Pete Rose popped up in the news last week. Never far removed from the public consciousness, Rose reminded everyone he is still here by disclosing his latest scheme to make a buck or two.
Derek Jeter popped up, too. Like Rose, he popped up for the reason he usually does. He climbed another step upward in his seemingly endless and extremely impressive journey toward establishing himself as one of the greatest and most honorable players ever. Warning: At this point I’m not exactly sure what I plan to say about Jeter, but I could wind up fawning over him, he’s been that good.
Jeter and Rose wind up in this column together because of recent speculation about Jeter’s chances of eclipsing Rose’s all-time hit record. When Jeter stroked his 200th hit of the season against Toronto Wednesday night, he had a career total of 3,288 hits. Rose finished his career with 4,256. There’s no sense speculating about those 968 hits because we don’t know how many years Jeter, 38, wants to play.
If Jeter were to play five more years and amass the same number of hits he has had the last five years, which is unlikely, he would be 30 or so short of Rose’s record. Plenty of people, including some baseball officials, would like to see the shortstop snare the record for the same reason people want to see someone break Barry Bonds’ home run record, although the hitter in the best position to do that, Alex Rodriguez, has himself had a steroids-tainted career. People want their heroes to be good guys; Bonds and Rose are not good guys.
Rose’s latest act to raise questions about his character is his decision to consign for auction the document that, in effect, was his baseball death sentence, the 1989 agreement that banished him from baseball. ESPN.com reported Rose’s decision and quoted the auctioneer as suggesting that it could bring $1 million or more.
Having seen collectors spend millions to purchase historical documents and apparel and paraphernalia, I suppose I won’t be surprised if someone bids $1 million or more for Rose’s personal death sentence. It is, after all, the only one that will ever be auctioned. Rose’s auctioneer told ESPN.com that Rose said he signed two copies of the document. Where is the other copy?
I asked Fay Vincent if he had it. Vincent, the former commissioner, was deputy commissioner at the time and signed the document as a witness. He said he didn’t have the second copy.
I asked John Dowd if he had the second copy. Dowd is a Washington lawyer who conducted the Rose investigation for Major League Baseball and nailed Rose for betting on baseball, the game’s cardinal sin. Dowd said he did not have the copy.
I asked an M.L.B. official Wednesday if he knew where the copy was. He said he was pretty sure it was in the baseball offices but didn’t know where and would try find out its resting place. As of the close of business Wednesday, he had not called to say where it was.
It makes sense, however, for it to be in a file cabinet in an office at 245 Park Avenue in Manhattan. M.L.B. is not going to give away or sell its copy, if and when it is found, so Rose has clear sailing to his million or so.
Rose does not admit or deny in the agreement that he bet on baseball. But as soon as the agreement was released to the news media, Rose immediately and publicly denied that he bet on baseball, then kept denying it for 15 years until he wrote a book. He admitted it then for only one reason, the usual Pete Rose reason – to make more money.
Rose’s lying didn’t surprise me. He began his 15 years of lying with a lie to me in spring training the day after he returned to the Cincinnati Reds’ spring training camp from New York, where he had been summoned to a meeting with two commissioners, the departing Peter Ueberroth and the incoming A. Bartlett Giamatti.
I asked him why they wanted to meet with him, and he said they wanted his advice on something. I told him I had heard that it had to do with his gambling, and he replied, “Gambling? Gambling is illegal. I’d have to go to Las Vegas to gamble.”
Now that I think about it, that wasn’t the first lie he told about the matter. He lied to the commissioners the day before when he denied betting on baseball.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the worst lie Jeter ever told was telling his manager and coaches and reporters that he was all right after he had been injured and really wasn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised either to learn that he never lied as a child. A few years ago I met his parents and congratulated them on having done such a good job raising Derek. I was talking about Derek the person, not Derek the player. For now, though, let’s stick to the player.
Whether or not Jeter winds up with more hits than Rose, he has already played himself into the pantheon of the game’s greatest players. His achievements are enhanced by his presence among pantheon players, Yankees’ subdivision.
His major league-leading 200th hit Wednesday night gave him his eighth 200-hit season, tying him with Lou Gehrig for most 200-hit seasons by a Yankees’ hitter. He is the Yankees’ all-time leader in hits, at-bats, games played, stolen bases and singles. He is 12 doubles shy of Gehrig’s franchise-leading total and third behind Babe Ruth and Gehrig in runs scored. In my growing-up years, the Yankees’ brightest historical markers were Ruth and Gehrig. Now they are Ruth, Gehrig and Jeter.
Jeter is now 10th on the all-time hits list. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a member of the Yankees was among the top 10 hitters while still active was 1945 when Paul Waner held that distinction. But that was Waner’s last season, and he finished with 3,152 hits.
This season alone Jeter has passed Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, Waner, George Brett, Cal Ripken, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Murray and Willie Mays, cutting in half the hitters who were ahead of him. Still ahead are Eddie Collins, Paul Molitor, Carl Yastrzemski, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb and Rose. All of these players are in the Hall of Fame, except, of course, Rose.
At the same time his critics had written him off, advocates of new-age statistics cited numbers that allegedly showed how badly his range at shortstop had deteriorated. In response to that defensive question, a general manager recently – not two years ago – said, “As far as I’m concerned, Jeter’s range goes from where he dived into the third base stands to catch a foul pop to the first base line where he caught a relay throw and threw out Jeremy Giambi at the plate in a playoff game.”