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Being There: An Ode to Baseball

You have dreamed of this moment before you bought your ticket. Indeed, it was the thought of buying the ticket that was the germinating seed of this dream. You have a smile on your face, because you know that you are about to witness a historical, traditional, rarified love…a baseball game. 

Maybe you are with your wife. Maybe you are with your kids. Maybe you are with a bunch of your rowdy friends and you can’t wait to get in the stands to be rowdy with the rest of your “friends” who all root for the same team. Maybe, like myself, you even go alone because once you get there, you are not alone. 

Whichever is the case, you’re ecstatic. The feeling of joy intensifies as you pass through the gate, handing off the ticket to your dreams. The collective hope and joy is all around in the buzz of the stadium and you can feel the immensity of it. 

Then it happens. You have checked your ticket for where you will be sitting then as the concrete walkways and walls give way you look through the first section that you come upon and there it is: The diamond.

Lush and green, with white lines, four bases and a fence that defines the game. It is as if you have walked into a temple. Depending on your perspective, if it is in line with mine, you have. 

We come and unconsciously worship the ghosts of legend. Conjuring up the spirit of those who have come before us and laid the groundwork for this amazing tradition. We do this because we understand that without Babe Ruth, there’s no Roger Maris nor Mark McGwire.

Likewise, we understand emphatically that without Josh Gibson there is no Jackie Robinson and that we would have surely missed out on the greatness of Willie and Hank. Furthermore, without the courageous spirit of Branch Rickey, we couldn’t enjoy it together, as one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. 

When we are truly in the spirit of the legacy of love called baseball this unconscious worship of legend plants the seed in our collective consciousness that asks, who will be the next legend whose name will be inscribed on the consciousness of future generations? What amazing feat has yet to materialize in this game that will be enshrined in the hearts of those unborn? Will it happen today? While I’m here? 

Thus, you run, quickly—so as not to miss a thing—to buy your traditional beer, dog, Cracker Jack, maybe some fries, never minding the ridiculous cost because…it’s baseball.

Upon finding your section, row and seat you squeeze in with 40,000 other folks, the vast majority of which are of the “casual fan” variety. You pay them no mind, because you know that you are in the vast minority of men, women and children that actually “get it.” 

Yes, you are of the other variety of fans. You’re like the elder guy two rows ahead of you that listens to the game on his handheld radio, or like his wife sitting next to him who owns a book of scorecards and is currently going through passed games that she has kept score of. 

You are the fan that nobody understands. They ask, why do fans do such things like listen to the game on the radio, or keep score, or never leave their seat from the first pitch to the last and get annoyed when people want to talk at the most critical stage of the game? 

But imagine what it would have been like if you were able to be in the stadium behind home plate the day that Sandy Koufax pitched arguably the greatest perfect game in the history of baseball. Imagine what it would have been like to be at that game, with a scorecard, to record the moment so that you could frame it and pass it down through your family.

Even more, imagine if you could have been at the game and heard Vin Scully calling those last 6 strikeouts of Koufax’s legendary moment. Priceless.

It is the sound of the bat, the awaiting of the next pitch like the next breath in meditation, the “head game” of trying to out think the person that stands before you and strategizing ways to manipulate your opponent into losing. It is fans who all of a sudden become coaches and writers that live as trickster critics.

It is the long legacy that got us here and the beauty of people from around the world coming to the United States to play this game as this is the stage of the embodiment of the greatest game on earth.

It is “the catch,” “the shot heard around the world,” 100+ years of baseball futility for the Chicago Cubs and 27 championships for the Yankees. It is “Teddy Ballgame” and the legend of .406 and Satchel Paige pitching three innings of shutout baseball at the age of 59.

It is the legend of Josh Gibson hitting a game winning home run in Pittsburgh that landed in the glove of an opposing player the next day in Washington. It is another Gibson, Bob, who managed to average allowing a measly 1.12 earned runs per 9 innings in 1968. 

It is yet another Gibson, Kirk, fist pumping on two bad legs around second base after a game winning home run against Dennis Eckersley. 

