In Short Order: Ichiro is chasing another hit record, but this one is a bit more unusual
Welcome to In Short Order, a weekly look at all the baseball that I like and can't stop obsessing over. We'll mostly live at the edges of the game; at the intersection of the weird, the fun and the esoteric. Oh yeah, and hair.
The modern marvel of man known as Ichiro is still racking up records. In addition to his famed single-season hits record from 2004, he's now just two hits shy of tying John Vander Wal's 1995 record of 28 pinch-hits in a season.
It may seem strange for a future Hall of Famer to be chasing a record that you probably hadn't even thought about before. But that's the thing: Ichiro is a baseball weirdo.
He's said he wants to play until he's 50 and compares retiring to death. He travels around with his own bizarre gym equipment and he sometimes even pitches. He's continued to play, even as his contemporaries take on coaching jobs or start corportations. By adopting a role as the game's go-to pinch-hitter, Ichiro has upset the established career path for a future Hall of Famer.
But Vander Wal was a baseball weirdo too, even though he was at the other end of the career spectrum. Despite his record 28 pinch-hits and a 1.026 OPS in '95, the then-Rockies first baseman/outfielder only received five starts that season. Perhaps this photo is illustrative of why:
It took him until 2000, in his age-34 season, to top the 300 PA mark for a single campaign. But, like Ichiro, he was unique off the field: He was once fined by his teammates for eating too much fast food, even going so far as to sneak burgers into his hotel in a laundry bag.
There is something special in having a largely forgotten player like Vander Wal hold an MLB record, and that will be lost if Ichiro breaks it. But we'll also gain something: Another reason to marvel at Ichiro and everything that makes him different. In a way, he's a cult ballplayer like Vander Wal -- he just happened to also be the greatest hitter in a generation.
Now, let's get to the weird stuff.
The Balboni Curse is over
The Royals' single-season home run record was 36, set by the big-boned and balding Steve Balboni in 1985. It became a record Royals fans obsessed over -- hoping that someone, anyone, would come along and break it.
Mike Moustakas seemed guaranteed to smash the mark when he had 25 dingers entering the All-Star break. After hitting his 35th on Aug. 15, Moose took two weeks to tie the record while batting a lingering knee injury. Was the third baseman going to have to shave a bald patch on his head and grow a mustache in hopes of appeasing the Balboni-loving baseball gods?
Nope. Facing the Blue Jays on Wednesday night, Moustakas took Blue Jays reliever Carlos Ramirez deep to break the record and end #BalboniWatch:
The Motion of the Week
Thought unique motions or stances were strictly in the realm of the ballplayer? Think again. Though it's no Frank Drebin, John Tumpane's third strike call is strictly ... something. Is he casting a fishing lure? Whacking a mole? Pretending to be Michael Myers in "Halloween?"
You should know about …
Umpire Ken Kaiser, aka "The Hatchet."
Kaiser recently passed away at the age of 72, but his nickname lives on in our hearts: "The Hatchet" (or, alternatively, "The Hatchet Man"). You would assume that he earned the name from his demeanor on the field, perhaps being quick with the ejection. You would be wrong.
While working his way through the Minor Leagues, Kaiser spent his offseasons wrestling professionally under the name, you guessed it, The Hatchet.
Perhaps the best story comes from The New York Times' obituary on Kaiser:
In one match, "Kaiser's opponent unmasked him, revealing his true identity to Eric Gregg, another baseball umpire in attendance. Gregg was so surprised, he dropped his popcorn."
Who has baseball's greatest eyebrows?
If eyes are the window to the soul, then eyebrows are the frame to display them. Our contenders:
Joey Votto - Votto's good eye at the plate is boosted by his soft, expressive brows.
Chris Taylor - These are the eyebrows of madness and genius.
Nicky Delmonico - Delmonico's make him appear wide awake, devious or cunning, all depending on the angle.
Javier Baez - Baez is endlessly watchable. That extends to his brows.
Hey! Buddy! Put this on your MLB.tv this weekend:
There's a new shift in baseball, and it's one you may not have seen before: It's the Albert Pujols shift.
Will other teams soon adopt the tactic?
Pujols' lack of speed hasn't just changed the defenses he faces -- it has also nearly put him in sight of a very elusive club of men with 100 RBIs but fewer than 50 runs scored. After Wednesday's home run, Pujols had 97 RBIs and scored 50. That run means Vic Wertz will remain the sole player to have pulled it off. Wertz drove in 103 runs, but only scored 45 in 1960.