Greatest season yet? Time will tell
Late-season dramas will determine '07's place in history
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
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In an already great season that has included a new home-run king, there is still far more drama yet to unfold around the game.
Perspective is the burden of the present. It is difficult to appreciate seminal events while we're in the middle of them.
Ballplayers producing memorable feats are fond of saying, "I'll reflect on this when I'm through, and maybe then I'll be able to fully appreciate it." It is a sentiment to which fans engrossed in this 2007 season can fully relate.
Is this the grand old game's greatest season? It could very well be -- with the final regular-season chapter, as well as the epilogue of October, still to be written.
As far as the confluence of all-time records, personal milestones, individual feats and heart-stopping pennant races are concerned, there may never have been a time in the Major Leagues like the present.
The 1920s of Ruth, Gehrig, Grove and Alexander were branded the sport's Golden Age.
Well, we could be in the middle of the Platinum Age.
The all-time home run record fell to Barry Bonds' picture-perfect swing. Tom Glavine notched his 300th win and Pedro Martinez entered Labor Day on the cusp of his 3,000th strikeout. Sammy Sosa hit his 600th homer, and Ken Griffey threatens to do so before the season is tucked in.
It has been five months of round numbers run amok. Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas both sped through the 500-homer sign, and Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez are nearing that intersection. Trevor Hoffman broke ground for the 500-save club.
Craig Biggio carved the 3,000th notch in his hits belt. Fuzzy-cheeked rookies (Clay Buchholz), irreverent left-handed veterans (Mark Buehrle) and young aces (Justin Verlander) have unfurled no-hitters.
Good Lord, this hasn't just been a Bud Selig season. It has been a Steven Spielberg production, with the pacing of Quentin Tarentino's direction.
And if all that isn't enough, the main act is just beginning, a September "stretcher" drive that may best be viewed in an oxygen tent.
On Labor Day, 14 teams find themselves within five games of a postseason berth.
Oh ... and when the music will stop on Sept. 30, MLB will have again set an all-time attendance record of nearly 80 million.
Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain so yellow
Chances are, what we will most remember about this season has yet to happen. It could be that kind of September. Individual feats tend to be transient, in the sense that records are made to be broken and milestones will continue to be reached.
But nothing endures as the memory of a blood-boiling potboiler of a pennant fight to the last swing. Fans instantly associate "1978" with "Bucky Dent." But, quick, who got his 500th home run that same season? Who reached 3,000 hits? The answers aren't as reflexive -- Willie McCovey and Pete Rose.
This phenomenon is partly explained by the fact that September is the most meaningful month of the regular season. This is the time for the deal-closers.
This is the time when players' and fans' obsessions are the same: To be winners, to have bragging rights, whether at the winter's rubber-chicken circuit or down at the local bowling alley. So never is fans' empathy with players as strong, their secondary pleasure as intense.
So it remains for these final four weeks to validate 2007 as the best season ever.
As Atlanta reliever Octavio Dotel said the other day, "September is the money month."
"August and September are 'experience' months, especially for pitchers," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. "The secret to this thing is to be ahead the last day of the season.
"That's what you go to Spring Training for, that's what you posture for all summer long -- to get to this point. What you find out in September is if you're good enough. And that's what we're going to find out."
These aren't whodunit mysteries, but who-will-do-it cliffhangers. Entering Monday, the cumulative lead in the National League's three divisions was 5 1/2 games. In the American League, the Angels have opened up a 6 1/2-game West lead over Seattle and Boston has again pulled away to a six-game lead over New York in the East; that simply means the Yankees and Mariners are shadowing each other for the Wild Card, two games apart.
Even when not so prevalent, fights to the finish aren't novel. Why, only last season we had to wait through the final weekend to see who would win the AL Central or the NL West, and whether the Cardinals would survive their final-week meltdown.
So what qualifies this season as potentially the best, in a historical sense? Consider the amazing storyline that four of MLB's charter franchises -- with the body of war stories that implies -- are mounting dramas not seen in six decades.
For all of the competitive venom between them and their fans, the Cubs and the Cardinals, apparently destined to fight it out for the NL Central flag, have not finished one-two since 1945. (And the only ones who could come between them are the Brewers, who haven't had even a winning season since 1992.)
A similar plot plays out in the AL Central between the Indians and the Tigers, who have not finished one-two since 1940.
That should lend the remaining weeks some perspective.