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Really, Angels?  Really, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?  I’ve always had respect for your franchise, but really?

I mean, Albert Pujols is the greatest player in the last decade, but really – a 10-year, $252 million contract?

I can understand how the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez for almost the same contract before the 2001 season, but that was for a 25-year old.

I love Albert Pujols.  He’s a class act, but his best years are behind him.  Oh sure, he might pull off a few more great years (30+ HR, 100+ RBI, .375+ OBP), but not anywhere near 10 years worth.

The Angels signing Pujols for 10 years is like buying your buddy’s Camaro with 100,000 miles on it for the original sticker price.  It’s still a great car, but its best years are behind it.

There is the chance Pujols will pull a Hank Aaron on us and play one of his best seasons at the age of 39.  However, even the great Aaron was a shell of his self after he hit 40.  Ten years from now the Angels will be paying $25 million a year to a washed-up legend.

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“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

I originally thought of commenting on the World Series, but then realized that every baseball writer in the United States would be doing that.  Instead, I ask the question to every passionate baseball fan that I ask myself after the final out of the World Series: now what?  I don’t enjoy any other sport a tenth as much as I enjoy baseball.  What am I supposed to occupy myself with until spring training?  George Will summed up my opinion of football pretty well when he said, “football combines the two worst aspects of American society: violence punctuated with committee meetings.”  I do enjoy a good live basketball game, but can’t stand to watch the first three quarters of any NBA game or even the first 30 minutes of a college matchup (It also doesn’t help that my two teams – the Timberwolves and Gophers – aren’t at the top of their games lately.

Another sport isn’t going to hold me off.  I’ve come to accept this and have figured out the best ways to enjoy baseball without a single (meaningful) box score to look at until opening day.

Literature
By the end of the World Series, I’m in no way tired of watching baseball, but I am tired of staring the television for three hours a night and watching endless ads for ED drugs, beer and politicians who seem to think if I vote for their opponent, the United States will quickly come under Nazi regime.  There might be a two or three-day vacation from the game until I need my fix.  This is usually when I pick up some sort of baseball biography from my bookshelf or the library.  There is an almost endless number of books on baseball and rarely do I not enjoy one.  I can remember reading nine baseball books one offseason.

I sometimes wonder if I appreciate baseball more in the offseason when I read these books and the game is played out within my imagination.  I can imagine aspects of the game I was never able to see like Roberto Clemente throwing out a runner trying to get from first to third on a single, Babe Ruth hitting home runs at will and then downing a dozen hot dogs and sodas after the game, Bob Uecker catching fly balls during batting practice with a tuba or Sandy Koufax’s curveball dropping like it fell off a table.

Check out my Flashlight Worthy list of great baseball books to get fans through the offseason: http://www.flashlightworthybooks.com/Great-Baseball-Books-Fans/633.

Simulations
Many baseball fans like to play video games on their game system of choice.  For me, I don’t like my team’s ability to win or play well based on how well I can use a controller or my ability to read a pitch from the cartoon on my TV screen.  I can’t stand it when I play video games and I strike out on three pitches out of the strike zone and Albert Pujols is batting.  I think, “Pujols wouldn’t do that!  I would, but if this game were realistic, it wouldn’t let Pujols swing like Bobby Bonds.”

For me, I need realism in my baseball simulations so I turn to the dice game Strat-o-Matic (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/dungeons-and-dragons-for-baseball-nerds-like-myself)  and sometimes the computer game Baseball Mogul.  Baseball Mogul doesn’t have any real graphics, but does a pretty good job of simulating baseball in the view of a manager and/or general manager/owner.  The player can go through a century with one team and make all the moves from how the game is played on the field to the price of ice cream.

Video library
If it weren’t for the invention of DVDs, my 1991 World Series videotape would probably have worn out by now.  Before I got it on DVD, there was a glitch in the tape just after Kirby Puckett’s catch at the wall in game six from my constant stopping and rewinding.  I have a number of DVDs in my library, but thanks to Netflix, I have many more at my disposal.  Through Netflix, I can rent just about every DVD released by Major League Baseball, including full games of the 1975, 1979 and many other World Series.  Many people ask me how I can watch an entire baseball game I already know the outcome of.  There’s much to learn from watching those old games from Joe Morgan’s routine before every pitch to how the commentators have evolved.  Every game is divided into chapters by half inning, so the viewer can skip to the run-scoring innings.  But that just omits the good defense and pitching.

