Since the San Francisco Giants brought the World Series trophy home to the Bay area…enough action transpired in the off season to keep even the most attention starved baseball fan satisfied.
The baseball world saw some of its greatest ambassadors (Bob Feller, Sparky Anderson, Duke Snider and Ron Santo) pass away, another “Ted Williams” made headlines and got us all thinking about the original, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp broke it off with pop star Rihanna and, of course, Jose Canseco became a primetime player and became one of the latest to audition publicly for the affection of Donald Trump.
So, with all that mind…here are ten things you should be watching for over the span of the upcoming baseball season.
DEREK JETER, New York Yankees
Another story that dominated the headlines was the heated contract negotiations between Jeter and the Yankees. With that now a distant memory...it’s safe to turn our attention to what is probably the biggest milestone on the horizon this baseball season, right? Let's face it, Jeter cementing himself as one of the (if not the) greatest Yankee of all-time is going to turn a few heads. And with 2926 hits...I know I'll be watching the box scores, counting down to 3000 right alongside everyone else
MARIANO RIVERA, New York Yankees
Almost as impressive (arguably, it might be MORE impressive) as the Jeter milestone is what Rivera is closing (see what I did there?) in on. At 559 career saves, he's 43 saves away from becoming the all-time leader in the category. Can he do it? He's topped 43 or more six times in his career...so it isn't out of the realm of possibility.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, New York Yankees
With 613 home runs, another Yankee (and, yes, we move on after this), Rodriguez, is only 18 long flies from being fifth all-time. His 1831 RBI puts him 17th all-time, but should he get to 100 this season (something that's not happened only once), he'll jump into eighth place. Lastly, “A-Rod” is, by far, the active leader in runs scored with 1757. With 90 runs scored...he'll end the season 13th all-time.
CHIPPER JONES, Atlanta Braves
Limited to a career-low 95 games last season, future Hall of Famer (yeah, I said it) Jones is looking at eclipsing a couple benchmarks this season…2500 hits, 1500 RBI and 450 home runs are all in his sites. But however he ends up, the Braves third baseman is the only switch hitter in Major League history with a career batting average better than .300 (.306) and more than 400 home runs. He’ll enter the season ninth all-time among switch hitters on the career hits list (2490 at last count), but should end up the season well ahead of eighth place hitter Tim Raines at 2605. And with a mere 20 RBI (he’s got 1491 now), he’ll surpass Mickey Mantle and move into second place on the all-time list of RBI by a switch hitter.
BOBBY ABREU, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I sound like a broken record saying this...but Abreu has, quietly, put together one heck of a career. Sure, sure, last year was a bust for the outfielder (his streak of 100-plus RBI seasons ended at seven)...but dude can rake. And run. As it stands, Abreu is 24 home runs shy from being only the eighth member of the exclusive 300-300 club. Only Barry (762-514) and Bobby Bonds (332-461), Willie Mays (660-338), Alex Rodriguez (613-301), Andre Dawson (438-314), Reggie Sanders (305-304) and Steve Finley (304-320) have achieved 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases. Abreu is sitting at 276 and 372.
MATT STAIRS, Washington Nationals
By heading north with the Nationals, Stairs has set the Major League record for the number of different teams played for (13)...assuming you count Washington as a separate entity from the Montreal Expos. Which I do. Also on the horizon for Stairs…if/when he goes yard for his new club...he'll have surpassed Todd Zeile by hitting a home run for twelve different ballclubs. The only one of his past teams that he hasn’t gone yard for…Montreal. Coincidence?
LOEK VAN MIL, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
It's times like these that I am glad that Disney no longer has anything to do with the ownership of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Because if they did...we'd be subjected to them knocking the cobwebs off Shawn Bradley, dressing him up in a baseball uniform and throwing him on the silver screen Gheorghe Muresan-style to play the 7’1” pitcher. Van Mil is starting the season at Triple-A Salt Lake City, but when he gets called up by the Halos...he'll enter the Majors, not only as the game's tallest player ever, but also the first seven footer baseball has ever seen.
ICHIRO SUZUKI, Seattle Mariners
Alright, the annual "Ichiro Watch" is underway here at The Hall...and this is why. After ten years in the Majors, he has:
Ten straight seasons with a .300 or better batting average
Ten straight seasons with 200 or more hits (he's led the league the last five seasons)
Ten straight seasons with 25 or more stolen bases
Ten straight Gold Gloves
Ten straight All-Star appearances
Have you noticed a trend? Last season, the outfielder set the Major League record for reaching the 200 or more hits in ten consecutive seasons. The only other guy to have put together ten seasons with 200 or more hits? Hit King Pete Rose. His accomplishment, however, was spread over 24 seasons...Ichiro has done it in ten out of ten seasons.
ALBERT PUJOLS, St. Louis Cardinals
Alright…this post could go one forever championing the upcoming milestones for one Albert Pujols. But I'll make it as brief as I can. This season, "The Machine" will, potentially, reach the 2000 hit plateau by the All-Star Game...he enter this weekend’s action with 1900. And if (when?) he repeats his 42 home runs from last year, he'll reach the 450 homer mark...and dude is just 31. Now, assuming Pujols gets 30 or more home runs, 100 RBI and hits better than .300 (something he’s done in each of his ten seasons so far), he’ll not only be the only cat to start his career with eleven straight seasons with those numbers, but also…he’ll be the only player to have done it in eleven straight seasons. Should he get 40 or more home runs and 40 or more doubles this season, it’ll be a record fourth time he achieved the feat. In 2009, he tied Lou Gehrig as the only player to have done it three times.
STATUES AND NUMBERS
Lastly, a number of former players and managers are getting their due. This past season, the Chicago White Sox honored one of their greats, Frank Thomas, by retiring his Number 35. In July, they're set to unveil a bronze statue of the one-time Sox legend...the eighth to grace U.S. Cellular Field.
On the other end of town, the Northsiders will honor their biggest fan, Ron Santo, by wearing a patch on their jersey sleeve. In addition to that, the Cubs will unveil a statue in his likeness outside of Wrigley Field this August.
Up in Minnesota, the Twins will honor Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven by retiring his number this July. His Number 28 will join five former Twins and Jackie Robinson up on the facade at Target Field. Also in Minnesota, a statue of Twins legend Tony Oliva, will join three other past greats in Target Plaza.
Last November, Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson succumbed to dementia. This season, not only are the Detroit Tigers going to honor their former skipper with a patch on their sleeves...but they'll be retiring his number as well. Pretty classy.
And last week, the Atlanta Braves announced that, in August, they’ll be retiring the number of longtime skipper Bobby Cox. With the retirement of Cox’s number…that’s three in the last three years for the Braves. Tom Glavine received the honor last year and Greg Maddux was celebrated in 2009.
For a division-by-division breakdown of the upcoming milestones this season look no further than below:
American League East
American League Central
American League West
National League East
National League Central
National League West