It is Joe Carter’s World Series winning home run, the summer of ’98, Curt Schilling’s debated bloody sock and the Red Sox shocking the world to come back from a three game deficit to the Yankees only to sweep my beloved Cardinals in the World Series.

And, yes…it is the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, as much as it is the Dodgers/Giants, Cubs/Cardinals and every team vs. the Yankees. 

It is myth, legend, lore, statistics, hall of fame credentials and potential, endless debates about the who’s, what’s and why’s and above all…it is about the game…and you wouldn’t want to miss any moment of it. 

Yes, you get it. You understand that as Dan Millman learned in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior that, “There are no ordinary moments” and that at any given moment…the extraordinary could happen. You realize that this may be the moment that you get to tell your friends and family of the experience of being there. 

After all, you know, baseball is love. Baseball is a reflection of life. Maybe you relate with the batter that digs his feet in knowing that best in the game only get a hit 3.5 times out of 10, and as he grips the bat with the intention of helping his team toward victory, he understands that it is him against nine guys and the odds of winning are slimmer than the odds of success. Do you feel like him sometimes? 

Maybe in this mirror of life you feel like the pitcher who stares down that very same batter knowing that he has an arsenal of weaponry to slim that guys chances of getting a hit even more. Beyond that, maybe as you relate with the pitcher, you realize that you have a supporting cast of family and friends who have “got your back”—literally. 

Baseball is beautiful, isn’t it? Here you are with thousands of other people that you don’t know from anywhere, that you may have passed on the street and didn’t recognize, and the common thread that is bringing you together at this moment in history is this amazing game played inside (and outside) the lines.  

Indeed, this beautiful sport has nearly everything that life offers; passion, intelligence, philosophy, athletic agility, camaraderie, love, compassion, magic, hatred (of the Red Sox, Yankees and their fans, ha!), hope, promise, integration, humility, entertainment and escape from the worldly politics into the politics of the game. Sure it misses in some areas, but even the perfect game isn’t “perfect” (Sandy threw a wild pitch that sent his hat flying in that last inning). 

So, you sit there, awaiting the first pitch, not thinking about the last, watching with the understanding that being there is an event all to itself.

Whether you are at the stadium or even at home watching it on TV or listening on the radio, as you focus your energies sharply, baseball’s truth springs into your awareness and you are quite metaphorically in the game. 

And that, my friends, is a beautiful place to be. That…is a dream materialized. 

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CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright and Cy Young

Can we really look through the historical legacy of Major League Baseball and say that out of all of the great arms that have stymied hitters for the past century that Cy Young was the greatest of them all? I, personally, don’t think so. That is completely up to debate, as is almost all things baseball, and especially the Cy Young award and how it has evolved into the most prestigious pitching award given away in the Major Leagues.

Cy Young had the most wins of any pitcher to have ever played professional baseball in the United States of America. That total would reach a gargantuan, never to be duplicated nor approached, 511. Cy Young also had the most losses of any pitcher to have ever played professional baseball in the United States of America. However, as this year’s Cy Young award is heating up to a serious debate, deservedly so, let’s look at this a little bit further. 

The pitcher with lowest career ERA in baseball’s history is Ed Walsh who posted a ridiculous 1.82 career average. To his discredit, he only won 195 games over his 14 seasons – 13 of those played with the White Sox. Addie Joss is second with a 1.88 career ERA that he posted over 9 seasons playing in Cleveland. He only won 160 games. 

Now if we were to take this debate a bit further and look at only those pitchers that won 300 plus games and looked at their statistical careers in comparison to that of Cy Young’s, we might consider changing the name of the award. 

The top 3 positions in wins are Cy Young, Walter Johnson (417), Pete Alexander (373) and Christy Mathewson (373). Before I go further, I am in no way trying to diminish what Cy Young did as a pitcher because it is truly a remarkable thing, and … I’m biased toward guys who played for Cleveland, anyway. (wink, wink). 

However, if we look into this a bit, we find that Cy Young had a career 2.63 ERA. Great by any standard that you can produce because that’s still giving up less than 3 runs per game and even some of our contemporary greats were not as brilliant. For instance, Greg Madduxs’ career ERA is 3.16; Roger Clemens, 3.12; Tom Glavine, 3.54; Randy Johnson, 3.29. Each of these men, as you know, one over 300 games. So, Cy Young’s 2.63 career earned run average is still statistically superior than most. 