I’ve also downloaded a number of complete games from iTunes and can watch them on my computer as I wish.  Any classic game is usually available to download within 24 hours after its completion.

There’s also the Ken Burns baseball documentary.  Despite its length of over 18 hours, I seem to watch every winter.

Offseason news
I keep an eye on certain website’s baseball news like Ted Williams watched every pitched ball of his career.  As I go online, I go straight to sites like Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated and the Star Tribune.  Of course, I have these sites bookmarked, so I skip over the main sports page and usually find out how the Packers and Vikings via eavesdropping.

The negative aspect of the around-the-clock news on the internet is that official news rarely comes as a surprise to fans anymore.  When Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Phillies, the rumors had been flying for some time before it was announced.  Even after the rumors comes the news that there is going to be a press conference the next day and so-and-so is expected to be announced as the newest member of their new organization.  Minor trades and free agent signings still happen quickly to the fan, but I’m pretty sure there will be weeks of speculation before Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford sign with anyone this offseason.

Anything else
Whatever else I can do in the offseason to hold me over, I do.  I’ve gone to Twins Fest, an annual get together at the Metrodome which features current and former players as well as way too many merchandisers.  On occasion, I’ll grab my wood bat and take a few swings at the local indoor batting cages.  This usually results in waking up the next morning wondering why my ribs are so sore.  Twice I’ve flown to Arizona to watch spring training games.  My only issue with this is I wish it were in January.  By March, I’m less than a month from opening day and the weather in Wisconsin is beginning to thaw.  It’s the days in January when the high temperature is 2 and the sports pages are filled with the football playoffs that I really need an escape.

A longer offseason than usual for me
On a personal note, I will be moving to Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer in January.  As far as I know, there is no baseball in Thailand.  How will I cope?  I don’t know other than reading books and keeping a close eye on the news via the internet.  Aside from friends and family, I know baseball will be what I miss the most.

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The home run is overrated.  It’s especially overrated after the last 15 years of baseball when the 600 home run club went from three members to seven.  It’s overrated and it’s overdone.  I can understand how veterans like Ty Cobb scoffed at the new fame of Babe Ruth.  The home run requires little strategy – hit the ball over the fence and everyone one base and yourself scores a run.  The home run is a rally killer.  Your team is getting walks and hits and then someone hits a home run.  Sure, the team just scored at least one run, but if there was anyone on base, there isn’t anymore.   

Now, when a player spanks a double into the gap, that’s excitement.  A double into the gap or corner or off the wall brings at least two runs home with the bases loaded and when it’s over, there’s at least one man left standing in scoring position.  There are more possibilities for the on-deck hitter after a double.  To paraphrase Bull Durham, it’s more democratic.  Home runs are fascist.  

The walls of Fenway Park have contained many doubles over the years - just ask Speaker and Webb.

 

There’s mystery to a double.  There’s speed to a double.  There’s hustle in a double and yes, there is some power involved too, but in moderation.  Doubles down the line are usually within a few feet of being outs – a hard line drive just past a diving first of third baseman’s glove and into the corner.  Doubles in the gap create a whirlwind of outfielders scrambling for the ball before it hits the wall.  Sometimes doubles can be, unfortunately, disappointing, when they bounce off the outfield wall.  Television commentators talk about how close the double was to a home run as numerous replays are shown.   

Most baseball fans will tell you who owns the single-season home run record.  They’ll also tell you who owns the all time home run record.  Unfortunately, it’s the same person: Barry Bonds.  Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 and 762 for his career – two records that, I hope, are never broken.  I don’t wish them to remain because of the person who hit them, but I’m not a big fan of the home run and would prefer more strategy and … doubles!  

Few baseball fans will tell you who is the single-season or all time leader in doubles.  Can you guess?  

