Last week, Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig as the all-time hits leader for the New York Yankees, collecting his 2,722nd hit to move atop the leaderboard. In writing about this just before it happened, MLB.com gave a fascinating list of each franchise’s all-time hits leaders. Of the 30 names, 17 are Hall of Famers, two (Craig Biggio and Ivan Rodriguez) are sure to be once they’re eligible, two (Todd Helton and Edgar Martinez) have an argument for enshrinement though they will likely fall short, and one is Pete Rose. That leaves eight players who are their teams’ standard-bearers, yet who really aren’t all that memorable. Here’s a look at them and their careers, and who if anyone might someday supplant them.
1. Garret Anderson, Angels.
Anderson played 14 full seasons for the Angels, averaging 144 games and 600 plate appearances a year. Combine that with a high batting average (.296 for his career) and a low walk rate (28 per season), and you’ve got a formula for being your franchise’s all-time hits leader. Unfortunately, Anderson’s hacktastic ways and his average power (lifetime .466 slugging) yield a mediocre .793 lifetime OPS, which is great for this crowd but not all that impressive for a corner outfielder. Still, it is four percent better than the league average, and Anderson has had his share of value over the years, even if he really only had two good seasons, 2002 and 2003. But he was never a drag on his lineup, and all those at-bats and the good batting average mean a lot of hits – his 2,368 hits as an Angel would rank #120 on the MLB career list. You could compile this franchise leaders list a hundred years from now, and there’s an excellent chance Garret Anderson will still be #1 for the Angels.
2. Bert Campaneris, Athletics.
You’d think that a franchise that produced the likes of Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, and Reggie Jackson would not be represented by a light-hitting shortstop from the modern-day deadball era, but as the defining trait of this franchise has been its unwillingness to keep (read: fairly compensate) its stars, it really isn’t a surprise. Campy, who finished with 65 more hits than Simmons thanks to his 13 seasons with the A’s, was a fine fielder and a good base stealer, both of which did make him a valuable property, and he will forever be known as one of two players to play all nine positions in a single game. But even in a low-offense context, hitting 240/278/325 in 1972 – with a league-leading 625 ABs, mind you – looks awful. That A’s team did win the World Series, of course, so they got enough runs from elsewhere to make up for it. Though there’s no one on the team now that’s a threat to his 1,887 career hits as an Athletic, that’s certainly an eclipsable number if the team decides it wants to hold onto the next good hitter it develops.
3. Tony Fernandez, Blue Jays.
Fernandez may be the best player on this list – Jay Jaffe rated him as “close, but no cigar” when evaluating his Hall of Fame candidacy in 2007. His 288/347/399 career line isn’t bad at all for a shortstop, and indeed is a pinch better than league average, which when you consider included DHs for the most part for him is nice indeed. He may not be the Jays’ leading man for much longer, however – Vernon Wells is less than 250 hits behind his total of 1,583 as a Jay, and he’s only 30 years old. Wells, however, has had a wildly inconsistent career – three good seasons, three mediocre ones, and three lousy ones, including this season. If he stays with the Jays, he’s a near-sure bet to pass Fernandez (and be a lesser light on the list for them), but even if he doesn’t, someone surely will.
4. Luis Gonzalez, Diamondbacks
Gonzo had a weird career – he was a useful player for the Astros for years whose numbers were dampened by the cavernous Astrodome, then after a couple of no-big-deal stops in Chicago and Detroit sandwiched around a one-year encore in the Dome, he moved to the desert and became an offensive juggernaut, whose 2001 325/429/688 season with 57 homers still boggles the mind and makes one wonder what his career would look like if he’d played there, or in the Juice Box, all along. Whatever you make of his career, he was only in Arizona long enough to collect 1,337 hits, which is the third-lowest number on this list, and thus sure to be surpassed. Keep an eye on star-in-the-making Juston Upton, who could blow far past that number before he’s 30 and will surely be the new leader if he stays healthy and is signed to a long-term deal before he become eligible for free agency.
5. Luis Castillo, Marlins.
Eh. Not bad for a second baseman, but nothing to write home about. Only 1,273 hits, and on a team that has done a good job of finding young talent, there should be someone knocking on that door eventually. Hanley Ramirez is already more than halfway there. But like the A’s, the Marlins are well known for dumping anyone who threatens to be worth a real salary, so who knows how long Castillo could hang on.
6. Ed Kranepool, Mets
Frankly, it was seeing Kranepool’s name on this list that inspired me to take a closer look at all the franchise hit leaders. I mean, a first baseman with a lifetime 261/316/377 mark over 18 seasons? A lifetime WARP3 of 5.0, with six seasons in negative territory? That’s just amazing, but then the Mets franchise has always been better known for its pitchers than its hitters. Kranepool lasted long enough to post 1,418 hits, 393 more for the team than one of the few big bats the Mets ever did home-grow, Darryl Strawberry, had time to do before he was run out of town on a rail. The good news is that they do have another such slugger in David Wright, who with almost 1000 hits already ought to pass Eddie K in another three seasons, given good health and the desire to keep him. Jose Reyes, given the same conditions, will likely do the same.
7. Tim Wallach, Expos/Nationals.
Wallach was a solid if not spectacular performer for the Expos, usually about average with the bat but occasionally better, and very good in the field, which boosted his overall value considerably. He stuck around long enough to top 2,000 career hits, 1,694 of which came in Montreal. There’s no one on the current Nationals team who’s any threat to that, and as is the case with so many of these teams, if they do develop someone who can approach that total, it’s an open question as to whether or not they could keep him. Wallach probably won’t remain on this list as long as Garret Anderson will, but he could be here for a long time.
8. Carl Crawford, Rays.
Our last player on this list is the only active one. Crawford is another durable high-average, low-walk guy with speed, and he’s good in the field as well, making him reasonably valuable. He’s in his age-27 season, and if the Rays keep him around he’ll be their standard setter; if not, his 1,274 career hits likely won’t last too long at the top as the likes of Evan Longoria and maybe BJ Upton, if he gets his act back together, will be on his heels.
So there you have it. I don’t know how enlightening that was, but it was fun to do.