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But Seriously Folks: The All-Star Game Friday, July 1, 2011

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140 characters simply isn’t enough to contain my animosity for the All-Star game selection, which begins in earnest on Sunday.  Our votes have been cast, and the starting lineup will be announced then.  But at what cost?

Please note that if the All-Star game was truly the popularity contest it once was, I wouldn’t be complaining about any of this.  But in the words of Bud Selig himself, “it matters” now.  And home team advantage in the World Series is nothing to sneeze at.  In the 8 years since it’s “mattered,” the home team (5 of 8 times) has come out on top.

Where’s my beef? It has to do with modern stuffing of the ballot boxes.  This happens to a small degree in the National League, but the clear offenders have to be the persistent Yankees and Red Sox at the top of the ballot every year in the AL.  The winners have yet to be announced of course, but at last count, 7 of 9 starting positions for the American League were Red Sox or Yankees, with a potential of 8 of 9 a clear possiblity thanks to Jacoby Ellsbury knocking on the door for the final outfielder position.

The only non-YankSox player that clearly has a shot is the phenomenal Jose Bautista, but one has to wonder whether a sweep would be possible had he not found a recent penchant for the long ball and Carl Crawford’s supporters had pushed him higher in the voting.

In 1957, The Reds stuffed the ballot box and Commissioner Ford Frick had to step in and name a couple other players so they wouldn’t take over the AL roster.  Nobody big… just Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. And remember that this was back before the All-Star game “mattered.”

The way things have lined up recently, it’s time for Selig to get off his ass and take a stand. Clearly, this is nothing but a popularity contest, but there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s just an exhibition game.  Why we all have to deal with this nonsense because of Selig’s gaffe in 2002 is beyond me.  You want to continue this tradition?  Kill the home field advantage.  Lean on the amazingly popular home run derby, and let it be a straight out popularity contest.  Elect as many Yankees and Red Sox as you want, but don’t pretend that this game “matters.”

The Oddity of “200” Monday, September 14, 2009

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Last night, Ichiro made history yet again.  Not 258 (eventually 262) or 2,000, but 200 this time was his magic number as he became the first baseball player to have 9 consecutive seasons with 200 hits or more.  As our obsessions with numbers that end in 0 or 5 prevail especially in baseball, I wanted to take a closer look at the significance of this achievement.

Ichiro’s “worst” season came in 2005 where he hit safely 206 times.  It seems likely he will actually finish the season with the record of 9 consecutive seasons of 206 or more hits.  An achievement 6 infield singles rarer than what we celebrated last night.  How do others stack up?

“Wee” Willie Keeler was the former record holder, although Ichiro had already beaten him.  Keeler had 8 consecutive seasons of only 202 hits or more, although he beat Ichiro with 7 consecutive seasons of 210 until he “struggled” and managed only 202 in 1901.

The infamous Ty Cobb, although he likely spiked his way on base on more than one occasion, has 9 seasons of 201 hits or more.

And what of Pete Rose, the man who still lords two substantial records over the current hit king?  Rose managed only 2 stretches of 3 seasons in the consecutive 200+ category, but still has 10 overall with so many hits.  Actually, he has 10 seasons of 204 hits or more, and only 7 seasons of Ichiro’s 206+ achievement.  So… didn’t Ichiro already beat him?

And this is all above that 200 hit threshhold: I didn’t even dip into 190+.  So why 200?  Why do we obsess over arbitrary amounts such as this?  As any stats hound will tell you truthfully: because we can.  I don’t say this to take anything away from Ichiro’s outstanding achievement, but I can’t even casually think about Ichiro without running over to baseball-reference.com.  That alone should tell you how incredible his achievements have been.  And as to his future achievements, I have just one more comparison to make.

Ichiro also had his 2005th career hit yesterday.  That puts him at 256th overall among career hits leaders (just past Todd Zeile and hall of famer Dave Bancroft).  Toss in his Japanese hits and he improves to 3283 professional hits and moves up to 11th on the list.  Yes, 11th.  Tied with Willie Mays.  Yes, Willie Mays.  He needs only 974 more hits to eclipse Pete Rose’s amazing achievement.

And do I care if you don’t think Ichiro’s Japanese hits should count?  No.  They play less games, they play in smaller stadiums (not spacious Safeco) and they play quality baseball.  As far as I’m concerned, if Ichiro should have 5 more seasons of 206 hits or more, he’s better than Pete Rose and should be crowned the new hits king.  Let’s just hope that’s on his to-do list.  Is it 2014 yet?

Congratulations, Ichiro.  Even if the M’s never have another playoff appearance, we can always count on you to save the day.

Griffey’s Triumphant Return Friday, February 20, 2009

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Griffey’s been all over the local news lately and only the national media seems to be spinning it negatively.  Still, even surrounded by such excitement, I feel compelled to write in response to those accusations that this is nothing but a publicity stunt.  So you can thank Keith Law for this post.

Is Griffey the same player he was in the late 90’s?  Of course not!  But for other sportswriters to portray Seattle fans as a bunch of bumpkins blindly buying tickets and assuming he’s the savior of Seattle sports is ridiculous.  Does he put butts in the seats?  Yes.  But this is about more than nostalgia: it’s about community.

Harold Reynolds’ and Willie Mays’ role in this story has been mentioned again and again, and the two-day decision that caused both Seattle and Atlanta fans to nearly pass out in anticipation was all over the news.  But not a single sportswriter, blogger or man on the street (at least in my futile Google searches) has mentioned what is really exciting about this story.  It wasn’t about money.

Griffey was choosing between a city he loved (a city he already mistakenly passed on once) and his family.  No one faulted Griffey for taking less money to return to Cincy years ago, and no one would have faulted him for choosing Atlanta now.  That’s what’s astonishing about this story.  No one has reported that Mariners’ fans watch a different type of baseball: one filled with community involvement and love for the game itself.  All those Mariner greats of the past? Buhner, Edgar, Moyer, Davis, Wilson, Valle, Raul…  They were all huge community activists.  They all made permanent homes in the Northwest.  They truly loved this city for more than their contracts; for more than the game itself, and this week has shown that that tradition will continue.

Thanks, Kenny.  Welcome home.