When their names were first heard by baseball fans, none could imagine the polar opposite endings of the careers of Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki. A.Rod as he soon became was known seemed certain to break Babe Ruth’s home run record, maybe sooner than Aaron or Bonds. Ichiro Suzuki was considered a good Japanese player but you couldn’t get a bet on him reaching 3,000 hits in American baseball. When he made his US debut in 2001 he was described as having “the power of Calista Flockhart.” Now, who even remembers who Calista Flockhart was? And the ethereal Ichiro made his 3,000th hit on a triple-not the infield single for which he was initially famed. Under an agreement between Japanese baseball and MLB, a player has to play 8 years there before leaving Japan. This would make it impossible for all but the best to last in America. No position player had come here up until 2001, only pitchers. Ichiro played there from 1992-2000, and was an All-Star and golden glover 7 times in that stretch. In America, he has been an All-Star and gold glover 10 times, the last in 2010. He was with the Mariners from 2001-2012, then the Yankees and Marlins for whom he collected his 3,000th hit yesterday. He broke George Sisler’s record of 257 hits in a season that dated back to 1930. Ichiro put up 262 in 2004. He has the only inside-the-park home run ever hit in an All-Star game since the mid-summer classic began in 1933.
Meantime, A.Rod, who should have been so much more, will see his career end Friday in disgrace. He is somewhat younger than Ichiro, at 41. Ichiro will turn 43 in October. A.Rod joined the Mariners in 1994, at 18. It seems fitting to me that, in spite of all the steroids he used his career will end with less home runs than Babe Ruth. A.Rod is now at 696 to Ruth’s 714. He was an All-Star 14 times, the last in 2011. His only World Series was in 2009, the last time the Yankees won. He reached 500 home runs in 2007. Nobody then could have believed he would not be at 700 or more 9 years later. He confessed in 2009 to using steroids as early as 2001-03. As early as 2011 he was alleged to have been part of underground poker games which he had been warned against by MLB as early as 2005, and during which cocaine was available. This is a link to one of his boyhood idols, Keith Hernandez, who the Mets might never have gotten but for some cocaine-related behavior during his time with the Cardinals. A.Rod lost the entire 2014 season to a steroid-related suspension. After an amazing 2015, his performance this season has been so abysmal that the Yankees have been looking to find a legal way to get rid of him for months. Finally it will happen this Friday following their game with the Tampa Bay Rays. While his playing days will end, he will stay on in a nebulous capacity until the end of 2017.
Among a limited schedule tonight there’s one good pitching matchup. Johnny Cueto of the Giants faces Jose Fernandez of the Marlins in Miami. Fernandez has lost his last two decisions but never 3 in a row and he’s pitching in his home park where he’s next to unbeatable. How close to unstoppable? 26–2, a 1.62 ERA at Marlins Park. The rest of the night’s schedule is so mediocre that watching the Olympics might be preferable, as long as you don’t drink the water.
The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo is our first baseball birthday today. The native of Ft. Lauderdale is 27. The Red Sox took him in the 6th round in 2007 from high school. He’s been an All-Star the last 3 seasons. He broke in with the Padres in 2011 but was sent to the Cubs the next year where he has excelled at first base.
Former Fordham and major league outfielder Ray Montgomery is 47 today. The last really good Fordham teams featured Montgomery in the outfield in 1987-88. Both teams made the NCAA regionals, losing to Georgia in 1987 and to Clemson in a 19-inning marathon in 1988, a game played in New Britain, CT. The other future major leaguer on those Rams’ teams was pitcher Pete Harnish. Montgomery was taken in round 13 by the Astros in 1990. He played with them briefly between 1996 and 1998 and is now scouting director for the Brewers.
Frank Howard, known as Hondo or The Capital Punisher, is 80 today. In his prime he was listed at six-seven and 255. The native of Columbus, Ohio broke in with the Dodgers at the end of 1958 and lasted until the end of 1973. In a bad era to be a hitter he hit .273 with 382 home runs. After his playing days he managed the Padres and Mets for a year each. He was an All-Star 4 times with the Senators between 1968 and 1971 and hit the last home run at RFK Stadium before the Senators became the Texas Rangers. He had been Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers in 1960 and part of the 1963 World Series winners, but was sent to Washington for Claude Osteen. The Dodgers would go on to win the 1965 World Series, then lose in 4 the next year to the Orioles.