Friday, January 7, 2011

Cricket, anyone?

Last Tuesday I said on my Facebook that if Edgar Martinez did not get elected in to the Baseball Hall of Fame, then I would in turn, boycott Major League Baseball for an entire season.

…… (crickets chirping in the background. Hey wait a minute! Crickets….)


“Cricket!” (Please tell me I am not the only one to catch the movie reference here, even though it is one word.)

If you got the movie reference then you and I can have potential to become great friends. But yes, you read that right, I will be following cricket this spring instead of baseball. No more 3-4 hour Yankee-Red Sox’s games for me. Oh no. You can credit the HOF voters to my baseball absence. There are other factors too. Why watch the American game for such a piddled amount of time? Not a lot of people know this, but cricket is where it is at. Only the purest coinsures of the bat and ball game, relish in the delight that is cricket. Furthermore, I will not be watching just any type of cricket, but rather the most elite form of cricket: Test Cricket.

With Test Cricket—widely regarded as the ultimate test of playing ability and endurance—matches can last up to maximum of five days. Instead of five minute TV breaks between innings for baseball, I’m switching to the more gentlemanly sport with three 2-hour “sessions” accompanied by 40-minute lunch break immediately followed by a 20-minute break for tea. How you like them apples? We’re elevating our game this New Year at the hangintheresports website (which will henceforth be referenced as HITS) and we suggest you do the same.

Gone are the evenings of settling down in the couch, with my crazy delicious combo of Red Vines and Mr. Pibb, watching Roy Halladay masterpieces or Josh Hamilton long bombs. No more nights of staying up to watch Baseball Tonight and the day’s web-gems, or screaming at the tube while John Lackey pitches his way to a 14-11 season. Instead there will be literal days of slothfulness from watch just “ah” match, as I waste away in front of the television—my wife occasionally spraying Frebreze on me to fight off the stench. With matches lasting so long I will have plenty of time to silently curse the Baseball Hall of Fame voters. You see, upgrading to cricket from baseball will allow me to trade terms like “nasty cutter” for “wicked googly”. The times when I’d slam a batter for striking out with “what a bum” I now can barrage the player as a “golden duck”. I am pretty excited. It should make for interesting summer columns here at HITS.

But I did not write this column to gush over my soon-to-be new favorite past time. Edgar Martinez—the should be first-ballot hall of famer—is the real topic. That’s the issue. To start, let’s just get it out of the way by stating the obvious reason why “Eeeeeedddddgggaarrrrrrr, Eeeeeddddddggggaaaaarrrr” was shunned from the honor he so very much deserved. He was a designated hitter.

The DH. Not just any DH, but the greatest DH to ever play the game. I remember Edgar’s last game and the late (and certainly great) Seattle Mariner’s play-by-play guy, Dave Neihaus, even talking then about #11 having difficulty getting in to The Hall because of the position he played. I have never been able to comprehend it. The numbers are there. “My, oh my” are they there. Take a gander:

CAREER STATS

BA: .312
HR: 309
RBIs: 1,261
Hits: 2,247

Five seasons with an OPS 1.000 or higher, seven-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger recipient, and the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award winner.

You mean to tell me because the guy didn’t earn a gold glove, his numbers and accomplishments mean less? So, if I make some diving plays on defense, then the next time I hit a homerun it is worth more? I don’t get it. And I do not like the double standard.

American League pitchers don’t bat; does this mean their pitching numbers ought to be diluted? No, it doesn’t. Your job is JUST to pitch and that is it. You’re not going to be evaluated—or should I say DE-evaluted—based on what you do when you bat. It should go vice-versa if you play the designated hitter position. I would even go on to argue that had Edgar Martinez played third base—as he did from time to time—throughout his career, and had he played the position really crappy but still put the same numbers up on the offense… Edgar Martinez is a first ballot HOFer. Easy. It drives me mad. Edgar Martinez was a fantastic ball player and everybody knows it.

To take his case even further, you need to put what he accomplished side by side, against what he over came. Edgar Martinez was diagnosed with Strabismus. For those who do not know what that is, Strabismus is a condition in which the eyes are not aligned properly. It causes a lack of coordination between the muscles that control your eyes. It messes with your depth perception. Kind of a big deal if your job is to hit baseballs thrown from different angles and speeds—night in and night out—at the Major League level. Next time you go to the batting cages, try taking a few swings with one eye closed and you’ll get the idea.

That is one of the reasons why Edgar Martinez was one of my favorite baseball players; not to mention the player responsible for what is known to Pacific Northwesterners as The Double.

