The first year I ever followed baseball was the season in which Carl Yastrzemski won the triple crown.
The year before that, in 1966, Frank Robinson managed the same feat in the American League
And since then, no one for 44 seasons before this. No one even close.
But with three days left in the major league schedule, it is entirely possible that Matt Kemp, in this crazy mixed-up, near bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers season, could wind up as batting champion, home run leader and RBI king of the National League. He is that close.
And that is the most compelling story to follow in the final days of the regular season. Especially for those old enough to remember the magic of Yastrzemski and Robinson. As of Saturday, Kemp led the NL in RBIs, was tied for the lead in home runs and was just percentage points behind in batting average ó in a one-man race that looks like it will go right down to the wire.
In Yastrzemskiís big year, he hit .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBIs for the pennant-winning Red Sox. In Robinsonís biggest year, he hit .316 with 49 homers and 122 RBIs for the Orioles. Kemp, heading into Saturday night, had very similar numbers: A .326 batting average with 37 homers and 119 RBIs. After Sundayís game with San Diego, the Dodgers finish up with three games in Arizona. The games mean little to the Diamondbacks but the world to the powerful Kemp and his chase with history.
THIS AND THAT
Still donít understand Dean Lombardiís stance on Drew Doughty. With Doughty, he has a Stanley Cup contender. Without him, he has nothing close. The Los Angeles Kings general manager went on radio to say he canít afford to overpay Doughty. He said this, having committed $8 million US this season to Simon Gagne and Dustin Penner. Itís not that he canít pay Doughty more. Itís that he wonít ... Some Kings people, by the way, think this contract negotiation has gotten personal. The Kings say they wonít pay Doughty more than they pay Anze Kopitar, who used to be a client of Don Meehanís. Meehan is now insisting that Doughty be paid more than Kopitar ... Finally, a feel-good story in a hockey world in need of a feel-good story: Ben Fanelli, the kid so badly injured in the Michael Liambis mess of a few years back, has returned to play for the Kitchener Rangers ... At least one NHL GM is saying Sidney Crosby is closer to being ready to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins than the Pens are letting on ... And how about this? Sixteen-year-old Max Domi scored three goals in his Ontario Hockey League debut with the London Knights. For the record, his dad, Tie Domi, managed just one goal in his shortened first junior season at Peterborough ... If poor Brendan Shanahan is going to produce a video to explain every suspension he doles out this season, he may be on camera more often than Dr. Ho.
HEAR AND THERE
I donít have a vote for MVP in the American League, but if I did, Jose Bautista would be no better than fourth, in spite of having a superb season. Iíd have to decide between Curtis Granderson of the Yankees and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox for the first spot and then slide in Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander ahead of Bautista in third place. Bautistaís numbers, as great as they are ó and really, how many were expecting 42 home runs to follow up his 54-homer season ó trailed off after the all-star game. He batted just .255 in the second half, with 11 homers and 36 RBIs. In the second half, where pennants are won and MVPs born, Ellsbury hit 18 homers, knocked in 15 more runs, hit .322 with a much higher OPS. Granderson had a stronger second half, as well, with 20 more RBIs than Bautista, five more home runs, and a higher batting average and OPS ... Why do Toronto baseball fans boo Vernon Wells? They should cheer the fact that he waived his no-trade clause and allowed the Jays to move him. Wasnít Toronto all over Mats Sundin when he wouldnít allow the Leafs to move him? ... There are five teams with worse earned run averages than the Blue Jays: None of them have more than 70 wins ... Moneyball is a better book than it is a concept: If the Oakland Aís didnít have Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito to base their rotation around, all the rest of the scouting machinations would have been meaningless.
