Friday, June 29, 2007

A Cooperstown Day

I love the way Tim Kirkjian puts it, what makes baseball so great is that you may see something you have never seen before. Thursday, June 28, 2007, is one of those days, no matter how long you have watched baseball. It is the first time in baseball history that a player reached each of baseball’s offensive career milestones, 3000 hits and 500 homeruns, on the same day. These clubs are so exclusive, it is rare to see two players achieve either milestone in the same season, never mind the same day. With the modern era power surge leaving no less than three players in reach of 500 homeruns this season, the milestone may lose some of its exclusivity, but seeing both achievements within hours of each other is unlikely.

Seeing a glut of milestones occur synchronously is not unprecedented. Back in 1999, Mark McGwire reached 500 homeruns, then Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs 3000 hits, on three consecutive days.

If you still are not excited, and feeling history reverberate through your body, each player added a unique twist to the milestone. Biggio lined his 3000th hit to center, his third of the night, but was gunned down trying to stretch it to a double. How many players’ 3000th hits were outs? Think about it, having to celebrate on the field, and not even getting to go back to the base. It is only fitting though, a tribute to the all-out hustling style that marks Biggio’s career. And if that was not enough, Biggio stormed right by 3000, collecting two more hits, tying a career high with five hits. Five hits the night you reach 3000 for the career, talk about unforgettable.

Then there is Frank Thomas. Can you reach 500 homeruns in more anonymity that a Thursday afternoon game in Minnesota? The Big Hurt, who was the most dominant offensive player in baseball for a period during the 1990’s, solidified his spot in Cooperstown. But just to make sure nobody forgot his big day, Thomas was ejected later in the game, the first player ever ejected in the game he joined the exclusive club.

The Cooperstown talk, or argument, can start now. Both of these players are no brainers in my book. 3000 hits is still an amazing feat, while 500 homeruns is losing some of its glitter in the steroid era, but Thomas accumulated a significant portion of stats before Bonds’ head grew three inches, not to mention he is an MVP and the best hitter in baseball for a time. Biggio was the consummate do whatever it takes player. His offensive stats compare favorably to all second basemen from his generation, he has started, and excelled, at three different defensive positions, stole bases, hit homers, and went to the playoffs every year. No, he was never the best player, but he was the best at his position for a long time. That is my hall of fame litmus test.

Maybe they are not first ballot guys, depending on the incoming class, but get the plaques ready. And remember the day, it’s a first. Two guys with very little in common, two completely different types of players, from two different leagues, are now forever linked in baseball lore.


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