Asher’s Triumphant Return – A Few Thoughts on the Weeks Old Season

By Asher B. Chancey,


The 300-300 Club

It has never been lost on me how unheralded the 300-300 club has been. I, of course, celebrate the club, because it is one of Andre Dawson’s crowning achievements. The club is so unheralded, however, that as a kid I had always heard that Dawson and Mays were the only two members, only to find out later that Bobby Bonds was also in the club (easily, I might add). Of course, Bobby’s son Barry joined the club in the 1990s, and then proceeded to found the 400-400 club and the 500-500 club. Although I do not believe that Barry Bonds is a better player than Babe Ruth, I think volumes should be written praising Bonds for this feat, as many great home run hitters never got to 500 home runs, and many players who have been considered great base stealers never got to 500 steals, and he got to both, which is really fantastic.


The point here is that this unheralded club is about to have a new member this year, and probably another one next year, and no one seems to have noticed. Unless I have been missing the nightly “countdown to 300-300” watch on Baseball Tonight, I am almost certain that folks have simply not noticed that Steve Finley is 9 home runs away from joining the club, and that Reggie Sanders is about 20 some odd homeruns and stolen bases away as well. While I would not expect a Sosa-and-McGwire-esque interruption of regularly scheduled broadcasts to show each of Steve Finley’s at-bats, I would expect some mention from time to time. We will have to see if the significance of the moment is noticed by the broadcasters, or if the 300-300 stat will be given one of those “according to the Elias Sports Bureau” intros which obscure milestones are often given.


Rafael Palmeiro

Two questions – First, has there ever been a less heralded “soon to join the 3000 hits club” player than Palmeiro? Second, has there ever been a less heralded “soon to join the 600 homerun club” player than Palmeiro.


Palmeiro truly represents the offense inflation of the 1990s. For several years now I have compared Rafael Palmeiro to Eddie Murray – a very good first baseman/designated hitter who has been slightly under appreciated because his “consistently very good” is boring compared to other players’ “briefly great.” Murray was far from the best power hitter, run producer, or average hitter during his era, but he finished with 500 homeruns, 3,000 hits, and over 1900 RBIs, all very impressive milestones. And, appropriately, Murray is in the Hall of Fame.


In one sense, Palmeiro has truly been a victim of his era. He hit 38 home runs every year from 1995 to 2003, an impressive string which is not rivaled by many in baseball history. Unfortunately, he was doing this during an era in which the major league leader in home runs has at least 50 every year except 2003, had at least 60 three times, and 70 or more twice. In 1999, Palmeiro had his best year, and he joined the 100-plus club with 47 homeruns and 148 RBI, but that was the year that Manny Ramirez had 165 RBI to easily outdistance Palmeiro. These are just a couple of examples of how Palmeiro has been overshadowed during his time in baseball.

On the other hand, perhaps Palmeiro has been the beneficiary of his era. Incredibly, Palmeiro has led his league in a major offensive category three times – hits in 1990, doubles in 1991, and runs in 1993. It is no coincidence that Palmeiro is approaching 600 homeruns in a relatively obscure manner. Palmeiro’s approach to 600 has been relatively unremarkable because he has not done it as one of baseball’s great power hitters. If he does get to 600, he will join Hank Aaron, who finished first or second in homeruns eight times during his career; Willie Mays, who finished in the top two five times, and twice hit 50 in a season; Babe Ruth, who led the league in homeruns 12 times and broke the single season record for homeruns 4 times; Barry Bonds, the current single season record holder and seven time top two finisher in homeruns who is currently arguably the most feared hitter in the history of baseball; and, probably, current teammate Sammy Sosa, the only player ever to hit 60 home runs three times, who also hit 49 or more homeruns 5 years in a row. Palmeiro, by contrast, has never led the league in homeruns, and has finished second only once.


As an example, consider the following – as mentioned before, Palmeiro hit 38 or more homeruns from 1995 to 2003, finishing second in home runs only once. In the year 2000, Palmeiro hit 39 dingers, and finished a remarkable eighth in the league. Eleven years earlier, in 1989, Fred McGriff led the American League in homeruns with 36, and Rob Deer finished eighth with 26 dingers. The point here is that the pro-Palmeiro fan will argue that in a different era, Palmeiro, with his 38 homeruns, would have been a dominant homerun hitter, and a perennial league leader. But the anti-Palmeiro fan, and to me the more informed baseball fan, will point out that in a different era, Palmeiro, as the eighth best homerun hitter in the American League, would be coming up on his 400th, and not his 600th, homeruns, and perhaps the lack of fanfare with which we approach his 600 homerun milestone is justified.


