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(Certain) Numbers Still Matter

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland


Saint Louis, MISSOURI--Thankfully, baseball has moved away from caring about watered-down milestones. Yet, we all still have an infatuation with statistics...in the right context. The game has become more about perennial numbers, and less about the career totals that would be etched on a Hall of Fame plaque.

I say "would be" and not "will be" because of a little acronym called PED. And if the Baseball HoF won't acknowledge this era's blitzkrieg on career records, then neither should anyone who covers the game.

Cooperstown is a baseball geek's Vatican City, and a clear message has been handed down by the College of Cardinals (Veteran's Committee and Baseball Writer's Association). They say 600 never happened for three of the seven members of the club. Neither did 762, 73, 70, 66, et al.

The knock on baseball fans is that we are too consumed by the numbers. That we built this problem by pining over numbers, and steroids destroyed everything we love.

I argue that in this way: with the longest season of any professional sports league, no salary cap, and the smallest representation of teams in the playoffs, numbers are all some fans have. We have nothing else positive to cling to. There are plenty of outstanding yearly performances that are fun to dissect in the short-term, then wipe clean next Opening Day.

While the world was transfixed on McGwire and Sosa, I was hoping 1998 was the year that the Indians would end the drought. Generic sport media outlets and casual baseball fans paint with a wide brush stroke, that milestones and home runs are what "save" baseball in hard times.

I think baseball has always been just fine. Timeless in-game situations, like walk-off doubles with runners on first and second, are what make the game special. It is pure American joy on summer nights, even if the team is 20 games under .500.

Tribe fans are true baseball fans when it is June--the Indians already 12 games back in the AL Central--and they are rambling on about this guy's WHIP and that guy's OPS. Thanks to fantasy baseball and a lousy Indians roster, it is all we have.

On the other end of the spectrum is a Yankee fan; where the Indians used to be. Throw out the gobbledygook (like WAR) and focus on the championship. Modern New Yorkers should only care about two numbers: 3,000 and 28. The only goals on their horizon are getting Derek Jeter 121 more hits and adding another title.

So, I say some numbers are still important. It mainly depends on the franchise, and its contemporary contender status. If the individual pursuit of a record is all that can be celebrated, go for it. If the team is in the hunt for October, home run milestones have a nasty habit of muddling the team's overall objective. Ask McGwire about the 1998 playoffs.

The player's personality also goes a long way. Record totals
can accumulate naturally; a blue-collar player that does everything in an attempt to win foremost. This type lives game-to-game, and nearly has to be told he just broke a record. He surely wouldn't keep track himself.

Sorry, but A-Rod's 600th home run doesn't fall into the latter category. It did occur in a team win, but hardly affected the outcome. It was just another drug-aided round number to bolster his ego. It went in the box score as a simple hit, run, and two RBI. And fans should have been happy it was over, not happy it happened. They have bigger aspirations.

It is why I am embarrassed for him, and for Yankees fans that cared. There was a sign in Yankee Stadium that day that read, "Hit 600 on My 6th Birthday!" I am embarrassed for that mom or dad that made the sign for their kid to hold. Now, someday in the future, that child will be an adult and his hero will be no closer to the Hall of Fame than he is. Was it truly his wish to forever assimilate his birthday as a day in which a A-Rod celebrated cheating?

That is why I couldn't be happier about the date of my birth. It was a day in which the most impressive record in baseball history was broken. And it was done by one of the most stand-up athletes in any sport, in any era. Cal Ripken, Jr. played his 2,131 consecutive game on September 6, 1995--my 9th birthday. That is a number that certainly still matters.

Now, let's get happy with some Pitcher Ratings. Last time I checked 17-2 was a set of numbers that still mattered, too.

Pitcher Rating August 4
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