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Grip on Sports: Pujols joins select company with his 3,000th hit, but just how select?

Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols singles against the Seattle Mariners in the fifth inning of a baseball game Friday, May 4, 2018, in Seattle. The hit was the 3,000th of his career. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols singles against the Seattle Mariners in the fifth inning of a baseball game Friday, May 4, 2018, in Seattle. The hit was the 3,000th of his career. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Numbers being what they are, and hits being what they are, yesterday was a pretty big day in baseball. And one of the big events happened across the state. Read on.

••••••••••

• The other big event didn’t even happen in the United States. The Dodgers combined on a no-hitter against the Padres in Mexico, part of Major League baseball’s outreach program.

Baseball’s marketing department should have come up with a better pitch than “come watch San Diego flail against the Los Angeles pitching staff for nine innings” – but it didn’t.

There was no marketing needed in Seattle last night. Though whether Albert Pujols was going to get his 3,000 hit or not was probably somewhat immaterial to the 41,705 in attendance, being Pujols is an Angel and all that.

Sure, being in the stands on a historic occasion is usually a badge of honor – Pujols last night became only the 32nd player to top the magic number – but these days, with everything on TV or your nearest streaming device, being there isn’t quite as big a deal.

Is Pujols? That big a deal, I mean.

One of the Los Angeles newspapers wondered if he was the fourth-best hitter of all time, using numbers – the seemingly final word in all baseball arguments these days – to bolster its case.

Yes, Pujols, who began his career years ago in St. Louis as a second baseman, is one of only four players with 3,000 hits and 600 home run, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and – here’s something that’s going to gall Mariner fans – Alex Rodriguez. That’s an impressive combination of bat control and power. And a select group.

But does that define a great hitter? For that matter, do numbers define them?

After all, for sheer volume of hits the smart money is on Pete Rose and his 4,256. But Rose, while consistent and dogged, wasn’t efficient, hitting just .303 in his career. (For the nadir of that 3,000-hit club, there is the iron man, Cal Ripken, who had 3,184 hits but only a .276 lifetime batting average.) 

Right behind Rose on the hit list is Ty Cobb, whose 4,191 hits resulted in a .367 average. He was also the youngest player to pass 3,000 hits and the first to 4,000. Cobb, however, played in an era when fences were miles away, the ball had the feel of a marshmallow and home runs were rare, so his power numbers pale in comparison to other great hitters. 

When it comes to the combination of average and power, Ted Williams may have been the best, yet he never reached the 3,000-hit mark, finishing with 2,654, of which 521 were home runs.

Not his fault, of course. He missed three years of his prime for World War II and most of two other years for the Korean War. I wonder how analytics account for those? 

No matter. Aaron is the most prolific power hitter of all time but Williams, whose career on-base percentage is a remarkable (and untouchable) .482, is the best of that group. 

And Pujols? He’s always been pretty darn good. He just may not be among the all-time greats.

• I’m going out on a limb here. I believe Crespi High point guard Brandon Williams, who once seemed a lock to attend Arizona before the FBI scandal hit, will make Gonzaga his college selection this afternoon.

Williams, who has narrowed his choices to three schools (GU, Arizona and Oregon), will announce his pick at a Southern California all-star game at around 3 p.m. Most of the recruiting folks seem to think he’ll join Oregon’s stacked recruiting class.

But Gonzaga, after Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura decided to return, is one of the favorites to reach the Final Four next season, and that seems to be important to Williams, who may only stay one year no matter where he ends up.

Struggle for a year in Tucson, roll the dice in Eugene or take a close-to-sure-thing long-NCAA-tournament run with the Zags? The latter would seem to be the smart choice.

We’ll find out in a few hours.

•••

WSU: It wasn’t a good night for the baseball team as it was pounded by third-ranked Oregon State, 17-3. Luke Heimlich won his 11th game for the Beavers. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, there is a freshman at Arizona State that is setting home run records. … We finish, once again, with Todd McNair’s testimony in his lawsuit against the NCAA.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs routed host San Diego 13-3.

EWU: Down the road in Portland, the Portland State Vikings are looking for a new assistant basketball coach.

Golf: Jim Meehan is back with his weekly column, this one focused on Idaho and its women’s golf success.

Bloomsday: Whitney Ogden’s story on the Spokane Swifts, an all-female running group, isn’t a Bloomsday piece, per se, but it does have some connections.

Preps: So what happened on Friday? First off, a Medical Lake athlete was presented with a national award. … There were also baseball playoffs as well as other baseball games, softball games, tennis matches, track meets and golf tournaments.

Mariners: Our John Blanchette was in Seattle last night and he wrote about the most prolific hitter in the stadium. No, not Pujols. Ichiro Suzuki. John has his thoughts on the changing career path Ichiro has embarked upon. … Larry Weir’s Press Box pod from yesterday covers the same ground. … The bats went silent last night during Pujols’ big evening, with the Angels winning 5-0. 

Seahawks: Cliff Avril’s career looks to be over as the Hawks waived the veteran defensive lineman yesterday. His career was shattered by a neck injury. … The newest Hawks are starting their careers, including Shaquem Griffin, who went after it hard yesterday at the rookie minicamp. Seattle announced its undrafted free agent signings as well.

Sounders: Today’s home match with Columbus is a must-win for the Sounders, even if they won’t admit it.

•••        

• I picked up a patch or two of sunburn yesterday. Can you believe it? Shocked the heck out of me. Winter is officially in the rearview mirror, run over by the glorious sun of York, er, Spokane. Until later … 


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