Skip to main content

(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
Leave Comments on my Facebook page or Email Feedback to w.ross.clites@gmail.com

Popular posts from this blog

The Power That's Returned to 'Flower': Revising Marc-Andre's Postseason Legacy

For the life of me, I cannot come up with a comparable for what Marc-Andre Fleury is doing in these playoffs. Resurrections of this magnitude rarely appear anywhere outside of the New Testament. Yet, here he is; back from the dead, leading (yes, leading) Pittsburgh to the Eastern Conference Final. The liability has been converted to an asset, and share-holders that stuck with him through his penny stock days (i.e. me) are loving it. 

There is a theme of this piece centered on rebounds. On the micro level, Fleury was able to respond from a 5-2 beat down in Monday's Game 6. In a hostile Verizon Center, he stopped all 29 Washington shots in Wednesday's series finale -- stealing the 2-0 victory. He was nothing short of spectacular in Round 2's only shutout. Fleury's name was apropos for the the barrage sustained. Even 5-on-5, the ice tilted in the home team's favor from the onset. To the nervous spectator, the game's first eight minutes read like a continuous power …

Remind Me Again... Why Aren't The Indians World Series Favorites?

I get it. With the Los Angeles Dodgers sitting at 50 games over .500, it's a tough sell to say the Cleveland Indians are having the best 2017. Despite five straight losses, L.A. is still able to surpass 100 wins before the NFL's opening weekend kicks off. The calendar just hit September and yet their run differential is unthinkably +209. Take a moment to wrap your head around that one. The Dodgers are accomplishing all of this in a year where the game's undisputed best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, has missed five weeks with a bad back. He returns to the hill today, meaning one of the biggest World Series favorites in some time is going to get better. 

Over in the American League, the Houston Astros are no slouch. They are right on schedule for their predicted emergence into dynasty mode. Fueled by Hurricane Harvey's recent devastation, the Astros will likely receive a sentimental boost to their already stellar title chances -- a la the 2009 New Orleans Saints. They are goi…

Small-College Athletic Planning, Part I: Studying the Great Predecessors

The struggle for most private, small-college athletic departments comes from an unsatisfied need for facilities to call their own. Even my alma mater, Division-I (and FBS) Kent State University, has had to deal with the chaos of disjointed athletic facilities over the years. Our "new" (1999) softball field was placed two miles east of the baseball field (1966); which, in its own right, is a mile south of the school's main gymnasium -- headquarters for the entire athletic department. Nothing was convenient. Winter baseball practices, held in the football/track teams' fieldhouse, were nearly a town away from the classrooms and dorms. I am told the weight room could also found there somewhere. 

Anyway, the reason for this sprawl is all too common across collegiate sports -- not just for the D-I mid-majors and those less than. Timing is everything. An institution typically builds when it can, where it can. Naturally, stadiums have different shelf lives and sometimes the o…