That having been said, 600 homeruns is 600 homeruns, and I hope to get to see Palmeiro reach this fantastic milestone, regardless of whether he is the beneficiary or victim of his era.


And, by the way, perhaps the same analysis should be done for Fred McGriff.


Brian Roberts

Yesterday, as I began to emerge from my post law school finals daze (which usually involves lots of sweating, sleeping, and anxious checking of the Tulane Registrar homepage to see which grades have been posted), I stepped on the scale and was delighted to find that I am weighing in at 175 pounds, which is up a bit from where I like to be but down a bit from my final-exam panic-mode eating-binge weight of ( . . . ). As I came out of my bedroom, I saw my 16 year old brother who, at 5-11¾ towers over me by a couple of inches, reminding me that I am 5 feet 9 inches on a good day, and 5 feet 8½ on a bad day.


What is my point? At 5 feet 9 inches, and 175 pounds, I am a slob who can’t run two miles in a day and can’t get more than a single in my men’s softball league, which is good because I run out of breathe if I have to run more than two bases at a time anyway. And, at 5 feet 9 inches, and 175 pounds, Brian Roberts is currently ripping apart major league baseball to the tune of 1.109 OPS, 11 homeruns, 13 stolen bases, and a .373 average.


Let me put this in perspective – Brian Roberts next home run will equal his career total through his first three seasons, and its not June yet. Roberts’ career high in homeruns before this year was 5, and that was two years ago. I ranked Roberts somewhere between Juan Uribe and Reggie Sanders on my fantasy autodraft player-pre-rankings, and I was worried that was too high. Last year, it was June before I finally stopped seeing “B. Roberts” in box scores and being excited because Bip Roberts was back in the league.


What can I say? This kid is, for now, incredible. If I was going to point to a weakness so far this season, it would that, um, well . . . he strikes out more than he walks? He still walks plenty. And hits doubles. And triples. And is an efficient base stealer. And scores as many runs as he drives in. He is, simply put, the best player in baseball right now. Whether that will continue, one can only wonder, but for now, I am enjoying the display he is putting on, and hope to catch at least one Orioles game before he cools off.


Two interesting notes – my 18 year old brother goes to LSU, and is pretty into baseball. He called me on the phone a couple of weeks ago to brag that he had made it a point to draft Roberts high in both his fantasy leagues, and is  currently winning both. It was one of those “the teacher has become the student moments” that really stings.


The second note is something that I am sure is not lost on Baltimore fans. Perhaps the most surprising display of out-of-nowhere homerun hitting prowess in baseball history occurred in 1996 when Brady Anderson, who had never hit more than 21 homeruns in a season, broke out for 50 while hitting leadoff for the Orioles. Brady also became one of two players ever to hit 50 homeruns and steal 50 bases, albeit in different seasons. Well, Roberts, the current Orioles leadoff hitter, may unseat Brady as the most surprising “out-of-nowhere” performance and may also trump Brady by going 50-50 in the same season.


The Yankees

What seems like 20 minutes ago, I was shaking my head with a smug grin and coming up with 8 million reasons why the Yankees were not winning. Maybe you just can’t win when everyone on your team is too rich to really care whether they win or lose. Maybe, when none of your players has job insecurity, none of them has anything to play for. Maybe Kevin Brown and Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi all in the same clubhouse really is too much negative energy to take. Maybe this year’s team is baseball’s answer to the Oakland Raiders of a couple of years ago, who got slapped in the Superbowl and had it carry over for the entire next season. Maybe playing guys in positions they aren’t good enough to play just because of what they have meant to your franchise is finally hurting the Yankees (see Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams).


But those f-ing Yankees, in the blink of an eye, reeled off 10 straight victories, before losing two nights ago, to put themselves right back in the thick of things in the American League East. And there is only one lesson to be learned here, I guess. If you have the best players that money can buy, eventually they are going to start playing up to their potential, even if it is in spite of themselves.


Ben Sheets

It’s an earache! An f-ing earache! When I was a kid, I had cronic earaches, and I never missed more than a day of school. Ben Sheets has been out almost a month.


In case you haven’t guessed, I’m not a Brewers fan, but I do have Sheets on my fantasy team, and I would really appreciate it if he would suck it up and take the damned ball.


