|Friday, March 14
Expect an attack on the record books in '03
By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine
Get out your record books. Examine your all-time statistical leaders. Review the careers of Lefty Grove, Mel Ott and Spud Chandler. The Major League Baseball season opens soon, at which time the assault on some of the greatest numbers in sports will begin.
It will start where everything starts these days, the home run. From 1946 through 1959, there were no new members of the 500-home run club. The years 1967 and 1971 were the only ones in which two players hit their 500th career home run -- this season, there could be four: Sammy Sosa is one away, and Rafael Palmeiro (10), Fred McGriff (22) and Ken Griffey Jr. (32) are close, too. The 500 Club will expand from 17 to 21. Get used to it. It probably will get to 30 in 2004.
Barry Bonds, as always, will be included in the home run derby in 2003. If he hits 48, he'll pass his idol, Willie Mays, into third place on the all-time list. Also, Bonds needs seven steals for 500 all-time. He is the only 400-homer, 400-steal man in history, and now he's going for 500-500. And with 141 walks, Bonds will pass the 2,000 mark, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth into second place all-time behind Rickey Henderson.
Jeff Bagwell needs 20 home runs for 400, and Frank Thomas needs 24 and Matt Williams 26 to also get to 400. Alex Rodriguez, a 27-year-old shortstop, is two homers shy of 300. Mike Piazza is 15 homers short of Carlton Fisk's record for most home runs in history by a catcher. If Jeff Kent hits 49 homers -- a stretch, no doubt, even in Minute Maid Park -- he will break Ryne Sandberg's record for home runs as a second baseman.
There will, as usual, also be some hard swinging all across the game, led by, among others, Sosa. If he strikes out 166 times, he'll be the second player ever (behind Reggie Jackson's 2,597) with 2,000 Ks.
But the season won't be only about the hitters. Roger Clemens is seven wins away from becoming the 21st pitcher to win 300 games. After passing Lefty Grove and Early Wynn at 300, he'll go after Old Hoss Radbourn (308). It would be quite an honor for Clemens to pass a guy who made 503 career starts and completed 489 of them. If Pedro Martinez has another 20-4 season like he did in 2002, his career winning percentage will be .719, passing Spud Chandler for the highest winning percentage of any pitcher in history with at least 100 career victories.
Mike Mussina is 18 wins from 200, and David Wells is 15 short of that mark -- hopefully, that won't warrant the writing of another book. Randy Johnson is bidding for an unprecedented fifth straight Cy Young Award. Johnson is 254 strikeouts away from 4,000, and Clemens is 91 short -- only Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton are in that club. John Franco is two appearances away from becoming the eighth pitcher in history to appear in 1,000 games. If Dan Plesac gets into 66 games -- another stretch -- he'll pass Lee Smith, Kent Tekulve, Hoyt Wilhelm and Dennis Eckersley into second place all-time for games pitched. First on that list is, of course, Jesse Orosco, who soon will turn 46 but will help close games this year for the Padres.
We are in an exceptional period in major-league history. Every day, we get to see Hall of Famers, some of whom are in their prime. We're watching one of the five best players in history (Bonds), one of the top five starting pitchers (Clemens), one of the five greatest left-handers (Johnson), the greatest hitting catcher (Piazza) and, someday, the greatest shortstop of all-time (Rodriguez).
Enjoy the season. Keep an eye on the all-time leaders. And appreciate what you are watching.