The wild card in the group is Cap Anson. There’s no doubt he had 3,000 hits; the controversy is over how far above 3,000 he went. He played for the Chicago franchise (known as the White Stockings and the Colts) from the National League’s inaugural year of 1876 through 1897. Before the NL, however, he played with the Rockford Forest Citys (sic) and the Philadelphia Athletics of the National Association, the first professional league, albeit loosely organized and arguably not of major league caliber.
So should Anson’s stats from that league be included or not? Most authorities say no, so I will concur and go with Anson’s 1876-1897 stats only. Another wrinkle is the 1887 season when walks were counted as hits, but Baseball Almanac has corrected for that, so I am going with those stats.
There are a number of ways to compare the members of the 3,000 hit club, so herewith are 13 lists involving the 29 members of the club. Before we get to that baker’s dozen, however, here is the ranking according to number of hits:
So much for the foundation. Now let’s build on it.
|Cap Anson||July 18, 1897|
|Honus Wagner||June 9, 1914|
|Nap Lajoie||Sept. 27, 1914|
|Ty Cobb||Aug. 19, 1921|
|Tris Speaker||May 17, 1925|
|Eddie Collins||June 3, 1925|
|Paul Waner||June 19, 1942|
|Stan Musial||May 13, 1958|
|Hank Aaron||May 17, 1970|
|Willie Mays||July 18, 1970|
|Roberto Clemente||Sept. 30, 1972|
|Al Kaline||Sept. 24, 1974|
|Pete Rose||May 5, 1978|
|Lou Brock||Aug. 13, 1979|
|Carl Yastrzemski||Sept. 12, 1979|
|Rod Carew||Aug. 3, 1985|
|Robin Yount||Sept. 9, 1992|
|George Brett||Sept. 30, 1992|
|Dave Winfield||Sept. 16, 1993|
|Eddie Murray||June 30, 1995|
|Paul Molitor||Sept. 16, 1996|
|Tony Gwynn||Aug. 6, 1999|
|Wade Boggs||Aug. 7, 1999|
|Cal Ripken||April 15, 2000|
|Rickey Henderson||Oct. 7, 2001|
|Rafael Palmeiro||July 15, 2005|
|Craig Biggio||June 28, 2007|
|Derek Jeter||July 9, 2011|
|Alex Rodriguez||June 19, 2015|
|Ichiro Suzuki||Aug. 7, 2016|
Note the gaps in the above chronology. Given the shorter schedules of 19th century baseball, it’s not surprising that that century could produce only one hitter, Cap Anson, with 3,000 hits. To a lesser degree, Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie were also affected by shorter seasons, as they broke in during the waning years of the 19th century but played most of their careers in during the 20th century. The longstanding 154-game schedule was instituted in 1904, and was followed by the current 162-game schedule in the AL in 1961 and the NL in 1962. With 30 major league teams (since 1998) playing a 162-game schedule, in the 21st century more players have more opportunities to accumulate 3,000 hits than in the 20th century.
|Cap Anson||May 6, 1876|
|Nap Lajoie||Aug. 12, 1896|
|Honus Wagner||July 19, 1897|
|Ty Cobb||Aug. 30, 1905|
|Eddie Collins||Sept. 17, 1906|
|Tris Speaker||Sept. 12, 1907|
|Paul Waner||April 13, 1926|
|Stan Musial||Sept. 17, 1941|
|Willie Mays||May 25, 1951|
|Al Kaline||June 25, 1953|
|Hank Aaron||May 13, 1954|
|Roberto Clemente||April 17, 1955|
|Carl Yastrzemski||April 11, 1961|
|Lou Brock||Sept. 10, 1961|
|Pete Rose||April 8, 1963|
|Rod Carew||April 11, 1967|
|Dave Winfield||June 19, 1973|
|George Brett||Aug. 2, 1973|
|Robin Yount||April 5, 1974|
|Eddie Murray||April 7, 1977|
|Paul Molitor||April 7, 1978|
|Rickey Henderson||June 24, 1979|
|Cal Ripken||Aug. 10, 1981|
|Wade Boggs||April 10, 1982|
|Tony Gwynn||July 19, 1982|
|Rafael Palmeiro||Sept. 8, 1986|
|Craig Biggio||June 26, 1988|
|Alex Rodriguez||July 8, 1994|
|Derek Jeter||May 29, 1995|
|Ichiro Suzuki||April 2, 2001|
Again, the gaps are intriguing. Note that 19 seasons elapsed between the rookie seasons of Tris Speaker and Paul Waner. To be sure, many outstanding hitters (e.g., Sisler, Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby) came into the game during that time period, yet no 3,000-hit men emerged from the pack. After Waner, it was 15 years till the next 3,000-hit man (Stan Musial) came along. After Musial, it was 10 years until Willie Mays arrived on the scene. Since Mays, the maximum wait has been six years. As noted above, Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie are the only players who played in both the 19th and 20th centuries. Ichiro is the first member of the 3,000-hit club whose career includes the 21st century only.