But, his career ERA is not statistically superior to either Walter Johnson (2.17), Christy Mathewson (2.13), or Pete Alexander (2.54). How about career walk/hits per innings pitched? Cy Young posted a career WHIP of 1.13, higher than Johnson (1.06), Mathewson (1.06) and Alexander (1.12). 

Strikeouts? Walter leads all four of these gentlemen with a very respectable 3509, with Cy Young a distant second with 2803. I say a “distant second” because Cy Young pitched 149 more games than Johnson. 

Another stat that I think is pretty telling is that Walter Johnson also holds the record for the most career shutouts with 110, directly ahead of Alexander (90), Mathewson (79) and Young (76). Conversely, Walter had the lowest winning percentage of the four (.599), while Mathewson had the highest (.665)

King Felix Hernandez deserves the Cy Young award solely on what he was able to do with limited run support on a Seattle Mariners team that was supposed to be much better than they showed this year. However, let’s be clear. Using the criteria that I stated above, the Cy Young award is clearly about winning. Because outside of innings pitched, batters faced, games started and complete games … Cy Young was statistically inferior to the other aforementioned greats. 

We could go throughout history and find many times when pitchers had statistically superior years to pitchers and lost because they did not have as many wins. However, if it is called the  Cy Young award then it is clearly about winning because that was the area of his superiority. 

This is why CC Sabathia deserves the award. But, not only does he deserve the award because he has the most wins, and good statistics, but he has clearly been the ace and anchor of a pitching staff that has been suspect most of the year in New York. Furthermore, he has pitched in high pressure games in a tight pennant race the entire season, whereas Seattle has just been … well … playing. 

It does not need to be pointed out that Felix leads in all other categories besides runs, but, the fact remains … he plays for a really bad team that has not scored runs and it would seem ridiculous to give the award to a guy who may win 13-14 games, instead of a guy who may end up with 21-22 wins, that has pitched well all season. 

Also, moving onto the National League, why is Adam Wainwright considered a dark horse candidate to Roy Halladay, when they both have 20 wins, plus very close statistics. Do I sense a little Roy Halladay favoritism? Let’s take a look. 

Wainwright’s statistics: 20-11, 2.42 ERA, 230 innings, 1.05 WHIP, 230 strikeouts, .224 BAA, 5 complete games and 2 shutouts.

Roy Halladay? 20-10, 2.53 ERA, 241.2 innings, 1.07 WHIP, 213 strikeouts, .250 BAA, 8 complete games and 3 shutouts. 

I’d say that they are pretty even, but Roy has the one-up on Wainwright in the fact that he threw one of 2 perfect games this season. 

Why is all of this important? CC had the most wins in the American League last season, as did Wainwright in the National League. Not only did they have the most wins, they went to the post-season and had solid statistical seasons. But, they lost out to two guys who had better numbers, and less wins (Greinke had 16, while Lincecum had 15). 

I like statistics as much as the next guy. I can look at all day long and get lost in looking at the history of the game and the men that made it great.

But, the fact still remains when it comes to the Cy Young award; it’s about winning … plain and simple.

It is not the Christy Mathewson award, although you could argue for it. It is not the Walter Johnson award, although I would be the guy arguing for that. It is the Cy Young Award, named after the pitcher with the most wins in baseball’s lustrous history.

It would be a shame for a 20+ game winner to lose to a guy with less than 15 wins because he had better numbers. 

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CC Sabathia: New York Yankees Ace and MLB’s Next 300 Game Winner.

When he first came into the league as a 20-year-old, starting in the back of the rotation for the Cleveland Indians, many people said that CC Sabathia needed to lose weight if he wanted to be successful in the major leagues. He tried that. 

A few years later, when he didn’t get the calls that he felt should go his way, and threw immature tantrums on the mound, many other people said that Sabathia needed to mature as an individual before he could succeed in the major leagues. He did that. 

A couple years later, after his Cy Young campaign failed to pay dividends in the postseason, and as his team held a 3-1 edge over the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, he gave his team another poor outing.

