by Ken Pike
One of the wonderful things about popular sports is the debate that it causes. No matter whether listening to my girlfriend’s brother discussing the merits of the latest round of walk spoiling (golf), or hearing the commentators of Euro 2012 hailing Spain as possibly the greatest football team of all time, there is endless debate to be had thanks to the endless supply of ways to measure greatness.
Spain have won two world cups and a Euro competition back to back now and entered the record books for most goals in a final and many other reasons too, whereas the magical abilities of Pele et al in 1970 remain football legend over 40 years later. Whether Spain 2012 or Brazil 1970 is the greatest team of all time could only ever be settled by pitting the two sides against each other, but unless time travel is invented and applied to the use of measuring sporting greatness, it is both a sad fact and a beautiful thing that we shall never know.
The simple thing is that winning margins, statistics of accuracy, efficiency etc are all determined not only by the winning team, but by the class of the teams they face. It could be argued that Spain were phenomenal in 2012, but frankly much of their opposition was mediocre at best with their expected big final opponents Germany getting knocked out by the same France side that barely beat a poor England side.
In the world of motor racing, for much of the 90s Michael Shumacher dominated the championships winning race after race by enormous margins. He has records that will likely never be broken over a glorious career. However, his comeback into the sport three years ago have put all of that into question as he now races in a less potent car than the blistering Ferrari, he is regularly out qualified by his young compatriot teammate, and he has failed to get a win since his return. Was his amazing form in the 90s due to having by far the fastest car and weak opposition or was it due to a greatness and spark that he has now all but lost?
There are countless more examples I could go through of seemingly unbeatable records getting smashed: Mark Spitz’s five Olympic golds got ruined by Michael Phelps getting eight, youngest racer to win a grand prix Fernando Alonso got beat by some German lad called Sebastian who might be quite good some day, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron no longer have their names next to home run records thanks in no small part to medicinal advances helping the likes of Bonds to achieve improbable muscle mass, and so on and so forth. But does that mean the modern versions that superseded them are better, or do they face weaker opposition and are they helped by better sport science (or possibly steroids in some cases – let’s face it, some cases have been pretty clear cut, but even unproven accusations mean that whether Usain Bolt is a force of nature or a force of medicine is likely to be debated long after his career is over and he is just one current example of many such allegations among current sporting excellence.)
So it is rare the be able to unequivocally say that a team or player is the greatest ever. What is more possible is to say that a team is having its greatest year or period ever. The Spanish football team are certainly claiming that one right now, Bolt must be looking at London 2012 with a feeling of supreme confidence and young Mr Vettel can look back at last year as being an early pinnacle in his career that he can aim to surpass in future years.
It gets even harder when you talk baseball. Most wins in a season? 1906 Cubs/2001 Mariners. Most hall of famers? Complicated: as one of the oldest teams Giants have 56 that ever played for them, Yankees have 21 whose names are associated with them primarily, and 1927 Yankees had the most at one time including some blokes called Ruth and Gherig. Some recent current teams, notably the 98 Yankees, have line-ups that include a lot of future hall of famers but they are not yet eligible and can’t be discounted. Biggest winning margins? Again the ‘27 Yankees outscoring opponents by almost 400 runs. Win streaks? Dynasty eras? Overcoming the toughest opposition? Who knows.
Best players, let alone their best years are just as hard if not harder to measure even if you boil it down to position. Would you rather have hall of famers Aaron, Ruth, Gherig, Dimaggio, Young, Ryan, or current greats like Rodrigues, Puyols, Halladay, Hamilton or Lincecum on your dream team? Let’s face it, a large part of your decision making process in this question will be based on what shirt you choose to wear on your days off watching ESPN. Being a D’backs fan I would probably pick some names that would have experienced pundits (and many of you) in fits of laughter.
Some will analyse further looking at the stats, but do these take into account developments in the sport? Hamilton and Lincecum are pitching against the grain with modern sports science helping batters extract every last ounce of speed and power from every hit. Pujols and Rodrigues are certainly more athletic opponents than Ryan or Young faced back in the day. There are other metrics which can’t even be reasonably compared, for example the fastest officially recorded pitch is 105 mps by Aroldis Chapman in 2010 at PETCO ballpark, but anecdotally Nolan Ryan hit that speed regularly.
So what about Herts baseball club? I don’t have access to individual player records so I won’t go into that at this level but throughout the relatively brief (in baseball terms) history of the club, there have certainly been some impressive highs. The Falcons have won the double A league in 2004 and 2007 and the Triple A in 2008. The junior teams have had recent success with the Herts All Stars winning the Under 14s Futures Tournament and the 2010 National Baseball Championship heralding a very bright future. The club has been the largest club in the leagues by membership numbers, and in amateur sports that alone is a measure of success.
