The summer is going way too fast and the 2011 major league baseball season is following suit. Some of the playoff pictures have been all but decided and there have, as in any season, been surprises and disappointments. Some teams are already looking ahead to 2012 and some are thinking about the big prize at the end of it all. Here is some of the good stuff that I’ve seen this season.
One of the best stories of 2011 happened just this past week. One of the classiest people in all of sports reached a prolific milestone and gave us a non asterisk moment of joy. Jim Thome hit home run number 600, joining the elite hitters in baseball history. I, along with most of the baseball world, were overjoyed to see a stunning accomplishment not tainted with did he or didn’t he. Thome is still a productive hitter and while reaching the 600 mark was obviously on his mind during the offseason, Thome is not a player who stuck around when it was obvious to all that he was done. It brings back memories of the other greats who have accomplished this feat untainted (Aaron, Ruth and Mays) and reminded me of the glorious days of baseball past.
Derek Jeter became the first New York Yankee to reach 3,000 hits. None of the Yankee greats had been able to reach that milestone. None. It was a popular media pastime this season up until that day, to treat Jeter as if he was a mediocre player who had accomplished little throughout his Hall of Fame career. He couldn’t hit, field or run anymore and his once unquestionably great baseball instincts were no more. His contract extension was offered through pity and a sense of it’s only because he’s been a Yankee his entire career. Jeter went on the DL this season which was further proof of the erosion of his skills.
Jeter would have to bat eight or even ninth and maybe even DH if New York could find a taker for Jorge Posada. Nonsense and disrespectful.
Hit number 3,000 was a home run and he followed that up with four more hits on that day. No more Jeter is done talk in the press. No more secret whispers in the corridors of baseball. Someday Derek Jeter will be done, but not this season.
The umpiring, despite a couple noticeable speed bumps in August, has been the best I’ve seen in many a season. The once imposing trend toward arrogance and infallibility and a strike zone that changed more quickly and more often than a woman’s mindset seems to have been replaced by a spirit of cooperation, a genuine let’s get this call right, and a strike zone players can depend on pitch after pitch. Perhaps the firing of six umpires during the offseason after the horrendous officiating during the last two season’s playoffs and a renewed commitment to excellence has made the difference. Umpires are there to ensure that all is fair for both teams, get calls right and to be seen and not heard. Their officiating this season has certainly brought a new level of professionalism to the game.
The 2011 has seen the return of the old guys. Jack McKeon and even more surprising, Davey Johnson are managing once again. In my youth it seemed that all managers were old, white haired and had seen Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson play. These managers chewed tobacco and cussed out umpires at the drop of a hat. If you didn’t hustle you didn’t play.
Sometimes even if you did hustle you didn’t play. There were no pitch counts and only a closer for a bullpen. Starters were expected to go the full nine. They didn’t have computers and SABR stats and a press conference after every game. I say let’s keep this thing going and bring back Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog, Yogi Berra and Tommy Lasorda.
Let the young guys be bench coaches or minor league instructors. Bring back those big, leather chairs.
Each baseball night brings something new and exciting to the table. So far so good 2011.