August 2007

A season for the ages

Barrybonds_1

When we all look back on the 2007 season history will show that it was quite simply the last great season for individual milestones in the history of baseball. When will we ever see a 31-year old all-time home run record broken like the night Barry Bonds did it? Will his final number really stand for another 30-plus years?

This same season has seen Alex Rodriguez — the guy who may one day break Bonds’ record — become the fastest player in the history of the sport to hit 500 home runs.

Biggio150
Meanwhile, we witnessed another guy who switched positions hit a milestone that all but assured he will be enshrined in Cooperstown. Craig Biggio started his career behind the plate for the Astros, who moved him to second to protect him from injury. Several Gold Gloves and many hit-by-pitches later, we watched as he collected the 3,000th hit of his Hall of Fame career.

Frank Thomas a.k.a. "The Big Hurt," a nickname he was given during his football days while playing tight end for the Auburn Tigers, not only changed positions, but also sports. I played against Frank and marveled how this 6’6" former tight end could be so patient at the plate. He would pick out a pitch and then put a "big hurt" on the baseball. He, too, hit his 500th career homer this year.

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Then there’s Tom Glavine. Who would have thought in the early years of his career the words "Cooperstown" and "300 wins" would describe Glavine’s career accomplishments? After all, We are talking about a former hockey player who in one season in Atlanta finished that year with a 7-17 record. He reinvented himself, using his great athletic ability and a mental toughness he learned from hockey. He focused on the positives, not the negatives, learned how to pitch on the corners with pinpoint control and to contribute at the plate. By beating the Cubs on a Sunday night in Chicago earlier this year for his 300th career win, Tom Glavine might have become the last pitcher that we ever see reach that number.

We saw Sammy Sosa
become just the fifth player in history to reach 600 homers, and Ken Griffey Jr.
is just nine away himself. Jim Thome needs seven homers to make it three players
to reach 500 this season, and Manny Ramirez needs 11.

Finally, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken drew a record 70,000 people to Cooperstown for their induction.

Will we ever see such greatness again in one season. Baseball is on a terrific roll, and I decided long ago I’m going to enjoy the game I love. I’m going to let everybody else worry about things I can’t control, like who’s on what drug and who’s dating whom. Besides, unless they tell us, will we ever really know?

Playing the game the right way.

Charliehustle

I was watching the Giants and Dodgers play on Wednesday night and rookie Rajai Davis did something in the game that used to be commonplace: HUSTLE.

What made it even worse is that everybody I was watching the game with and the broadcasters noticed it. His hustle going from second to third and rounding third base so hard, looking like he might go home, stood out like a sore thumb. Shame on us!

Has our level of accepted lack of hustle fallen so much that a rookie made people take notice by doing what used to be the norm? Ernie Harwell, the Hall of Fame broadcaster once said to me "Harold, a good umpire is like a good driver in traffic. You never notice he’s there."

The year was 1975. I was in the eighth grade and just starting to really get into baseball. The Reds were the "in vogue" team to watch. They had Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, you name it. Stars across the board.

As the oldtimers would say, "Now that’s a team that played the game right." They stole bases, hit and ran, hit for power, hit for high average and played great defense: the perfect five-tool team.

One player personified what they were all about, and that was Pete Rose. He had all the five tools like the rest of the Hall of Fame cast. The one thing that separated Charlie Hustle from everybody else was his hustle.

Magicjohnson
In a generation when hustle was the norm or you didn’t play, Pete made it fashionable to hustle, much like the Pete Maravich behind-the-back pass or the Magic Johnson no-look pass.

Not just sprinting to first after a walk or stretching a single into a double, but rather the head-first slide when he went from first to third on a single or diving head-first stretching a double into a triple with hair flopping and helmet flying for effect.

Every kid wanted to go first to third like Pete or dive head-first with helmet flying, only two things were required: get on base, then hustle. How difficult is that?

Isn’t that the way the game is supposed to be played? It’s a shame that we praise a rookie for playing the game right. If others would play the game the right way, maybe we wouldn’t notice them in traffic.