AL wild card in a box   

Updated: September 14, 2007, 10:06 AM ET

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In his "Historical Baseball Abstract" the great Bill James does a thing where he puts each decade of baseball history in a "box," making an idiosyncratic list of each decade's defining features.

Without pretending to be anywhere near as exhaustive or baseball-savvy as James, I'm stealing the idea to briefly summarize the teams still fighting for a playoff spot in the American League wild-card race (yesterday we hit the NL).

Say your favorite team is out of the running and you're shopping for a club to throw your emotional weight behind; say you're looking for a jersey to slip on for the stretch drive, maybe a box to stand up and cheer on.

Read these labels as you ponder your commitment. It's penny-for-a-pound stuff; everything in the box you choose is yours to keep.


Can't Put a Price on It: The retired numbers on the wall in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park read like the history of baseball itself, play like newsreel clips in our collective memory. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra -- not just players but icons, part of the cultural fabric. You can hate the Yankees, but you can't deny their significance and their record of achievement.

Can't Help But Laugh At It: Every time Roger Clemens goes out and rubs the brass plaque nose of Babe Ruth before he takes the field, his stagy deliberateness cheapens the place.

Mr. Yankee: Once upon a time we would have said Joe DiMaggio, but Mickey Charles Mantle has aged better somehow.

Mr. Heartbreak: Carl Pavano (actually it's more like Mr. Mud)

Franchise High Water Mark: 26 of them

Moment You'll Never Let Go Of: Yankees stage two straight ninth-inning comebacks to take a 3-2 lead in the 2001 World Series

Stink They Can't Shake: Luis Gonzalez squirting a game-winning single past a drawn-in infield in Game 7 of that same 2001 World Series. As our friend Buster Olney said: "Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty"

Stink That Never Stuck: They lost four straight ALCS games to the Red Sox in 2004, the worst flop in baseball history, and they're still perceived as winners, perennial contenders every year.

Time Capsule Moment: "Billy, you're hired"

Old School Line: Yogi Berra, 1950 -- 28 home runs, 124 RBIs, .322/.383/.533, plus 55 walks and only 12 strikeouts in 597 at-bats. Forget cute and daft, forget charming and bemusing. Yogi was a stud.

New School Line: Alex Rodriguez, 2007 -- 52 home runs, 140 RBIs, .318/.424/.672, and we've got 20 games to go. Never mind ... by comparison, Yogi is charming and bemusing.

Most likeable: Paul O'Neill

Least: Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie!

Stance: Mickey Rivers

Samsonian Source of Power: Oscar Gamble

Deep Well of Sadness: Thurman Munson

First of His Kind: In 1964 Elston Howard became the first black player to be named league MVP.

Last of His Kind: Will there ever be another Sparky Lyle?

Throwback Jerseys: yes -- Gangsta Hats: no


The Record That Will Never Be Broken: You can have Orel Hershiser's consecutive scoreless innings streak and DiMaggio's consecutive hits streak; give me the 1901 Tigers' 12 errors in one game.

Mr. Tiger: Henry Benjamin Greenberg

Mr. Heartbreak: Dennis Dale McLain

Mr. Sonofabitch: Tyrus Raymond Cobb

Mr. Baseball: Thomas Sullivan Magnum

Franchise High Water Mark: Kirk Gibson telling Sparky Anderson he was going to yak Goose Gossage, and then doing it.

Stink They Can't Shake: My money is on their pathetic collapse to a barely better-than-average Cardinals team in the World Series last year, but only time will tell.

Old School Line: Norm Cash, 1961 -- 41 home runs, 132 RBIs, .361/.487/.662 and 124 walks.

New School Line: Magglio Ordonez, 2007 -- 26 home runs, 129 RBIs, .358/.430/.590 and 70 walks.

Samsonian Source of Power: Willie Hernandez

Guys Named Willie Horton Cast In Metal Outside Comerica, But Not Used To Cheaply Besmirch Anyone's Presidential Campaign Because This Willie Horton Is Not Besmirching Anything And Is Above Besmirching His Own Self: One

Crazy Superhero Guy: Cecil Fielder

Too Bad We Have To Grow Up Eventually Guy: Cecil Fielder

Double-Secret Mojo Bonus X Factor: Dirt on Kenny Roger's hand

Rule of Law: Absolutely no Guitar Hero after opening day


The First All-Star: Bruce Bochte

The First Standout Performance: Mike Parrott, after winning his Opening Day start in 1980, proceeded to lose 16 straight games

Mr. Mariner: George Kenneth Griffey Jr.

Mr. Heartbreak: George Kenneth Griffey Jr.

Franchise High Water Mark: Griffey rounding third and scoring the winning run in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS over the Yankees

Stink They Can't Shake: 2001 American League Championship Series

Most Popular: Bones

Least: No. 13 in pinstripes

Old School Line: Mario Mendoza, 1979 -- 1 home run, 29 RBIs, .198/.216/.249, 3 stolen bases, 74 hits

New School Line: Ichiro Suzuki, 2007 -- 6 home runs, 59 RBIs, .350/.395/.433, 37 stolen bases, 210 hits

Acceptable Throwback Jerseys: Griffey Jr., Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner, Mark Langston, Edgar Martinez, and if you can get your hands on one, a 1982 Bill Caudill

Name Too Good To Be True: J.J. Putz

Why The Baseball Gods Will One Day Smile Upon Them, All Evidence Thus Far To The Contrary: 20-plus years of time served in the Kingdome

What They Lack And Had Once: Jim Presley's eye-black, Gorman Thomas' stubble, Rupert Jones' teeth, Phil Bradley's serioiusness and Gaylord Perry's junk

Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2. You can reach him here.



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