Johnny Damon for 3,000 hits and the Hall?
Tyler Kepner had me smiling with the first part of the first sentence of his Sunday New York Times article about Johnny Damon and the pursuit of 3,000 hits:
Reverse the letters on the back of Johnny Damon’s jersey...
I did it mentally. “Nomad,” I thought. “Nice. He's been with so many teams over the last few years.”
Kepner then lost me with the first sentence of the third graph:
Damon has played for six [teams], but he will always be identified mostly with the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, his teams for four years apiece.
Really? No one thinks of him with the Kansas City Royals anymore? His rookie team, and the team he played on for six seasons? Am I that old? Is Tyler Kepner that young? That New York-centric?
As for the thrust of the article? Damon has his eye on 3,000 hits and then the Hall of Fame:
If he gets 150 hits this season, he would have 2,721. Two more years of 140 hits each would then put him at 3,001.
Damon turned 37 last November. So he'll have to do this at 37, 38 and 39. It can be done but he'll have to remain healthy and in the American League, where he can DH. He'll also have to hit well enough for a team to want him. In the last four years, his batting average has gone from .303 to .282 to .271 to, so far this season, .254. His On Base Percentage this season, perhaps reflecting his drive to get hits and only hits, is an abyssmal .289.
But the most interesting aspect of the article is Damon's talk about how the pressure of playing in New York might have kept previous Yankees, before Jeter, from getting to 3,000 hits:
“I mean, I commend people who can play in those markets [New York and Boston] their entire career. I guess that’s why there’s never been a 3,000-hit guy for the Yankees. The city adds a couple of years on them. Even though it’s the best city in the world, there’s that grind. When you leave for the ballpark, you’re like, ‘O.K., it’s time to be on.’
Initially I blanched at this, too. C'mon, I thought. Ruth didn't do it because he pitched for Boston for five years and then as a position player walked all the time, and Gehrig, of course, stopped playing at the age of 35, and DiMaggio lost years to World War II, and Mantle, he had all those injuries, plus he drew walks as well, and Mattingly, I guess he never did come close, did he, and Bernie Williams was never really close, either, and ...
I stopped for a moment. Is it the pressure? Or is it the fact that getting 3,000 hits for any one team is pretty difficult? Only 27 players have managed 3,000 hits in baseball history—many are recent additions aided by the DH rule—and of those 27, only 15 accumulated more than 3,000 hits for any one team. Two of those teams are twice represented—the Pirates (Wagner and Clemente) and the Tigers (Cobb and Kaline)—which means only 13 of the 30 Major League teams have had a player who accumulated 3,000 hits solely for them. Less than half. Not easy.
Of course the Yankees are one of the original 16 teams, and a storied franchise. One would think they'd have had a player do it by now. But you'd also think that of the Dodgers, too. And the Phillies. And the White Sox, Athletics, Indians and Senators/Twins. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope. Of the original 16, just nine have had 3,000-hit players. Jeter, with the Yankees this year, will be the 10th.
After that, no team is close. Vizquel split playing time. Same with I-Rod and A-Rod. Maybe Ichiro with the M's but that's still a long haul. Maybe Pujols with the Cards but he's a free agent at the end of the year. Plus they're already covered. Musial.
So I don't know if it's tougher in New York — although I wouldn't be surprised since many things are tougher in New York. At the least, though, highly touted prospects should keep this in mind before signing with the Yankees. They should keep in mind Johnny Damon's thoughts about leaving New York after the 2009 season:
“Being in Detroit last year kind of made you sit back and say, ‘Wow, baseball could be actually pretty fun and enjoyable.’"