Have you noticed how often all-time baseball records are being broken, equalled, or seriously challenged this year? Almost on a weekly basis, if not daily. It’s partly because we’re living in a historic period in terms of home runs and strikeouts, not to mention the vast quality and quantity of elite young talent in the game. Abetting it all is the unfettered access to instant information – the minute somebody does something remotely unprecedented, the baseball mainframe whirrs into action and spits out a new milestone.
So there you are, watching a meaningless game between the Padres and Rockies because you’ve got nothing better to do, and some guy you’ve never heard of hits his second consecutive triple in the third inning. Immediately, if not sooner, the stentorian TV voice gushes, “Ryan Schlitz just became the first rookie to triple in his first two major-league at-bats since Popsie Weingartner, way back in 1912!!”
Take yesterday, for example. Chris Sale of the Red Sox struck out 12 Indians to become the fastest pitcher in major-league history to reach 2,000 strikeouts (relative to innings pitched, surpassing Pedro Martinez.) In the same game, his teammate Rafael Devers went 6-for-6 to become the first major-league player ever to have at least 6 hits in a game with 4 of them being doubles. (And somehow managed to score only one run. Devers is having an MVP-type season, but he won’t win it because Mike Trout seems to have the monopoly on winning the MVP while playing for an also-ran team.)
Of course, not all records are positive. On Monday the Orioles gave up 7 home runs to the Yankees in a doubleheader, breaking the record for most home runs allowed in an American League season which they co-set with the White Sox in 2017. The 60 homers the Orioles have allowed to the Bombers so far must be a record against one team in a season and at this rate, maybe they should change their name to the Baltimore Detonators. In a few short days they’ll no doubt break the major-league mark for HRs allowed set by the 2017 Reds. Gleyber Torres hit three of the shots in the twin-bill, so 13 of his 26 bombs this year have come at the expense of the clueless Baltimore pitchers. With two games left against the Detonators, Gleyber was one short of the all-time record of 14 HRs hit against one team in a season, set by Lou Gehrig in 1936 against the Indians. Torres didn’t hit one against them yesterday but came pretty damn close, flying out to the warning track late in the game. I thought the Baltimore announcer was going to have a heart attack, the poor shell-shocked bastard.
There’s the staggering pace set by Jays’ rookie shortstop Bo Bichette, whose big-league career began all the way back on July 29. In less than two weeks he set an all-time record with doubles hit in 9 consecutive games. There’s no way to overstate how impressive this is and his continued meteoric success has brought comparisons to the fabled rookie campaigns of such immortals as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. This only seems hyperbolic – yes, he’ll likely slow down….. but so far, so sensational.
Then there’s the rookie with the Reds, Aristides (?!) Aquino, who’s hit 8 long-balls in his first 12 games, meaning 8 of his first 15 hits are homers – hello, Joey Gallo! You guessed it, both are major-league records. And the kid the Astros stole from the Dodgers, Yordan Alvarez, who has also set a record for something, only I’m damned if I can remember what. Something to do with HRs or RBI in a month by a rookie or something.
And on and on and on, like a treasured old LP that suddenly starts to skip. Momentous or trivial, these record thingies are coming so fast and so often they almost seem cheap, and yet they are happening. It’s amazing, if a little exhausting and at times picayune. Maybe I’m cynical – do you think? – but sometimes it feels like MLB’s feverish PR department is massaging this stuff and shoving it at us in the hope that we’ll forget baseball faces some real and serious problems. “Relax, folks – the game’s better than ever! Everything’s hunky-dory!!” On the other hand there’s a lot of great baseball being played now and they have to report it, so we may as well enjoy it. “Another beer?” “Yeah, thanks.”
All of this begs the absurd question: which baseball season holds the all-time record for setting all-time records? I’ve lost track, but it’s probably this one. I’ll tell you one thing – there’s an MLB stat geek somewhere keeping track of all this and as soon as he knows, we’ll know.
Fortunately, along with all this heady stuff, really funny things still happen in baseball all the time. Like the terrible throw by an Orioles outfielder the other day. Someone doubled deep down the right field line and he grabbed the ball, planted his feet and made a big windup for the long throw in, but somehow the ball squirted out of his hand sideways and went backwards into the corner. Finally, something a guy with my physical skills can relate to – it’s still a great game. It was hilarious and so was the broadcaster’s comment: “Man, do the Orioles ever suck!” Yes sir, “Fuck” Buck Showalter’s legacy lives on, and I for one am grateful. Baseball needs awful teams just as it needs great ones, and the Orioles are beginning to resemble their hapless forbears, the St. Louis Browns. (No, they weren’t called the Browns because they were so shitty, although……..)
These are strange baseball times. The game faces serious problems – too many strikeouts and not enough hits. Games that are too long, too slow and not eventful enough. Too many home runs and not enough singles. A decline in attendance and TV ratings, as well as increasing indifference to the game on the part of Afro-Americans. And there’s labour unrest brewing on the not-too-distant horizon. Yet, between the lines, the players – many of them preposterously young – continue to do wonderful, amazing and crazy things which keep fans riveted.
Like Charles Dickens once wrote about the French setting a record for public beheadings: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
© 2019, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.