Baseball took hold of me early. It was the first game I followed intensely. I kept a scorebook of entire seasons, stayed up past bedtime for extra inning games with a radio in my bed for West Coast starts.
The baseball I grew up with was all about pitching.
I was a 6-year-old in Queens when the Miracle Mets won the 1969 World Series behind the pitching of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and Gary Gentry. Every other contending team had four pitchers with similar credentials and stuff designed to make hitters look silly.
Steve Carlton. Gaylord Perry. Bob Gibson. Don Sutton. Juan Marichal. If you got one hit and didn’t feel a ball whiz past your earlobe, it was a good day. Most catchers, shortstops and second basemen were defenders — anything they chipped in at the plate was a bonus.
The Miracle Mets won that championship with one .300 hitter and a team batting average of .244. They swept a doubleheader in Pittsburgh one Sunday, 1-0 both times, and the starting pitcher drove in the only run in both games. The team ERA was 2.99, which would have put one pitcher in the Cy Young discussion 10 years ago when chemically-enhanced foes were hitting home runs on check-swings and broken bats.
So when research by Jayson Stark of ESPN told us this week that 2012 — which already has five no-hitters, two perfect games and a no-no fashioned by six different Seattle pitchers — is on pace to score 4,000 fewer runs and hit 900 fewer home runs than the 2001 season of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez, the numbers make me smile.
Was it fun to watch the Diamondbacks win the World Series that year? You bet. I was in the park for all seven games and the drama was as thick as any sport had to offer, but it wasn’t the same game.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to see an upper-deck blast as much as the next guy, and watching hitters be baffled by Ian Kennedy, RA Dickey and Tim Lincecum — aces but nowhere near the caliber of Seaver, Carlton and their 300-win brethren — can be a tedious exercise some nights.
But you do feel like the game you are watching is real. You feel like home runs, though rarer, are more legit. You feel like when someone does break out and hit 50 home runs, it is a special season and not just the result of the perfect PED cocktail.
This is why Bonds, Sosa, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and their ilk, while fun to watch and embraced at the time of their Bunyan-esque accomplishments, should remain on the outside looking in at Cooperstown. Or, once the sins are forgiven, admitted with asterisks prominently displayed.
Things can go too far. The Mets didn’t have a no-hitter for the first 50 years of franchise history, but were within an official scorer’s decision of having two in a week. But since 2010, when offense in baseball began to drop, attendance continues to rise.
The game itself still carries the day, and one 450-foot homer seems to be enough.
•The last nine Stanley Cups have been raised by nine different teams, and there hasn’t been a back-to-back champion since the Detroit Red Wings won in 1997-98. I don’t see that changing next year, even with the Kings’ amazing 16-4 run through the postseason this year.
The Kings are a good team that caught fire at the right time. They needed every win down the stretch just to make the playoffs. They have a great goaltender, a good mix on defense and enough girt and firepower up front and a good blend of youth and experience. But they sure don’t scream out “dynasty.”
•In the previous two seasons, the NHL had one conference finalists fail to reach the playoffs the following season – Montreal in 2010 and Tampa in 2011. So if that trend is to continue, Los Angeles, New Jersey, the New York Rangers or the Coyotes would have to miss the postseason next year. And even though they have made three straight playoff appearances under Dave Tippett, Phoenix would be the odds-on favorite out of that group.
•With two wild card spots in each league this year, the Diamondbacks’ climb back to the .500 mark in mid-June allows them to keep their thoughts on building a contender instead of dismantling a loser at the trade deadline.
The recent talk surrounding San Diego’s Chase Headley is interesting. He’s a .300 hitter on the road and five of his seven homers have come away from challenging confines of Petco Park. If Stephen Drew can’t make it back, Ryan Roberts as a utility guy in the infield — or as part of the deal — doesn’t sound bad.
But what else do the Padres want in return for shipping Headley within the division? A top pitching prospect? A Gerardo Parra? Both?
It’ll be a tough call, but Arizona needs a spark.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.