|Pete Rose||15 years, 27 days|
|Ichiro Suzuki||15 years, 4 months, 5 days|
|Ty Cobb||15 years, 11 months, 20 days|
|Hank Aaron||16 years, 4 days|
|Derek Jeter||16 years, 1 month, 10 days|
|Paul Waner||16 years, 2 months, 6 days|
|Stan Musial||16 years, 7 months, 26 days|
|Honus Wagner||16 years, 10 months, 21 days|
|Tony Gwynn||17 years, 18 days|
|Wade Boggs||17 years, 3 months, 28 days|
|Roberto Clemente||17 years, 5 months, 13 days|
|Tris Speaker||17 years, 8 months, 5 days|
|Cal Ripken||17 years, 8 months, 5 days|
|Lou Brock||17 years, 11 months, 3 days|
|Nap Lajoie||18 years, 1 month, 15 days|
|Eddie Murray||18 years, 2 months, 23 days|
|Rod Carew||18 years, 3 months, 23 days|
|Carl Yastrzemski||18 years, 5 months, 1 day|
|Robin Yount||18 years, 5 months, 4 days|
|Paul Molitor||18 years, 5 months, 9 days|
|Eddie Collins||18 years, 8 months, 17 days|
|Rafael Palmeiro||18 years, 10 months, 7 days|
|Craig Biggio||19 years, 2 days|
|Willie Mays||19 days, 1 month, 23 days|
|George Brett||19 years, 1 month, 29 days|
|Dave Winfield||20 years, 2 months, 28 days|
|Alex Rodriguez||20 years, 11 months, 11 days|
|Al Kaline||21 years, 2 months, 30 days|
|Cap Anson||21 years, 2 months, 12 days|
|Rickey Henderson||22 years, 3 months, 13 days|
To get 3,000 hits, one would have to average 150 hits for 20 years, or 200 hits for 15 years, or some average in-between. So in a sense, Winfield, Rodriguez, Kaline, Henderson and Anson, who took more than 20 years, could be considered “slackers,” though Anson could be given a pass because of the short schedules of his era. The hitters who played during the 154-game-season era were handicapped, time-wise in relation to players who have broken in since the early 1960s when 162 games became the norm. Providing eight extra games per season, the 162-game season provides 160 extra games – the equivalent of a full season – over a 20-year career. Given the length of time necessary to amass 3,000 hits, those extra games can make all the difference.
We can surmise that remaining healthy is also a big advantage in the quest for 3,000 hits. Pete Rose’s appearance at the top of the list is a testament to his ability to avoid the DL. Starting with his rookie year in 1963, he never had less than 558 plate appearances until 1981 when he was 40 years old.
One durable player we don’t hear about much these days is Paul Waner, whose heavy drinking apparently had no effect on his hitting. Waner got 2,868 of his 3,152 hits as a member of the Pirates. He got 180 hits in his rookie year of 1926 and never less than 175 through 1938. During that span, his rookie year total of 536 at bats was his lowest total. When Waner reached 3,000 (as a member of the Braves), he actually refused the honor initially, insisting that the infield hit he was awarded should have been an error. Remarkably, the official scorer changed his mind and Waner reached 3,000 two days later with an undisputed base hit.
