Derek Jeter’s pursuit and bagging of his 3,000th hit with the New York Yankees last weekend dripped with all sorts of gooey feel-goodness. Reaching the milestone at home, blowing right by it with a dazzling 5-for-5 performance at the plate, cranking a home run for the momentous among those five hits, getting the ball returned to him by a young New York fan who didn’t rush off to Sotheby’s for a quickie appraisal — it was charming from start to finish by and for the revered 37-year-old shortstop. And, by extension, baseball.
But it raised a question about sports statistics that could apply just as well to the NBA.
In reaching the big, round hits’ threshold that historically conveys Hall of Fame status on all who cross it (except, y’know, Pete Rose), Jeter — like the 27 men who preceded him — actually amassed 3,000 hits in regular-season games. Nothing else counted. Not spring training or minor league games, naturally, and not MLB postseason games either.
Which prompted more than a few folks to ask: Why? Why shouldn’t hits that Jeter stroked in Yankees’ postseason games — in the various levels of American League playoffs and in the World Series — count toward his lifetime total?
It’s a valid question, in my opinion. We’re not talking about those March games down in in Tampa or Port St. Lucie where a future Hall of Famer might be facing a future insurance salesman who tops out at Class AA ball. We’re not talking about single-season records, which rightly should be maintained across a like number of games. We’re talking about at-bats against the league’s or game’s best pitchers, in games that matter most, over a player’s career.
Maybe the question should be phrased thusly: Why wouldn’t those count?
The standard objection to counting postseason stats with those compiled in the regular season is, hey, those playoff and World Series games are bonus opportunities that other players do not get. To which a legitimate response would seem to be: Whose fault is that? Players, working together on a team, earn those postseason games. Some might argue that players on playoff-bound teams sacrifice more, and actually get fewer opportunities to attend to individual achievements, than somebody playing out the final 70 games each season in the second division.
Mix in all the other differences among players — date of career debut, time stuck backing up a star teammate, total seasons played, injuries — and it seems arbitrary to make postseason accomplishments off-limits from career totals (or to relegate them to a separate category).
If baseball kept its stats that way, Jeter’s 185 hits in Yankee postseason games would count toward his total. Coming out of the All-Star break this week, he would have 3,189 hits. He would have begun the 2010 season (subtracting his 78 hits in 2011, his 10 hits last fall against Minnesota and Texas and his 179 hits in 2010) with 2,722 hits. Thus, needing just 78 to reach 3,000, he would have achieved that on June 12, 2010, when he went 2-for-4 in an interleague game against Houston in New York.
Stats are handled similarly in other sports, including the NBA. And from a records-keeping standpoint, it probably is just as easy to combine the regular-season and postseason stats when that sort of analysis is desired.
But must it be done that way?
It might be helpful or at least interesting for people to know that Michael Jordan didn’t just outscore Wilt Chamberlain by 873 points — he outscored The Dipper by 3,253 points because Jordan, with 5,987 postseason points, ranked No. 1 in that category to Wilt’s No. 15 (3,607).
Or that Boston’s John Havlicek jumps four spots, from No. 15 in regular-season points (26,395) to No. 11 in combined points (30,171), if he’s given credit for his playoff production for the Celtics. Oh, but he got way more chances than players stuck in Detroit or Cincinnati. OK, but Havlicek — or somebody else on his team — might not have had the green lights that Dave Bing or Oscar Robertson had.
If we kept and ranked according to total points, nothing would change at the top except the enormous numbers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 5,762 playoff points would push his lifetime total from 38,387 to 44,149. Karl Malone (41,689) would join him as the only two members of the NBA’s 40K Club.
But Shaquille O’Neal (33,846) and Kobe Bryant (33,148) both would leapfrog over Moses Malone (31,793) into the sixth and seventh spots — and Malone gets credit for his points scored in the ABA. Hakeem Olajuwon would pass both Elvin Hayes and Dan Issel. And Jerry West would leap from No. 19 on the scoring list, regular-season points, to No. 12 (25,192 plus 4,457).
Similar shifts would come in other stats. Abdul-Jabbar’s 2,481 postseason rebounds would move him past Moses Malone, No. 3 all-time, with 19,921. Bill Russell’s playoff edge over Chamberlain, 4,104-3,913, wouldn’t be enough to make up the 2,304 advantage Wilt had in regular-season games. But O’Neal would jump from No. 13 to No. 9 while Walt Bellamy slips out of the top 10.
Not too much would change in the assists category. Former Jazz playmaker John Stockton still would tower over the competition, only now with 17,645 assists to Jason Kidd’s 12,793 for a gap of 4,852 (it’s 4,228 in regular-season rankings). Magic Johnson would be back at No. 3, his record 2,346 postseason assists moving back ahead of Mark Jackson (11,238, only 904 in playoff games).
It’s not a big deal, overall. But it does seem a little odd not to count playoff production in lifetime totals. There’s no equalizing everything about various players’ careers, so why should postseason opportunities get singled out?
If nothing else, the list of NBA players who reached 30,000 points would grow from five (regular-season only) to 11. And if baseball fell in line, poor Sam Rice, the longtime Washington Senators outfielder who retired at age 44 in 1934, would be in the books now with 3,006 hits. Rather than the 2,987 he had when he quit.
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