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3,000 hits is every hitter's dream -- and Alex Rodriguez is close

Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees looks on from

Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees looks on from third base during the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Yankee Stadium on Friday, June 5, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Alex Rodriguez is closing in on another milestone, and this one's big.

He entered Saturday night's game against the Angels only nine hits away from becoming the 29th player to accumulate 3,000.

"When I get there, it'll be amazing to be in the company of so many greats," Rodriguez said in an email relayed by spokesman Ron Berkowitz.

Already this season, Rodriguez has passed Willie Mays to move into fourth place on the all-time home run list with 665 and passed Barry Bonds to move into second place on the all-time RBI list with 1,997.

Rodriguez, who will turn 40 on July 27, would join Hank Aaron and Mays as the only players with at least 3,000 hits and at least 600 home runs. And he'd be only the second player to reach 3,000 while playing for the Yankees. Derek Jeter (3,465) became the first in 2011.

For Rodriguez, in his 21st season, the equation for attaining 3,000 hits was to average just under 150 hits per season. And then there are those home runs and RBIs.

"His numbers are crazy, they're over the top. He's had an incredible career," said Craig Biggio, who joined the 3,000-hit club on June 28, 2007, by banging out five hits for the Astros against the Rockies.

Biggio, the former Kings Park High School star, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next month. He finished his 20-year career with 3,060 hits.

"It's a pretty small group, and the only way you get in is longevity," Biggio said. "And Alex has been a great hitter from Day 1 in the big leagues. And even now he's doing well."

Better than Babe?

Longevity isn't always enough. Babe Ruth, a .342 lifetime hitter over 22 seasons, topped out at 2,873 hits.

Rodriguez hasn't talked much about the milestone, but Biggio believes he knows what he is experiencing.

"You've got the buildup, then the anticipation of getting there," Biggio said, "but you still have to get there, and until you get there, you don't take anything for granted. You're just grinding and working and winning games for your team, that's the most important thing. I think once it starts getting into the reality of a game away, then you start getting really excited."

Former outfielder Merv Rettenmund was the Padres' batting coach when Tony Gwynn got his 3,000th hit in 1999. Rettenmund also played on teams with Pete Rose -- baseball's all-time hit king with 4,256 -- and Rod Carew, who finished with 3,053 hits.

"What is takes obviously is durability, but I think the toughest thing is the mental part," Rettenmund said. "You're going to have some ups and downs and scuffle for a while. A guy like Tony could be out for a week and come back and go 5-for-5. In Alex's case, those guys [with 3,000 hits and 600 homers] are far and few between and cannot be mentioned with the other guys. What they did, that's in a different league."

Rodriguez's road to 3,000 began on July 9, 1994, when the Mariners rookie beat out a throw to first by Red Sox third baseman Scott Cooper at Fenway Park.

"At the time, he was just another hitter to me that I felt I made a good play on and got him out," Cooper said. "I played against two people I considered to be the best I ever played against -- that's A-Rod and Barry Bonds."

Rodriguez's Mariners teammates had no doubts that the rookie would have a long, productive career. "The sky was the limit. That's how we all felt about this guy," said Yankees Hall of Fame reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage, who ended a career that began in 1972 with the 1994 Mariners.

What's in a number?

Cap Anson became the first player to reach 3,000 hits. It occurred in 1897, although the exact date is in dispute.

Elias Sports Bureau, the official record-keeper for Major League Baseball, lists Anson with 3,011 career hits.

Hall of Famer Sam Rice retired in 1934 with 2,987 and the number still carried no great significance. Rice, quoted years later, said, "The truth of the matter is I didn't even know how many hits I had."

Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline reached 3,000 on Sept. 24, 1974, at age 39 and finished his career with 3,007 hits.

"Yes, 3,000 hits was certainly a goal of mine, but I was looking forward to finishing the year out and retiring," said Kaline, who collected 146 hits in 147 games in that final season.

"I didn't want to embarrass myself," he said. "I knew I had lost a lot of my skills."

Reaching 3,000 hits meant everything to Roberto Clemente, the first Latin American to achieve the feat. The Pittsburgh Pirates legend doubled off Mets lefthander Jon Matlack on Sept. 30, 1972.

That proved to be Clemente's final regular-season hit. He died in a Dec. 31 plane crash.

"For him, out of all of the awards and everything that he accomplished, that was the culmination of 18 seasons of work," Roberto Clemente Jr. said of his father. "The thing is that he knew that if he didn't get it that night, he was never going to get it. He felt like he was going to die young. My mother told me he said, 'If I don't get this hit, I'm never going to get it. I will stay at 2,999.' "

Clemente was on a humanitarian mission to deliver aid to survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua when the plane crashed into the ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, shortly after takeoff.

"I can still see him now standing on second base, tipping his cap," former teammate Al Oliver said, recalling that 3,000th hit. "I firmly believe that God works in mysterious ways. It wasn't meant for him to come back in 1973."

Catcher Manny Sanguillen added, "That was the thing he wanted to do his whole life. When he hammered the hit, he was going crazy."

Matlack became forever linked to Clemente's 3,000th hit. "Instant recognition especially with Puerto Rican ballplayers,'' he said, "because it's like a light bulb went on when they hear my name."

Former Yankee Wade Boggs, then with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, became the first player to homer for his 3,000th hit when he did it in 1999. Jeter became the second in 2011.

"I would have loved to have done it in New York," said Boggs, who left the Yankees after the 1997 season. "I would have been the first Yankee."

Boggs still takes pride in being the first to homer for 3,000, saying, "They can never take away being the first guy to walk on the moon."

On deck for 3,000?

Former Yankee Ichiro Suzuki, 41, had 2,878 major-league hits through Friday, but time may be running out for the Marlins outfielder. He is a part-time player on a one-year contract and will not discuss his chances for 3,000 MLB hits. He also had 1,278 hits during the nine seasons he played for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan.

"He doesn't want to talk about it, so we have to respect his wishes," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said.

The only other active players with at least 2,500 hits are 36-year-old Adrian Beltre (2,657) and 35-year-old Albert Pujols (2,570).

The big question

Achieving 3,000 hits once guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame, but no more.

Even after players reach the milestone, Hall of Fame voters have largely rejected violators of Major League Baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Like Rodriguez, who has been suspended for violating that policy, Rafael Palmeiro's career was PED-tainted.

Palmeiro recorded his 3,000th hit on July 15, 2005. Two weeks later, MLB suspended him for testing positive. Palmeiro, who retired in 2005 with 3,020 hits, fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2014.

It remains to be seen if Rodriguez can avoid the same fate.


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