|Ty Cobb||34||Dec. 18|
|Hank Aaron||36||Feb. 5|
|Robin Yount||36||Sept. 16|
|Tris Speaker||37||Apr. 4|
|Pete Rose||37||Apr. 14|
|Derek Jeter||37||May 29|
|Stan Musial||37||Nov. 21|
|Eddie Collins||38||May 2|
|Roberto Clemente||38||Aug. 17|
|Paul Waner||39||Apr. 16|
|Willie Mays||39||May 6|
|Tony Gwynn||39||May 9|
|George Brett||39||May 15|
|Alex Rodriguez||39||Jul. 27|
|Cal Ripken||39||Aug. 24|
|Rod Carew||39||Oct. 1|
|Al Kaline||39||Dec. 19|
|Eddie Murray||40||Feb. 24|
|Honus Wagner||40||Feb. 24|
|Lou Brock||40||June 18|
|Carl Yastrzemski||40||Aug. 22|
|Paul Molitor||40||Aug. 22|
|Nap Lajoie||40||Sept. 5|
|Rafael Palmeiro||40||Sept. 24|
|Wade Boggs||41||June 15|
|Dave Winfield||41||Oct. 3|
|Craig Biggio||41||Dec. 14|
|Rickey Henderson||42||Oct. 7|
|Ichiro Suzuki||42||Oct. 22|
|Cap Anson||45||Apr. 17|
Probably the big surprises here are the second and third names on the list. The power-hitting exploits of No. 2, Hank Aaron, are well known, but in addition to 755 home runs, he had 98 triples, 624 doubles and 2,294 singles! From 1955, his sophomore season at age 21, through 1971, he never had fewer than 154 hits. Robin Yount was only 18 when he broke in, so that helped him reach 3,000 at a relatively young age, and he played a 162-game schedule throughout his career. Ichiro, thanks to his late arrival in major league baseball, occupies an unusual niche. He was old chronologically but relatively “young” in terms of how many years it took him to reach 3,000. Only Pete Rose got there faster.
A 90-point spread from top to bottom is surprising given the outstanding talent of all 30 hitters. Interesting to note is that 11 of the 30 did not reach .300. Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits garnered him no better than a .303 average. Had he merely tied Cobb in the same amount of at-bats, he would have hit just .298; an even 4,000 hits in the same number of at bats would have put him at just .285. Given Cobb’s record lifetime batting average, and his early start (age 18), it’s easy to see why he was the youngest to reach 3,000 hits.
Cal Ripken’s famed streak of 2,632 games enabled him to maximize his at-bats and hits while rising above his .276 average. Since Ripken is the all-time leader in GIDP (350), I think we can safely assume that his lack of speed (36 stolen bases in 21 seasons) eliminated a lot of potential infield hits, thus depressing his batting average. Speedy left-handed hitters have a decisive advantage when it comes to accruing infield hits, so the right-handed, slow-footed Ripken defied the odds by reaching 3,000.
The spread in number of games to reach the 3,000 milestone is 844 games, the equivalent of more than five full seasons. It should come as no surprise that the names in this list closely parallel the names in the career batting average list. Since Henderson played only 21 games fewer than 3,000, it suggests the possibility that one day someone may join the 3,000-hit club while playing in more than 3,000 games.
The most noticeable stat in this chart is the gap between No. 1 and No. 2, Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski, whose careers overlapped from 1963 to 1983. Rose had 1,885 more plate appearances than Yastrzemski. This is by far the biggest gap between consecutive batters on the list. Rose and Yastrzemski are also No. 1 and 2 for total games played (3,562 for Rose and 3,308 for Yaz). You have to tip your hat to the both of them for staying healthy and hanging in there, Rose through age 45, and Yaz through age 44.
Clearly, the 3,000 hit club is open to every kind of hitter, from power hitters (Aaron) to line-drive hitters (Brett) to contact hitters (Collins). Collins, by the way, was a renowned place hitter and bunter. I can’t find any stats on the number of bunt singles he amassed, but he is clear and away the all-time leader in sacrifice hits (512, 120 more than Jake Daubert), so I think it’s fair to assume that a significant proportion of his 3,314 hits were bunt singles.
Note that the only non-deadball era hitter to fall short of 100 home runs is Rod Carew. He actually won the 1972 batting title (170 for 535 good for a .318 average) without once going yard. Even by Carew’s standards this was an oddity, as he hit 14 home runs in 1975 and 1977 when he won batting titles with much higher averages (.359 and .388).
