The Honestly Blog’s official baseball correspondent, Tripp Williams, is back with his mid-season report. Read on for The Optimistic One’s take on the best moments and biggest surprises of the season so far, as well as his thoughts on what lies ahead. As before, the following has been edited for time, cohesion, and content, and picture captions are mine. Take it away, Tripper…
It has been three or so months since I last contributed to this column, and a lot has happened since then. I will waste no time with introductions (Tyler would likely sharpen the old red pen and cut it anyway) and get right into things.
In April, I wrote extensively about the hopes of certain teams, the virtue of the game, players to keep an eye on, and what the 2010 season would, generally speaking, have in store for us. I must admit, before I go much further, that my patronage of the great game has been lackluster at best. I have not been to a game yet, and I have only caught a handful of full length games on TV. I keep myself apprised via SportsCenter and the internet, so nuanced developments on teams outside the Seattle market are not my strong suit. That being said, and my sin of passive fandom having been confessed, I will say that I have enjoyed what I’ve seen so far. There have been a number of highlights over the first half of the year, but more encouraging than that is the seeming health of the game overall. While some fret over the popularity of the game, only four teams have average home attendance under 20,000 per game (http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance). I won’t pretend (and you wouldn’t believe me even if I tried) that this is a rock solid rejoinder to those who think baseball is on the decline. What it is, though, is a promising reminder that baseball still matters to a lot of people in America.
What was memorable about the first half? The first thing that springs to my mind are the two perfect games pitched by Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden – and Armando Gallaraga’s gem that should have been the third. Only 18 perfect games have been hurled since 1900 (20 in the history of the game), and never before have two been thrown in the same year. Notwithstanding the tremendous performances provided by Halladay and Braden, Gallaraga’s masterpiece is one that will likely be talked about more often going forward.
As numerous replays showed, and as umpire Jim Joyce admitted, the “safe” call at first base that came in the top of the ninth inning with two outs, and that cost Gallaraga a perfect game, was incorrect. Joyce blew the call. The story, however, became memorable not for Joyce’s mistake but for Gallaraga’s ability to adapt to the poor call. Having had his place in the hallowed halls of baseball immortality taken from him, Gallaraga did not yell when Joyce called the runner safe, nor did he pout over the injustice that had been thrust upon him. Instead, he recognized the fallibility of the umpire, smiled, and reminded everyone, through his class, that the game is an imperfect one. I was very glad that Commissioner Bud Selig did not overturn the call – a power, I must admit, I had no idea he was vested with – and that no rash moves to expand the use of replay were made. As it should, the season continued on, and Gallaraga deserves the most attention of anyone for keeping 2010 on a smooth track.
The emergence of Stephen Strasburg has captivated ESPN at least, and with good reason. The guy is a special talent, and seems to be a quality character to boot. His presence in Washington D.C. will only help to increase the enthusiasm surrounding that franchise. If Bryce Harper, the National’s ballyhooed number one pick in this year’s draft, can make it to the big leagues within a few years, the wave of momentum Strasburg is building for the Nats will almost immediately grow leaps and bounds – strengthening, in turn, the game of baseball. Time will tell how Harper turns out, but it seems certain that Strasburg will be exciting to watch for some time.
As a Seattle native, I was more than excited to hear of the Mariners’ promise at the beginning of the season. Like a giddy tween at a Justin Bieber concert, I sat rapt as Tim Kurkjian and others suggested that the Mariners might be the team in the American League West this year. I chose not to listen to the naysayers who didn’t think the M’s would have enough offense. The naysayers, it has been proven, were right. The Milton Bradley experiment has not been entirely successful (on the field at least, as reports indicate Milton is feeling better than he has in years, which is important – I mean that seriously), the iconic Ken Griffey Jr. is no longer in the picture, the bullpen’s specialty seems to be losing close games, and one of the best pitchers in baseball was just traded away. This explains, in short, how my interest in the day-to-day grind of the season, viewed through the lens of the Mariners, has been lacking.
But enough frustration. The Texas Rangers are well positioned to make a run into the playoffs, thanks largely to the resurgences of Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton. With Cliff Lee on staff, the Rangers’ pitching can only improve. The AL East seems keyed for an exciting second half, with the Yanks, the Red Sox, and the Rays all in the hunt. And the AL Central will by no means be a boring division to follow; the White Sox stand at the top after battling back from 8 ½ games back in the beginning of June. The NL will be just as good to watch, with the Mets and the Phillies within 4 and 4 ½ games of the Braves respectively in the East, and the Padres trailed by three teams within four games in the West. Yet for all of this, the most interesting race to watch may be the NL Central, where the Reds–the REDS!–hold a slim lead over the Cardinals heading into the latter stages of the summer.
For all of those with teams that seem to be out of the playoff race already, remember that there’s always magic (for the pursuer) and horror (for those pursued) come September. This year, I bet, will be no different. The Baseball Gods, it seems, like to raise pulses and blood pressures.
It seems interesting to me that additions to the game nearly always balance its losses. Young stars like Tim Lincecum, Jason Heyward, Josh Johnson, Elvis Andrus, and Stephen Strasburg are rejuvenating baseball, and help us stay interested when past greats leave. The additions are inadequate ones, though, in that the memories of Sheffield, Delgado, and Griffey, to name a few, cannot immediately be replaced. It’s all part of a cycle. The Heywards, Strasburgs, and Lincecums of today will ably augment the rich history of the game. Twenty years from now, perhaps, there will be a guest writer on a blog bemoaning the deficit the three aforementioned stars leave in their departure from the field. Call me crazy, but that’s the way it works. The game refreshes itself.
In recent months, Tripp Williams has found employment in fields as varied as federal politics and neighborhood lumberjacking. He remains a steady source of amusement and wisdom, as well as a friend to the animals. And ladies, he’s single. Among his more well-groomed former teammates are Brent Lillibridge, Colin Curtis, and Jon Lester. Look for him on your presidential ballot in 2032.