Matt Williams had 43 home runs through 115 games in 1994. We’ll never know if the Giants third baseman could’ve made a serious run at Roger Maris.
Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 through 117, completely convinced he was going to be the first since Ted Williams to hit above .400.
We’ll never know if they would’ve exceeded some of baseball’s mystical milestones. A strike robbed us of those moments and all the drama leading up to them.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic prevents anyone from doing something historic in 2020. While prolonged bickering between Major League Baseball and its players union cut this season down, we were never getting 162 in after a public health crisis forced the sport to hit pause.
It seems we’re down to 60 games now, putting an asterisk on every statistical leader in 2020. We’ll have a batting champion and a home run king and an ERA leader. Final averages will look similar to normal seasons, but they’ll ultimately be hollow. And, in what’s bad news for a game that values its history, these achievements won’t fit in a greater context.
They will be outliers as the ’94 numbers were, unable to contribute to baseball’s grand history of individual achievement. Nobody’s chasing Barry Bonds’ 73 home runs or Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI or Ichiro’s 262 hits or Nolan Ryan’s 383 strikeouts. None of the averages will matter one bit.
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Breaking Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is technically possible, but a hitter better get hot during the opening series and never cool off.
Miguel Cabrera is 23 home runs from 500 and 185 hits from 3,000, but he surely won’t hit either milestone this year with the shorter season and his recent production dips.
This should be a 60-game sprint where it’s less certain the best teams make the postseason, especially if the bracket’s regular sized. Given the stats don’t mean much, this becomes a “Just Win, Baby” type of season.
It’s tough to make sense of how much can be gleaned from a 60-game sample size, though those on expiring contracts will want inflated totals heading into free agency. A’s shortstop Marcus Semien, closer Liam Hendriks, outfielder Mark Canha, and Giants pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Tony Watson will want to leave a positive impression on evaluators as they head toward an open market they may be depressed some due to a lack of typical revenue streams during the 2020 campaign.
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Achievements will be stymied at every turn, with even the World Series winner left to wonder if they would’ve finished in the same spot after 162 games in the regular season. We’ll never know and are worse off for that.
This country needs unifying shared experiences that sports can provide. Hopefully player safety and health remain during this experiment, with some good baseball to be watched in a true outlier season, maybe as much as any in the modern era.