His lackluster performance allowed Boston to come back from that deficit to send Cleveland home. Many writers said he wasn’t ready for the big stage, and that Sabathia had yet to become a big game winner.

They said he had to become the big game starter to truly be called an ace. He proved he could do that last year, as Sabathia led the Yankees to his first World Series victory. 

Not only has CC done everything that many people said he needed to do, he has since become one of the game’s true gentlemen. He’s also learned how to pitch effectively, rather than trying to throw fire past hitters. 

These quality attributes, as well as playing for a really good New York Yankees team, leave me to believe that CC will be the league’s next 300 game winner. Many of you will argue the point, but let me clarify a bit. 

Jamie Moyer currently holds the most wins for active pitchers with 267. At age 47, I don’t think he’s going to pitch until he is 50 and get to 300. 

Next is Andy Pettite who, at age 38, holds a very respectable 239 wins. 61 more victories is not unthinkable for the lefty, he would just have to pitch until he is 43 years old. That scenario is quite possible, if his arm hangs on like Mr. Moyers’ has. 

Of the 20 winningest active pitchers, CC Sabathia is the youngest, entering this season at 29. He has more career wins (146) than Chris Carpenter (126) and Johan Santana (127). He is 11 shy of Roy Halladay’s 157 wins, although Halladay is four years his senior. 

In 2007, NBC Sports ran an article detailing who they believed would be the next hopefuls to win 300 games. Roy Oswalt top that list at the time with 108 wins, while Mark Buehrle was second with 105 wins. It’s interesting to note that CC was third on that list at the time with 94 wins. He is currently ahead of both Buerhle and Oswalt. 

So, let’s look a little bit closer. If CC were to reach 300 wins, he would have to average 15 wins per season for the next 10 years. That would put him in a list with Grover Cleveland Alexander, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Eddie Plank, and Cy Young to reach the feat before the age of 40. 

CC’s average over his 9.5 year career is 16-9, which leaves a striking similarity between he and the great Gregg Maddux. Maddux started his career when he was 20 as well, although not with 17 victories like CC did, and averaged 16 wins and 10 losses over his 23 year career. 

Maddux won 20 games twice, in back to back seasons, and won 19 games five times. CC has yet to win 20 games and has won 19 games only twice. However, playing on the New York Yankees for the next several years, and possibly to the end of his career, I believe it is only a matter of time before he wins 20 games. That might come this year, as Sabathia has 10 at the halfway mark. 

Another added piece of info is that if CC were to complete this feat, which I believe he will, he will be the first African-American pitcher to do so. Fergie Jenkins, African-Canadian, had 284, while Bob Gibson had 251.

CC has the opportunity to go down in history as the greatest African-American ace to play Major League Baseball (although many will still consider Bob Gibson the greatest).

Seeing as how MLB didn’t get to witness the dominance of Satchel Paige, Slim Jones, and Max Manning of the Negro Leagues, I’d have to say that would be pretty special for CC and the history of black baseball. 

He hasn’t lost the weight. He has matured beyond his years. He’s learned to pitch beautifully and he is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. Many people said he couldn’t do it. They said he didn’t have the mental fortitude. But there he is, ace of the greatest franchise in baseball history.

Go ahead CC, here’s to 300 (hopefully). 

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Randy Johnson and Barry Bonds: A Comparison

By now, it is pretty much agreed upon that Randy Johnson is one of the top five pitchers in the last 20 years and one of the greatest lefties of all time. He is an individual that I loved watching take the mound and intimidate hitters like hardly any other pitcher during what has become known as the Steroid Era. 

It is also common knowledge that Barry Bonds, performance enhancers or not, was one of the best hitters of the last 20 years. Any argument against the fact can be pointed at almost any of his great years in the 90’s, which saw him plate three MVP awards. He also was notorious in bringing fear to opposing pitchers, often drawing the intentional pass, or pitched around to the same effect. 

Now, as you are reading these words, you are probably wondering why I would draw a comparison between a pitcher who has not been associated with steroid use and a hitter that is still going through the legal system in defense of alleged use of steroids (more commonly seen as abuse of steroids). I’m not disputing either fact in this article. 

