You know what’s really hard? 3000 hits.
It wasn’t going to happen. Sure, Young was only 625 shy of the magic mark and probably could have played longer, but even now it’s not clear he could find a starting job, and he was still more than four years away from 3,000 at his hitting pace of the last two years.
But the “why” is what’s interesting.
The thing is (and I think Bill James made this point a long time ago), no one gets 3,000 hits by accident. Well, almost no one; Lou Brock basically did it without really being Hall of Fame quality. But otherwise, the longevity requirement means that people such as Young and Johnny Damon drop out too soon, because given normal career trajectories they just aren’t good enough to be 150-game regulars once they hit age 38 or so.
Normal Hall of Famers are so good that even if they give up a lot of their value, they can still play every day and add value. So, for example, Paul Molitor was basically a 5.5 win per season player at his peak; if he loses half of that, he’s still playing. Young, on the other hand, was a 3.5 win per season guy. He loses half of that, and he’s struggling for playing time.
Of course, not all players are equal when it comes to hits. Young’s strengths were batting average and health, and he didn’t take a lot of walks, so he was going to get a lot of hits per year considering his overall quality. But he just didn’t have sufficient quality to make it to 3,000.
It is definitely possible to get to 500 home runs these days without being a HOF-level player. But 3,000 hits? Very unlikely.
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