“A walk’s as good as a hit,” goes the old Little League refrain. Well, that’s often true, but not when you’re on a quest for 3,000 hits. Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, for example, are not members of the 3,000-hit club. But Bonds is the all-time leader in walks with 2,558; Ruth had 2,062 and eagle-eye Williams (the all-time OBP leader at .482) 2,021. Of the four men in baseball history with more than 2,000 walks, the only 3,000-hit man is Rickey Henderson – and it took him longer (22 years, three months, 13 days) than anyone else on the list to reach 3,000. On the other hand, his .401 on-base percentage helped him set the major league record for runs scored with 2,295.
Speaking of renowned base-stealers, Lou Brock, surprisingly, registers at No. 28 on the above list. One might think a longtime leadoff hitter and base-stealer with 3,023 hits would be higher on the list, but Brock didn’t walk much (761 in 19 years).
Pete Rose and Ichiro, who were the quickest to reach 3,000 hits, are at the bottom of the slugging percentage rankings. As leadoff hitters, they had a built-in advantage, as they got more at-bats. Of course, if you’re batting leadoff, you’re probably not a slugger, so your slugging percentage will reflect that. A .400 slugging percentage appears to be a threshold number for membership in the 3,000-hit club. Yet one fine day a prolific banjo hitter with a .399 slugging percentage may break through the floor. Stay tuned.
The spread from 1 to 30 is huge with Ichiro 2,936 behind Hank Aaron. In fact, Aaron is 722 ahead of No. 2, Stan Musial. In fact, Aaron, Musial and Mays are the three all-time leaders in total bases among all hitters, with or without 3,000 hits. If Ichiro plays in 2017, he could get 80 more total bases to lift him to 4,000. That would leave Rod Carew as the only member of the club with fewer than 4,000.
The top-to-bottom spread in this category is 1,574! Leader Rickey Henderson has more than four times as many walks as the anchor man, Nap Lajoie, who was notorious for swinging at pitches out of the strike zone – even when being granted an intentional pass. Clearly, this helped Lajoie reach 3,000 hits quickly (2,224 games, just 89 more than Cobb at the top of the list). Lajoie’s .338 lifetime batting average puts him in third place among the 3,000-hit club members, but his paucity of walks drops him close to the middle of the pack of the on-base percentage list.
|Player||200+ Hit Seasons|
The bottom of the list is more intriguing than the top. It is hard to believe that a batter could amass 3,000 hits without at least one 200-hit season. Yet five batters (one out of six) did just that. As noted above, Anson was handicapped by playing a short season. That was not the case with Carl Yastrzemski, whose rookie year of 1961 coincided with the inception of the 162-game schedule in the American League. Rickey Henderson, Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield all played during the 162-game schedule. Henderson, a famed leadoff hitter, should have been a candidate for a 200-hit season, but it never happened. In fact, he never got close. His best year was his 1980 sophomore season when he got 179 hits.
You might think Yastrzemski came close to 200 in his Triple-Crown year of 1967, but his best year in terms of hits (191) was his sophomore year of 1962. If you’re curious about the others, Eddie Murray’s best showing was 186 (1980), and Dave Winfield topped out at 193 (1984).
So there we have 13 perspectives on the 30 hitters who achieved 3,000 hits. Outstanding hitters all, their achievement can be analyzed from a number of perspectives, depending on what you value in a batter aside from sheer number of hits.
The 31st member of the club will likely be Adrian Beltre, who made his debut in 1998. He should reach 3,000 in 2017, his 20th season, as he needs just 58 more hits. If Albert Pujols can stay healthy, he is also a pretty good bet, as he will begin the 2017 season with 2,825 hits at age 37. Miguel Cabrera, with 2,519 hits at age 33, is also a strong possibility. When and if Pujols and Cabrera reach 3,000, Ichiro will no longer be the only member of the club whose major league career began in the 21st century.
Given the statistical spread regarding power, on-base percentage, and other offensive categories, we can say that members of the elite 3,000-hit club are not created equal.
As with crying, there is no egalitarianism in baseball.