MLB's Dog Days Delights


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I happen to love what some call “the dog days of summer.” These are primarily August days, of course, with temperatures approaching scald factor in some parts of the world, school back in session(!) or the first day approaching like a heavy-breathing predator. But this is also the last month for baseball to occupy the sports world’s center stage before football steals at least four nights of the week. So here are some random baseball thoughts to make your dog days heel.

No franchise is more serious about winning the 2015 World Series than the Toronto Blue Jays. Having acquired a perennial MVP candidate (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, when he’s healthy) and a Cy Young Award winner (David Price) before the nonwaiver trade deadline, the Jays intend to end baseball’s longest current playoff drought. (Toronto hasn’t played a postseason game since winning the 1993 World Series.) They’ve had not one, but two 11-game winning streaks since Memorial Day (before the two big trades). The Blue Jays now have a pair of horses at the top of their rotation (Price and Mark Buehrle), each with World Series experience. They lead the American League in runs scored (622) by a healthy margin, with thumpers like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion reminding the world the American League East has a few stars not wearing Yankee or Red Sox colors. Having dropped two of three to the Yankees over the weekend, Toronto trails New York by a half-game, setting up a nice race for the AL East title, one I think the Blue Jays will win.

Ted Simmons is finally in a baseball hall of fame. My family was among the crowd of 44,000 last Saturday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis when the Cardinals saluted the 2015 induction class for the franchise’s hall of fame. The four new inductees: Bob Forsch, Curt Flood, George Kissell (each inducted posthumously), and the finest catcher of the 1970s not named Johnny Bench.

Simmons will never generate the Cooperstown debate that Pete Rose does, or Barry Bonds, or Roger Clemens. But the fact that Simmons didn’t receive enough votes in 1994 (3.7 percent) to even appear on the ballot a second time may be the most egregious oversight by Hall voters in the modern era. This is a man who retired (after the 1988 season) with more hits than any catcher in history. More than Bench, more than Berra, more than Dickey or Cochrane. And he can’t get into the national Hall of Fame without a ticket. The reception Simmons received at Busch Stadium was, as you’d expect, passionate and appreciative. He’s a hall of famer, whether or not a population of baseball writers knows it.

When Ichiro Suzuki singled in the top of the first inning Saturday night in St. Louis, the crowd at Busch Stadium gave the future Hall of Famer a partial standing ovation, one long enough for Ichiro to doff his helmet in appreciation. For those with memories of a certain Cincinnati Red legend in 1985, this is familiar, and to be expected after a player’s 4,192nd hit ... one more than the great Ty Cobb had at the end of his career. Trouble is, the line drive to rightfield was merely Ichiro’s 2,914th hit, if you’re counting those he’s accumulated in the major leagues. The Japanese great also had 1,278 hits in Nippon Professional Baseball before crossing the Pacific to join the Mariners in 2001.

I love the influence Asian players have had on the big leagues this century, but let’s not go so far as to confuse achievements on diamonds half a world away with accomplishments on MLB fields. To suggest Sadaharu Oh (868 homers in NPB) belongs above Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth on the home run chart would be lunacy. Based on the acknowledgment Saturday night, Ichiro (with another hit in the same game) is now only 63 behind baseball’s “hit king,” Pete Rose. Should Ichiro come back next season and get those 63 hits, it would be interesting to see how MLB handled the milestone. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but still shy of 3,000 big-league hits.

The age of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper is upon us, and it would be healthy for baseball to see Trout’s Angels and Harper’s Nationals make the playoffs, even better for L.A. and/or Washington to make a run to the Fall Classic. Trout won last year’s AL MVP, of course, at the ripe old age of 23. Harper seems a virtual lock to win this year’s NL MVP, and he turns 23 in mid-October. As I write, the Angels are three-and-a-half games back of Houston in the AL West, but in position for one of the league’s two wild-car berths. Washington’s climb to postseason play will be steeper, as the Nats are four-and-a-half back of the Mets in the NL East, and even further back in the wild-card chase. The sport needs familiar stars playing in its biggest games. Two outfielders — each in red hats but on opposite coasts — are primed to headline.

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