Rounders for boysBy
I am guessing that is your opinion of the game of baseball right? Just as it is for almost all non-Americans in the UK. However, I seriously recommend to those who see themselves as an “analytical” sports fan to give baseball a chance over the next few weeks.
Once you begin to understand this fantastic sport and appreciate the physical abilities of the players, the nuances of pitching and the strategic elements of in-game management, it really is a sport you will enjoy.
Another brilliant factor is that you play every single day, for seven months a year. The baseball season is a marathon slog of 162 games. Just lost a tough game to your arch rivals? Just kick the cat and move on, there is no time to get down about it. Your boys will be suiting up and raring to go at them again the following day.
Take a look at the following player profile, on one of my favourite websites in the world, Fangraphs – Click here
I shall write more about how brilliant some of the writers over at Fangraphs are at a later date, but I shall save that for another post.
I assume that page meant very little to more than 90% of the people reading this, however I am sure you can appreciate how this illustrates just how far behind America European sport is in terms of objective analysis available in the public domain.
So what is there to appreciate about this silly game then I hear you say. Isn’t it just men in pyjamas playing a girls sport?
It is commonly quoted that hitting a baseball is actually the single most difficult skill in all of sports. I am sure some of you are sceptical that that is indeed the case.
The best context I can give is to those that have ever played golf (or attempted to play golf I should say). In golf you sit the ball on a tee. Everyone else stands in silence. You take as much time as your like and as many practice swings as you like. And then after all that, you still shank it into the bushes.
Now instead, imagine someone throwing the ball at you at 95 miles per hour, anywhere between your chest and your knees. With spin on it. Now try and hit THAT 400 feet.
I have to confess I had a bit of an advantage when I fell in love with the sport almost 10 years ago. I had the pleasure of witnessing Mr Barry Lamar Bonds, who I believe to be the greatest sportsman of all time, at the absolute peak of his powers. Bonds’ 2001 – 2004 seasons contained some of the most mind-boggling individual performance I have seen across any sport of any kind. In over 100 years of major league baseball, his offensive performance across all four of these seasons ranked in the top eight individual seasons in the history of the game, including three of the top four. A small slice of a chap called Babe Ruth is sandwiched in between. I am guessing even a few of you have heard of that fellow.
Although a controversial figure, I can safely say I have never seen a single player have such an impact on a team sport as Bonds used to have on a daily basis during this time.
The best comparative I can think of is that watching Bonds in action was a bit like watching Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters. But for about 4 years straight. And this was after already chalking up over 10 straight years as one of the top 3 players in the game prior to this stretch.
The list of staggering accomplishments and statistics I could reel off about Bonds’ career goes on forever. I will give you a quick summary to support my point but save boring you to death.
In the history of MLB, there are six players who are part of what is known as the “300/300 club”. This means players who amassed 300 career home runs (an indication of the player having excellent power to complement a good overall batting technique, hand eye coordination etc) and 300 steals (an indication of raw speed, natural athleticism and an ability to both reach base and steal effectively). To see these two two skill-sets combined is quite rare and covers 90%+ of what is required to be a successful offensive contributor in the game of baseball.
Of the tens of thousands of baseball players to ever play in the major leagues, only six have accomplished this feat. The founding 300/300 club member was the great Willie Mays (660/338), who is widely accepted to be one of the top 5 all round players in the history of the game.
Another is Andre Dawson (438/314), a recent Hall of Fame nominee whose career is often underrated.
Two other players who just made it into the 300/300 club, mainly through consistency and longevity rather than elite performance are Reggie Sanders (305/304) and Steve Finley (304/320). Although fantastic ballplayers, it is unlikely that either player will ever be elected to the Hall of Fame. Finley was 41 years old by the time he hit his 300th home run, Sanders 38. Similarly, although having lost considerable playing time to service time, Mays was 37 and Dawson was 36.
So that leaves us with two remaining club members. The 2nd player to ever join the 300/300 club was the late Bobby Bonds (332/461), back in 1979. Bobby was a fantastic ballplayer that some believe never quite fulfilled his potential, despite a long and successful major league career. Bobby Bonds was the only player to compile five 30/30 seasons in his career.
That was until Bobby’s son Barry came along. Barry also compiled five 30/30 seasons and to this day, father and son still stand alone as the only players in the history of the game to compile five 30/30 seasons.
Anyway, back to Barry and the 300/300 club. It is safe to say Barry scraped into the 300/300 club. Aged 31, a good 5 years earlier than anyone not named Bonds has ever accomplished this feat. He then went on to create both the 400/400 club and the 500/500 club. Both of which, Bonds remains the sole member.
Bonds finished his illustrius career with a record 762 home runs and 514 stolen bases. I look forward to seeing the day that someone else joins the 500/500 club, however I doubt I will in my lifetime.
During the first month of the upcoming 2010 season I expect Alex Rodriguez to chalk up his 300th stolen base, and in doing so becoming the 7th member of the 300/300 club. He stands a slim chance of joining Bonds in the 400/400 club, but even that will be a stretch. 500/500 is out of the question.
In his cartoon book career Bonds won seven MVP awards. In the history of baseball the second highest number of MVP awards for a single player is three. That’s right three. Bonds amassed more than twice the number of MVP seasons as any one else in the history of the game. And this wasn’t a short period of dominance fuel by steriod usage as some would have you believe. Bonds’ chalked up his first MVP award in 1990. He was awarded his seventh for his 2004 season. That is MVP awards split by more years than most peoples entire major league careers will last.
I could go on about this stuff all day, record numbers of walks, OPS statistics blah blah. But at the moment I doubt their is a single person reading this that even understands what I am talking about, let alone cares. So I shall move on.
All I would say is that if you do decide to give baseball a chance, you should pick a team to support. It is much more fun.
My advice would be this. Don’t support the Yankees. The Yankee’s are,well, the Yankee’s. The most attractive girl in school. But the one that really knows it and is so far up her own ass spending more than 48 hours with her would soon have you wanting to pickle your own eyeballs.
And don’t support the Blue Jays or the Orioles. They are the ugly friends forced to hang around with said Miss Yankee simply due to where they live.
I would suggest the glory hunters plump for the Phillies and those that like an underdog to support the fantastic Tampa Bay Rays. Join me as a Giants fan if you like, but doing so would comes with a serious health warning. It can be a really roller coaster; although you would be treated to the two best sports broadcasters in the world on a daily basis.
And why did I spend hours writing this post that nobody cares about and nobody wants to read?
Because, ladies and gentleman, in a little over 2 days time the 2010 baseball season begins. And with it comes almost 2,500 different things to bet on. So you best get used to it pretty quickly.