In small town Minnesota of the late 80s there was a youngster who developed a baseball fever, and the only prescription was more baseball. Who was that youngster? His name was Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn. I kid! I kid! It was I, Quinn Vincent Hough of Barnesville, Minnesota. My daily routine was specific, and it involved numbers and obsession. No, I was never called “The Young Rainman of Baseball” (to my face), but I was known to memorize statistics and numerical codes. To this day I can still remember the code to reach Mike Tyson on the classic Nintendo game, “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” (007-373-5963)! When I was in elementary school, the teachers began to suspect that nice ol’ Quinn might be a great cheating mind, when in reality I was only scribbling down the initials of my favorite Minnesota Twins behind my own name at the top of my tests. K-A-H. “Quinn, can you explain this?” the teacher said. “Ke-…Ke-…Kent Allen Hrbek. Why?” I didn’t understand. The only way to shake it off was to concentrate on my routine. Focus.
The morning began with a small dose of R.B.I. Baseball on Nintendo. One has to practice to become the best. To be the man, you have to beat the man, and there was no way in hell I was going to let the “computer” or anyone else take me down. The afternoon was devoted to library time and valuable research. History. I devoured baseball encyclopedias like a young Peter Gammons, and read about the greats such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson. Back then young baseball minds such as myself couldn’t You Tube, Google, iTunes or even MapQuest Ty Cobb, but I did know that the Tiger legend hit .420 in 1911 and never hit more than 12 home runs in a single season. Facts.
When school was let out, my life turned into a baseball Smörgåsbord. Baseball cards were scattered on the floor, usually Topps and Donruss, and I contemplated which of my friends was trying to screw me over in a trade. My baseball glove was on one hand, and I was workin’ the phone with the other trying to gather my neighborhood pals for a game across the street at the Clay County Fairgrounds. Planning.
The early evening was a time when dreams became reality. Technology, statistics and history all came together as I learned precision hitting at our makeshift field. Sure, the idea was to hit the ball on the hot tin roof of a building, but one could carefully place the ball with a sharp line drive and run around the bases for a home run. Precision.
The Minnesota Twins had won the World Series in 1987, and that same year I was introduced to R.B.I. Baseball on Nintendo. It was almost too much baseball Mojo for a seven-year-old. Although the game was not licensed by Major League Baseball, it was licensed by the Player’s Association so that real names could be used. There were ten teams to choose from including my beloved Minnesota Twins. Yes! I could play as the 1987 World Series squad and destroy the rival Detroit Tigers any time I wanted to. This was an amazing time in my life, yet I hoped to live in a world where one could play through a normal season and track season statistics. Dreams.
As time passed and yours truly become a great baseball mind, I began to develop my own baseball dice game and it was solely for my own entertainment. The game was all about numbers. I created a numerical system, rolled the dice and kept track of season statistics in my notebook. The paper took a beating from my pencil erasers as I updated the stats after each game. It wasn’t long before I introduced my creation to my closest friends and they learned to develop their own system. The goal was to bring the astronomical batting averages down to reality. We knew that a .621 average after 40 games was not realistic, so we had to be more creative with our approach and learn how to play “small-ball” with the dice yet keep the excitement of the game at a high level. The numbers didn’t lie and we brought our dice superstars down to earth with new and improved numerical regulations. Nine, ten and eleven were singles before? Guess what? Now they are outs. The dice was rolled with fury and we crunched statistics like nobody else. It wasn’t all about homers. It was about finding the blind spot. Vision.
On August 21st, Ichiro Suzuki became the third player in professional baseball to reach 4,000 hits. The New York Yankee has played in Major League Baseball since 2001, however his first nine were as a member of the Orix Blue Wave in Japan’s Pacific League. Does Ichiro belong in the same class as Ty Cobb and Pete Rose? Yes, absolutely. Ichiro is a master of precision hitting and his career numbers are astonishing. The legend compiled at least 200 hits in each of his first eleven years in Major League Baseball with Seattle before moving on to play with the New York Yankees. Ichiro set a new bar of excellence upon his arrival in the United States, but this modern great’s numbers and place in history have been overshadowed by the steroid era and the rise of several forms of technology.
When I read about baseball history as a kid, I learned that Ty Cobb was an amazing contact hitter which made him one of the best baseball players of all-time. Cobb wasn’t a power hitter and from all accounts he wasn’t a very nice person. However, the numbers didn’t lie. If I could have put him on my R.B.I. baseball team back in 1987, my Nintendo game would have elevated to another level simply because I knew he could hit. Yes, I could rely on Hrbek for the big blast, but I needed someone to put the ball in play and steal some bases. In the modern age of video games (which I haven’t played for years), I could create my own Ty Cobb and turn him into a power hitter. That wasn’t my reality twenty-five years ago. In 1987, it would be another ten years before I even knew what the F the Internet was, and my only source of information back then was the library and numbers.
In 2013, you can type “Ichiro Suzuki” into You Tube and find some fun highlights. How entertaining can they really be though, right? An Ichiro singles compilation? Precision throws from the outfield? Boring! We want big and we want it now. Show me home runs! Show me swag! My time is limited, and I don’t want to hear about a guy that chooses not to hit home runs. Right? Ichiro is clearly well respected, but our culture of today doesn’t necessarily jump out of their seat for aging, contact hitters.
Where does Ichiro Suzuki fit in 2013? Will the new crop of young baseball minds pay any attention to the 39-yeard old while he is still playing? Video may have killed the Ichiro bar of hitting excellence, but in the future, thanks to technology, youngsters will be able to visually study his style and look beyond the numbers.