When I was a kid, I liked watching any sport that was on TV. Football was by far my favourite, but anything on Grandstand, World of Sport or Sportsnight had me hooked.
Every four years, I avidly watched the Olympics, and it was extraordinary. I would learn about canoeing, gymnastics, shooting, sailing, horse riding, fencing, boxing, water polo, and so many other sports. Following the Olympics would become my passion for a glorious month.
The highlight of the Olympics for me was the athletics. I enjoyed the heart-racing tension of the 100 metres, the explosion of the long jump, the slow burn of the distance races as runners jockeyed for position, the grace and power of the discus.
What I adored most about athletics, which my first love football could never offer, was records. World Records. Championship Records. European Records. Olympic Records. Personal Bests. Jonathan Edwards soaring to a triple jump world record which still stands today. Steve Cram breaking records, but never winning big races. I would fervently encourage the athletes on to ever greater endeavours to set new records.
Which brings me to baseball … which I found through the films Major League and Bull Durham, and the brilliant Channel Five coverage.
Baseball’s history and tracking of statistics rekindled my wonder of records being broken. Not just big career or season records like Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs, Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts, Cy Young’s 511 wins, Bonds’ 73 home runs (or Roger Maris’ 61), Ted Williams being the last player to hit .400.
I also love looking up who led the National League in batting average in 1904 (hey, it was Honus Wagner, .349), who hit the most home runs in the 1970s (Pirates slugger, Willie Stargell, 296) or most strikeouts before their 30th birthday (“The Big Train” Walter Johnson, 2,467).
Players are always passing greats from the past and moving up all-time lists. There are so many “records” in baseball, all that history and all those numbers are mesmerising.
At Fangraphs, Baseball Reference or the other amazing statistical sites out there, you can find the story of baseball, and not just the famous tales. You can flesh out details by looking at who knocked in the winning run in a vital victory, who nailed down the win by pitching two scoreless innings or who had their career year and then faded back into obscurity (I’m hoping this will be Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman).
You can get a real sense of a player by looking at their batting average, OBP, OPS, steals, walks, the fielding stat of your choice, strikeouts, ERA and on and on. You can compare them to their peers using stats like OPS+ and ERA+.
The things I love most about baseball are the everyday nature of it and the statistics. There is always something going on and often something which has never happened before. You can visit mlb.com and see a headline like “Mueller hits Grand Slams from both sides of the plate”. Then you get a glorious rundown of the few previous occasions on which this amazing feat occurred.
I love watching leaderboards ebb and flow, checking in on the Mariners over their last ten games (generally, badly) and I love looking at the pace different players are on. Is Pete Alonso on pace to hit 50 home runs or even 60? Is Justin Verlander on pace to reach 300 strikeouts?
There is always a joyous little nugget to find. For example, Tim Locastro got hit by a pitch (HBP) 22 times in 2019. Big deal, you say, Anthony Rizzo had 27 HBP in 2019. What the numbers add is Locastro had 22 HBP in just 250 plate appearances (PA), compared to 613 PA for Rizzo. If Locastro gets 600 PA, he could challenge Ron Hunt’s 1971 season in which he got plunked a modern record 50 (Fifty! FIFTY!) times.
So, I would recommend going out there into the baseball-o-sphere and searching out some players to follow this season. Will Nick Castellanos reach 60 doubles this year? Will Albert Pujols move into the top 10 all-time in hits (he will if he replicates the 120 hits from 2019)? Will Max Scherzer get the 308 strikeouts he needs to reach 3,000? Who will hit the most homers? Will Tommy Pham hit .300/.400/.500 in San Diego? How many times will AL batting champion Tim Anderson walk (I predict very few)?
Finally, and most important of all – will Tim Locastro eclipse Ron Hunt? Take one for the team, Tim.
Photos by Adam Hunger, Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Alan Clements is a guest writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @clem_family
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