No other sport loves its records in the way that baseball does. Baseball, from the beginning, has lent itself to being tracked by statistics, and it’s almost impossible to talk about baseball without discussing its numbers. Certain numbers are held in particularly high esteem, which is why so many people remain unwilling to accept Barry Bonds as the legitimate all-time leader in single-season home runs. The record is considered too sacred to be held by someone who bent or broke the rules. The all-time hits record is also something sacred, and an international conversation developed as Ichiro Suzuki plugged away. He surpassed Pete Rose in career professional hits, counting his hits in Japan, but Rose was defensive about it, arguing that combining the numbers isn’t fair. Rose has built much of his identity around being the Hit King, and most of us would act defensive when we perceive we’re under threat.
Rose cares about his records. He cares about his legacy. Yet, he lost a record Monday night. I have yet to see a statement or an interview. Maybe he doesn’t care, or maybe he doesn’t know. But as of yesterday, Pete Rose no longer ranks in first place on a major-league leaderboard.
The Yankees beat the Rays, 5-1, powered by a five-run top of the fourth that, for Jake Odorizzi, spiraled out of control. Jacoby Ellsbury came up to bat after the inning was extended by a two-out error on a ball off the bat of Matt Holliday. Ellsbury took a first-pitch strike, then a second-pitch ball. Then a third-pitch strike, then a fourth-pitch ball. The fifth pitch was another ball, setting up a full count. On the sixth pitch, there was history. Not that you’d necessarily know it by glancing at the Yankees’ official website today.
There’s no mention of anything in the carousel.
There’s nothing in the side menu of headlines.
There’s not even anything within the game-specific headlines.
You have to scroll well down on the front page to find a mention of anything. It’s not something that’s being ignored, but it’s something that’s being buried. Maybe my own level of interest makes me the weird one. But, here, let’s watch history be made, together.
Against the sixth pitch, Ellsbury swung, and he hit a foul ball. But in so doing, he also nicked the outstretched glove of catcher Wilson Ramos, and that makes a sound. Lance Barksdale heard the sound, and immediately awarded Ellsbury first base. It was the 30th time in Ellsbury’s career he’s reached base via catcher’s interference. That moved Ellsbury out of what had been a first-place tie at 29 with Pete Rose. Third place, in baseball history, is all the way down at 18. Rose was well out ahead of the pack, but Ellsbury sprinted forward in 2016, and now he has the record to himself. The side view makes it clear how something like this can happen.
Ellsbury stands pretty far back in the box, and you can see him hitting off his back foot, in an effort to just fight the pitch away. It’s very much a two-strike swing, and with that in mind, it’s worth noting that 22 of Ellsbury’s 30 catcher’s interference calls have come in two-strike counts. That’s not a coincidence. And while there are probably borderline interference instances, where a glove is just ever so slightly grazed, there’s no mistaking this one. Sure, the catcher’s glove didn’t pop completely off, but you see Wilson Ramos react, and Ellsbury reacts, as well. That made Barksdale’s job easy. Even if he hadn’t heard the sound, there would’ve been no other reason for the two players in front of him to respond how they did.
Ellsbury’s record-setting interference made for the fourth time in his career he’s victimized the Rays. That ties them for first, with the Orioles, among his opponents. As a fun fact, Ramos was the catcher, but this year, Ramos as a hitter has drawn three interference calls, which have been the first three of his career. I don’t know what’s appropriate to send to the Hall of Fame — maybe Ellsbury’s bat, maybe Ramos’ glove, or maybe the both of them, glued together. As far as Ellsbury’s own level of interest in the record is concerned, I’d describe it as somewhere between “modest” and “completely unaware.”
Maybe he wanted to wait to celebrate until after the game was over. Anything else would be rude.
It’s somewhat fitting the record would be broken in 2017, because, in 2017, we’ve seen a higher rate of catcher’s interference calls than ever. Granted, these calls are still incredibly rare, and much of the recent spike has been Ellsbury’s own fault.
This year, Ellsbury isn’t even the leader — his four calls drawn rank him second behind Josh Reddick, who’s all the way up at seven. Reddick is one away from what used to be the all-time single-season record, before Ellsbury last season got up to 12. So Reddick is charging, but then, on the other hand, he’s 30 years old, and he’s drawn 13 calls in his career. He’s nowhere close to Ellsbury’s career total, and you wonder how close this record is to being unbreakable. It’s not actually unbreakable, as evidenced by Ellsbury catching up to and passing Rose in the first place, but there’s a huge gap between second place and third, and this isn’t the type of behavior you’d expect to see spike. Even though it’s a free ticket to first, I don’t think hitters *want* to draw an interference call. It goes against the driving spirit of masculinity, so I don’t think we’ll have hitters actively searching for gloves. That would get sniffed out pretty fast, and there would be beanballs involved.
At some point, I assume Ellsbury’s record will be passed. There’s going to be a lot of baseball, and you can never predict the changes in trends. Maybe, down the road, there’ll be a catcher’s-interference era, and everyone’s totals will inflate. Imagine how early baseball fans felt watching Babe Ruth. The Ellsbury mark isn’t untouchable, just as the Rose mark wasn’t untouchable, but then, the Rose mark stood for an awful long time. Ellsbury’s is likely to, as well, and the total might not even be all finished growing. The record for now has pushed up to 30. It could well be 31 by the morning.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.