Historical society of 2004
It was another milestone season as several prestigious hitting and pitching clubs welcomed new members.
And now our Year in Review tribute to the Historians of 2004:
Milestone Men of the Year
The milestones just kept on coming this season. So here's a look back at some of our favorites:
NO. 700 -- There was only one thing more breathtaking than the sight of Barry Bonds joining George H. Ruth and Henry Aaron in the 700-Homer Club. And that was the gargantuan home run that drew him to within one of No. 700. Bonds squashed No. 699 in Arizona on Sept. 12, off Diamondbacks reliever Mike Koplove. And it was heading for the vicinity of the Grand Canyon until it was detoured by the friendly neighborhood video board -- a mere 460 feet away from home plate. A few feet higher, and it would have hit Bonds' own picture on that board.
"I thought I threw the perfect pitch," Koplove quipped afterward. "He was just standing a little too close to the JumboTron when he hit it."
NO. 500 -- Remember how, before Barry came along, 500 home runs used to seem like a lot? Well, we're here to reassure you that it's still a very cool milestone. And finally, on June 22, Junior Griffey took time out between trips to DL Land to hit his long-awaited 500th. Which, among other things, got Griffey a spot on David Letterman, reciting the Top 10 Thoughts That Went Through Ken Griffey Jr.'s Mind As He Hit His 500th Home Run." Such as:
10) "500 home runs! That entitles me to one free pizza at any participating Pizza Hut."
7) "Hey, maybe this'll help me land an invitation to Commissioner Selig's Fourth of July party."
6) "I'm 5 percent of the way to 10,000 home runs!"
And 1) "Anyone dumps Gatorade on me, I'm gonna pound 'em with a fungo bat."
NO. 400 -- Three men hit either their 500th (Griffey) or 400th (Jim Thome, Gary Sheffield) homers this year. And, amazingly, two of them could have done it on the same night on the same field. On June 14, the Reds played the Phillies, with Thome and Griffey each one homer away. Seemed like a great script in theory, anyway. Except Griffey took the night off. And after Thome hit his 400th in the first inning, he didn't make it to the interview room for more than seven hours -- thanks to approximately 1.4 trillion raindrops which fell in between.
So it wasn't until close to 3 a.m. that Thome marched into the room, looked around at what was left of the media horde and uttered the immortal words: "Fellas ... you're still up?"
NO. 4,000 -- Until June 29, only three pitchers in history -- Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton -- had ever struck out 4,000 hitters. Then Randy Johnson barged into that 4,000-K Club by whiffing San Diego's Jeff Cirillo. Asked if he was surprised the Unit was still this dominating at age 40, then-manager Bob Brenly said nothing Johnson does surprises him.
"Unless," Brenly chuckled, "he stole a base."
NO. 300 -- And finally, there was The Last of the 300-Game Winners, Mr. Greg Maddux. It's no sure bet anyone will ever win 300 games again. But even if someone does, he's a really, really sure bet not to do it like Maddux, crafty little mind-reader that he is.
No. 300 arrived for the Mad Dog on Aug. 7. And at last look, he was up to 304, including his 17th 15-win season in a row. But even after all these years, he still resembles your accountant more than he resembles, say, Tom Seaver. Asked by the Chicago Tribune's Dave Van Dyck if Maddux had changed at all over the years, his brother Mike replied: "Well, his body has gotten worse."
Cyclists of the Year
The one guy in that group who at least might have seemed like a logical candidate to go cycling was Teixera. But even when he did it Aug. 17 -- in a game in which he got half his hits right-handed and the other half left-handed -- he was battling some major food-poisoning issues. Not that he was getting much sympathy from his teammates -- after cycling and knocking in seven.
Manager Buck Showalter's compassionate reaction: "I told him go eat the same thing again."
Six Pack of the Years
What was the most inexplicable epidemic of the year? Six-Hit Fever. What else?
Anybody have an explanation for why six different players -- Frank Catalanotto, Carlos Pena, Omar Vizquel, Joe Randa, Raul Ibanez and Alfonso Soriano -- got six hits in a game in the same season? We have no idea. But somewhere, Sixto Lezcano must be happy.
