As Sam Sees It
The 2001 baseball season was a memorable one for numerous reasons. San Francisco Giant slugger Barry Bonds demolished the home run record by hitting an incredible 73 round-trippers. San Diego outfielder Ricky Henderson eclipsed one of the game’s oldest records when he scored the 2,246th run of his career. Henderson also joined the exclusive 3,000 hit club. He was already at the top of the base-stealing list.
Sure-fire Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Baltimore’s iron man, and San Diego hitter extra-ordinary Tony Gwynn played their last games. St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire, whose record Bonds eclipsed gave hints that he, too might be ready to hang up his spikes. McGwire was plagued by injuries most of the season.
The Seattle Mariners tied the all time victory record that had stood for 94 years when they won for the 116th time this season. The Mariners also introduced us to Ichiro Suzuki, one of the most exciting and talented players to burst onto the baseball scene in decades.
Arizona Diamondback pitcher Randy Johnson become the first hurler to strike out over 300 batters for four consecutive seasons. Johnson and teammate Curt Schilling may have been the best two pitchers ever to toil for the same team. The pair won 43 games and lost only 12 between them and struck out 665 batters (Johnson 372, Schilling 293).
Fifty home runs in a season was once the standard few could threaten, much less reach. This season Bonds hit 73, three more than McGwire’s old record of 70. It was only the second time that 70 had been reached. Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs) hit 64 and was over the once unattainable 60 mark for the third straight season. Luis Gonzalez (Diamondbacks) hit 57. Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers led the American League with 52 homers. Shawn Green of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jim Thome of the Cleveland Indians just missed 50 homers, hitting 49 each.
The game has changed. The standard has moved considerably as far as home runs is concerned. The game is far different than when Babe Ruth hit 60 for the first time or when Roger Maris got past that barrier with 61. The equipment is different, the ball is different, and the players are bigger and healthier. It is not the same game. It is not a better or a worse game today than it used to be. It is just a different game in more ways than one.
The National League was blessed with tight pennant races in all three divisions. The Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals actually wound up with identical records atop the National League Central. Houston was awarded the title and the right to host the Atlanta Braves due to a better record in games against the Cardinals, who got the wild card berth. The Arizona Diamondbacks outlasted the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, which was not decided until the final series of the year. The Los Angeles Dodgers were in the race until the last week. Arizona will meet the wild card Cardinals. The Braves won over the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East in another race that went down to the wire.
The Chicago Cubs were in the National League Central race until the last couple of weeks. The New York Mets started slowly, but charged back into contention before being eliminated in their last series with Atlanta.
It was a memorable season and should be a great post-season. Let’s enjoy what is left of it and get ready for the “hot stove” league and an even better next year.