Forget the results. The 2009 World Series featured the two best teams in baseball. In the old days, the Series always had the best team in the American League against the best team in the National League. But with the advent of two rounds of league playoffs, a good but not great team that has a hot week or two can find itself in the World Series.
This year not only were the Phillies the best team in the National League, they were the second best team in all of baseball – better than the Red Sox and almost as good as the Yankees over the 162-game season. The Yanks, Phils, BoSox, Angels and Twins would be my top five teams for the year.
Besides the best teams, the best players showed just how good they are. Alex Rodriguez hit .286 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI despite missing the first month of the season. A-Rod’s home runs and runs batted in give him a record 13 seasons in which he’s amassed at least 30 homers and 100 RBI.
With his 2,722nd career hit, Derek Jeter broke Lou Gehrig’s all-time hit record for a Yankees player. Jeter hit .334 for the season, third best in the American League. The popular shortstop’s mark was 18 points behind Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki and 30 points behind Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer’s league-leading .364.
Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena was leading the league with 39 home runs with 25 games to go when an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. While Pena was on the mend, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira hit six round-trippers to tie for the lead at 39.
The Yankees had plenty of other run-makers, such as second baseman Robinson Cano (.320, 25 home runs), to help them post the majors’ best record at 103-59. All told, the Yankees had seven players with at least 20 home runs, an all-time record. Another big-league record was posted by Jeter and Cano when they became the first double-play combination to each have 200 hits.
While Jeter had a great year, Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez bested him. Ramirez led the National League with a .342 average (six points better than Jeter) while clubbing 24 home runs (six more than Jeter) and driving in 106 runs (40 more than Jeter).
Other National League leaders were Albert Pujols with 47 home runs and Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard who tied for the RBI leadership at 141. Besides Pujols, St. Louis had two pitching leaders – Adam Wainwright topped the league with 19 wins and Chris Carpenter’s 2.24 ERA was the finest in that department.
The best one-two punch in the National League in my book are Milwaukee’s Fielder (.299, 46 homers, 141 RBI) and Ryan Braun (.320, 32, 114). But until the Brewers get two more good starting pitchers they won’t – as they proved in ’09 – be able to jump over the Cubs and Cardinals.
What a matchup the Yankees and Red Sox were during the regular season. Boston won the first eight and the Yanks took nine of the next 10. The run total was almost even, too, as the Yanks had 101 and the Red Sox 99.
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If you like baseball and Israel, you’ll like “Holy Land Hardball.” The one hour, 23-minute DVD traces the trials and tribulations of trying to bring professional baseball to Israel in the form of the Israel Baseball League (IBL). Even if you’re not a baseball fan (according to the legendary writer Red Smith, “Baseball is dull only to those with dull minds”), you’ll enjoy the insights into launching a new business venture in Israel.
Israelis who were interviewed about the prospects of bringing professional baseball to their country seemed to be divided into two camps – pessimists and skeptics. League founder Larry Baras and his crew were blindsided by Israeli bureaucracy more often than not as they tried to make the league a reality.
Former Jewish big leaguers Ron Blomberg, Ken Holtzman and Art Shamsky managed three of the six teams. Shamsky is the trimmest of the trio and the years have robbed much of the hair under the caps of Blomberg and Holtzman.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn appears in the documentary in the role of mohel and offers a great baseball analogy at a bris. The DVD uses impressive graphics and interesting music.
For information on group showings and availability, go to www.holylandhardball.com. I’d like to see a sequel and find out if another attempt will be made to bring pro baseball to Israel.
It would take a baseball fan/philanthropist willing to lose a lot of money in order to have the satisfaction of bringing Hashem’s favorite sport to Israel. After all, the first word in the Torah, “bereishis,” means “in the beginning” – or, as most of us pronounce it, “in the big inning.”
Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in the Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.