3,000 Hits: Baseball's Greatest Hitting Milestone.
3,000 hits in 156 words.
As long as Major League Baseball has been around the most sought-after records have always involved batting. To name a few of these we have the home runs record held by Barry Bonds, the stolen bases record held by Rickey Henderson, the batting average record in one season held by Ted Williams, amongst many more. Well, with the exception of Henderson, the other two mentioned players both Hall of Famers are not members of baseball’s most prestigious batting club, the 3,000-hit club. Williams trails by a pretty lengthy margin and Bonds by roughly 68 hits. Henderson himself eclipsed the mark by only 55 more. We will discover the importance of why the 3,000th hit in a player’s career is so important, who has done it and why it is such a tough record to eclipse. After all, of many of professional baseball’s milestones 3,000 hits is one of the hardest to achieve even for an All-Star.
Was "Cap" Anson the first?
I know what you are thinking as you read this; who in the heck is Cap Anson. Well, Adrian Constantine Anson better known as “Cap” by those he played alongside was a professional baseball player who played first base for 27 seasons which is tied with the great pitcher Nolan Ryan. Of his time, he is considered to be one of the greatest all-around players not simply a hitter. Anson’s career was predominantly spent with the Chicago White Stockings now known as the Chicago Cubs. In looking simply at his stats, Anson hit 97 Home Runs, stole 277 bases, and scored 1,999 runs during his tenure which included being the Cubs player/coach at one point. In his batting stats, in 10,281 At-Bats he hit 3,435 times for a career average of .334. This was enough to get him into the Hall of Fame in 1939, three years into its existence. His highest seasonal total was 137 but he never led the league any other year than 1881. However, although Anson is credited as being the first player to hit over the 3,000 benchmark there is dispute as to whether he actually was the first to complete the feat.
With the modern addition of statistics there is a discrepancy in Anson’s career. Prior to 1887, getting on base was regarded as a hit if walked and not given a 0 for the at-bat therefore Anson may not have been the first player to do this as he is recorded on baseball-reference.com as having 984 total walks in his career. However, if we look at this statistic and subtract the 984 walks from his hits, the number we get is 2,451 which puts him below the 3,000-hit milestone. Furthermore, when Anson played, he was not considered to be a Major League Baseball player as the league he played in, known as the National Association (NA), is not recognized by Major League Baseball. Therefore, whether he did or not, the official first player to do so would not be “Cap” Anson. So, by these discrepancies there are two other names that come into play as the first to hit 3,000. Not to mention they did so during the same season. Nap Lajoie did so on September 27th and Wagner on June 9th. Therefore, the official record by Major League Baseball goes to Honus Wagner. Wagner also finished his career with 3,430 which is 5 less than Anson, Lajoie finished with 3,252. Each player is currently enshrined at Cooperstown.
What is Important about reaching 3,000? Does it Gurantee a Hall of Fame Spot?
3,000 hits was only a milestone after Honus Wagner reached it in 1914. Prior to this, with the discrepancies that plagued Anson’s numbers 3,000 hits was not thought of as being an all-important stat. Not to mention, when Wagner and Lajoie were playing the Baseball Hall of Fame was non-existent. It seems unclear why 3,000 was the magic number other than the fact that it showed longevity in a player’s career. In the early 1900s players were professionals but they had other jobs during the offseason and are not credited as being fully dedicated to the game of baseball. This actually, if examined, makes reaching 3,000 hits more impressive because a full-time dedicated player can hit as many as 200 times in a season with the amounts of games and even then, over 150 hits a season is impressive. Strangely, players did actually play much longer than the current athletes in the Major Leagues. It is rare for a player to hit 20 seasons much less hit over 1,000 times.
Another reason that the stat is looked at as important is because baseball is thought of as a 100% offensive game. Yes, more runs through 9 innings does grant a winner and a loser but strong pitching is what wins games more often than runs. It may not seem this way but players like Derek Jeter, who is a member of the 3,000 hits club, was also a great defender. Of over hundreds of thousands to play the game, only 32 players have ever reached 3,000 hits. Most recently, Albert Pujols joined the club on May 4th, 2018. However, Pujols still trails the all-time hits leader Pete Rose by more than 1,000 hits. In the past decade the feat has been accomplished 5 times by future Hall of Famers. Of those that have reached 3,000, 17 were right-handed, 13-left handed and 2 were switch hitters.
