By Sam Hyman
The final day of the Major League Baseball regular season was the most exciting in the league’s history. The same could arguably be said about the final week. The range of stories was more than great enough to interest everyone from the die-hard fans to the people who cannot tell you what 6-4-3 means.
As much mainstream attention as the great storylines received, there were still a number of stories that did not nearly get their due acclaim. With hindsight being 20/20, here is an attempt at shedding light on those subjects.
NL Wild Card: Of all the storylines in baseball over the last month, perhaps to most captivating was the historic American League Wild Card race. In all of the commotion surrounding the junior’s race, not enough focus was given to the equally epic race in the National League. When the month of September began, both Wild Card spots seemed like a lock. The Atlanta Braves led in the NL by eight games over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox led by nine games over the Tampa Bay Rays. There was no way either lead would be lost. Both were.
While everybody knows that the Red Sox entered the record books with the largest September collapse in baseball history, few people know that the Braves collapse is now second on that list. The lack of attention given to Atlanta’s collapse is perhaps the least surprising snub on this list. The gaping reasons would seem to be the northeast media bias towards Boston coupled with the relative lack of fan attention towards the Braves and Cardinals. Those reasons withstanding, the lack of attention may be explained by the lack of a basis for it.
Sure, Atlanta’s collapse was nearly Boston’s equal, but by no means was it as surprising. The Atlanta Braves may not have been worthy of the spot they held. Sure, they played their way to the record they had, but in the end, the Braves proved to be every bit the second-place team that they were on paper.
Triple Crown Snub: In 602 at bats in 2011, Matt Kemp reached base by a hit 195 times. With just eight more hits, the Dodger center fielder would have led the National League in batting average. Following a season where he hit a career low .249, it seems as though an off-season break-up from singer Rihanna was a good thing for Kemp.
With all of the off the field issues that the Dodgers have gone through this year, how amazing would it have been for their star player to win the batting title. Oh yeah, he led the league in home runs and RBI as well. For those who do not know, leading the league in all three categories would have given baseball its first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and the first in the National League since Joe Medwick in 1937.
In addition to falling just eight hits short of winning the Triple Crown, Kemp was also just one home run away from just the fifth 40-40 season (40 home runs, 40 stolen bases) of all time. Not only would Kemp have been the first 40-40 player to win the Triple Crown in the same season, he would have all but solidified himself as the NL MVP.
Given that it is now clear that Kemp neither won the Triple Crown nor went 40-40, it is truly remarkable that a player, playing in Los Angeles nonetheless, came so remarkably close to both feats and nobody knew about it.
Northeast Bias: The dominant season put forth by Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander sparked a lengthy debate about the prospects of a pitcher winning the MVP. While Verlander’s season was certainly dominant, and was worthy of creating such a stir, by no means should it be considered historic. On the other hand, the respective seasons had by these two centerfielders were as historic as the come.
For the Red Sox, Ellsbury had a break out year, finally proving that he could turn potential into production. With his whopping totals of 45 doubles, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 39 steals and a .321 batting average, the 27-year-old lead-off hitter put together a season that has never been matched in league history. On the other side of the renowned rivalry, Curtis Granderson dominated the league all season long.
While finishing amongst the league leaders in many of the major statistical categories, Granderson finished the year with 136 runs scored (first), 10 triples (first), 41 home runs (second), 119 RBI (first), and 25 stolen bases. Such a statistical boom has not been seen since before the beginning of the live-ball era.
What makes the lack of attention given to the MVP candidacy of Ellsbury and Granderson so perplexing is that they both play in the northeast, a region that is normally accused of receiving unfair media-biased attention.
It is not to say that the attention given to the candidacies of Verlander and Toronto’s Jose Bautista is unwarranted, but rather, that the seeming lack of care for the historic outputs by two low-profile players and high-profile teams is shocking.