Barry Bonds’ most famous nemesis, Bob Costas, to whom Barry referred to as “that little midget man”, and many others have stated repeatedly that the proof of Barry’s use of steroids, outside of his enlarged head, muscles, and stature, was in the fact that Barry was not only good from 2001-2004, but that he had gotten better. There is no arguing that those were Barry’s best years—from age 36 to age 39. 

During that time period, Mr. Bonds was one of the most escalated figures in the game. He, at a point, could have been seen as larger than the game itself. He broke Mark McGwire’s now admitted steroid abused 70 home run season with 73 of his own. During that incredible four year span, Barry won four MVP awards, hit .349, with a .559 OBP, earned a ridiculous 1.368 OPS,  and averaged 189 BB’s—71 of them intentionally. On top of that, he hit 209 home runs, averaging 52 per season.

Again, that is from age 36-39!  

Now, throughout my limited research, there is only one other person, who at a similar age, also got better at the later stages of his career and that would be Mr. Randy Johnson. Many people have not looked into this fact, or at least, I haven’t heard nor seen any reporting of this fact. If you know of a report, please do inform me.

Randy Johnson was also dominating in the early stage of his career with Seattle, leading the league in strikeouts four years straight from 1992-1995, with the highest total being 308 strikeouts in 255.1 innings in 1993. 

However, just like Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson showed the world that his best performances were held to later in his career when he put together four masterful seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

From 1999-2002, with four straight Cy Young Award seasons just like Barry’s four MVP’s, Randy Johnson led the league in strikeouts, averaging a whopping 354 per year (1,417 total) in an average of 254 innings (1030 total) over that stretch. He also led the league in ERA for three of those four years, posting three of his lowest ERA’s of his career, averaging 2.48.

During these four years, ages 35-38, Mr. Johnson also posted two of his three 20 win seasons, averaging as much over the four years and, as we know, adding a World Series title to his credit. 

When we do a wider comparison, Roger Clemens, over the same time period, ages 36-39, playing for the New York Yankees, averaged 189 strikeouts in 198 innings, with a 4.01 ERA. He had a Cy Young winning season in 2001 when he was 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA. An interesting note here would be that if we were to move the clock back a couple of years for Clemens, his two Cy Young Award winning seasons in Toronto would skew those numbers. 

Another contemporary, slightly younger still (33-36), was Greg Maddux, who, over the same time period, averaged a 3.07 ERA, 154 strikeouts, 225 innings pitched, and 18 wins. He didn’t win a CY Young Award (see Randy Johnson), was not once an all-star, but did win a gold glove each of those years. His numbers decreased even more in his late 30’s. 

There really is no comparison with Barry Bonds as far as age and career numbers in what has been labeled the Steroid Era. But, if you go back throughout history and look at some numbers, interested things are revealed.

Ted Williams from ages 36-39 had a batting average of .355 (hitting .388 at the age of 38) had a .490 OBP, a 1.144 OPS, all while averaging 29 home runs (the highest being 38, again, at the age of 38.)

Babe Ruth, from ages 36-39, averaged 36 home runs and batted .329, with a .470 OBP and 1.089 OPS. The interesting thing to note with the Sultan of Swing is that his numbers decreased with each passing year. 

Hank Aaron averaged 40 home runs during those ages, but the other numbers are much lower. Willie Mays doesn’t even compare.

In the end, Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson did the unthinkable. They actually got better with age. They are the only two players that I know of throughout the history of the game to do so. They both put up, in consecutive years, in their mid to late 30’s, numbers that do not compare to what they had done previously in their career, although they both had eye popping numbers in the 90’s.

It must be stated, I’m NOT making a case for Randy Johnson using steroids, nor am I trying to diminish what Barry did during the highlighted years. What they accomplished as individuals carry very striking similarities—similarities that cannot be matched by other individuals of the same age at any other point in the history of the game.

There are players that performed at a high level during those years…Warren Spahn, Cy Young, and Ty Cobb to name a few. But none of these players took their game to the next level later in their career.

It deserves recognition, and from my vantage point, praise. Whether or not they used performance enhancers matters little to me. I think it is truly remarkable and outstanding. 

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