Derrek Lee

Okay everybody, remember 1987? Andre Dawson joins the Cubs and becomes a cult hero forever? When the Cubs had Andre Dawson day a few years ago as part of a year long promotion honoring famous Cubs throughout history, Dawson astutely pointed out that he had only played for the Cubs for seven years, and thus it was an honor to be picked along with career Cubs like Sandberg, Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and that no talent clown Gabby Hartnett. 1987 was magical because of Dawson. I was only nine at the time, but it seemed like every time he stepped to the plate, he hit a homerun, and Dawson’s cult hero status is well earned.


How about 1998, everybody? Remember Sammy Sosa, who in June of that year really did hit a homerun every time he stepped to the plate, and who went on one of sports history’s most magical voyages with Mark McGwire? Sosa enjoyed cult hero status, too, though that status has dulled a bit in light of Sosa’s own personality. But rest assured that next time Sosa steps out into Wrigley field, and runs out to right field to greet the bleacher bums, he will probably be greeted with a hero’s welcome. After all, it’s not his fault the Cubs only asked for Jerry Hairston, Jr. in return for Sosa.


Point being, last year should have been a time for Derrek Lee to shine. An imposing figure of a man, Derrek had already displayed his power abilities by averaging 20 plus homeruns over five and a half seasons playing Florida’s spacious stadium. It was thought that Lee, given the opportunity to play everyday in Wrigley field, just as with Dawson before him, would benefit greatly from the smaller stadium and more hitter friendly dimensions of Wrigley Field, and to a certain extent, Lee did benefit to the tune of a career high 32 homeruns. But the Lee explosion we were looking for last year seems upon us now. With 12 homeruns and 37 RBI already, combined with a .362 average and 1.156 OPS, Lee appears primed to obliterate his career high in every offensive category. He has even stolen 8 bases in 9 tries, which puts him on pace ahead of his 2003 career high of 21 steals. Hopefully, Lee can keep it up and make fans forget about another recent Cubs acquisition that should be playing shortstop right now but won’t be for quite some time.


Juan Gonzalez

During Spring Training, we were delighted to see Juan Gonzalez start in rightfield for the Cleveland Indians the week before the season started. I have always liked JuanGone, and I greatly anticipated seeing him recommence his quest for 500 home runs. His is, after all, only 35 years old and despite his recent injury troubles, he has 434 home runs. But, just as sure as Eric Milton is going to give up homeruns, the beginning of the season saw Gonzalez land on the DL, and he hasn’t been heard from since. Not that I am accusing him of anything, but one has to wonder if steroids and overly aggressive weight training will be to this era of baseball, and guys like Giambi, Canseco, McGwire, Thomas, Griffey, and Gonzalez, whose bodies couldn’t hold up under the stress, what alcohol and girls were to the era of guys like Jimmie Foxx, Hack Wilson, and Mickey Mantle, who partied their way out of baseball long before their skills would have forced them out.


Speaking of Eric Milton . . .


The Home Run Record

No, not that homerun record. The pitcher’s homerun record. The single season record for homeruns given up in a single season is 50, held by Bert Blyleven, who interestingly enough went on a binge in 1986 and 1987 in which he gave up 96 combined homeruns, when his career high other than those two seasons was 24. (Also, it is important to note that Blyleven gave up the record setting 50 homeruns in 271.2 innings, an unheard of number of IP these days).


Anyway, last year, Jamie Moyer and Eric Milton gave it their all, but managed to finish only fifth and sixth on the all-time single-season list, with 44 and 43 respectively (while pitching 201 and 202 innings respectively). Jose Lima gave Blyleven the greatest scare in 2000, when he gave up 48 homeruns, and missed the record by two. (Intriguingly, Lima only pitched 196.3 innings that year, which means that he would have given up an astonishing 66 homeruns had he been the man that Blyleven was in 1986).


Well, luckily for us baseball fans, we get to see all three of these pitchers race for the record because despite their mediocrity, each will get plenty of innings this season. Eric Milton signed with the Reds in the off-season, which means there is no chance he won’t be pitching every fifth day, and Jose Lima is on the Royals, which consider him an asset. Moyer is, of course, back the Mariners, where he may spend his forties and the better part of his fifties pitching junk, hoping it won’t leave spacious Safeco Field.


The tally so far, with homeruns given up and 200-inning pace:


Lima – 12 homeruns in 46.1 innings – on pace for 52 homeruns!

Moyer – 5 homeruns in 45.2 innings – only on pace for 22 homeruns.


. . . and last but not least -


Eric Milton – 15 homeruns in 49 innings – on pace for 60 homeruns!!


My money has been on Milton all along!