Lastly, and probably the most important question for this entire article is does it guarantee a Hall of Fame spot. The answer, yes and no. Although stats are vital to earning a place at Cooperstown, it is not a guarantee. Most notably, in the case of Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro was an outstanding player during his lengthy career of 19 years. It took him his entire career to reach 3,000 as he currently rests with 3,020 all-time hits. However, Palmeiro is not currently an active member of the Hall of Fame for other reasons that baseball excludes many of its greatest for; steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Palmeiro testified that he had no involvement with steroids during his time in the game but known scrutinizer and former steroid user himself Jose Canseco wrote in Juiced (2005) that Palmeiro and he were both users of steroids causing his Hall of Fame credibility to plummet. Another instance is Pete Rose who hold the all-time record of 4,256 who is also not a member of the Hall of Fame. Like Palmeiro it was not his playing that got him removed from the ballot. It was other instances in his personal life that got him banned from the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose notably gambled during his days on baseball games and has since admitted to it. The game has frowned on this activity since the 1919 World Series and Rose received the harshest punishment in that he will never be elected or put on the ballot of the Hall of Fame, or at least for the foreseeable future. Rose is widely regarded though as the game’s greatest hitter due to his stat of hitting more than anyone else. In favor of yes, the remaining 30 players are going into the Hall of Fame or are already there. Pujols is the only active player with this accomplishment but with Adrian Beltre, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki not yet eligible to be elected it seems that all four of them, including Pujols will one day relive their legacy in the Hall of Fame.
How did they do it?
Hitting 3,000 is a notably televised moment in modern baseball but was not always so because when Honus Wagner was playing there was no such thing as television. The most common way to hit 3,000 is a single base hit which was done by 19 players including Craig Biggio, George Brett, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Pete Rose, and Hank Aaron amongst others. Interestingly, the top three hits leaders all achieved the milestone on a single. The second highest total was on Doubles with 8. Humorously, Craig Biggio got thrown out while trying to turn his 3,000th hit into a double. Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente and even Honus Wagner earned their 3,000th this way. For Roberto Clemente, his 3,000th career hit would be his last one of his career as he would die not long after in a plane crash. For Triples, there are only two players who did so, Ichiro Suzuki and Paul Molitor each earned their 3,000th hit and remain only two to do this. The remaining three, Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Wade Boggs all hit home runs for their 3,000th hit. Each player is most famous for their time with the New York Yankees, but Boggs completed 3,000 hits while he was with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Cobb was not the fastest player to reach it though, that title belongs to Tony Gwynn who hit it in his 2,284th game. Cobb was however the youngest as he reached it at 35 years of age. Furthermore, Cobb has the highest batting average amongst the 3,000 club members. Jeter and Biggio both had 5 hits in the game in which they reached 3,000. Hank Aaron has the highest amount of home runs in the club, and no one team possesses the record for having the most 3,000 hitters as the Pirates, Yankees, Twins, Cardinals, and Tigers are all tied for having 2 players reach the 3,000th hit with that team. 21 different teams had a 3,000 member at one point and Cal Ripken reached the most consecutive hits to reach the club. It seems that it is one of the more unusual clubs to be in in all of sports.
Who is not in the 3000 Club?
This category is longer than the actual list of those that are in it. Some players in and out of the Hall of Fame have come close but close does not provide a record. More known for his home runs, Babe Ruth was just 127 hits away from reaching the record when he retired. He was more known for hitting balls out of the park rather than keeping them in-play. Ted Williams, the games purest hitter, ended up with 2,654 hits during his career but severed in the military during his time as a professional player and can be forgiven for not reaching. Barry Bonds, like Ruth is known for hitting the ball further than anyone but not for getting on base for hits. He preferred rounding them instead; he trails closer than anyone with 2,935 hits during his lengthy career. Mel Ott, one of the greatest all-around fielders ever, who led the league in home runs 6 times, is credited with 2,876 hits. Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Jackie Robinson, Manny Ramirez, Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson all had lengthy careers, but they did not even come close to simply “missing the cut.” The closest to the club ever is Sam Rice who retired in 1934 after playing 20 seasons. Rice finished his career with 2,987 as a Cleveland Indian. He is followed by Sam Crawford, and Frank Robinson who are within 50 hits of the reaching. The closest current active players are Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Nick Markakis with Cabrera leading at 2,815 hits.
So, 3,000 hits later the all-time hits record stands with Pete Rose who is alone and will most likely never be touched by anyone ever. His closest opponents do not even play anymore and even Albert Pujols who would be the most obvious chance to tie Pete Rose is not even close, he just cracked 3,000 in 2018 and would have to play another decade almost to even come close to Rose. However, 3,000 stands for the remaining 31 players as their most notable memory of their time playing the game. Winning a World Series is important and many of those in the club have done so, Jeter winning 5 himself. However, 3,000 is the most special number that a batter can have and that makes it all the more exciting when the record is again reached even by a more athletic league. As for now though, the record stands alone as the greatest hitting milestone in professional baseball, at least in the United States as some argue that other leagues should be considered into this discussion which would make it more correct but the records are recorded by Major League Baseball and therefore will remain so. Hopefully, with much work and cooperation between his bat and the ball, Cabrera will reach 3,000 but due to his recent seasons and the all-important age factor it seems that he will end up like Rice, but the future may bring something special as the club will grow larger.