Monday, September 13, 2004

BASEBALL: The Numbers Game

Today (oops, yesterday, given what time I am posting this) Barry Bonds hit home run number 699. Fifteen more, and he’ll tie Babe Ruth. In another season or so, if he anyone is willing to pitch to him, he could even tie or beat Hank Aaron, whose life total is 755. If they don’t pitch to him, at least he can keep up his record of walks, which stands this season at an astonishing 203. That’s just this season. He still managed to hit 41 homers.

One of my cherished early baseball memories is of Hank Aaron tying Babe Ruth’s home run record -- and then beating it. No, I wasn’t there, any more than I was on the moon when Neil Armstrong stepped off that ladder, memorably blowing his line. I saw them happen on TV.

In the game where Bonds reached #699, the Giants won handily, 5-2. The loss meant the Diamondbacks reached a milestone: triple digits in the loss column. With 19 games left on their schedule, they could match the Detroit Tigers’ impressive record of 119 lost in a season, highest in the American League. Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks are a National League team, which means they face much stiffer competition. They can’t match the fabled 1962 Mets, who lost 120 games, or the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, whose 134-20 record remains a shining example to the National League. The Snakes are 40.5 games back from the division lead, and their .301 winning percentage would be a respectable batting average.

Yes, I am gloating. I am a Phillies fan, dammit, and I have to take my Schadenfreude where I find it. Why? Because I am devoted to what many experts consider the most futile professional sports franchise extant. In their first 120 years (1883-2003), my boys lost 9,749 games -- an average of more than 81 games per season.

But losing isn’t the whole story. The Phillies have won at times. For example, they won a single World Series. One. Just one. The last of the original major-league franchises to do so. As a fourth-generation Phillies fan, I was pleased to see that my great-grandmother (who was born in 1890 and lived until the late 1980s), my grandfather, my mother, and I were all alive to rejoice in the 1980 victory. I’m now a great-aunt. Maybe by the time Jessica (age 3) is a grandma, we’ll have another World Series-winning team.

My West Coast team, the Oakland A’s (formerly of Philadelphia), is playing well enough this year to lead their division. Still, when you search for the AL team with the most losses, guess who shows up. In the 102 years of their existence, they have lost a respectable 8,187 games, which averages out to just over 80 games lost per season.

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