Ask kids to name their fave third baseman and most of them, especially the less knowledgeable ones ages 30 and older, probably would say A-Rod, who, playing the hot corner for the first time in 2004, compiled the following: 36 home runs, 106 runs batted in, and a batting average of .286; he committed 13 errors. Alex Rodriguez is 29. By just about any account, he's in his athletic prime.
Keep the above numbers in mind, because now we're going to look at what the greatest Hall of Fame third basemen did during the seasons they each turned 25, which is Adrian Beltre's age. Mike Schmidt's numbers: 36, 116, .282, 26. George Brett: 9, 62, .294, 16. Brooks Robinson: 23, 86, .303, 11.
Got all of the above crunched and digested? Last season, new Seattle Mariner Beltre, playing for the Dodgers, had 48 home runs, and 121 RBIs, hit .334, and made just 10 errors. Beltre's 2004 numbers also are better than any single-year record compiled by Schmidt, Brett, or Robinson. The year Schmidt muscled 48 home runs, he also hit just .286 and had 27 errors. Brett? The year he hit .390, he also had just 24 home runs and 118 RBIs, with 17 errors.Robinson never had more than 28 home runs or 118 RBIs, or fewer than 11 full-season errors.
Dunno about you, but this is getting a little number-numbing for me. Oh yeah, and Beltre didn't even win the Most Valuable Player award last season. Maybe he will for the 2005 M's.
The Beltre arrival, of course, constitutes the greatest potential for local impact since 2001, which ushered in the seismic tandem of Ichiro Suzuki and the Nisqually earthquake. By the way, I take full credit for Beltre being here. This is because, last Nov. 1, I sat on a barstool nursing my traditional longneck of buttermilk lite and applied my patented anti-jinx, stating with great authority: "The Mariners will never sign anybody as great as Adrian Beltre."
Naturally, on Dec. 17, they did just that. It came during a flurry of activity that also manifested the Bunyan-esque first baseman Richie Sexson (he homered his first at bat in the initial practice game March 2 in Peoria, Ariz., when Beltre also had a long ball). It means that the M's merely have to worry about whether any of their three-dozen prospects for 11 or 12 pitching spots can keep opposing teams in single digits, because Beltre, Sexson, Ichiro, et al., ought to be good for football-like run production.
The "everyday" lineup promises Ichiro (right field), Randy Winn (left field), Bret Boone (second base), Sexson (first base), Beltre (third base), Raul Ibanez (designated hitter), Jeremy Reed (center field), a catcher, and a shortstop. New Manager Mike Hargrove probably has exaggerated in claiming to have toyed with hundreds of alternatives to the above. He needs, though, to be flexible as the team competes in Arizona spring ball, because the M's still have hungry hopefuls in training camp who are leftovers from last season's summer version of protracted spring training. It will be hard for all but the above to make this club.
Let's just say, then, that offense seems at least a lesser problem than last year; same for the defense, which should make fans forget when Rich Aurilia muffed one in the first inning of the home opener and set the slapstick tone for the season. It means that the mound staff, as usual, will decide whether the M's (opening April 4 against the Twins) can win their division against a suddenly pitching-diminished Oakland, as well as Texas and Anaheim clubs with their own unknowns.
Well, pass me that stubby of diet buttermilk, and I'll tell you not to worry about pitching. Why? Joel Pineiro and Gil Meche will be healthy and fully mature right-handed starters. Bobby Madritch will return as the dominant left-hander he appeared to be a few times last year. "Everyday" Eddie Guardado might not pitch often, but the recovered closer should be able to. Add to the staff veterans Jamie Moyer and Jeff Nelson, Ryan "No Run Support" Franklin, and a few other reliable vets, and all you need to do is wait for midseason.
That's when Felix Hernandez, said to be the greatest young right-hander since Bob Feller, will have gone 8-0 for Tacoma. It's when Rafael Soriano will have shown he's recovered from Tommy John surgery and can handle long relief.
If all goes well, then, this is an M's contingent that could (it's a "C-O-U-L-D" the size of those letters in the Hollywood Hills) actually win the 99 games they lost last year A-N-D get to the World Series—or not.
Will Beltre equal what he put up in '04? OK, maybe he won't, but here's a thought: What if Beltre only gets better? Jeez, if he gets much better, fans might even have to think of him as worthy company for Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Brooks Robinson, or—gasp!—Alex Rodriguez.