By Ernie Palladino
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I’ll let you in on a little secret if you promise not to tell.
A sportswriter’s rooting interest is a lot different than a fans’. We’re not supposed to root for players or teams. It shouldn’t really matter to us whether the Yankees win the World Series or the Jets winding up in last place, or any other team falling anywhere in between. We’re rooting for stories, good ones, regardless of the laundry.
That’s what made Thursday afternoon so satisfying when R.A. Dickey won his 20th game, a 6-5 victory over the Pirates that will now stand along with David Wright’s breaking of Ed Kranepool’s franchise hits record the day before as one of two highlights to an utterly lost season.
And that’s why Miguel Cabrera, who plays his home games in Detroit and has about as much to do with this New York-flavored blog as Chicago-style hot dogs, has become a favorite in this household.
You see, Dickey is just a real good guy. That whole journeyman vibe he has going on, and the way he accepts and handles it just emits those “good-for-you” emotions. Sure, the Wilpons have run their franchise into the ground, but Dickey rose above it all, far above it, to throw that peculiarly swift, 80 MPH knuckler well enough to become the Mets’ first 20-game winner in 22 years.
Want to know how rare that is for a Met? In that span, the Yanks produced six 20-game winners. And Dickey became just the sixth Met in franchise history to have a 20-win season.
He’ll never reach the Hall of Fame like Tom Seaver, but what a heart-warming accomplishment for a humble and nice old guy. Hence, the rooting interest.
Even at that, though, 22 years is nothing compared to the wait for a Triple Crown winner. That’s where the Tigers’ third baseman comes in. Who doesn’t love a nice slice of history, right? And Cabrera winning the Triple Crown just symbolize franchise history, but baseball history.
There just hasn’t been a player to lead a league in batting average, homers, and RBIs since Carl Yastrzemski did it for Boston in 1967. That’s 45 years if you’re keeping score.
There’s no saying Cabrera is going to do it, either. But his numbers are close enough that we can dream. He’s eight up in the RBI column, making him all but a lock there. His 42 homers sit one behind Josh Hamilton of Texas.
Cabrera’s .326 average? That’s just above Joe Mauer’s .323.
Having a Triple Crown winner would be a nice way to end it, and we won’t even be angry at the super-evolved sourpusses who see it as an empty honor. They’ll cite the superior modern statistics general managers, coaches, and even fans judge their players by today. Back in 1967, On-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage were still decades from appearing in the baseball lexicon. So was WAR, a sabermetrician’s dream stat that gauges how many wins a player’s team would have if he was replaced by a player of lesser quality.
In other words, his overall worth.
The fact remains, though, that finishing first in homers, RBI, and BA is hard. Very hard. If it wasn’t, we’d have had a string of Triple Crown winners by now.
We don’t. So now that Cabrera is on the cusp, he becomes a rooting interest. When somebody does something no one else has done for nearly half a century, it’s history worthy of note.
Same with Dickey. He gave us something to feel good about Thursday.
Maybe Cabrera will give us something else to rejoice next week.
Go ahead. You know you want to root for that.
Are you pulling for Cabrera to make history? Be heard in the comments below!