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The great American pastime

June 23, 2011 - Steve Murch
Anyone who knows me knows I love sports. Most sports (sorry NASCAR, MMA and Cricket fans; yes I have watched all three just to give them a chance – didn't work). And while I've always been a baseball fan, I drifted away for a number of years and didn't follow it as closely as I did other sports.

The last 10 years, however, I've followed it more and more, like in my youth. The nice thing is in this day and age following every team is so easy, with games on the TV and Internet, and MLB Network is a thing of bliss.

One of the things that makes baseball stand out is numbers, lots and lots and lots and lots … you get the idea … of numbers. With as long as the sport has been around, and as many players who have played the game, there will be numbers upon numbers. In some regard, the other sports are probably lucky that baseball came into the public first so it could show the way with how to compile, maintain and keep statistics.

Unlike the other sports, baseball seems to have some of the strangest numbers. Football is starting to get there, but baseball has some nuances to its numbers that add more intrigue than the others.

This month's MLB Insiders Club Magazine has an interview with John Thorn, who is heading a research effort by Major League Baseball to clear up fact from fiction (let's face it, with all the lore out there the lines can get blurred). He had a couple of trivia questions that show baseball's reach through the years, and how the numbers can provide some interesting and unexpected answers. The questions are first, then the answers.

Question 1: Who is the individual with the highest lifetime batting average who appeared in at least 500 games with more than five at-bats?

Question 2: Who is the last switch hitter to win American League MVP?

Question 3: Who are the three Hall of Famers who have hit a home run in their first major league at-bat?

Answer 1: Like me, you probably started thinking about Ty Cobb. It's Terry Forster, who was a pitcher. I got sucked into the batting average and didn't think about how much pitchers hit, plus the tricky part was that I thought he had 500 game with five at-bats in each game. If it had said “and had five at-bats” we might have though about a pitcher.

Answer 2: Vida Blue, another pitcher. Just because he didn't hit much, he still was a switch hitter.

Answer 3: Hoyt Wilhelm (sheesh, another pitcher) Earl Averill and Ace Parker. Now you are probably thinking like me. Oh, old-timers (I knew Wilhelm and Averill). Well the trick part of the question is that Ace Parker isn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He's in the Football Hall of Fame. That's where baseball's reach comes in – he was an infielder with the Philadelphia Athletics (who are another story with their start in Philly, move to Kansas City then Oakland).

Ah baseball. So many numbers that create so much fun debate. And speaking of debate, when the ballots are sent out for next year, baseball writers will you finally get Jack Morris into the Hall? I have the numbers to back it up. More debate.


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