erik lundegaard

Friday September 11, 2009

Jeter's First HIt

I always thought I was at the game at the Kingdome when Derek Jeter made his major league debut. I thought I remembered some announcement or at least chatter among the Seattle fans: The Yankees have this kid they just brought up... But then I read Jack Curry's piece on Jeter's debut—published on the day Jeter tied Lou Gehrig for most career hits by a Yankee—and checked the shoebox full of old ticket stubs I have from the ‘90s that I’ve never been able to throw away, and discovered I wasn't there for Jeter's first game.

I was there for Jeter's first hit. Tuesday, May 30, 1995. Aisle 313, row 1, seat 8. 7:05 PM. $8.00.

I used to write highlights on the back of the ticket stubs—that's part of why I kept them—and Jeter obviously wasn't on my mind in that May 30th game. The previous ticket stub, from May 27, simply says: “Balt 11, Seattle 4: First Griffey-less game.” The stub before that, May 26, reads: “Seattle 8, Balt 3; RJ 13 Ks; KGJr solo HR; Junior injures wrist, out for 3 months.” Yeah it was that game. That's what Mariners fans were thinking about when Jeter first showed up.

The May 30th ticket stub simply says: “Seattle 7, NY 3: 5-run 8th inning—all runs with two outs.” The beginning of “Refuse to Lose.”

There might have been talk about it when Jeter singled to lead off the top of the fifth—particularly when they retrieved the ball: “It's that kid's first hit.” Maybe that's why I remembered it. Or misremembered it.

Or maybe I remembered reading about it in The Seattle Times the next day (warning: clunky writing ahead):

The Mariners had jumped to a 2-0 first-inning lead off Yankee starter Melido Perez. But the Yankees led off five innings of starter Tim Belcher's seven innings with a hit.

They scored single runs in the fifth and seventh. Both rallies were started by rookie Derek Jeter.

Jeter opened the fifth with his first major-league hit, a single to left. He scored on Jim Leyritz's two-out double into the left-center gap. The Mariners nearly escaped without damage but second baseman Joey Cora mishandled a potential double-play ball.

Jeter started the seventh with a single to center. That would be Belcher's 92nd and final pitch.

The other night, the night Jeter tied Gehrig's mark with hit no. 2,721, there was a discussion among the talking heads on the MLB network about Jeter's placement among the all-time Yankees greats. In the background they showed the five players with the most hits in Yankees uniforms—Jeter, Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle and Bernie Williams—and Matt Vasgersian asked the others, Al Leiter and Dave Valle, if Jeter was as great, or greater, than these other guys. I expected laughter. But Al Leiter took the question seriously and said that, yes, Jeter was as great as these other guys. Dave Valle, bless him, looked at Leiter as if he was insane. Outside of FOX-News, I can't imagine a more absurd conversation on television. Ruth is generally regarded as the greatest player in baseball history—and I wouldn't argue it—while Gehrig is usually ranked in the top 5 or 10. In career OPS, Ruth and Gehrig are first and third, respectively, while Jeter is 181st and dropping. (2014 update: now 263rd.) (2020 update: 344th. Just behind ... Joe Torre! Huh.)

Look, Jeter's fine. He seems clean in a dirty era. But he led the league in runs once, and hits once, and that's it. He's overrated as a defensive shortstop. Bill James talks up .300/.400/.500 guys and Jeter's not that. He's a .300/.300/.400 guy. Both Gehrig and Ruth are .300/.400/.600 guys. It's not even a discussion.

If you‘re insulted by this, if you’re a huge Derek Jeter fan who thinks I'm dissing the man by saying he's not as good as the best players in baseball history, let me just add one thing: I have a ticket stub from the game when Jeter got his first hit. Bidding starts at $10,000.

Posted at 08:21 AM on Friday September 11, 2009 in category Baseball  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard