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November 17, 2009 at 8:55 AM

Hernandez had great season in the wrong year

Great to be back after spending the past week and a half in Costa Rica. As usual, it seems like I didn’t miss too much. Ken Griffey Jr. is back another year, I see. Sounds like an astute move to me. I also think the Dallas Cowboys are going to go places with that quarterback of theirs. I mean, what’s not to like about Troy Aikman? Besides, that Emmitt Smith dude is one tough running back.
Let’s not get all over that first-term democrat in the White House either. He’s looking like a two-termer. You know what they say, a strong marriage is the backbone of a strong country, or something like that. Besides, he played a mean sax on The Arsenio Hall Show.
As for the Seahawks, I’d give their coaching staff another year or so to implement their offensive scheme, bring in their own personnel and see some injured players heal. So, let’s not jump all over them just yet. Besides, if things don’t work out, I hear that Mike Holmgren could be persuaded to leave Green Bay.
Wait a minute, what’s that? It’s not really 1995? We’re almost in 2010 already? Oh. Well then, please forget everything I just wrote.
Let’s talk about present-day then, and one of the true franchise players for the Mariners. I’m speaking, of course, about pitcher Felix Hernandez, a contender for the AL Cy Young Award, the winner of which is to be announced at 11 a.m.
Back in September, I handed out our local BBWAA Awards down on the field before a game and got to give Hernandez his plaque after he’d been selected as the Mariners’ Pitcher of the Year.
As Hernandez came out of the dugout to receive his award, we shook hands and I told him: “You fulfilled your destiny this year, and, in the end, that’s more important than any award you’ll ever receive.”
He thanked me and took his prize. Not sure he heard what I told him as it was pretty loud, with fans giving him a nice ovation.
But I meant what I said to him. When all is said and done, this game — and just about any job you do in life — will always be about realizing one’s potential. In Hernandez’s case, that was a tall order. He had so much pressure placed on him at such a young age and so many lofty expectations to meet.
But he did it. At age 23. Think about it. Hernandez might go on to enjoy many repeat seasons like this one. But the truth is that, statistically, he might never enjoy a better year than this one. As fans of the game, we really can’t ask for more from a pitcher than what Hernandez supplied this season. Maybe a little more consistency through and through. But from late-May onward, he turned things up several notches and more than compensated for the mediocre start. Can he carry that through over an entire year? I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a pitcher to carry that pace over an entire six months. What Hernandez gave us this year was about the best anyone can realistically expect. If he surprises us later on, then good on him. But for now, it’s safe to say he fulfilled his destiny. Reached the heights expected of him for a single season. Go on to repeat that over and over, he’ll go down as one of the all-time greats.
And that’s something he can bask in. It’s worth remembering that the greatest awards you can win come from meeting your potential. It’s not about hardware. Hernandez should keep that in mind today.

In a few hours, Hernandez will learn that he did not win the 2009 Cy Young Award. He’ll probably finish second. Maybe even third, though I’d put money on second.
While Hernandez fulfilled his destiny this past season, so did Zack Greinke of the Royals. And Greinke was better. Just about any way you slice it up, Greinke had one of the best seasons of the past decade.
My favorite stat to throw out there so far is that Hernandez’s ERA was better than that of any Cy Young winner since Pedro Martinez in 2000. And Greinke’s ERA was nearly a half-run better.
Sometimes, a pitcher has a great season in the wrong year. It happens. Nothing you can do about it. Ask Roy Halladay how he felt a year ago when Cliff Lee was the overwhelming Cy Young winner. Greinke could win by a similar landslide today because he was that good. I had one of the two Cy Young votes for Seattle writers and Greinke was an easy choice. I’m sure my fellow BBWAA writers will mostly feel the same. Colleague Larry Stone has some sample quotes from BBWAA voters and non-voters in his latest blog post that seems to indicate that.
But it doesn’t make what Hernandez accomplished any less fantastic. As I said, he’ll be disappointed today. But he has to know, deep in his heart, that he did what he had to do. Any other year but this one, he’d likely be taking home the top prize. And that’s why, when it comes to awards and success, the greatest feeling has to come from within.
You can set goals, reach them, even exceed them, and not take home the hardware. Sometimes, it’s the subjective whim of voters that does you in. Other times. the next guy was just better than you.
But in 2009, Hernandez was a winner, no matter what the plaque says. And that’s something he can carry with him long after today’s Cy Young announcement is done and forgotten about.



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