August 2010

Nationals should honor retired Expos numbers

PHOENIX — The Nationals will be opening the doors to their Montreal
past next Tuesday night when they honor Andre Dawson before the game
against the Marlins in Washington. Dawson, who was inducted into the
National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25, played his first 11 seasons
for the Expos, the franchise that moved to the nation’s capital after
the 2004 season.

Dawson and fellow Hall of Famer Gary Carter will
be at Nationals Park next week. Tim Raines, who is managing the independent Minor League
Newark Bears, has also been invited.
 
It would be fitting if the
Nationals recognize their retired numbers. Before the team’s demise
after 36 seasons in Quebec, the Expos retired three numbers representing
four of their key players: Rusty, The Hawk, The Kid and The Rock.

Rusty Staub and Dawson each wore No. 10, Carter wore No. 8 and Raines wore No. 30.

A
local rap artist named Annakin Slayd, who attended Expos games at Olympic Stadium as a kid
until the time the team left, produced an emotional video about the team’s
history that’s worth watching.

The Hawk, though, hasn’t been told whether his number is being re-retired and the Nationals haven’t been definitive. Like Carter before him, Dawson went into the Hall with the Expos logo engraved on his plaque.

Since
the move, the Nationals have allowed other players to wear those numbers. It would be
like the Los Angeles Dodgers using the numbers of their retired Brooklyn
players or the San Francisco Giants disregarding the memories of their
New York era. That hasn’t happened. Those retired numbers still stand.

It’s time for the Nationals to put their retired Expos numbers in mothballs
with that period of franchise history, honoring Rusty, The Hawk, The Kid
and The Rock.

A-Rod must fight pressure to reach 762

Alex Rodriguez will certainly reach the 600-homer plateau, whether it’s tonight, tomorrow or next week. The real question is whether A-Rod can ultimately catch and pass Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader at 762?

The fact that A-Rod has gone 12 games, 46 at bats and 51 plate appearances since he hit 599 doesn’t auger well. It’s by far the longest drought of the six players who went before him. It took Willie Mays 22 at bats at 39 in 1970 to go from 599-600. It took Ken Griffey Jr. 18 at bats at 38 in 2008.  Bonds, Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Sammy Sosa (609) took less.

“The way I’m swinging now, it’s probably going to take a while — everybody get comfortable,” the Yankees third baseman said on Saturday night.

It goes without saying that the longer it takes now, the more grueling it’s going to be later. A-Rod just turned 35 and has seven years to go on his Yankees contract that ends in 2017 at 42. That means he’ll have to average about 23 homers a year between now and then to do it.

Bonds, the Giants slugger, was 43 and playing on surgically repaired knees when he passed Aaron on Aug. 7, 2007, at AT&T Park. It took him three days from the night he tied the record in San Diego to the night he broke it against the Nationals.

Bonds, who has was born on July 24, hit 195 of his homers during the seasons in which he turned 38 to 43. And that doesn’t count the 73 he hit in 2001. His last 40-homer year was 45 at 39 in 2004. He last played in 2007. 

Aaron hit 163 homers from the ages of 37-42. His last 40-homer season was at 39 for the Braves in 1973, the year before he broke Ruth’s record. He retired in 1976.

A-Rod may have already peaked. His last 40-homer  season was 54 the year he turned 32 in 2007. Since then he’s been on a steady decline: 35 in ’08, 30 in ’09 when he missed the first month because of hip surgery, and currently 16. He’ll need a barrage of homers the last two months of this season to  hit 30 again, a mark he’s either reached or surpassed every year since 1998.

The good news for Rodriguez is that he’ll need less homers at an advanced baseball age to break the all-time record than Aaron and Bonds did before him. The bad news is that he has a nagging hip injury that somewhere down the road ultimately may lead to more surgery.

“If he stays healthy enough, if he plays the game the way he always has,
he has a great shot at it,” Bonds said about A-Rod’s chances of passing
him. “He just needs to stay focused. There are a lot of reporters
around all the time. You’ve got to separate yourself from that. You want
to do well for your teammates on top of everything else that’s swirling
around. A home run, base hit, whatever. To win the game for your team
is the most important thing.”

On the field, this is what Bonds had to overcome: He missed the last six weeks of the 1994 season because of the strike, part of the ’99 season with an elbow injury, almost all of the ’05 season because of the knee injuries, and walked a record 2,558 times. Despite all that and a plethora of off-field pressures and problems, he broke the record.

As far as A-Rod is concerned, the health issue is the first caveat. Let’s add this second: He better learn to deal with the media attention and the accruing pressure or he’s certainly not going to make it. If it’s taking him this long to get to 600, when he gets to 762 he doesn’t realize what he’ll be facing.

 

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