October 5, 2001

A good time to tune in to baseball

HELLO. This column is designed to attract the attention of all those people who might watch sports but reallydon't. When I asked for a spot writing about baseball for the Maroon, they told me that there isn't even a baseball column in the fall. No baseball? What a seriously uninitiated city. What a seriously uninitiated campus. This article will be the first of many.

Maybe you stopped paying attention because the Cubs haven't won a World Series in 93 years. Maybe you stopped paying attention because Frank Thomas griped that $9 million was not enough money and then got injured after less than a month of unproductivity. Maybe you never did pay attention. It might be good to start.

For the baseball world, this is an important year. By the time you read this, Barry Bonds may have hit his 71st home run. That is a lot of home runs. More, in fact, than anyone has ever hit. At the same time, the Seattle Mariners may have won their 115th game. That is a lot of games. More, in fact, than anyone in the American League has ever won. If they win two more games after that, they will break the record for most wins. Ever. Imported sensation Ichiro Suzuki has more hits (235) than any rookie ever. Bonds has more walks than anyone ever. Bonds has a higher slugging percentage (that means lots of big exciting hits, folks) than anyone ever. Sammy Sosa has become the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season three times. Only five have done it even once. He has 239 home runs in the last four years. Roger Clemens has a higher winning percentage than anyone ever. Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, two of the greatest baseball players ever, are retiring this season. They won't be back. Ever.

But maybe all of that is only important to ‘baseball people' like myself. In the years since I began trying to make people understand why baseball is important, I've tried lots of tactics. Now, for my most public attempt, I've stockpiled a large conglomeration of interesting facts that will hopefully make the sport more palatable to you. Here goes.

Red Sox outfielder Carl Everett doesn't believe in dinosaurs. “I've never seen one," Everett says. Me neither, Carl. When Randy Johnson's 100-mph pitch incredibly struck a passing bird this spring, it was the second bird-ball in baseball history. A fly ball collided with a bird in the early '90s at Shea Stadium [In 1983, former YankeeDave Winfield's pre-game practice throw struck and killed a seagull. -Ed.] They scored it a hit. I'll say. Former Philadelphia Philly John Kruk played baseball for several years with only one testicle. He was half the hitter he used to be. O.K., O.K., that's not funny. But consider, on a more wholesome note, that baseball is the only sport to require that all players wear belts. And stockings. It's also the only sport where managers have been known to ask their pitchers to throw hardballs at opponents. It's also the only major sport in which the field size is not regulated. In fact, Houston's Enron Field has a hill in play in the back of the outfield, a series of arches interrupting an otherwise smooth wall, and a flagpole that is actually planted in the outfield. If a batted ball hits the flagpole, no matter how high up, it stays in play. Baseball is the only sport where fireworks — yes, the kind that shoot up in the air and explode — are commonplace during games. Baseball is the only sport.

They told me we don't write baseball in the fall. Now is as good a time as any to start.