Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Happy 9/9/09! Courtesy of Kris Liakos of Walkoff Walk [J. Mark English]

I always get a kick out of "meaningful" numbers like today's date. Friends of mine might made use of a muzzle in the year 1111. In anticipation of the date, November 11, 1111, I'd have kept telling everyone just how special the day would be! (I'm sure I am mixing my present and past tenses in that sentence...whatever). Twice in the same day it would be 11:11 on 11/11/1111. I'm sure people fascinated with binary codes would have appreciated a year like 1010 much more, but still, 1111 is something sure to have given the darker ages folks a real hoot.

I digress. Kris Liakos relates today's date to sports. Thank goodness. Kris writes for the blog Walkoff Walk:

Oh yeah. It's 9/9/09, a good day for people like me who like to cross their eyes when they look at stuff. There are other people like that, right? Anyway, last year on 8/8/08 I paid tribute to Yogi, Yaz and Bo. It was one of my favorite pieces and it came out well because I had genuine affection for all three players.

This year we'll be paying tribute to one guy I love (Williams) one semi-tragic hero I find endlessly interesting, and one guy whose shining moment eclipses the rest of his Hall Of Fame career. So here are those 3 guys, back to front.

Bill Mazeroski: Last year was Yaz, this year it's Maz. One of the most impressive defensive infielders of his era, the 2001 Hall Of Fame inductee made 7 All-Star Teams and won 6 Gold Gloves. In 2163 GP he collected 2016 hits and was always a tough strikeout.

But it was the 1960 postseason in which he made his name. He slugged .640 in 7 playoff games that year including his Walkoff Ding Dong in game 7 against the Yankees, the first and only until Joe Carter did it again in 1992. It was one of two championships for Maz, who also played on the 1971 championship team with Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente.

Roger Maris: Maris is another guy, who for better or worse is known primarily for one thing, his 61 Home Runs in 1961. It was a monumental achievement forever tainted by the fact that we have to listen to Billy Crystal talk about it. Most people know the story. Maris and Mantle are neck and neck in the home race all through the summer. Everyone is rooting for Mantle until he gets hurt and the stress of the spotlight causes Maris' hair to turn into a flattop.

The years have made it seem like nobody appreciated what Maris that year since the whole country was full of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle worshipers. Whatever the prevailing sentiment was at the time, Maris was still awarded the MVP, his second straight. It's hard to ignore 366 TB, no matter how you feel about a guy.

While he would never again reach those lofty heights, the rest of Maris' career, both in New York and St. Louis, was respectable. Although to me his subsequent home run dropoff screams STEROIDS. Look at those numbers! His head grew! Maris retired to Gainesville (bad) where he ran a beer distributorship (good) until he passed away in 1985.

Ted WIlliams: There is absolutely nothing I can say about Ted Williams that could contribute to the conversation about him in any meaningful way. Aside from Ruth, there has never been a more discussed and dissected ballplayer. Partly because, aside from Ruth, there was never a better hitter. But Williams' life and career, both in baseball and in the Service, has come to serve as a symbol of Wartime, Post-War, and then War-again America in the middle of last century. His status as "the real life John Wayne" is now repeated to the point of cliche but serves to help illustrate his legacy. When you investigated that era's phony heroes like Wayne you found out there wasn't much there. Frauds mostly. In a life of tough, and sometimes incorrect decisions Williams was never a fraud. But for me, more that anything, it's the numbers.

The numbers are insane. A career OPS of 1.116 fleshes out his 521 HRs, all while playing a total of 495 games from 1950 through 1955. Williams was only 32 in 1950, and had arguably his best season in 1949. To celebrate 9/9/09 today, do me a favor and just look at these stats. Compare them against Gehrig, DiMaggio, Felix Jose or whomever. Numbers transcending sentimentalism and sensationalism show us the real reason for a player's legacy, and it's no wonder that WIlliams' is still so large.