It's funny that there's been so much attention paid to that number over the last couple of weeks as Derek Jeter closed in on and finally passed Lou Gehrig to become the man with the most hits while wearing a Yankee uniform. If Jeter has a defining characteristic as a player it's that he's never been someone whose greatness has been defined by statistics. When fathers tells sons about him, it's about the flip against Oakland or the home run on November 1, 2001 or the breakneck dive into the stands against the Red Sox on just another July night.
Baseball may be a game dominated by iconic numbers, but Jeter has been elevated to another level by iconic moments. That's why this entire chase for Gehrig has felt a bit contrived, as if the Yankees were trying to find some statistical way to say "Hey, this guy's great!" A totally unnecessary gesture that misunderstands something crucial about Jeter, perhaps, but that doesn't mean attempts to totally pooh-pooh the moment have any currency.
There have been those that say that Jeter passing Gehrig is meaningless because he's had more at-bats than Gehrig and because Gehrig was a superior offensive player. Others have claimed that the record has no weight because no one knew how many Gehrig hits had the way every baseball fan can rattle off Hank Aaron's career home run total, Joe DiMaggio's hit streak or Bob Gibson's ERA in 1968. And, finally, there's the idea that who cares how many hits Jeter has when he's not as good as Gehrig, DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and other Yankees.
None of that means a thing, because none of them deal with the simple fact of what having the most hits as a Yankee means. It means he's got more hits than all of those guys and everyone else that ever wore a pair of pinstripes. Whatever qualifications you want to make -- Gehrig had ALS, Mantle tore up his knees, DiMaggio went to war -- don't change the fact that Jeter has simply come to work, stroked hit after hit and come back the next day to do it again for the last 15 years.
That's all it means, and that's not nothing. It's worthy of being celebrated, if not lionized, even if it is only a minute part of what makes Jeter a special player.