At the end of August, the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested that Mets rookie sensation Pete Alonso and Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins could be the next generation’s greatest player rivalry in the NL East. At that point, Alonso was slugging a hundred points higher than Hoskins and had almost 20 more home runs on the season. Unlike Alonso, Hoskins regularly slips away from the Phillies lineup, disappearing for weeks at a time: There’s streaky, there’s bad luck, and then there’s hitting under .230 in the clean-up spot for three months.
Meanwhile, Alonso broke the Mets’ single-season home run record on the first pitch he saw against Yu Darvish on August 27. If all Alonso had done was break the record, the only history we’d have to mention is from the recent past: Carlos Beltran and Todd Hundley held the previous Mets record, 41, having set it in 2006 and 1996, respectively. But because of Alonso’s rookie status, his accomplishment is made even more distinct.
You only get one season to set rookie records — or set records as a rookie — and through that slim window, Alonso has slipped his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame. This is due in part to his classification by baseball scientists as a “pure hitter.” Determining what is meant by this term usually leads to a loudly shouted or frantically typed mention of historic figures like Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. The eyes of baseball puritans light up when talk begins of Alonso “pure-hitting” like sluggers did back in the good old days, when pure-hitting was America’s pastime, along with losing everything on the stock market and the rampant abuse of benzedrine.
Anyone who has swung a bat can tell you what a pure hit feels like: when timing, mechanics, and strength align to allow the barrel of the bat to connect with the sweet spot of the ball. But being a pure hitter means doing all that more than once. To make the impression of a Pete Alonso, you’ve got to keep doing it within the span of one season — your first season facing big-league pitching. Alonso is doing just that, and you have to go back pretty far to the find the last guy who did: Johnny Rizzo, in 1938 for the Pirates — a man who gives us a historical post to which we can tie Alonso’s accomplishments, while also viewing them through the filter of… well, being on the Mets. Read the rest of this entry »