Copyright© 2005 by Tony Stevens
The last guy to hit .400 in the Majors was Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, 1941. He hit .406 that year. Ted Williams, as every baseball fan knows, was one of the finest pure hitters in the history of the Game.
Maybe the best of them all.
Hitting .400 is unbelieveably hard. Think about it -- guys who hit .270 are often paid millions of dollars a year to play this game! Sure, they've also got to have a little power, or some defensive talent, or maybe speed. Maybe this .270 hitter draws a lot of walks, has good plate discipline, and a superior on-base percentage.
But you can hang onto your job in the big leagues, by getting a scratch hit, 27 times out of every hundred chances.
And you won't be getting paid the League Minimum, either.
Now, hitting .300 is the benchmark for a star performer. Usually, no more than a dozen full-time players in either league will reach that mark and maintain it throughout the long, long season. Oh, sure, sometimes a hitter will go nuts during April and May, his average hovering around .370 and drawing all sorts of press attention.
But as the summer wears on, and the hitters wear down, that average, typically, creeps downward. That .370 hitter ends up at .305, and you get the feeling that if the season had lasted even one more week, he'd have fallen even farther.
Me? --I'm going to hit .400! Not just in the low minors. Not just in April and May. I'm going to do it in The Show -- for the entire season.
I can do it.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no Ted Williams. Never will be! Williams hit for average and for power. Ted Williams hit 521 home runs in his 19-year career. Listen, I could play for the next century and never hit 500 home runs. I haven't hit my first one yet -- not even in the minors. Not even in college, with the funky aluminum bats!
I'm pretty fast on the bases, but even triples are rare for me, because I don't hit the ball that hard at all! I'm your basic banjo hitter, with maybe the occasional well-placed two-bagger thrown in, for variety. My hits are little streamers over -- or through -- the infield. When I come up, outfielders move in tight, hoping to retrieve the ball and, maybe, have their throws beat me to second. Or hoping their fast defensive moves discourage me from even trying for second.
So my stats for "total bases" aren't that impressive.
Never mind all that. I'm gonna hit .400. I'm the best fucking hitter you ever saw! I'm a magician with a baseball bat! No power. None. But I can make contact with damned near any kind of pitch, and I can hit it pretty much where I want it to go -- way more often than most people.
Most people? Hell, way more often than anybody!
Best of all, I can knock in a shitload of runs, because even though I don't hit for power, I can damned well get a hit when it counts the most. Just get a runner on second or third, and if that fucker can run at all, I'm gonna bring him around!
And even when we don't have two out, when I'm at bat, our manager can start the runner, because he knows I'll poke it into short right field and advance the runner, if I can reach the pitch at all. Even when I don't get a hit, I will advance base runners with greater reliability than anybody playing today -- anybody. You'll soon be able to look it up! In the big leagues, they keep records on everything!
Listen, I was hell on wheels, back in college. I hit .464 for the University of Miami Hurricanes, my last year in college! I mean, sure, we used metal bats and we hit against some suspect pitchers, but, hey -- I hit four-fucking-sixty-four!
OK, so no homers, even with the rabbit bats. But, still.
Even at .464, because I weighed 163 pounds soaking wet and stood only 5 foot 9, they drafted me in the 14th round! Can you believe it? I'm going to be the next .400 hitter in the Bigs, and I'm still available in the 14th round? I was only the third guy on the Miami Hurricanes team that was drafted that year!
Oakland, it was, drafted me, and then sent me to their Class A farm -- the Stockton Ports in the California League.
I get no respect!
Well, I eventually got a little respect. By late July of my first pro season, I was hitting .420 at Stockton and had 54 runs batted in. Not too shabby for a singles hitter -- 54 ribbies, in four months! And that was mostly as a lead-off man!
Oakland sent me up to Midland, their double-A Texas League club, to finish the season. I only hit .395 there. But, hey, it was late in the year and I never had a chance to learn the pitchers!
So for the full year, it averaged out, for the two teams, .411 and a total of 81 ribbies. Good enough for promotion to Triple A for my second season -- right?
Wrong. The Oakland brass wasn't convinced. I was sent back to Midland for a second year. I was a little pissed, but not too discouraged. I figured they'd be bound to notice, if I could hit .400 again. And I did. I hit .414 in Midland, and was moved up to Triple A in mid-season. I finished at .402 in Sacramento, in the Pacific Coast League, for the remainder of that season.
I found out in early December that Oakland was going to invite me to spring training with the big club for Year Three. I was satisfied with that. I knew I could hit -- anywhere. I knew I could hit -- anybody.
It wasn't about being cocky. I wasn't overconfident. I just knew I was one helluva hitter.
It ain't bragging when you can back it up.
But it seems that what the Oakland club thought it really needed was more pitching. Supposedly, I was exactly the kind of ballplayer that the Oakland Athletics were seeking -- a guy who could hit for average and knock in some runs. I had thought I was the perfect Billy Beane-style ballplayer. But Oakland's famous General Manager, Billy Beane, pulled an off-season trade with Baltimore for two minor league pitchers, and sent me to the Orioles!
I'm told that the two pitchers Oakland got were very promising prospects. Me? I had nothing against playing for the Orioles. The Orioles were a decent club, and they were up-and-coming under their fairly new manager, Paul Warren.
Only, the Orioles notified me, after the off-season trade, that they were assigning me to their Triple-A farm in Ottawa.
So I called Mike Flanagan, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations. I called him at home -- on Christmas Eve. Don't ask me how I got his home phone number.
"This is Joshua Brennan."
"Joshua Brennan. --Joshua Brennan... --Oh, yes! Yes, Joshua. We just traded for your contract -- with the Athletics."
"Well. What can I do for you, Joshua?"
"You can invite me to spring training at the Orioles' major league camp."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me. You can invite the only .400 hitter in your entire organization to the Big Club's training camp. --What the Hell is wrong with you people?"
"Joshua, you're only a kid, just out of college..."
"Two years out of college. I hit .464 in NCAA Division I. I've hit over .400 in each of my two full years in the minors. I'm going to be 24 years old in May. I'm ready! For God's sake, Mr. Flanagan, give me a fucking chance!"
"I assure you, Joshua, we're going to watch your progress at Ottawa with great care. If we didn't think you had a future with the Orioles, we'd never have traded for you! We gave up two excellent pitching prospects..."
"The A's had already invited me to their camp for spring training."
"Well, Joshua, that doesn't mean that we..."
"Brennan. My name is Joshua Brennan. Mr. Brennan to you! If you can't show me the respect my performance on the field deserves, you can damned well show me basic courtesy on the telephone! You've never met me in your life, and I don't remember inviting you to call me by my first name. So call me 'Mr. Brennan.' --And when you finally invite me to the Big Club's camp, and you meet me and shake my hand, then I'll say to you, 'Nice to meet you, Mr. Flanagan! --Call me Joshua!'"
"Listen -- Mister Brennan," Flanagan said, "It's Christmas Eve, and I'm spending the Holidays with my family. I'll be back in my office on January 3. You can call me there -- during regular business hours. You can tell my secretary that 'Mr. Brennan' is calling, and if I'm not tied up, I'll take your call, Mr. Brennan! Meanwhile, I'd suggest you look into the apartment rental situation in Ottawa, Ontario. I'm sure the team has sent you advance information. If not, you could look it up on Google."
"Merry Christmas to you and yours, Mr. Flanagan!" I said, and I smashed the phone down, hard.
I didn't expect to be invited to the Orioles' camp in Florida. I knew I couldn't browbeat the team's vice president.
But I knew, now, that Vice President Mike Flanagan would damned well remember who I was!