Wins, not milestones have defined Jeter

The Yankees' Derek Jeter waves to the crowd The Yankees' Derek Jeter waves to the crowd after hitting a single to break Lou Gehrig's all-time Yankees hit record during the third inning Friday night. (Sept. 11, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since July 4, ...

If style points mattered, Derek Jeter’s record-setting 2,722nd hit would have been a single to rightfield.

Lo and behold, it was.

It's that inside-out stroke - dubbed "Jeterian'' by Yankees radio announcer John Sterling, one of the few of his many catchphrases that is simple, accurate and not at all gimmicky - that has sustained Jeter through 15 Yankees seasons.

Somewhere in the stat geek world, there probably exists an exact count of how many Jeterian singles there are among his 2,723 hits. Do we need to know that? As Jeter himself would say, "Nope.'' Not everything has to be broken down to the nth degree. Greatness doesn't demand that.

Jeter now is the Yankees' all-time hits leader, with No. 2,722 and 2,273 last night vaulting him past Lou Gehrig. Fifteen years into his Hall of Fame career and it could be only the beginning for Jeter and the record books, Yankees and otherwise.

One day, if the gods of health and contract extensions allow, we will watch Jeter become the first Yankee with 3,000 hits. It's possible he could reach 4,000. It's less likely, but still statistically possible, that he could challenge Pete Rose's all-time record of 4,256.

Baseball should root really, really hard for that. The all-time hit king would no longer be the disgraced Rose but the admired Jeter.

For baseball, it would be like all of us learning that steroids never existed and players bulked up through hard work and watching their diets. It would be like finding out the Black Sox didn't really throw the 1919 World Series but were just engaged in a extremely slow-to-develop prank. It would be like erasing the entire 2009 Mets season.

Well, maybe that last one is too much to hope for.

Jeter as the all-time hit king would be something, wouldn't it? It would be even more ironic than rain on your wedding day or 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.

Jeter, the ultimate team player, would hold the ultimate individual record.

But that's for many, many years down the road, and odds are he won't make it. Jeter's legacy most likely will be about winning, not numbers, especially if he adds to the four World Series rings he picked up in his first five full seasons. The Yankees have a pretty good chance of that this year.

No, Jeter will be best remembered for that inside-out swing, for the jump-pass from short leftfield on a grounder in the hole and for specific moments such as the Jeffrey Maier home run in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles, the Game 4 leadoff home run off Bobby Jones at Shea Stadium in the 2000 Subway World Series, and the flip from the first-base line to Jorge Posada for an incredible out in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series against Oakland, and the "Mr. November'' game-winning home run to right at Yankee Stadium in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against Arizona, and bloodying his face with a headfirst dive into the stands after catching a pop-up and saving two runs in the 12th inning July 1, 2004, against the Red Sox. And for milestones and moments still to come.

Ask Jeter about all that and you're as likely to get a blank stare as a deeply personal answer. He's not built to talk about himself. At 35, he's answered every question a thousand times. He's polite but guarded, an anti-self-promoter in a world that wants to know every little detail about the people it worships.

Of course, for Jeter to catch Rose, he'd have to play into his mid-40s. For a guy who doesn't think about tomorrow, you're not going to get him to focus on the 2018 season.

Derek Jeter is about now. Now he's No. 1 on the Yankees' all-time list. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

>> View photos of

Derek Jeter through the years as well as some of his most memorable moments in pinstripes.

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