Super Heroes of the Diamond
06 August 2010
Comic-Con recently took place in San Diego. Comic-Con is a time when the guy you share your cubicle with (the guy that you have always suspected of being a little weird) dresses up as a Klingon or a Stormtrooper; the brunette receptionist at your dentist’s office dons her Counselor Deanna Troi outfit, or if she has the figure to pull it off, the enslaved Princess Leia bikini; and your boss annoys you with his poor rendition of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.
Comic-Con is so popular that it cannot be considered part of the counter-culture anymore. Pop Culture has shifted in so many ways in recent years that few things can be considered the culture of the holdouts. In any event, a large part of the convention is dedicated to celebrating the life and accomplishments of the Super Heroes that have become ingrained in our culture. For decades, we have lived in awe of characters such as Superman, Batman, The Flash, The Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, and even The Punisher. We have wanted to be them, or at least somewhat like them. Most of us who have admired a hero from a comic strip have had aspirations of doing something great, transcendental.
Lots of people have done great things in real life, and they have become heroes of their times. Sometimes, their stories become legends and the status of super heroes ascribed to them; but you never see their accomplishments chronicled in a graphic novel.
Such is the case with a handful of baseball players that have accomplished things that seem so extraordinary that one is left to wonder what kind of super power propelled them at the time. Comic-Con has inspired me to salute to the baseball players who don’t have a comic strip telling their tale, but whose accomplishments will forever live in the Collective Consciousness as long as we continue to remember them.
Cy Young: Good ole Cy pitched between 1890 and 1911. In his 22 seasons he won 511 games, 49 more than his nearest follower Walter Johnson, and more than anyone else in the history of the game. To put it into perspective, Greg Maddux, one of the most dominant pitchers of our generation, retired after 23 seasons with 355 wins. Keep in mind, Cy Young pitched in 154-game seasons, Greg pitched in 162-game ones. Back in the day they weren’t concerned about pitch counts, pitching on three days’ rest or Tommy John surgery. Heck, Tommy John wasn’t born until 1943. Cy Young will forever be the winningest pitcher in the history of the game. Oh, yeah, he is also the all time leader is losses with 316!
Lou Gehrig: He lived in the shadow of the Babe for many seasons, but he was the true punisher of pitchers. Lou Gehrig is not only a superman because he played in 2130 consecutive games, but also because he owns the record for the most career Grand Slams. Lou hit a total of 23 Slams in 17 seasons with the Yankees. Oh, yeah, he also retired with a .340 batting average. Eat your heart our George Herman Ruth!
Hack Wilson: His career did not showcase the numbers of his contemporaries, yet it was good enough to earn him a spot in Cooperstown. It was, however, his 1930 season that lives in the annals of baseball history. Playing for the Chicago Cubs, he hit 56 home runs, batted .356, walked 105 times, but above all, he drove in 191 runs. 191 runs batted in!!! How crazy is that??? And he did it without hitting a Grand Slam the entire season.
Matt Stairs: This modern day hero looks more like a retired hockey player than a Major League Baseball slugger, but don’t let his appearance distract you for a minute, he is a professional hitter. Matt had the misfortune of bouncing around some ball clubs before finding his niche with the Oakland Athletics of the late 1990’s, he hit 38 home runs and drove in 102 runs in 1998. Had he been able to play regularly from the beginning of his major league career, his numbers might have been Hall of Fame worthy. However, he was relegated to the role of Pinch Hitter. In today’s game, the elite Pinch Hitter is employed primarily in the National League and is considered a lethal weapon. The right Pinch Hitter can change the momentum of a game with a single swing of the bat. This is the case with Matt, who holds two major league records: the most teams played for by a position player and the most pinch hit home runs in history. Yes, Matt may be the closest thing we have ever seen in the Big Leagues to a Canadian Redneck, but he is the most dreaded sight for many a closer in the National League these days.
Harvey Haddix: This is a bit of a tragic story, on May 26, 1959 he pitched into the 13th inning of a game against the Milwaukee Braves (he played for Pittsburgh) having retired all 36 batters he had faced in the previous 12 innings. If you do the math, that amounts to a perfect game. Well, he goes into the 13th inning and loses the perfect game to an error, a sacrifice bunt, a walk and a double to take a 1-0 loss. Harvey did not get the perfect game, but he still holds the record for most batters retired consecutively.
Orestes Minoso: Affectionately known as Minnie, Orestes was a Cuban hero that has the distinction of being one of two players to have played in the Majors in five separate decades (1940s-80s) and the only one to have played professionally in seven different decades. Minnie was always an outstanding player, but it was his personality and drive that earned him the nicknames of “The Cuban Comet”, “Mr. White Sox” and “El Charro Negro”. He is not in the MLB Hall of Fame, but he is in the Cuban and Mexican baseball halls of fame.
There you have it folks, my salute to some heroes of the diamond whose stories are so fantastic that you’d think Hollywood couldn’t make them up. But sometimes the truth surpasses our wildest dreams by about a step and a half.