Every season begins with a number of milestones on the horizon (and if you followed the divisional breakdown the last few weeks...you know them), and 2009 is no different. Gone are history-makers like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux.
So, before the Bronx Bombers open the doors to their newest version of Yankee Stadium, let's look at ten milestones to watch for during the upcoming baseball season.
And because of injury, you'll notice that I conveniently ignored Alex Rodriguez. I harbor no ill will toward the man.
Ron Villone, TBD
Ron Villone, who changes uniforms so fast, team photographers can't keep up with him, will inevitably suit up for his major league record-tying twelfth team. When he takes the bump next, he'll tie pitcher Mike Morgan on the all-time list. Close on their heels? Matt Stairs. Stairs is currently with Philadelphia, his eleventh team.
Adam Dunn, Washington Nationals
The Nationals enter their fifth season since re-locating from Montreal with little to no fanfare. For the four Adam Dunn fans out there, you’ll be glad to know that he’s 22 homers away from 300 for his career, and if he gets to 40 this season, he’ll have done so for six straight seasons. Only Babe Ruth did it more consistently when he hit 40 out in a record seven straight seasons.
Joe Torre, Los Angeles Dodgers
Aside from Manny Ramirez (more on him later), the Dodgers do have some milestones to watch out for. Off the field...or more specifically, in the dugout, manager Joe Torre is 44 wins away from leap-frogging Sparky Anderson (2194) and Bucky Harris (2157) and moving into fifth place on the all-time list.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
When 2008 came to a close, Albert Pujols became the only player in major league history to hit at least .300, with 30 or more home runs and at least 100 RBI in each of his first eight seasons. The only other players to accomplish the 100 RBI feat were Al Simmons, who did it in eleven straight, and Ted Williams, who stalled after eight. All in all, “Prince Albert” is 31 home runs away from 350, 23 RBI from 1000 and 53 runs from 1000.
And oh yeah, he just turned 29.
Greg Maddux/Fergie Jenkins, Chicago Cubs
While not exactly a milestone, the Cubs are doing something pretty cool and pretty monumental on May 3. Before the “North Siders” take the field against the Florida Marlins, they’ll retire number 31 for Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux. Each hurler won a Cy Young Award and combined for 300 victories while wearing the pinstriped 31.
Carlos Delgado, New York Mets
Raise your hand if you ever thought Carlos Delgado was going to be a member of the 500 home run club. No one? After Gary Sheffield hits number 500, which should have come in the first week of the season...Delgado is up next. The slugger has 469 home runs and should, barring injury, close out the Mets’ first season at Citi Field with a milestone.
Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Last year, Ramirez came into the season needing 10 home runs to get to 500. This season, Manny comes in with 527 and looks to pass up Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, and Reggie Jackson on the all-time list. Factor in his 2,392 hits and, by season’s end, you’ll be looking at just the sixth player to have more than 2,500 hits, 500 doubles, 550 home runs and 1800 RBI. The others: Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Robinson, and Babe Ruth.
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Mariano Rivera is 18 saves away from joining Trevor Hoffman as the only two closers with 500 saves. Next on the active list is Billy Wagner with 385. Savor save number 500, baseball fans. It’ll be awhile until we see it again. Saves are tricky to predict because it’s all dependent on how the Yankees fair this season. If you’re curious, Rivera has claimed his 18th save as early as May 29 (in 2004) and as late as August 6 (in 2007).
Gary Sheffield, New York Mets
A major leaguer at 18, Sheffield got off to a quick start by getting his first hit and first home run in the same swing. Now, 498 home runs later, Sheffield is on the cusp of becoming the 25th player to hit 500 long balls. Also worth mentioning, Sheffield comes into 2009 with 1633 RBI. Everyone who is Hall eligible and has more RBI than “Sheff” is enshrined in Cooperstown.
Randy Johnson, San Francisco Giants
Not since Bonds was knocking on the door of every home run milestone have the Giants had a milestone (or two) to watch for. Randy Johnson brought with him to the Bay a number of things worth noting. First and foremost, “The Big Unit” is five victories away from 300 wins. Only 24 pitchers have accomplished the feat. The closest active pitchers include Jamie Moyer (246), Kenny Rogers (219) and Andy Pettite (215).
And while he hasn’t hit 200 or more strikeouts since 2005, it’s worth mentioning that Johnson is 211 Ks away from becoming the second player to strike out 5000 batters. He won’t touch Nolan Ryan’s record at 5714, but burying his closest active competition in Pedro Martinez (3117) and John Smoltz (3011) has to be a little gratifying.
Also within reach for “Unit,” he is 15 hit-batsmen away from surpassing all-time leader Walter Johnson. He probably won’t get there (he has only 10 in the last two seasons), but passing up Eddie Plank (196) is a possibility. Something tells me that, deep down, Johnson wishes that hit-by-pitch magnet and former teammate Craig Biggio (who, ironically, “Unit” NEVER hit in 16 plate appearances) was still out there swinging a bat.