These are records I want to see broken in my lifetime.  The double is immune to the size of the ballpark.  It’s more difficult to hit a home run in Safeco Field or Petco Park, but the double can still thrive in such spacious outfields.  Because of this, the doubles records will be broken.  But who will celebrate such a miniscule milestone?  With the home run numbers falling (thankfully), the double should be celebrated.  

Tris Speaker’s all time doubles record of 792 can be broken, but it won’t be easy.  Speaker spent 22 seasons compiling a record that has stood since 1925 when he passed Napoleon Lajoie.  Speaker spent nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox, followed by 11 in Cleveland, one in Washington and his final season with the Philadelphia Athletics.  At the age of 35, the Indians’ outfielder hit a career best, 59 doubles to go with his 133 RBI, 130 runs scored and a .380-.469-.610 offensive line.   

Tris Speaker's career doubles record has been approached and can be broken.

 

One might think a record that’s been held since 1925 won’t be approached by today’s players who play a much different game.  No, it can be broached and Pete Rose nearly did it.  Rose smacked 746 two baggers in his career.  Of course, Rose hit his last double in 1986.  Can any of today’s player’s approach the record?  Craig Biggio did.  The longtime Astro hit 668 doubles (5th all time) in the era of the home run.  Biggio didn’t play by the Selig era rules and he will be rewarded for this when it’s his turn to go to Cooperstown.    

Other players to retire in the last twenty years in the top fifteen are George Brett (665, 6th), Paul Molitor (605, 11th), Cal Ripken (603, 13th), Bonds (601, 14th) and Luis Gonzalez (596, 15th).   

Speaker’s 85-year old record can be broken and there are a few active players with a shot.  The active leader in doubles is Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez with 562.  Pudge is in the twilight of his career at the age of 38 and will probably not approach Speaker.  Alex Rodriguez, the newest member of the 600 home run club, has 469 doubles.  He’d need 323 more to eclipse Speaker, which would average out to 50 doubles over the next six and a half seasons.  This seems much more unlikely than A-Rod passing Bonds on the home run list (please don’t).   

Then there’s the case of the great Albert Pujols.  The St. Louis first baseman has 410 two baggers and he’s still only 30 years old.  Pujols would need 382 to tie Speaker.  This averages out to about 40 doubles a year for nine and a half more seasons.  Through nine full seasons, Pujols has averaged 43 a season.  Speaker’s record is possible, but still not likely unless Pujols  proves to be the next Hank Aaron and hardly declines through his thirties.  

There’s the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera with 283 at the age of 27.  He’s averaged 36 doubles in his first seven seasons.  If Cabrera kept up this average through 13 seasons, he’d have 789, three short of Speaker.  Cabrera has thirty this season already.   

David Wright is just behind Cabrera with 248 and is the same age.   

The truth is, a player needs an early start (Speaker was 19 when he broke in with Boston and 21 when he played his first full season) and needs a lot of plate appearances (Speaker had nearly 12,000) to approach the record.   

But there is the possibility of the single-season doubles record held by little known Earl Webb.  Webb knocked 67 doubles in 1931 for the Red Sox.  The most he hit in any other season was 30 in 1930.  Webb’s doubles record sounds similar to Roger Maris’ former single-season home run record – one and done.   

The closest a modern player has come to approaching the single-season record was Todd Helton in 2000 when he hit 59 doubles.  Carlos Delgado hit 57 in the same season and Garrett Anderson (2002), Craig Biggio (1999), Nomar Garciaparra (2002) and Brian Roberts (2009) all hit 56.  I remember rooting for the Twins’ Chuck Knoblauch in 1994 to break the record before the strike stopped the season.  The Minnesota second baseman had 45 through 109 games.   

A modern player can top Webb’s 79-year old mark.  A player such as Roberts, Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria or Jason Werth.  It will take a lot of plate appearances, so a batting spot in the top three would be beneficiary.  The right ballpark also helps and judging by Speaker and Webb’s records, Fenway Park is a doubles park.  Based on these factors, Pedroia has the most going for him.  He had 54 in his MVP season of 2008 and 48 the following year.  Injuries have slowed his attempts this year, but he’s still only 26.   

Home run statistics became as overdone as the reality television.  It’s time to focus on the double.  

If anyone can approach Webb's single-season record, it's Dustin Pedroia.

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