Author Archive

Pete Alonso is Hitting Into the Winds of Fate

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 »

How Many Home Runs Are the Product of Magic?

The Yankees and Red Sox were playing the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium in May of 1929 when the skies opened and a sudden deluge soaked the fans in attendance. So alarmed were they by this sudden change in the weather that the fans began a “human stampede” for the exit, killing two people and injuring 70 others, including 14 young boys.

Babe Ruth heard about the incident and did what he did best: Promised to hit home runs. One for each of those boys, he swore, to help their bumped heads and bruised sternums ache a little less.

“Now there’s a real boy’s hero,” wrote one newspaper in a glowing review of the gesture.1

It took Ruth until July 17 to fulfill that promise, but he likely made it with the confidence that he was Babe Ruth, and in most seasons, he was going to hit a ton of home runs anyway. With it being only May, he still had a few dozen in him, so why not dedicate the next 14 to a couple of fellows who’d almost been trampled to death?

For anyone other than Ruth in May, promising home runs can be a gamble. Aaron Judge took the risk on August 25, though with much less on the line; his home run promise was made to an unflattened adult man sitting in Dodger Stadium’s most expensive seats. Playing in Los Angeles, Judge shared a moment with John Brown, the father of Yankees catching coach Jason Brown, and, according to Judge, with a twinkle in his eye, “I told him I’d get one [that night].” Read the rest of this entry »

How to Dance with a Little League Umpire

Editor’s note: Justin has previously written at The Hardball Times, among other outposts of the baseball internet, including The Good Phight and Baseball Prospectus. He’ll now add contributing to FanGraphs to that list. We’re excited to welcome him.

This dance only has a couple moves, and they go like this:

One partner, the coach, mutters or shouts an invitation for the other partner, the umpire, to dance with him. The umpire should not — and likely won’t — accept.

Not at first.

He must listen, certainly, and he must hear. He must register every mean or vile thing that comes out of the coach’s mouth. But he must also not hear them. Because it is not time to make his move.

Not yet.

It’s still the coach’s turn to dance. He flails his arms. He stomps his feet. And then, finally, the umpire makes two moves — the only two he’s got.

The first one can be a few things: A whisper. A head cock. Maybe a request for the coach to dance a little longer. Just one more step. Just one more word. Just so the ump can see if he’ll do it.

And if the coach obliges, the ump makes his other move.

He points up and out at the horizon, and tells the coach the dance is over. He can go off somewhere in the direction the ump just pointed. It doesn’t matter where. But he’s got to go now. Because the dance is done, even though the music’s still playing.

With all the chest-pounding, finger-pointing, eye-bulging, and hands-on-hipping we see from major league umpires, it can appear a less graceful, a less coordinated dance than it actually is. But down in the little leagues, all of the mental alertness and situational awareness umpiring requires can be, by necessity, more clearly on display. Read the rest of this entry »