September 28, 2009
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brad-eastland3by Brad Eastland, The Sports Philosopher….

      If you’re anything like me, you regard every baseball season as a carnival of historical “firsts”.   Every year there are always a bunch of neat things that happen in baseball that have never happened in baseball before.  

      The history of baseball has always meant more to me than the history of other sports, maybe because no other sport is as tightly woven into the fabric of American History as is baseball.   It’s part of who we are, and how we got here.   Did you know that way back in the 1860s, Union and Confederate soldiers used to break up the monotony in prison camps by playing baseball against each other?   (Obviously whichever side’s prison it was, i.e. whichever side had the guns, was the home team.)   Things like that are what make the world interesting.   Part of why I studied history at college, rather than something that would ever make me any actual money.

      In other words, I majored in American History at U.C. Berkeley.   But I have been majoring in Baseball History my whole life….  

      As for baseball in the year of our Lord 2009?   I hardly know where to start.  

      Perhaps with Pedro Martinez.   Going into this season, if ever there was an infirm, oft-injured, washed-up pitcher it was Pedro.   Pushing forty, he had hardly thrown a decent inning or two in over two years.   But the Philadelphia Phillies signed him for the stretch drive and I don’t know how he’s done it but he has made a difference, going 5-and-1, with a low ERA, providing some much-needed stability at the bottom of the Phillies’ starting rotation.   As a Fountain -of-Youth-er, he’s truly a modern-day Ponce de Leon.   Here’s today’s history lesson, in the form of a quick quiz: in baseball history, amongst pitchers with over 200 victories, which starting pitcher has the all-time best winning percentage???    Hint: Pedro is #2, and gaining.   Answer in next week’s column.

      Ken Griffey.   You may recall I raked Ken over the coals pretty good a couple columns back, fairly demanding that he retire.   He was hitting .218 at the time.   Well, I must have jinxed him.   Since that column he has actually gotten worse, racking up a grand total of 8 hits in 45 subsequent at-bats.   That’s an average of about .175.   As of today, he is now hitting .214 for the season….that’s two, one, four.   He’s pretty casual about it.   I haven’t heard one peep out of him in the press, about how depressed he is about being such a pathetic shadow of his former self.   Should he retire?   Or do you good people really want to see him and his winning smile come back next year and hit around .200, and maybe have a stroke out in center field while he’s at it.   (Oops!   I forgot that Casual Ken mainly DH’s nowadays.)    Let me know what you think.

      Ichiro.   First guy to ever pound out over 200 base hits in a season for nine straight years.   Says it all.   And his English is vastly improved too.   Congratulations, Suzukisan….

      But the most memorable (at least for me) milestone or record that was achieved by any baseball player in 2009 was accomplished (if indeed the word “accomplished” is an appropriate word to describe failure) by Arizona Diamondbacks 3rd baseman Mark Reynolds.

      I bet most of you don’t even know who Mark Reynolds is.   Truth is he’s a pretty good young player.   He’s hit 44 home runs this season for one thing, second only to the great Albert Pujols in all of baseball.   But the downside of all this free-swinging bravado is that Mark has struck out, as of last Sunday September 27th, a whopping 211 times.   An all-time record.   No one in the entire history of baseball—that’s approximately 140 seasons—has ever struck out over 200 times in one year.   Except Mark.

      In the old days, this would never have been tolerated.   Striking out used to be a badge of dishonor.   The legendary Joe DiMaggio, for instance, only struck out 369 times in his entire career!   Jiminy Crickets, that’s less than two seasons of whiffing for our boy Mark.   But this is, after all, a different era, the era of the long ball or bust and strikeouts be damned, and I am afraid we are not the better for it.

      Growing up, one of my favorite players was Bobby Bonds.   He played for my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, and I can still recall the hopeless feeling of disillusionment the day he was traded for the Yankees’ Bobby Murcer.   I cried.   I think.   Maybe not.   Anyway, Bobby Bonds was a wonderful player, but he also once held this dubious record of most times striking out in a season.   I remember it was exactly 189 times.   Ol’ Bobby held this record for over thirty years, so determined were all major league players to not match or exceed his total.   When players would sometimes get close to the record, they would actually have their managers sit them down for the rest of the season, just so that they would not break it.   I hated that.   As long as Bobby Bonds held the single-season strikeout record, I considered it a reflection on me.   I hated it.   It was personal.

      Thankfully his record was finally broken and has been broken several times since.   Nobody cares how many times they strike out any more, as long as they are piling up the home runs.

      I’ll prove it.   You know whose record Mark Reynolds broke when he struck out for the 205th time this year?

      His own.

      That’s right.   Mark Reynolds is the only man to ever strike out more than 200 times in a season, and he liked it so much he’s now done it two years running.

      What’s the world coming to???   Hell, I don’t know.   Fortunately the problems of the world are not in my department, as Humphrey Bogart was wont to say….

The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, Civil War buff, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :


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