There are two very distinct sports moment that are burned in to my mind. I can recall them with vivid clarity. Coming in a close second is Michael Jordan’s crossover jumper against Bryon Russell in the final seconds of the 1998 NBA Finals (Michael Jordan’s last professional basketball game as far as I am concerned). Coming in at number one is The Double.

In 1995 I was eleven years old. I was in the incarnating years of cementing my sports loyalties. With baseball, it was an especially important year for me. It was the year I took my first taste of New York Yankee hatred. The season also marks my introduction to the rivalry between the Yanks and Soxs; introduced to me by my father. That hatred would become further cemented a few years later when New York dismissed Seattle from the AL Championship Series in consecutive seasons, but this isn’t about that.

This is about ‘Alive in ‘95’ baby!! I still have the VHS commemorating the entire season. I’d easily fork over $70 for the Blu-Ray edition if one existed.

For those needing a refresher course, late in the ’95 season the Seattle Mariners were 13 games back in their division and improbably came back to win the franchises first-ever American League West Division title against the Angels. The title was decided by a one game playoff. Their opponents in the divisional series, as mentioned previously, were the New York Yankees. In the five game series, Seattle fell behind 0-2. Mariners’ fans were crestfallen, certainly after a 15-inning Game Two heartbreaker. Miraculously, Seattle clawed back to force a series deciding game five that would go in to extra innings.

There are so many signature moments in Game Five, I have goosebumps by just stirring the memories.

Breakdown of The Double:

- Lou Pinella HAD to start Randy Johnson against the Angels just for the Mariners to even make the playoffs;
- and because so, Randy couldn’t pitch until Game Three against New York.
- In Game Five, with the game tied 4-4, at the top of the 10th inning, Lou Pinella went to bullpen and called out The Big Unit on 1-days rest.
- Queue goosebumps.

Mariners fans looooooosssst it. Randy Johnson executed the most gangster strut in sports history. Think Wild Thing from the movie Major League and times it by real life. In 1995 Randy Johnson straight up owned baseball. An 18–2 record, 2.48 ERA and 294 strikeouts. AL Cy Young Winner. Booyah.

Watching The Big Unit walk from the bullpen—something NOBODY had ever seen because Randy always started games—still to this day is most intimidating sports moment I have ever witnessed. 6 feet and 10 inches. Mullet billowing from his cap. He walked the entire way to the mound. No jogging. Just a walk. A warrior, like a Gladiator entering the Colosium (in this case the Kingdome). I don’t remember who batted, but they never stood a chance. It could have been Lou Gerhig, Albert Puljos and Jimmie Foxx waiting in the wings to take an at bat; it didn’t matter. The moment was that powerful.

- Johnson strikes out the side
- At the top of the 11th the Yankees get a run; three outs from clinching
- In the bottom of the 11th Joey Cora lays down the bunt for a single. When Dave Roberts stole second in the ’04 Sox/Yankees series it had the same feel.
- Next up is The Kid. Ken Griffey Jr. KG already homered in the game to keep it close and at this at bat he came through with a clutch single.
- Runners at first and third.
- Edgar Martinez steps to the plate. Takes a called strike one.

The mood was electric. The energy was palpable. The concept of time took on entirely unknown meaning. Try as one may, my words could never describe the moment or do it justice, so I’ll let you take a moment and watch it with ole’ Dave giving you the play-by-play.

Magic. Go ahead and watch it again before you continue reading on.

That feeling; the feeling that can only be felt within your body during an incredible sports moment, hit the highest peak it could, and rung with such fervor that it has yet to be duplicated.

As soon as that ball landed in left, there was nothing that could have stopped The Kid. He was headed home on winged shoes. Every person in that stadium or watching on television knew that Junior was getting waved around third. The relay from left could have been fired from a cannons and it still would not have made the plate in time. For that moment I remember I felt omnipotent. I could accomplish the impossible. Those are the feelings which make sports so resonating. Jordan’s jumper, Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria last summer, and The Double.

Edgar Martinez immortalized himself. A lot of people do not remember, but the Seattle Mariners were on the precipice of extinction. On the cusp of going bye-bye a la Seattle Supersonics. The magic of what happened that season, spurred to people to vote for the building of what became Safeco Field. If Edgar, Strabismus and all, does not get that hit then perhaps today there would not even be a Mariners’ to write columns about. It is an interesting thing to contemplate.

All the people who I’ve talked to understand that he’ll get in (and he will) but Edgar Martinez was a first ballot guy and the voters took that from him. He’ll never get that back. Shame on you voters. You make watching cricket this year all the more digestible.

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