Somewhere, sometime in the history of the baseball world, it was deemed that the 4th of July holiday should be the benchmark to determine whether your team had a snowball’s chance in Hell of waving the pennant at the end of the season.
Not sure why July 4th. Why not Flag Day, June 14? Seems appropriate; the pennant is sometimes called the “flag.’
Labor Day is cheating; there’s less than a month left, so that’s hardly a step out onto the limb.
Even the All-Star Break, in mid-July, is considered less sexy as a milestone than Independence Day.
I suppose Independence Day makes sense, in a way; the goal is to be in first place, independently, when the last pitch is thrown.
So it was determined: the team leading its division on July 4th is the odds-on favorite to be leading it when all is said and done.
Somewhere, sometime this postulate was devised.
Postulates, though, have exceptions.
For in this 2010 baseball season, you won’t have to wait until July 4 to declare the following to be true.
The American League Central Division will boil down to two teams and two teams only—and neither of them are the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, or Kansas City Royals.
The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers will be duking it out all summer for Central supremacy.
This is going to be a doozy, my friend. Consider yourself warned.
The Central Division, once again, isn’t much this year. Aside from the Twins and the Tigers, the teams in it are baseball challenged. You have the Twins, the Tigers, and three also-rans. It’s like you have the Democrats and the Republicans, and then you have the Independents, the Libertarians, and in the Royals’ case, the Whigs.
If your team doesn’t play in Minneapolis or Detroit, it’s playing out the string—before Memorial Day.
But if you’re a fan of the Twins or the Tigers, hunker down.
This is going to be a tug of war of the highest magnitude. Neither team is good enough to run away and hide from the other.
Now, it must be emphasized that a proper pennant race used to be the ones that the Dodgers and the Giants played out with so much dramatic flair, back in the day.
Those weren’t pennant races, they were battles of attrition.
Whether they played in New York or in California, Dodgers-Giants was the ultimate baseball rivalry, because unlike Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants meant that every year, both of those teams were going to be good.
Starting in the 1950s and plowing through the ‘60s, Dodgers-Giants was the most consistent of all the rivalries. The Red Sox were down in many of the years when the Yankees were winning American League pennants during the same time frame—down more often than not, actually.
It all started in 1951, when the Giants came back from the dead—over 15 games back at one point—to overtake the Dodgers thanks to Bobby Thomson’s mildly dramatic home run.
These were teams who spat venom at one another. They’d almost take turns, it seemed, winning the National League. Only, you didn’t actually win the NL Pennant in those days—you leased it.
It was in the throes of yet another bitter, nasty Dodgers-Giants tussle when, in the heat of the ’65 race, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal bludgeoned Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat—cracking big John on his melon several times before being pulled away.
Now THAT’S a rivalry!
The Tigers and Twins of 2010 might not engage in such barbaric behavior, but these teams aren’t friends.
Buckle up, folks. Make sure your tray is in the upright position. This one’s going to be turbulent.
The Twins have the better offense; the Tigers have the better bullpen. The Twins have Justin Morneau; the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera. The Twins have well-respected manager Ron Gardenhire; the Tigers counter with grizzled Jim Leyland.
This race won’t be determined on talent, though. In fact, the next time these two play, they ought to eschew the game and just dump a path of burning coals from home plate to second base.
Whoever has more players willing to walk those coals, barefoot, wins the division.
Don’t laugh; that’s the kind of mentality it’s going to take to call yourselves Central Division Champions.
Really, Twins-Tigers is becoming a nice little Hatfields-McCoys thing in baseball.
It started in 2006, when the Twins came from way behind to yank the division right from under the Tigers’ noses on the last day of the season. That time, the Wild Card was there to catch the Tigers, like one of those gigantic trampolines the fire department uses.
There was a new chapter written last season, when the Twins again came from way behind to yank the division right from under the Tigers’ noses. Even the last day of the season didn’t settle the issue; a 163rd game was needed. No Wild Card to save the Tigers that time.
I hope you’re loaded up with Pepto-Bismol and bicarbonate of soda at home. Make sure you have plenty of refills on your blood pressure meds.
This Twins-Tigers thing in 2010 is going to just about kill you, I’m certain.
They’re going to be so close to each other all summer, one will know what the other had for lunch. You won’t be able to get anything thicker than a credit card between them.
It’s going to be like this from now until the end, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Oh, someone will edge in front by a few games, beating their chest as the king of the hill. Then the other will yank them by the ankle and down they’ll go.
It’s going to be a back-and-forth, I got it-you take it sort of affair. Morneau will get as hot as a firecracker and the Twins will jump on board his shoulders for a week or two. Then Cabrera will see that and raise it a sawbuck.
Justin Verlander will equal a Tigers win every five games for a month, and fans in Detroit will feel like they have everything figured out.
And they will be wrong.
I tell you, it’s going to be a doozy.
You don’t need to wait till July 4 to figure that one out.
The fireworks have already begun.