SEATTLE — This was a private party, thrown for 45,000 close friends of the Seattle Mariners who came hoping to see history made and who left satisfied to leave history tied. Exuberance was kept under the baseball caps, left stuffed in the small bags, the only kind, for security purposes, allowed into Safeco Field.
It didn't quite feel as if this was a day to break records. It was more a day to appreciate what they had. The Mariner fans were happy to salute their "Ms" for winning 116 games and to celebrate, with singing and flag waving, their support of both their country and their team.
Most of the Mariner fans had heard the news before they left for the ballpark--the U.S. had attacked targets in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Whatever we've done," Bret Boone, one of Seattle's MVP candidates, said, "it doesn't feel like history."
Because the Texas Rangers scored a run in the top of the ninth inning and beat Seattle, 4-3, the 2001 Mariners had to settle for 116 wins and a tie with the 1906 Cubs for most victories in a major league season. So they didn't make history. The Mariners tied history.
Still, wrap your mind around that--1906 is a very long time ago. Some very good baseball teams haven't accomplished what the Mariners did.
"It's our little secret, isn't it?" Mariner veteran Edgar Martinez said. "I'm not sure everybody understands what we've done," Manager Lou Piniella said.
It is no disrespect to Barry Bonds, who has had perhaps the most magnificent season in baseball history, to say that his home run achievements, his slugging and on-base percentages, are not as overwhelmingly mind boggling as the Mariners winning 116 games. Or Sammy Sosa hitting 60-plus home runs for the third time in four years.
Maybe it's us. Have our attention spans become so constricted that we can only focus on one story, the one that had the mighty, muscled Bonds knocking baseballs unseemly distances?
Or maybe it's the course of history.
The Yankees' Roger Clemens was poised to become the first pitcher in history to win 20 of his first 21 starts in a season on Sept. 10. That game against Boston was rained out and when Clemens finally did reach that milestone, it passed under our radar.
Sosa did something that Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roger Maris and Mark McGwire never did. Sosa followed up his 66-and 63-home run seasons of 1998 and 1999 with one of 64. No one has ever done that and we have ignored it.
The night Sosa hit his 60th this year, the Cubs were eliminated from the playoff race. So even his hometown Chicago Tribune blew off Sosa's triumph. The Cubs wouldn't have been near playoff contention without Sosa's amazing performance. The Cubs wouldn't have led the NL Central for a big chunk of the season, or even a little chunk, without Sosa.
As wonderful as Bonds' accomplishment was, he is still one of two men to crack the 70 number. Sosa's achievement, a record of graceful consistency, accomplished without bragging, accompanied by no acclaim but with Sosa's great joy, has made Sosa a single member of a lonely club.
Sosa has cracked homer after homer after homer, and hardly ever has he had another power hitter in the lineup. Sosa had less protection this year than any Angel hitter, even with Mo Vaughn on the sidelines.
Here is another amazing fact. Sosa is the only player since World War II to hit more than 50 home runs and drive in at least 150 runs in a season. And he's done it twice now.
Something is wrong if Sosa hitting 60-plus in three different seasons is worth a line in a story and a big yawn; if Seattle winning 116 games and losing only 46 passes as if it happened every three seasons instead of every 95. Something is wrong with the way we appreciate sports if it only matters who hits the most and not who hits the most consistently.
Sosa has a higher batting average (.322 to .308) than he did in 1998 when he pushed McGwire and won the MVP award. He has more than 100 extra-base hits, only the 14th time a player has done that. Sosa, MVP in 1998, should be MVP in 2001. Bonds or Arizona's Luis Gonzalez probably will be the MVP, but here's a vote for Sosa.
Here's a vote for the man who does what no other has ever done. Here's a vote for the man who, by himself, makes his team a contender.
Here's a vote for the man who makes his fans smile because of his own smile. OK, that's a reason to like Sosa. But it is his amazing skills, yet again, that should earn Sosa the MVP award. Sosa has been so powerfully consistent that when he hit 50 in 2000, it was written as "only 50 home runs." This year he has "only" 64. For that he should get "only" another MVP trophy.
The Mariners didn't want to celebrate joining the Cubs in the record book. The 1906 Cubs lost the World Series to the White Sox, after all. "We'll be noticed if we win the World Series," Martinez said. And, after all, that's the record that matters most of all. Sosa would agree with that.
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Milestones and Records
Players and teams who made history in major league baseball this season:
Home Runs/Season: 73
Slugging Pct./Season: .863
60-Homer Seasons: 3
Wins/Season: 116 (tie with 1906 Cubs)
Consecutive Division Titles: 10
RBIs by Rookie: 130
Hits by Rookie: 242
Games with a Hit: 135 (tied with 4)
Cal Ripken Jr. (Retired)
Games: 3,001 (8th all-time)
Tony Gwynn (Retired)
Batting Avg.: .338 (16th all-time)
\o7 Diane Pucin can be reached at email@example.com.