NEW YORK — Regardless of what you think about the game-winning RBI statistic, you've got to pay some attention to a list of all-time leaders in the category. Excellence over seven years is hard to ignore.
New York Mets' first baseman Keith Hernandez, through games of Sept. 16, has produced more game-winners than any other major leaguer since the statistic became official in 1980.
Hernandez entered this season in second place, behind Baltimore's Eddie Murray, but has capitalized on Murray's sub-par season to lead, 106-101.
New York Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield holds third place with 93. Murray and Winfield have both heard some critical remarks from the owner's box this year, and perhaps with some justification. Even though their career production ranks high, in 1986 they have combined (Murray 4 and Winfield 6) for fewer game-winners than Hernandez (12).
A recent game-winner pushed Philadelphia Phillies' third baseman Mike Schmidt ahead of Mets' catcher Gary Carter for fourth place with 85. Carter and Montreal outfielder Andre Dawson share fifth with 84.
Other members of the Top 10: Dale Murphy with 82, Jim Rice 81, Don Baylor 80 and Ted Simmons 79.
Granted, the game-winning RBI stat sometimes can mislead, and on a given day it can reflect more luck than contribution, but over seven years it reflects quality. Think of it this way: you can't get a game-winning RBI in a loss.
Wonder who the all-time leader in game-winning RBI is? That sounds like a question for SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. They'll find out someday, though to do it they'll have to reconstruct every big league game ever played.
Speaking of Mike Schmidt, longtime observers of Phillies' baseball are wondering aloud if they're watching the greatest third baseman of all time.
Until recently, history considered Pie Traynor the greatest. More recently, Eddie Mathews and Brooks Robinson did little to disgrace the position.
Schmidt, however, may join their class, if he hasn't done so already. He's certainly within range to pass Mathews' total of 512 career homers. Defensively, he hasn't exactly embarrassed himself. He owns six Gold Gloves, and may win another this year. That's not bad, considering Schmidt, 37 later this month, also has a chance to lead the majors in home runs and RBIs.
Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs hits for a living. Know what he does for fun? He watches other people hit. In those long hours on the road, when the days are yours and the game doesn't start until 7:30 that night, Boggs comes to the ballpark.
On one recent visit to Baltimore, Boggs found a spot near the batting cage and munched pumpkin seeds while watching some of the younger players hit.
"I just like being at the ballpark," Boggs said. "I watch to see what the other guys are doing, how they're swinging, and listen to Walt talk about hitting." Walt Hriniak is Boston's hitting instructor.
As good as Boggs is, he faces two rivals for his third American League batting title. One is Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly, who is bidding for his second. Then there's Minnesota's Kirby Puckett, who has become quite a ballplayer.
The National League has followed the example of Kansas City Manager Dick Howser in stopping St. Louis. Looking at the Cardinals' speed last fall, Howser decided the only way to prevent them from running was to keep them off base. It sounds simpler than it is, but the N.L. has managed to do it this year.
Through games of Sept. 13, the Cardinals ranked last in the league in on-base percentage. Want to know how bad that is? On the same day, seven NL players had a better batting average.