Derek Jeter has joined plenty of elite clubs already during his career.
He has 3,000 hits, five World Series rings, an All-Star Game MVP and World Series MVP during the same season. We know the numbers and accolades almost as well as the Pledge of Allegiance.
But if he wants to legitimately come back from a series of nagging injuries (not the least of which involves his ankle) that have sent him to the disabled list four times this season – the latest effectively ending his year – he’s going to need to join one more elite group.
And that may be the toughest one of all to be a part of.
Jeter will turn 40 next June and has never played a position other than shortstop. In baseball history there are only five players that have managed to play at least 50 games in a season at the age of 40 or older when they played at least 50 percent of their games at shortstop: Honus Wagner (1914-1916), Omar Vizquel (2007-2008), Luke Appling (1947, 1949, 1950), Barry Larkin (2004) and Ozzie Smith (1996). To put that in perspective, 15 players fit that criteria during their age 39 season. So the dropoff from a small group to smaller is ominous.
Even among that group the results are varied, and don’t offer a tremendous amount of historical hope to Jeter. Of the 10 seasons, only six seasons featured 400 or more plate appearances, and five of those belong to Wagner and Appling. The only recent shortstop who’s managed to play the bulk of the season was Vizquel, who received 575 plate appearances in 145 games for the Giants in 2007. But Vizquel, a slick defender, didn’t offer much with the bat, hitting .246 with a .305 on-base percentage and .316 slugging percentage.
There are two recent players who had success, however.
Larkin, 40, received 386 at-bats in 111 games with the 2004 Reds, hitting a more-than respectable .289 with a .352 OBP and eight home runs. Smith, 41, had 261 plate appearances for the 1996 Cardinals, batting .282 with a .358 OBP and two home runs.
But both players retired after the season.
Larkin and Smith also managed at least 44 games the year prior to those seasons. Jeter has only been on the field for parts of 17 games this year and likely won’t see it again until the calendar flips.
Historical precedents aren’t necessarily indictments against Jeter. He’s certainly proved the doubters wrong plenty of times before. After a sub-par 2010 he batted .308 with a .359 OBP and 21 home runs from 2011-2012 and was one of the few Yankees who hit during the 2012 postseason.
But if the Yankees shortstop who’s no stranger to making history wants to play again, with any regularity or at a high level, he’ll have to keep making history.
At the age of 40.