LONGSHOTS: Baseball season has actually started
by Dave Long
I told you a few weeks back, after the Celtics had won the NBA title, that I’d check around to see if the baseball season had gotten started yet. So I did, and it had. In fact with the All-Star break coming up after Sunday’s games, it’s mid-year and there have been some pretty interesting things happening all around baseball. So, since half the baseball fans I know in these parts barely have even heard of the National League, I’ll share with you what I found as an educational public service.
In baseball’s first 107 years there have been exactly three second basemen to hit 40 or more homers in a season. But with 24 and 23, (Paper) Chase Utley and Dan Uggla are threatening to nearly match that total in one year.
Speaking of firsts: with alum Hanley Ramirez also on a pace to hit 40, he and Uggla could become the first double play combination ever to each hit over 40 in a season.
While it turned into a world title in 2007, boy do I wish the Sox had kept Ramirez out of the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell deal. He’d be fun to watch. But he’s still another feather in the cap of a spectacular run in Theo Epstein’s minor-league system.
Sports 101: Who are the three second basemen to hit 40 or more homers in a season?
I think this is it for Manny in Boston. In my Red Sox Guide I said one of the biggest question marks was whether he just had an off year in 2007 or was he, like almost every slugger before him at 36, in decline? Count me as one who does not think he’s simply in a slump. His bat speed doesn’t seem the same.
While the play of Tampa Bay at home has been startling to many, it’s not the difference between them and the Sox. It’s that Boston is eight games under .500 in the road and the Rays an even .500.
If Tampa is baseball’s biggest surprise, who’s the bigger disappointment, Detroit or the Mets?
While I’m a big enough boy to take it when my friend the insurance mogul Dick Lombardi told me last week’s column was “horrible” (or was it “horrific,” I can’t remember), I’m still not saying anything about his beloved San Francisco Giants. Even if the local kid Brian Wilson of Londonderry is headed to the All-Star Game. Especially when he has an “I Told You So” IOU ready to be collected with Tim Lincecum at 10-1 and just a hair behind Edison Volquez for the best ERA. In fact he may be the game’s top pitcher so far, especially considering he’s on a team that is both horrible and horrific, even with those guys.
When is the last time a trade worked out for both teams as well as Volquez for Josh Hamilton? Although you’ve got to wonder why pitching-poor Texas would trade him for a guy with the drug-addicted past of the resurgent Hamilton.
Well, there’s the aforementioned Beckett/Lowell-for-Ramirez deal. The last before that I can think of was the Reds getting Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Dennis Menke and Jack Billingham for Lee May and Tommy Helms in 1971! There’s got to be once since — right?
Alumni news: In case you’re nostalgic for the Eric Gagne era: his ERA is 6.33. Bronson Arroyo ain’t much better at 5.82. And Wily Mo Pena never did get it together after leaving. He has two homers and 10 RBI in 61 games for the Nationals.
You want consistency? Look up Albert Pujols’ stats. With a .333 lifetime average and 300 homers already he arguably has the greatest start ever after seven years — and in his first five seasons his at-bats are as follows: 590, 590, 591, 592, 590.
That’s the coolest stat I’ve heard since George Will offered in Ken Burn’s Baseball the stat that exactly half of the 3,630 hits by the great Stan Musial came on the road, while the other half came in St. Louis.
If I’m from Cleveland, I’m ticked off at an owner who throws in the towel at mid-season and makes a half-hearted effort to sign the reigning Cy Young winner as free agency approaches for C. C. Sabathia. This is a place that once sold out nearly 500 straight games — so they support winners. Booo.
Ten of 16 teams in the AL are over .500, which seems like a lot. Especially since 10 of 16 in the NL are under it, including all five in the West, which puts Arizona in the playoffs with fewer wins than losses.
With Chipper Jones “tailing off” to .388 it looks like Ted Williams is safe to be the last .400 hitter for at least one more year. My rule of thumb is, if one person can do it, why can’t someone else match it? But since it was last done 67 years ago, I’m starting to wonder. And I’m now convinced that if one of the two great feats from the spectacular 1941 season falls, it’ll be Joe DiMaggio’s 56- game hitting streak.
I’m on the fence about Curt Schilling in the Hall of Fame. Ditto for Pedro and his meager-by-the-Hall’s-standards 211 wins. I’ll look at that more closely in next week’s column.
Nice to see Nomar back at shortstop in L.A. after an injury to Rafel Furgal. But it’s a sad reminder of what might have been. He’s never been the same since leaving here when he was on track for a spot in the Hall. Now — no way, unless he made a Paul Molitor-like comeback in his mid-30s.
With Johann Santana at 7-7, with a 2.96 ERA in 121.2 innings, would you still include Jon Lester in a deal for him since he’s a very similar 7-3, 3.21, 117.2 and with a one-hitter and no-hitter to his credit to boot? I would have then, but not now.
Sports 101 Answers: The three second basemen are the great Rogers Hornsby, who hit . 401 to go along with 42 homers and 152 RBI in 1922; Ryne Sandberg, who hit 40 for the Cubs in 1990; and Davey Johnson, who hit 43 for Atlanta in 1973 — a guy who never even hit 20 in any other of his 13 seasons. Yes, he’s the Davey Johnson who piloted the Mets in the 1986 Series and one of three Braves to hit 40, when he, Darrel Evans (41) and Hank Aaron (40) became the only trio ever on the same team to hit 40 or more in a season that year.
And finally, with the Sox seven back in the loss column as I write this, it looks like panic has gripped the hub for the first time since after Game Three in the 2004 ALCS.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.