Thursday was a great day for European baseball. Greg Halman took the field at the Rogers Centre for the Seattle Mariners and became the latest Dutchman to make the Major Leagues. Halman was born in Haarlem and developed his game as a youngster in the Netherlands before taking his career Stateside.
Halman went 0-for-4 in his debut, but it will still be an unforgettable experience for the player and the game will leave a trace in the baseball record books as well.
Ichiro Suzuki went into the game against the Toronto Blue Jays with 198 hits on the season. With Halman watching from the Mariners’ dugout, Ichiro made it to 199 with a double in the third inning and then rounded it up to 200 with a single in the fifth (Halman led off both innings, striking out and grounding out).
In doing so, Ichiro set a Major League record for consecutive seasons with 200 hits. He’s achieved the feat in all ten seasons since arriving in Seattle from Japan. Only the ‘hit king’ Pete Rose can match Ichiro’s ten 200-hit seasons and Rose’s longest consecutive streak was three years (1968-1970). Halman won’t need to be told how lucky he is to be playing on the same team as such an extraordinary talent.
He was also in prime position to watch another historic hit, albeit one which was not so welcome to the Mariners.
Jose Bautista hit his fiftieth home run of the season with two outs in the bottom of the first inning off Felix Hernandez. It was one of only two hits that Hernandez gave up in the game and was the only run scored, so Bautista certainly didn’t get to fifty in a cheap way.
Bautista has joined an exclusive club, containing only twenty-six members from the history of the Majors, of players who have hit at least fifty long balls in a season.
It’s interesting to look at how the membership has grown since Babe Ruth created the club in 1920. The feat was achieved just seventeen times between 1920 and 1977 and only once more between then and the 1995 season (Cecil Fielder, Prince’s father, hit 51 in 1990). However, Bautista’s shot meant that it has happened twenty-four times in the last sixteen seasons.
The shadow of steroids will rear its ugly head as an explanation and it’s possible that they may have been a contributory factor in some cases. However you could also list any number of other factors that may have influenced this power-hitting phenomenon: the design of new ballparks, the type of baseballs being used, and the better conditioning of players plus the medical care available to them to name just three.
Whatever combination you want to put it down to, it is a quite astonishing jump.
In relation to Bautista, the name from the more recent crop of the ‘50 club’ that stands out is Brady Anderson. Both players reached the total despite having a relatively low season-high total before their breakout year. Anderson reached the fifty mark in the final game of the Baltimore Orioles’ 1996 season and before then his highest total had been twenty-one in 1992. As noted in last week’s column, Bautista’s highest total prior to this season was sixteen in 2006.
Anderson went straight back down to eighteen home runs in 1997 and his best season total after that point was twenty-four in 1999. It will be interesting to see whether Bautista follows a similar path or if he goes the other way and joins the even-more exclusive list of players (currently nine in total) who have hit fifty home runs in a season twice.
In any case, Bautista has now hit the fifty mark once and that alone puts him in the record books. Maybe someday Greg Halman will earn a mention in there too.
Don’t think too much
My favourite home run of the past week wasn’t historic and it wasn’t particularly important either. It came in the Friday day-game at Wrigley Field between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs.
The Cardinals’ Allen Craig had worked a 3-2 count in the bottom of the first inning with two runners on base and the Cubs’ battery of Tom Gorzelanny and Koyie Hill was undecided as to what pitch to throw next. Hill ran through several combinations of signs and was met by only a shake of the head from his pitcher. The catcher got out from his squat and jogged to the mound, not only to talk it over with Gorzelanny but also to end Albert Pujols’ fun of staring straight in at the signs from second base.
After the routine, yet always amusing, sight of pitcher and catcher talking through their gloves, Hill and Gorzelanny returned to their positions. With their deeply considered plan of attack agreed, Gorzelanny went into his wind-up and delivered the pitch.
And Craig casually golfed it into the bleachers for a three-run home run.
You can just imagine what former manager Lou Piniella would have made of it had he been in the dugout. The phrase ‘better off out of it’ springs to mind.