Before I get to Saturday night’s Final Four games and tonight’s championship game, let me begin with baseball history. Last week, I mentioned that MLB will be experimenting with some rule changes in minor league games and two of the rules seek to increase the number of base stealing attempts to add more action to games. I said MLB needed more players like Tony Gwynn who stole more bases in 5 separate seasons than he struck out in those seasons. I received an email from the reader in Houston which provided historical perspective here:
“Talking about small ball, this may be comparing apples and oranges, but HOFer 5’6″ ‘Sliding Billy’ Hamilton who played mostly in the latter part of the 19th century with the KC Cowboys of the American Association and the Phillies and Boston Beaneaters of the NL had 914 stolen bases and only 362 strikeouts over a career spanning 14 seasons. He had more stolen bases than strikeouts in every season, but his last. On a side note, he scored over 100 runs in 11 seasons, including the MLB record of 198 in 1894.
“Please note the modern steal rule was put into place in 1898. Before then, any time a runner took an extra base (such as advancing to third base from first on a single) he was awarded a stolen base. But even after the revised recount, he still had more stolen bases than strikeouts during his MLB career.
“For most of us, it was Luis Aparicio who heralded in a new era of base stealing in the 1950s, an era that saw the feats of Maury Wills, who broke Ty Cobb’s single season record in 1962. Cobb had the long-standing career mark of 892, which seemed unapproachable until Lou Brock came along. Brock surpassed Cobb’s career total in 1977. Breaking Cobb’s mark suddenly brought “Sliding Billy’s” name back into the news. When Brock surpassed Cobb, suddenly there were some of us students of the game who rose to say, ‘Not so fast, my friend. How about ‘Sliding Billy’.’
“Hamilton was in the record books with his 937 steals, even if set apart as a pre-1900 figure. And the pre-1900 barely explained his total. As I mentioned above, from 1886 to 1897, stolen bases were awarded for any number of base running advances. Still, no one ran up a total like ‘Sliding Billy’ did. He was the best at what he did; the best of his era. In his first two years with the Phillies, 1890 and 1891, he had 102 and 111 steals, (in only 123 and 133 games, respectively), even as altered by modern research.
“Apart from his superlatives in stolen bases (his total was revised from 937 to 914 by MLB about 40 years ago), he had a .344 career batting average and a career OBP of .455.”
As always, thank you to the reader in Houston for historical perspective here. I will now amend my remarks from last week to say that MLB needs more players like Tony Gwynn AND “Sliding Billy” Hamilton…
Moving along to the Final Four games. There’s yin and there’s yang; there’s rationalism and there’s empiricism; there’s happy and there’s sad. Saturday night I saw two college basketball games and one was exciting and interesting while the other was a dud. Baylor/Houston was the dud; it was a mismatch from the start. Baylor led by 25 at the half; then they took their foot off the gas and waltzed home never being threatened. I made two notes during this game:
- The way Baylor is playing in the first half, they could beat the Indiana Pacers tonight.
- Lots of pregame focus on Houston’s Dejon Jarreau but he has been neutralized here.
The Gonzaga/UCLA game was exactly the opposite; it was well-played; it was close from start to finish; it went to overtime and would have gone to a second overtime but for the half-court buzzer beater that sent Gonzaga on to meet Baylor tonight. [Aside: I would characterize Jalen Suggs half-court shot as “an answered prayer”.] I made three notes during the game:
- These officials are not calling traveling violations tonight – – on either team.
- Johnny Juzang is ready for the NBA. He pushes off every time he drives to his right and he pushes off about 50% of the time he drives to his left.
- Pregame I heard/read that Cody Riley would have trouble guarding Drew Timme. Riley looks awfully good to me.
The lines on tonight’s game are a bit surprising to me. Gonzaga is a 4.5-point favorite which is not a surprise. However, Gonzaga is -200 on the Money Line and Baylor is +175. Both of those numbers seem big in an absolute sense given the short spread on the game.
I did not see nearly as much college basketball this year as compared to previous years; but given what I saw, I thought Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan were the three best teams. When Michigan forward, Isaiah Livers went down with an injury, I downgraded my opinion of Michigan; I believe the two best teams are on stage tonight.
Both coaches must be commended for the way they have grown their programs. Mark Few has been at Gonzaga since the 1999/2000 season; his “worst season record” in that time has been 23-11; overall, the Zags under his leadership have gone 630-124 (.836). Gonzaga was a solid program when he took over; The Zags had gone to a post season tournament in 5 of the previous 6 season under Dan Monson and Dan Fitzgerald; Mark Few took it from there.
Scott Drew faced an entirely different situation when he went to Baylor. The program had just gone through the “Dave Bliss Affair” where one player murdered another player and Coach Bliss tried to cover it all up. I wrote about that mess back in 2003; here is a link to that rant if you want to refresh your memory.
When Scott Drew took the job, more than a few folks were convinced that he was committing career suicide. Notwithstanding the fact that he had only 7 scholarships to give out for his first two years at Baylor, he had the Bears back in a post-season tournament in his fourth year there. His overall record at Baylor is 353-213 (.624) despite going 17-53 in his first three years at the helm.
Two good teams and two good coaches tonight. Sounds perfect to me…
Finally, one of the teams – and its fans – will end tonight “heartbroken”. Therefore, let me close today with that definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“Heartbroken: A state of overwhelming sadness; most commonly experienced by adolescents who do not yet have the emotional distance to grasp just how many more times they are going to get screwed over like this by the time they are twenty-five.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………