Gwynn to Jeter: Next 10 hits will be the hardest
Hall of Famer remembers his quest to join exclusive club
SAN DIEGO -- Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn has this message for Derek Jeter as he approaches the highly coveted 3,000-hit mark: The last 10 are the hardest to get."Getting to 2,990 was simple," Gwynn said this week as the Yankees captain and shortstop closed in on the magic number. "Those last 10 are hard to get, because your thinking changes. All along you're just grinding it out, trying to hit the ball hard, trying to do things right. But as you get closer to it you try to cheat to get hits. People are coming to see you get hits, so it gets a little bit tougher. "Fortunately, Rod Carew and George Brett both told me the same thing, 'The last 10 are kind of difficult to get.'" Gwynn is now the head baseball coach at San Diego State and a TV analyst for the Padres, the team he played with for his entire 20-year career. He finished with 3,141 hits, 18th on the all-time list. Gwynn reached 3,000 on Aug. 6, 1999, playing against the Expos at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. He went into the game needing one hit and got it with a first-inning single to center off Expos starter Dan Smith. Gwynn and Jeter have one thing in common -- both were (or will be) the first and perhaps the only players to ever amass 3,000 hits in their respective uniforms. Nobody else in San Diego baseball history has even come close, and Jeter will be the first to do it entirely wearing Yankees pinstripes. Of the 27 players who have already collected 3,000 hits, only nine have collected each of their hits wearing one uniform: Gwynn, Robin Yount (Brewers), Brett (Royals) Stan Musial (Cardinals), Roberto Clemente (Pirates), Al Kaline (Tigers), Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox), Cal Ripken Jr. (Orioles) and Craig Biggio (Astros). Gwynn needed 11 hits on July 26, 1999, as the Padres opened a six-game homestand at Qualcomm Stadium -- the ballpark in Mission Valley where the Padres played during Gwynn's entire career. The Yankees embarked Tuesday on a 10-game stand at Yankee Stadium, the three-year-old ballpark in the Bronx where Jeter would surely like to reach the milestone. If not, the Yankees then hit the road June 17 to play six Interleague games -- three against the Cubs at Wrigley Field and another trio vs. the Reds in Cincinnati. "Wherever he gets it, he's going to be treated the same," Gwynn said. "He's going to be treated as a home-team guy. I don't care what ballpark that is. He's had that kind of effect around baseball for the way he's gone about his business and what a great player he's been. Wherever it happens, he's got a standing 'O' coming from somewhere. Not just in that city, but I think all across baseball people are going to be very happy for him." Gwynn was a .338 lifetime hitter who matched that figure in 1999. It took him 11 games over 12 days to get those 11 hits. During that span he had three hitless games, a two-hit game and three hits on July 31 -- the final game of the homestand. He hit the road heading to St. Louis and Montreal at 2,996, disappointed that he hadn't reached the 3,000-mark in front of his own fans.
Jeter is a .313 lifetime hitter, who is struggling at .263 this year."I keep talking about that pressure," said Gwynn, who was inducted into the Hall in 2007, along with Ripken. "It just starts to mount as you get closer. And you put pressure on yourself because you want to do it at home, but I fell short. It's funny how things work out, but it did. And it was pretty cool. I wouldn't change a thing." Ultimately, Gwynn did it in front of 13,540 fans at Olympic Stadium. He knows how hard it was for him in a relatively small market with the heightened media attention, but he can only imagine the pressure on Jeter during this homestand, trying to become the first player in franchise history to reach the 3,000-hit mark. And all of this is with Yankees history and the shadows of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle hovering over him. "I'm sure he'd like to get it at home," Gwynn said. "You play your whole career playing for one team and you want the hometown fans to have the opportunity see that, because it doesn't come up very often. When it does come up you'd love to do it at home. But baseball is an everyday game and sometimes it doesn't work out that way. "Knowing him and watching him, he's probably not going to show it, but he's going to feel it. He's going to feel that tension. The mentality is going to change. Sometimes it takes a little longer than you want it."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.