Pop…this column is for you!

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

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There aren’t many days that go by without me stopping to think of my dad. Typically it’s to pause and consider how he would handle a certain situation that I’m currently confronted with, but there are other times when I’ll see or hear something that reminds me of his life.

Such was the case last week when Major League Baseball opened its 2023 season. Ray Bryant, who passed away in 2004, was a baseball man. He loved the game and the life lessons that it taught.

Pop played a lot of baseball growing up…first at Jackson High School and later while in Germany where he was waiting to be shipped home after serving our country in World War II. It was there a Major League Baseball (MLB) scout gave Pop an invitation to attend a try-out camp in Norfolk, VA when he returned stateside. He told me that he went, “but there were a lot of great players there.” In other words, he didn’t make the cut.

Pop went on to play a few seasons of semi-pro baseball, but his biggest accomplishment was passing down his love of the game to myself and my brother, Tommy. He would also watch many MLB games on TV, especially if his favorite team – the St. Louis Cardinals – were playing.

Last week, I envisioned Pop, sitting in his rocking chair in the living room of the home I grew up in and where I returned in 2013, watching as many games as he could cram into a single day. And, of course, there would be a big bowl of popcorn nearby.

I wish he was around to see all the sights and sounds of Opening Day. Even though his beloved Cardinals lost 10-9 vs. Toronto in the season opener, there were other highlights Included was a rare feat by Trayce Thompson of the Los Angeles Dodgers who hit three home runs and had eight RBI in a 10-1 rout of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In doing so, Thompson became the first player to drive in eight or more runs in a season debut since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920.

Now in its 120th year, MLB is steeped in history. It came together under one roof through a merger of two independent organizations, the National League (founded in 1876) and the American League (1900).

Of course, the two leagues remain today, but they are under the umbrella of MLB.

Anytime an organization has been around for 100 years or more, there are bound to be odd occurrences. MLB’s record books are chocked full of such things thanks to accurate record-keeping. Other than Thompson’s season-opening feat, here are some other obscure stats I found online.

Defensively, a triple play is not often accomplished in a baseball game at any level of competition. An unassisted triple play is even more rare, so much to the point that it has only happened 15 times in MLB history. The last one was on Aug. 23, 2009 by Eric Brunlett, a second baseman with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The longest game without a run being scored was played on April 15, 1968 when the Houston Astros hosted the New York Mets. The game was deadlocked at 0-0 through 23 complete innings. Norm Miller scored in the bottom of the 24th inning to hand the Astros a 1-0 win.

The fastest nine-inning game came on Sept. 28, 1919 when it took only 51 minutes for the New York Giants to defeat the Phillies, 6-1, at the Polo Grounds in the Big Apple.

Another MLB statistical marvel is one Pop would enjoy. Stan “The Man” Musial, who had a Hall of Fame career for the Cardinals, collected 3,630 hits during his 22 seasons. That’s not a MLB record, but what is most intriguing is the fact that exactly one-half of those hits (1,815) came at home while the other half were on the road.

Knuckleballer Joe Niekro spent 22 seasons baffling batters with his unique pitch. Offensively, Joe hit only one career home run. It came during a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves on May 29, 1976. What’s so unique about that dinger is the fact that he “went deep” off his brother, Phil Niekro.

According to The Sporting News, there have been only two pitchers in MLB history by the last name of Moyer. Ed Moyer pitched in six games for the Washington Senators in 1910. He died on Nov. 18, 1962. As fate would have it, Jamie Moyer (not related) was born on Nov. 18, 1962 and went on to pitch for 25 years in the majors during stints with the Cubs, Rangers, Orioles, Red Sox, Mariners, Phillies, and the Rockies. He won 269 games and lost 209.

Here’s a mind-boggling stat about one of MLB’s all-time greatest pitchers. During his illustrious Hall of Fame career, which was interrupted by three years he spent in the Army during World War II, Warren Spahn pitched for the Boston Braves, Milwaukee Braves, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants. He is credited with 363 wins on the mound (356 with the Braves organization, 4 with the Mets, and 3 with the Giants). Here’s the kicker: Spahn has 363 career hits (356 with the Braves organization, 4 with the Mets, and 3 with the Giants).

Another great pitcher is Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. He was a master of location….some say his control was so precise that if the ball was a flint, he could light a match in the catcher’s mitt. On a windy afternoon at Chicago’s famed Wrigley Field on July 22, 1997, Maddux threw only 76 pitches in a complete game, 4-1 win by the Atlanta Braves. Sixty-three of those 76 pitches were strikes. He went to a two-ball count only twice.

And, finally, here’s an obscure stat about legendary New York Yankee star Lou Gehrig. He smacked his first career home run on Sept. 27, 1923. Gehrig hit his final career home run on Sept. 27, 1938.

Pop would have loved reading this column. I tip my cap to him.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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