SCENE AND HEARD
Isnít it just a bit tortuous to celebrate the 1991 Argos championship team in front of this 2011 dismal bunch? Compare then and now: They had Matt Dunigan. Todayís Argos have Steven Jyles, and before that Cleo Lemon. They had Pinball Clemons, Rocket Ismail, Darrell K. Smith and Paul Masotti. Todayís Argos have Jeremaine Copeland, Brandon Rideau and Andre Durie. They won 14 consecutive home games over two seasons: Todayís Argos have played 14 home games over two seasons ... This will drive the oldtimers crazy: There is no need for any tag day for the retiring Mike Modano. His career earnings: More than $75 million ... Only in the CFL is this possible: One player on the Montreal Alouettes is suing another player on the Alouettes for $15,000 for what, in essence, was a lousy investment ... The absolute best free-agent signing of 2010: The Tigers brought in closer Jose Valverde, who has been a perfect 47-for-47 in save situations this season. By comparison, the Blue Jays have blown 25 saves ... The crafty Robinson Cano is being walked so often these days that the Yankees are considering moving him up in the batting order for the post-season.
AND ANOTHER THING
Toronto has never truly recovered from the baseball strike of 1994. It makes me wonder, how sports fans will react to a season without the NBA in Toronto? Will it alter the Raptors future the way it has altered everything that is Blue Jays? ... Iíve gotten this far in the column without a word about the Maple Leafs. I think this represents a first of some kind ... When Ismail signed with the Argos, I had a sit-down interview with owner Bruce McNall. I asked him what he did for a living. He hemmed and hawed about collectibles, movies and coins. So I asked him: Whatís your main business? He still danced around it. The interview ended. It wasnít until years later I understood what he was saying and not saying ... If Colby Rasmus is such a steal, why is he hitting 60 points less with the Blue Jays (.185) than he hit in St. Louis, where the Cards thought he was slumping? .... Happy birthday to Bob McAdoo (60), Carol Vadnais (66), Calvin Johnson (26), Scottie Pippen (46), Ian Tyson (78), Cheryl Tiegs (64) and Chauncey Billups (35) ... And, hey, whatever became of Wonderful Monds III?
MODANO THE BEST AMERICAN? NOT QUITE
Almost from the moment Mike Modano announced he was retiring, the discussion began: Who is the best American hockey player ever? And where does Modano fit on that list?
In looking at American players, you begin with the Hall of Famers, Brian Leetch and Pat LaFontaine, and Chris Chelios, who is going to the Hall. They would be in my top three. I donít include Brett Hull as an American (he played his youth hockey in Canada) and even though heís in the Hall, canít consider Joey Mullen in the top five, either.
If Iím ranking, it would be 1. Leetch; 2. Chelios; 3. LaFontaine; 4. Modano; 5. An oldtimer, Frankie Brimsek. He won the Vezina Trophy twice while playing for the Boston Bruins and the Stanley Cup twice in the the late 1930s, early í40s. All of my top five are in the Hall of Fame, or will be.
SECOND THOUGHTS ON LIND
The numbers may look good enough at the end of the season, but what do they really reveal about Adam Lind?
The full season of statistics make it look like heís a solid, dependable middle-of-the-lineup power hitter for a big league club.
But the second-half numbers are troubling for the Blue Jays first baseman. While maintaining his cleanup position, Lind hit just .204 after the all-star game. He had only 34 RBIs in the second half. His on-base percentage was an embarrassing .242 and his OPS, the stat du jour in big league ball, was a slight .611. At the end of last season, Lind left doubts about what kind of hitter he was going to be and all that changed in the first half of this season. But his post all-star game performance makes you wonder: What exactly do the Jays have going forward?
ROMERO VS. VERLANDER
As Justin Verlander cruises along to a Cy Young season and possibly the American League MVP award, little is being said about what Ricky Romero has done with the Blue Jays. But you realize what kind of second half Romero has experienced when you put his numbers right beside those of Verlander, prior to both starting games Saturday night.
8-2 W-L 12-1
95.0 IPs 93.0
64 H 65
30 ER 26
11 HR 10
191 AVG VS .193
1.02 WHIP 0.97