By this point in the summer the baseball season is far enough along that serious fans begin to take the measure of their team and its chances to win a post-season berth. The really good hitters are generally hitting better by now and the pitchers are beginning to find themselves and their true quality is starting to show. The standings still do not matter that much but they give us some feel for what the future might hold for the fan of a particular team. In the era of the expanded post-season 66% of the teams in first place on June 1 have made the post-season. That is a pretty impressive statistic, at least as a general measure of this point in the season and its importance. But baseball is all about the "long haul."
In the American League the three leaders are the Yankees, Tigers and Rangers. The first is no surprise at all but the second two are a surprise to most fans. The Tigers could win the AL Central (no team with Jim Leyland as their manager is ever dead if there is real talent) but the Texas Rangers are the real surprise. I still think the Angels are the better team. This could prove to be a great race, as will the AL East.
In the National League the races are even more interesting. The leaders are the Phillies, Brewers and Dodgers. The Phillies are no surprise, being the defending World Champs. But I do not think they will repeat. The Brewers are the biggest surprise of all, given their loss of front line pitching. I think the Cardinals or Cubs will win this division. Even the Reds have a legitimate shot. (Yes, Dusty Baker is a good manager even though he may not be the best manager for younger players!) The Dodgers are not the surprise in the West, though their big lead is amazing at this point. The big surprise right now is San Diego, about the worst team in the league last year and a competitive team this year, at least 50-plus games into the year.
This week I will see my first major league games of the season. I wrote in an earlier blog, several months ago, that I could not afford MLB prices. This is still true. In both cases someone bought my tickets so I get to see the Sox play Oakland on Thursday afternoon and Cleveland Saturday afternoon. I do see minor league games about three times a month but at $12 for a dugout seat this is a whole different experience and price.
Real fans love baseball trivia. I was given a baseball trivia calendar (Atlanta Braves) for Christmas this year. Two things stood out this past week on my calendar. On July 2, 1962, my childhood pitching hero, Warren Spahn (left), endured windy, cold Candlestick Park and threw 201 pitches in a 16-inning loss to Juan Marichal and the Giants. A third future Hall of Famer, the great Willie Mays, broke up the scoreless duel with a home run to left field. Does anyone think this will be done again in their lifetime?
The second great trivia I discovered this week was about another old Braves star that I met once and enjoyed talking to when I was only twelve years old. (We were in the team hotel in Cincinnati!) Joe Adcock put on one of the grandest hitting displays in the history of baseball on July 31, 1954. (I was five years old.) Joe hit four home runs at old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Each one was hit off a different pitcher. He also hit a double, thus he went 5 for 5 that day. Milwaukee won 15-7. What is really amazing is that Joe saw only seven pitches that day in his five trips to the plate. What a day for a hitter! I remember chatting with Joe about a number of his hitting exploits the day we met. He was a great conversationalist and really engaging in dealing with a twelve year old boy. Those were the days.
This is the stuff of memories for real fans. Enjoy the game, if you are a fan, and may this be a great baseball summer for you and your team too. The game has been tarnished but it will survive. It is too much a part of the American experience. What sport got a complete Ken Burns award-winning film treatment that had the impact of his ten-part baseball series?