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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Basic Biittner: 'Tis the season

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dan Whitney

I do believe spring has actually sprung. And, as we all know, "in the spring, a young man's fancy turns to..." Wait a minute. That's irrelevant to me. Hard as it may be for me to admit it, I am NOT a "young man" anymore. However, my "fancy" is still turning to the same thing it did when I WAS a young man, even when I was a young boy.

And that, of course, is to what some of us still call "America's Pastime -" baseball.

I know, of course, that football long ago surpassed the more cerebral, pastoral game as the national pastime, but that certainly doesn't mean it has to be number 1 with me, personally. And it isn't. Though I get mildly interested in pro football around the time of the Super Bowl, baseball's Owner's meetings and the "Hot Stove League" of off-season transactions and rumors gets fired up not after that, helping to get my mind back to where it belongs - baseball.

Then, of course, comes Spring Training, where I was surprised to learn recently that there are now more major league teams which train in Arizona than train in Florida. I really don't pay much attention to most of what happens on the field in Spring Training games because George Steinbrenner is the only one who cares much who wins or loses those games. They are even more meaningless than the outcome of the "Mid-summer Classic," aka the All-Star Game.

No, my interest really gets stirred when events like the opening of the new Twins' ballpark, Target Field, start to occur, and when the all-important "numbers" that players accumulate - like home runs, RBI, stolen bases, pitching wins, strikeouts and saves - start to count "for real," leading us fans to star speculating about "how many (fill in the blank for the stat you choose) he'll get this season and where it ranks the player on the all-time list of greats ...

Sorry, I'm starting to salivate just thinking about it.

Unlike other professional sports, numbers like the ones I mentioned are integral to understanding and loving the game of baseball and its rich history. I used to know what Jim Brown's record rushing totals were (please don't say "Jim Who?"), and I know that his record of 1,863 yards gained in a single season was long ago eclipsed by someone (O.J.?) whose record-breaking total has likewise been surpassed. Forget about the fact that these later record - breakers had a longer season (i.e., more games) to achieve their records. The point is, no one really cares passionately about the old records or the new ones. Same with the NBA (the what?). Wilt used to hold all the records, but others like Kareem and Michael have come along to beat many of them. Again, it would be very unlikely that the average fan could tell you who the single-season and career leaders are in scoring, rebounding and assists. Nor could they tell you who the all-time single season and career leaders are in rushing, receiving , scoring and passing in the NFL. And even if they could tell you who the leader is, they wouldn't know the numbers.

Not baseball . Certain numbers - like 714, 60, 61, 1.12, 3000, 300, 56 and many others mean something to true baseball fans, and that's why many of them get upset when some "Cherished" records are about to be broken or were broken by someone who may have been cheating when he did it.

When the late Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record with his 61st home run of the 1961 season, a cry rose immediately that some kind of mark like an asterisk had to be placed next to Maris' accomplishment because, after all, he had played a 162-game schedule, not 154 like Ruth. I don't remember anyone worrying about something like that when NFL single-season records were broken, even though the record-breaking players - like Maris in baseball, - had played more games in a season than had the "old timers." I'm old enough to remember when the NFL played just 12 games in their regular season. It got increased to 14, as I recall, when the upstart rival league, the AFL, started playing a schedule of that length. Now they play 16 regular season games- 25% more games than Jim Brown played when he started out. Back then, having a 1000 yard rushing season meant the player averaged 83 yards a game. When Jim Brown rushed for 1527 yards in his second season (1958), his per game average was 127.25 yards. When he set his record of 1863 yards in 1963, the season had expanded to 14 games, but his per game average was even better - 133.07 yards per game.

In today's NFL game, a running back only needs to average 62.5 yards per game (15-16 yards per quarter) to reach 1,000 yards.

Sorry - I'm ranting again.

The bottom line is this: I love the game of baseball and look forward to its return each spring.

And, yes, it easier to anticipate the season when "your" team is the defending World Champion.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner