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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

October 5, 2009 at 12:54 PM

The agony of the nines, or how Alex Rodriguez gave himself a nice, round number

When I was a kid, there was a slugger named Lee May, who starred for Cincinnati in the fledgling days of the Big Red Machine — in fact, he was traded to Houston in the package for Joe Morgan, which really pushed the Reds into super-team status. May went on to have some more great years with the Astros and Orioles.

But Lee May drove me crazy, as an avid — way too avid, in retrospect — follower of player statistics. May couldn’t seem to get those final few runs batted in that would give him a nice, tidy 100. I’m wondering now, 30 years later, if that bothered me more than it bothered him, but I felt his pain, actutely. Oh, Lee managed to drive in 110 in ’69, and 105 in ’73, and 109 in ’76. But I believe he lost out on a chance to be remembered as one of the great sluggers of his generation by a grand total of 12 RBIs. That’s how many, when spread correctly, would have given him five more 100-RBI seasons. And that would have given him eight in the span of nine years, a pretty hefty statistic. But instead, poor old Lee May drove in 94 in 1970, 98 in ’71, 98 in ’72, 99 in ’75, and 99 again in ’77. And now no one remembers Lee May. Except me and a handful of people who probably confuse him with the other Lee May (actually, Lee Maye) from that generation.

Anyway, enough about Lee May (and Lee Maye). The point is, every year at this time I feel great empathy for the players who come up agonizingly short of the nice, round milestones that resonate so nicely with fans — a .300 average, 100 RBIs, 20 wins, 30 homers (or 20, or 40), etc.

You’ve got to hand it to Alex Rodriguez. He went into his last game on Sunday with 28 homers and 93 RBI, headed for a classic “oh-so-close” year on two fronts. He took care of that in the sixth inning, homering twice — a three-run shot and a grand slam. Yup, A-Rod finished with exactly 30 homers and 100 RBI, prompting a cynical press box observer on Sunday to note, “Typical Alex, taking care of his own stats when it doesn’t mean anything. If the pennant had been on the line, he would have gagged, as usual.”

So A-Rod doesn’t make our list, but I feel for Jose Lopez, who couldn’t quite get those final RBIs and finished with 96, and Felix Hernandez, who finished with 19 wins. Think Felix has given a thought or two to the five no-decisions in which he pitched at least seven innings and gave up one or zero earned runs?

So here’s to Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and Yunel Escobar, all of whom finished 2009 at .299 and are no doubt re-living every line drive that was snared by an infielder, every long drive hauled in by a streaking outfielder.

Here’s to David Ortiz, Jayson Werth and Adrian Gonzalez, and their 99 RBIs. Lee May feels for you.

Here’s to Carlos Pena and Mark Teixeira and their 39 homers, Josh Beckett and his 199 strikeouts, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright and C.C. Sabathia and their 19 victories.

Just one more stinkin’ point/RBI/homer/strikeout/victory, and you could have had a much nicer baseball card in 2010.

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