TGIF: A baseball season that’s one for the stat books

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

“Baseball is back!”

That’s the headline seen on numerous sports stories this spring. The problem, however, is that it’s the same headline used 11 months ago. While Major League Baseball teams did play an abbreviated 60-game regular season starting in late July 2020, the fans weren’t allowed “back” into the stands until the playoffs — and then only in relatively small numbers.

With COVID-19 vaccinations now readily available, the fans are indeed returning to baseball, and they’re being seated at 100 percent capacity in many stadiums across the land.

 “Across the land” in this case includes only the United States of America, because the Toronto Blue Jays still aren’t occupying their friendly confines in Canada. Instead, they will again play their “home” games across the border in New York, at the home field of their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo. The news in 2021, however, is that beginning this month, Blue Jays fans are being allowed to enter at a reduced capacity — a maximum of about 4,000. Still, that’s progress.

Your Texas Rangers opened the 2021 season in April with all 40,000-plus seats available, although protocols remained in place. Now, two months later, it appears the team has set aside for social-distancing only three small sections in deep left field — the “cheap seats” made famous by Bob Uecker. Normalcy has apparently returned, at least for now, and as long as COVID-19 statistics remain on a downward trend.

Speaking of statistics, if ever there was a sport for lovers of statistics, baseball is it. Without question, followers of football, hockey, basketball, and every other game people play keep statistics. But in baseball, especially Major League Baseball, it has always bordered on excessive. We wallow in them.

And I say “we” because there was a time, in my youth, when the word “wallow” described my approach. Growing up in North Carolina, I was a New York Yankees fan. I understand that for baseball aficionados, there’s no middle ground when it comes to the Yankees. You either love ‘em, or you hate ‘em. In Texas, it’s usually the latter.

My fondness for the Yankees has waned since relocating from North Carolina to Texas decades ago, but in my defense, it was the era of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra.

Generally, the regional allegiance of my friends at the time in my former home state fell to the Senators in Washington, D.C. That was before the Braves were established in Atlanta in 1965. The Washington team moved to Minnesota in 1961, and a new team landed in the nation’s capital. But it relocated to Arlington as the Texas Rangers in 1972. Then the Montreal Expos went to Washington in 2004. Baseball fans in the Carolinas had to choose between teams again.

The Cleveland Indians also owned a piece of my baseball heart back then. The city where we lived boasted a Carolina League team affiliated with Cleveland.

If this sounds like I’m getting bogged down in minutia, welcome to the world of baseball.

Memories of my childhood love of Major League Baseball returned while reading reports from two home games this spring in which opposing teams’ pitchers unfortunately notched no-hitters against the Rangers. Coverage of those games was filled with statistics about no-hitters because as this is being written, the league had already seen six no-hitters this season, including the two against the Rangers.

Then, days later, news broke that MLB umpire Joe West, age 75, had set a record by working his 5,376th career game. Who knew someone kept such statistics?

It’s baseball. Why am I surprised?

My sister and I continue to sort through dusty boxes retrieved from our parents’ house after it was vacated two years ago. I’ve been hoping to find the paperback book chock-full of baseball rules and statistics that I had all but committed to memory in junior high school. I’ve not found it, so perhaps it didn’t survive. Either way, the information in that book would be almost 60 years outdated now.

It’s been more than 30 years since I last attended a Major League Baseball game, and that was when the Rangers hosted the San Diego Padres. I recall that the Rangers won, but the primary thing I remember involves the antics of the San Diego Chicken mascot. Fans enjoy much more than just baseball when they attend a game in person.

If you’re keeping stats at home, and even if you’re not, the semi-retired Chicken presented some flowers to umpire Joe West at his record-breaking game on May 25. It’s curious how these things circle around.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.