Swing and a Myth

Baseball's extraordinary season was staged by a mix of good and bad guys.

Exhibit B: Rickey, Sammy and Ichiro. The aforementioned Mr. Henderson, who has been playing major-league baseball since 1979, not only passed Ty Cobb's record for runs scored (2,245), but he got his 3,000th hit and, by all accounts, pissed off his 4,000th reporter. Good for him on all counts. As for the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa, the bridesmaid in 1998's home-run chase, he hit 64 more long balls in 2001, making him the first player to belt 60 in each of three seasons. Meanwhile, the hapless Cubs blew another big lead in the National League Central and wound up a distant third behind Houston and St. Louis. In baseball, some things never change. As if to rub salt in the wound, Lou Piniella's Seattle Mariners won 116 games, equaling a record set way back in 1906 by, you guessed it, the Chicago Cubs. Seattle is a powerful, well-balanced team despite its losses, in consecutive seasons, of its three major stars: flamethrower Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson, centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. and shortstop Alex Rodriguez. This year the team was led by a slender Japanese import named Ichiro Suzuki, who in his rookie season here led the American League in batting (.350), hits (242) and stolen bases (56). Here's the best part: Former big-league reliever Rob Dibble, an Ichiro skeptic, announced on ESPN that if the newcomer won the batting title, he would run around Times Square naked. Don't let the wind get up your butt, Dibs.

Exhibit C: On the Rox. Dan O'Dowd, captain of the Titanic, races through the North Atlantic ice fields with nary a worry for the safety of his vessel. Alas, she struck another iceberg this year. The Colorado Rockies, having undergone four major roster shakeups in two years, finished last (again) in the National League West, nineteen games back, and their latest set of multimillionaire pitching failures, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle (both World Series starters last year), went 14-13 and 9-8, respectively. Inexplicably, O'Dowd sent veteran catcher Brent Mayne packing in June, followed by pitchers Pedro Astacio and Ron Villone, outfielder Ron Gant and infielders Todd Walker and Neifi Perez. The result? A two-month, 10-35 slide into oblivion from which the team never recovered. But, hey, All-Star outfielder Larry Walker won his third NL batting title in four years with .350, and first baseman Todd Walker finished second at .336. So what? The Rockies' gruesome 73-89 record doesn't bode well for a club that will likely stand pat next year in terms of payroll ($65 million) and personnel. Better get the band up on E-deck, Cap'n, and tell 'em to play their hearts out.

Exhibit D: Tony and Rip and Oh, Danny Boy. While the last of the game's great one-team, one-town players, San Diego's Tony Gwynn and Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr., were taking retirement bows in their respective leagues, a twelve-year-old named Danny Almonte, from the Dominican Republic by way of the Bronx, was pitching no-hitters and perfect games in the Little League World Series like the second coming of Nolan Ryan. Just one problem: The unhittable Danny was actually fourteen, a product of parental chicanery. The overage hurler's team was stripped of its playoff wins and promptly sent home. Luckily, the victimized child was taken in by a famous fellow Dominican, the great Sammy Sosa, who promised to oversee his future in baseball. Who knows? By the time little Danny turns seventeen (whenever that is), maybe he can help the Cubs win their first pennant in more than half a century. Until then, we'll have to make do with baseball's usual collection of scoundrels and ordinary men.

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