This year however, with the playoffs only a few short weeks away, all four senior teams have hit highs that were never expected 12 months ago. The Hawks and Falcons are fighting tooth and nail to gain top spot going into the post season, while in the single A both the Eagles and Raptors are in with a shout of making the playoffs. Admittedly the Eagles are facing very long odds that would require a mixture of other results going their way and some impressive upsets against top of the league teams, the Raptors have one toe in the door with a win against the mid table Mavericks next weekend all but securing their passage to the playoffs and a second win against barrel scraping Richmond sealing the deal.
As a club, rather than four individual teams, the Herts are experiencing a real renaissance after a difficult couple of years. Last year’s departure of many top players thanks in no small part to departing players forming their own team and pulling top class players with them left all three remaining teams struggling to compete at their respective levels. The Falcons finished 2011 with a 4-19 record that was not much to sing about, the Eagles taking a sabbatical from appearing at all thanks to a lack of players, the Hawks marginally bettered the Falcons record with 5-15 and the Raptors had started the season depleted of experience and getting beaten up by teams that should have arguably played at a higher level though they turned around the second half and finished with three wins to their name providing a glimpse of things to come.
This year has been a case of night and day. Impressive big name acquisitions in the pre season at the Falcons level had the effect of solidifying all the lower teams, allowing the Hawks and Raptors to cling on to players that might have ordinarily been asked to do their best at a higher league. The Falcons now boast some of the best players in the leagues and as such are fighting a pitched battle with the Nationals and the fading Mets for top spot.
The Hawks led ably by the managing partnership of Andy Cornish and Greg Bochan who both provide hitting power coupled with catching and pitching might respectively, are joint top with the Mammoths and Sidewinders with everything to play for in the last few games.
The Raptors started slightly shakily in their first two games but soon moved up the gears and now play with ever increasing confidence with a stunning win over the Old timers putting their playoff future in their own hands courtesy of a homer from powerhouse Gilberto Medina, 6 for 6 batting by yours truly and a composed and solid pitching performance by young Jake Caress adding to a season accented by the impressive performances of the young additions to the squad. They go into a must win game against the Mavericks knowing that if they can take the Archers to the wire and beat the grumpy men from Enfield, they can bring the fight to anyone in the league.
The newly reformed Eagles settled in to the single A with low expectations placed upon them as supposed training grounds for new and young blood. New manager Duncan Hoyle had different ideas from being the whipping boys though and benefitted from some very talented new players including the defensive powers of pitcher Reagan Wood and offensive abilities of the current Eagles home run leader Aidrian Smithers (he has 1). They now sit level on games with the supposedly superior Raptors (who they fought well against earlier in the season despite ultimately losing) however facing much tougher opposition for their final games and head to head results against the Raptors and other nearby teams going against them.
The Falcons, Hawks and Raptors all hold the reigns now and can decide their own futures by winning from here on in. The Eagles face a battle, but having already far exceeded expectations, I would not be the one to bet against them, and just how great would a semi final playoff between the Eagles and raptors be? What are the chances of all four teams getting to the playoffs? Slim, admittedly, but possible. The chances of winning the whole lot and finishing with three new trophies in our cabinet? The chances of making the best year in Herts history? The chances of turning the 2012 Herts into a three league winning club?
The greatest season ever can only be determined by history, by ultimate results, and the names on the trophy at the end of it. With equal parts steel, determination, teamwork, skill and importantly luck Herts can achieve staggering heights. In this country, August is when baseball history is made.
What might be the greatest Herts season ever, has only just begun.
Falcons face double headers against rivals Mets and Nationals next followed by easy games against bottom of the table Croydon Pirates and Bracknell Blazers. Four out of four against the Mets and Nationals would put them in top spot and leave their fates in their hands. Four losses would leave them with a good chance of playoffs but the Diamondbacks and Mustangs would likely be taking them to the wire. With this many games left there are too many permutations to list them all.
The Hawks also face the Sidewinders and Mustangs in their fight to make the playoffs but with several rain postponements there are still a lot of games to play. Wins against the top teams would put them in a strong position but there are not many easy games left for them with the Brentwood Stags providing the only bottom three club for them yet to face, the rest are mid table must winners. Again, with 7 games left, there are too many permutations to list.
The win against the Old Timers puts them in the driving seat. With head to heads largely going their way with their opponents, a win against Guildford next week puts them firmly in charge of the wildcard spot. Head to head results against the Eagles, Old timers, and Mavericks makes a win against bottom of the table Richmond would guarantee passage regardless of results, but even a loss in the second game would need freak results elsewhere to knock them out. A collapse by Hove Tuesday could even get them top wildcard place, but the Marauders and the Archers have pretty much sealed the top spots. However, a loss to Mavericks spins that on its head and leaves them needing results elsewhere to go their way whether they win the following week or not.
The Eagles sit level with the Raptors on wins and losses, but behind in the table having lost their head to head. To make matters worse, their final opponents are Hove Tuesday and London Marauders, both teams they will have a tough time beating. For the Eagles to progress they would likely have to win both games and other results would need to go their way. Either Hove would need a complete collapse for the rest of the season paving the way for Raptors and Eagles to both qualify, or the Eagles do it at the cost of the Raptors, but they need to better the Raptors record not equal it.