever a team from a down-on-its-luck place has a title run. Detroit. Cleveland. New Orleans. The idea is generally a broad-brush paint job in which the source of strife — poverty, crime, economic strife, natural disaster, terrorism, etc. —  is detailed with the local sports team’s subsequent title run cast as a spiritual balm. The words “heal” and “uplift” are pretty common in these stories. Back in 2002 I wrote about a classic of the genre, a documentary about the 1968 Detroit Tigers, who allegedly healed Detroit following he 1967 riots. Anyone familiar with Detroit from 1968-on may understand that the claims of healing asserted therein were . . . somewhat overstated.

Whatever the details, most of these narratives have the same sorts of flaws. At best they overstate the significance of sports in society, presuming that happiness among ticket-buying sports fans — who are usually better off than your average city resident who may be the one in need of healing — means broad-based happiness among the populace. More commonly they simply ignore the actual city or society beyond anything but its most superficial markers. The pattern:

  • Montage of the strife in whatever its form (bonus if it’s from the 1960s and you can re-use some existing “turbulent 60s” b-roll;
  • A chronicling of the sports team’s run; and
  • A declaration that everything was better after that.

It’s not even a matter of correlation and causation being confused. There’s very rarely ever any evidence presented that the sports made the underlying problems any better. All one usually gets from these things is a sense that, at least to the sports commentator/documentarian telling the story and to the people who closely followed the sports team, things were good. Unless, of course, I missed the part about how LeBron James solved Cleveland’s declining population problems and how the 2010 New Orleans Saints solved the ongoing mental, economic and medical trauma of those displaced by Katrina.

Which is not to say that sports mean nothing in this context. Sports success can certainly make a lot of people happy, even people hit hard by adversity, temporarily speaking. People only tangentially-connected to the strife in question may, also, decide that a sporting event “healed” a city. For example, if something bad happened in your city but didn’t affect you directly, you may believe that the trophy-hoisting put a nice bookend on the trauma that was more directly felt by others. And, of course, individuals directly connected with the sporting events in question, like Cleon Jones in the Mets piece, can experience a more lasting change in their lives as a result of this sort of success that they might see as general uplift.

That’s not the same thing as healing, though. Because while you or I can close that chapter on it all when the game is over, survivors of traumatic events and victims of systematic oppression or chronic strife cannot and do not do so that easily. There were people still hurting in Detroit after 1968, in New York (and the nation) after 1969, in New Orleans after the Saints won the Super Bowl, and in Cleveland after the Cavs won their title. The very best that can be said of sports triumph amid civic adversity is that it’s a pleasant, albeit temporary distraction. But not everyone had the luxury of enjoying that temporary distraction and a distraction is not the same thing as a cure.

Why do sports writers and commentators do this? I suppose it’s a function of people believing that the world in which they operate is, well, the world. The entertainment writer sees everything as a Hollywood story, the political writer sees everything as a Washington story and the sports writer sees everything as a sports story. It’s an understandable loss of perspective and we all fall prey to it sometimes.

It’d be better, though, if we spent more time appreciating that our perspective on the world is not the only one. I won’t speak for the entertainment or political people, and I won’t speak for the way in which any other person may prioritize the world as they observe it. But in my world — sports — I think it’d be better if we did not ascribe outsized significance to the beat we cover. Doing so asks far more of sports than sports is capable of delivering and erases the ongoing pain and suffering of people for whom sports is no sort of cure.