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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 24: some international records fall

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

We talk a lot about all-time records in baseball history quite a lot, but given how radically the game has changed over the years — and given how radically the player population has changed over the years — that often requires us to compare apples to oranges.

Sure, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth’s exploits were and still are great, but it’s worth remembering that they were playing against inferior competition compared to the players of today. There were no black players in baseball at all until 1947. Latino players were extraordinarily rare, with only those with Spanish heritage — as opposed to African or indigenous heritage — allowed to play because of their light skin. With black and Latino players out of the picture, it’s hard to argue that white players didn’t have a much easier go of it.

Which isn’t to say that we should not look at the entirely of baseball history. What happened happened and, given how baseball and its fans hold on to history as much as they do, treating the eras as distinct for records purposes is never going to happen. We can, however — and we probably should, however —  make note of the accomplishments of players of color who came into the game after the near-century of segregation ended and give them their props.

At least three players who wouldn’t have made it onto a major league field had their careers began before 1947 set new marks in 2018: Bartolo Colon, Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre.

  • With his victory against the Seattle Mariners on August 7 — his 246th career victory — Colon became the winningest Latin American-born pitcher in Major League history, passing Nicaragua’s Dennis Martínez. Colon finished the year with one more win and now sits at 247.
  • With a second-inning double against the Oakland Athletics on April 5, the Dominican-born Beltre became the all-time leader in hits by a player from Latin America, passing Rod Carew of Panama with his 3,054th safety. A couple of months later he because the all-time leader in hits by any non-U.S. native, passing Ichiro Suzuki. Beltre just retired and is Cooperstown bound with 3,166 hits.
  • Finally, on May 26, Choo hit a homer against the Royals. That was his 176th career bomb, putting the Korean slugger past Japan’s Hideki Matsui for the most homers by a player from Asia. Choo will begin the 2019 season at 189 homers and counting.

Colon’s wins total doesn’t come close to Cy Young’s, Beltre’s hit total doesn’t exactly make him Ty Cobb and Choo’s homer total doesn’t make him Babe Ruth. But it’s also the case the Cy Young wasn’t facing hitters like Beltre and Choo and Cobb and Ruth weren’t facing any pitchers of color whatsoever. I don’t think it takes anything away from those immortals to note that. And I think it takes much away from baseball history not to note the milestones reached by Colon, Beltre and Choo.

B.J. Upton is going by B.J. Upton again

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Outfielder B.J. Upton went by the name B.J., short for Bossman Junior, through the 2014 season. His father Manny was known as Bossman, hence Bossman Junior. Upton decided he wanted to be referred to by his birth name Melvin starting in 2015, saying that everyone except baseball fans knew him by that name. Now, he’s back to B.J., Scott Boeck of USA TODAY Sports reports.

For those keeping score at home, Upton is the artist formerly and currently known as B.J.

Upton, 34, hasn’t played in the majors since 2016. He signed a minor league deal with the Indians in December 2017 but was released in the middle of last March and wasn’t able to latch on with another team. It seems unlikely he finds his way back to the majors.