Those half-dozen six-hit games were the most in any season since 1897. That also was as many six-hit games as we'd seen in the previous eight seasons combined. And some of them were especially memorable.
Randa became the first American Leaguer in history to get six hits and score six runs in the same nine-inning game. Vizquel had the distinction of getting more hits by himself in his six-hit game than the whole lineup of the Yankees team he was playing (6-5) -- the first AL player to do that since Bob Oliver in 1969.
But Pena carved himself one of the coolest niches of all. He joined Ty Cobb as the only Tigers to have a six-hit game and a three-homer game without needing extra innings to do either. When informed of that claim to fame by Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler, Pena joked: "Wow. Maybe we should go out for a beer."
Special KKKKs of the Year
If a record falls in a ballpark and nobody notices, is it still a record?
That was a question we needed to ask the loyal baseball fans of Milwaukee on June 13. In fact, we needed to ask them twice.
In the same game that day, one pitcher (Milwaukee's Ben Sheets) made history by striking out the side on nine pitches -- four innings before another pitcher (Houston's Brad Lidge) made more history by racking up four strikeouts in the same inning.
That's two nearly unbreakable records for the price of one. But did pandemonium erupt? Of course not -- because these are the kinds of records just about nobody even knows happened, unless they were keeping score. And there are only about 117 living Americans remaining who still keep score.
We could easily use this as an excuse to bash the decline of baseball civilization. But Astros broadcast-humorist Jim Deshaies chose to point the finger in a different direction -- at a guy who could have whipped that crowd into a frenzy but chose not to: homer-happy Milwaukee mascot Bernie Brewer.
"He's more of an offense-minded guy," Deshaies said. "He's a mascot of our era. We needed a Turn Back the Clock era mascot -- Mr. Met or somebody like that. Mr. Met reached his heyday in a pitching-rich organization, so Mr. Met would understand these records more than Bernie did."
Yes, shockingly, Bernie almost showed disdain for these non-offensive type records. What, you wondered, did he do to commemorate these two magic moments?
"Nothing at all," Deshaies reported. "He was up there drinking beer, handicapping the sausage race and doing the polka."
Special KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKs of the Year
George Sisler wasn't the only big name to have his most famous record broken this year. For nearly a quarter-century, the late Bobby Bonds had not-so-proudly held baseball's all-time record for strikeouts in a season -- with 189 in 1970.
Given all the swinging and missing that goes on these days, you knew that one wasn't going to hold up till the next millennium. But at least the latest whiff machine to threaten it proved worthy of the crown. Unlike guys like Jose Hernandez and Preston Wilson, who wimped out and fled for the bench when they closed in on this record, Reds slugger/whooshmeister Adam Dunn kept on hacking last week. And on Thursday, he broke the record with his 190th punchout of the year.
"Well," said Dunn, who headed into the season's final game with 196 very special K's, "at least I've knocked one member of the Bonds family out of the record book."
Hitless Wonderment of the Year
OK, so who among us thought, back on May 16 and 18, that the Braves were about to run off and win the NL East by 10 games? Mr. Cox? Mr. Schuerholz? And who else?
On May 16, you might recall, the Braves struck out 18 times against Milwaukee's Ben Sheets. Tough night. Little did they know things would actually get worse.
In their next game, on May 18, they sent 27 hitters to the plate against Randy Johnson -- and none reached base. Which is known in the trade as a perfect game.
That performance culminated a two-game display of back-to-back offensive futility never before witnessed in baseball. You could look it up. Exactly how many teams, you ask, had ever had two games in a row like those two? Well, that would be Zero.
After two performances like that, it's always hard to find exactly the right words befitting the occasion. So it came as no surprise that, after the final out of that perfect game, Arizona GM Joe Garagiola ran into a Braves usher who still trying to figure out how to react.
Finally, the usher said: "We'll do better tomorrow."
"Well," Garagiola replied, "I like your chances."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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