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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.

Phillies-Mets could get contentious tonight

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As the Mets were wrapping up a 9-0 shellacking of the Phillies on Tuesday night, reliever Jacob Rhame threw a pitch up and in to first baseman Rhys Hoskins with two outs in the ninth inning. The pitch sailed behind Hoskins’ back. The slugger wasn’t happy about the scare, understandably. Players began to trickle out of their respective dugouts, but a fracas was avoided.

Hoskins was skeptical that Rhame simply missed his spot. Per MLB.com’s Thomas Harrigan, Hoskins said, “He didn’t miss up and in the rest of the inning, so I’ll let you decide. I would assume teams are pitching me in because that’s where they think they can get me out, and that’s fine. That’s part of the game. Again, I think most guys are capable of pitching inside and not missing that bad.”

Teammate Bryce Harper said, “I don’t get it. I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday. But, I mean, if it’s baseball and you’re going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the [butt]. Not in the head. You throw 98, it’s scary now. You could kill somebody. Lose your eyesight. That’s bigger than the game.”

Indeed, two Mets were hit by pitches on Monday night. José Álvarez hit Jeff McNeil in the seventh inning, which advanced a base runner. In the very next at-bat, Juan Nicasio hit Pete Alonso with a first-pitch fastball. It was obvious neither was intentional as the Phillies were only down two runs and hitting both batters advanced base runners and led to runs scoring. It is less obvious that Rhame’s pitch to Hoskins was unintentional, but he showed empathy in his post-game comments. Rhame said, “When you accidentally sail one, it’s probably pretty scary. I’d get [angry], too.”

Will Wednesday night’s series finale be contentious? Despite being “fairly upset,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, “We do not retaliate, and we do not throw at anybody intentionally,” Jake Seiner of the Associated Press reports.

Mets manager Mickey Calloway didn’t give as straight an answer. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Calloway said, “I think at this point, you just go out there and beat people, and win. … For now, I don’t feel like anything has been intentional at us that has warranted anything from our side.” If that changes, however, Calloway said, “They’re going to have each other’s backs.”

Hopefully, neither side decides to take justice into their own hands. But, welcome to the NL East in 2019. The Mets lead the Phillies by one game, and the Braves and Nationals by 1.5 games. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out division fight all year long.