Let's be blunt. The 3,000-hit club has always been one of baseball's premier frauds.
With any luck, the current crop of 3,000-hit "immortals" who are invading the premises will debunk the whole charade.
Now that Carl Yastrzemski, career average .288, and Lou Brock (.292), have joined Al Kaline (.297) in the 3,000-hit circle, all that remains is for Rusty Staub, a .278 hitter, to reach membership in 1983, for the club to be totally devalued.
Look for any of these gentlemen among the leading 150 hitters for average in baseball history. You won't find them. To find Yastrzemski you would have to look several hundred spots down the all-time batting average list.
Yet, this season, the impression has been given that Brock and Yastrzemski have joined a meager and exclusive aristocracy - an Olympian cast of 15 - who have 3,000 hits.
No one mentions that, in the case of both 40-year-olds, the 3,000 mark is entirely a byproduct of longevity. The lists that should be cited in their cases are the games played and the at-bats columns. Durability is a fine virtue, even if it is significantly aided by the extended 162-game schedule and, in Yastrzemski's case, by the designated-hitter rule.
Let us beware, however, Americans are always fascinated by huge gross totals -- "over 3 billion sold." As a nation, we tend to forget to ask whether our hamburgers or our stars are truly prime or just choice.
The Boston Red Sox have made a distasteful cottage industry out of promulgating every misleading statistic possible about "Yaz."
Yastrezemski, who ranks sixth in history in games played and may finish his career second only to Hank Aaron, has climbed into the top dozen in a great many prestigious categories.
Some gainsaying, come counterbalancing, some search for perspective is in order when we are confronted by public relations and media exaggerations.
Baseball has two types of measuring sticks - gross totals and averages. Totals are absolute and undeniable facts. But they also have great potential for misleading. Averages never lie. They may only give a partial truth, but they never exaggerate.
To get a true sense of a player's statistical place in the game, it is almost always necessary to balance off totals and averages -- doing some sort of intuitive process of splitting the difference.
When we find players with the best of both -- Ty Cobb with 4,191 hits and a .367 average, or Babe Ruth with 714 homers and a .690 slugging average -- we have found our lodestones.
In Yastrzemski's case, weighed against his mammouth mountains of hits, totals bases, extra base hits, RBI and walks, we need to look at his place on the average lists.
The baseball encyclopedia lists the games top 47 in slugging percnetage. No Yaz. The top 35 in home run percentage. No. Yaz. The 35 in RBI per-game No Yaz. The top 35 in walks per-game. No Yaz. The top 35 in runs per-game. No Yaz.
In fact, in many of these averages -- as in batting average where is about 300th -- Yastrzemski is not even close to making the lists.
Let us not take anything away from Yastrzemski's fine career, which is worthy of a first ballot place in the Hall of Fame, based on its sustained excellence. But, also, let's not leapfrog him over the more than 50 players who have been his betters simply because of our desire to create a star of the moment.
Even in the last month we have seen the relative places in baseball history of Yaz and Brock reversed because Yaz plays in a media factory while Brock is in a news graveyard.
Yastrzemski's career, to date, has been almost a statistical duplicate of Al Kaline's -- another smooth, attractive player whose career does not look nearly so imposing when analyzed one year at a time, as it does when the columns are added up.
Brock, on the other hand, has a unique place in the game's annals -- something very few players can claim. He is, by any standard, the greatest base-stealer in history -- no one, not even Cobb, is close to his average of 65 steals for a dozen straight years.
The St. Louis outfielder's hits merely add garnish to his credentials as one of the top candidates for the title of greatest leadoff man in history. Pete Rose would be another.
Yastzemski's adulation is merely part of a disturbing current trend toward misunderstanding the careers of contemporary players because of their longevity-based career stats.
For instance, Willie McCovey seems determined to squeeze the last homer out of his bat in hopes of climbing past gents like Ted Williams, Jimmy Foxx, and Mickey Mantle all of whom rank in the Top 10 in slugging average while McCovey is not in the Top 25.
Staub, who broke into the majors at 19, is well past 2,400 hits, and, if he can get back to a DH job, may reach 3,000 before he is 40.
Any player who saw the way Hank Aaron made himself a sports immortal by piling up numbers in old age has to see the value of the tactic.
Reggie Jackson came to Boston a day ahead of the Yankee team just hoping to see Yaz's 3,000th hit. "I'm going to climb that ladder of stats, don't you worry. I'll get my 500 (homers)," said Jackson, who has 362. "That's the sure way to Cooperstown.
"I love all these old guys, playing decently and drawing big crowds and paving the way. When I'm 40, I'm going to be making 900 K ($900,000) and thanking that DH rule."
Obviously, the modern player has several edges in building a stat monument. Over a 20-year career, that eight-games-a-season difference between 154 and 162 can be worth 200 hits. No military service obligations have taken years out of recent careers.Night baseball is cool, career-prolonging baseball. And, of course, the DH spot is pure gravy.
On the other hand, hitting is tougher in the era of relief pitchers, big gloves, and the universal slider. So, maybe recent generations have deserved a bit of a break.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the 3,000-hit club quickly is losing its glamor because the wrong people are getting in it. Rod Carew, for instance, will almost certainly never get there.
A .300 average is not a sacred number. After all, Oyster Burns, Giner Beaumont and Baby Doll Jackson all hit in the .310s and nobody's pushing them for a shrine by Lake Glimmer-glass.
However, the current 3,000-hit inductees are reminiscent of the flimsy 19th century pitchers who cracked the 13-member 300-win club when victories were cheap -- Old Hoss Radbourn, Mickey Welch, John Clarkson, Tim Keefe, Kid Nichols and Pud Galvin.
Perhaps we should all hope for pudgy Staub to postpone making his fortune in the restaurant business and root for him eventually to crack the 3,000-hit barrier with a career batting average under .275.
Then, finally, baseball fans might be forced to look at those more obscure, but generally more valid numbers -- the various career averages -- to delineate among their stars.