Saturday, September 12, 2009

Franchise hit king

Tragic number as of Saturday morning: 17. The Tigers are trying to let the Twins back in the hunt, and the Twins just won't take them up on the offer.

On to more pleasant topics.

As you may have heard, Derek Jeter on Friday night passed Lou Gehrig in career hits, making Jeter the career hit leader for the Yankees. This is reckoned a really big deal by the New York media and by ESPN, which is technically not part of the New York media but likes to act as if it is.

Being a provincial Minnesotan (and not a provincial New Yorker), the question that obviously arises is: Who is the Twins franchise leader? And the answer is, it depends on how you define franchise.

If we're just dealing with the 49 seasons the team has been located in the Twin Cities, the answer is Kirby Puckett.

But if we accept the 61 seasons in which it played its home games in Washington — the old Senators — it's Sam Rice, whose Hall of Fame plaque appears above. Who?

Rice is the answer to a trivia question: Who is the closest to 3,000 hits without going over? He finished 13 short of the milestone, which didn't get that much attention in the 1930s.

Three things to look at in his stats (click on the link above): how few homers, how many doubles and triples, and how few strikeouts. Griffith Stadium was a tremendously spacious stadium during Rice's time — more than 400 feet down the left field foul line and with a 30-foot-high fence in right — which helps account for the low homer totals.

He played on all three Senators teams to win the AL pennant, although he was just a part-timer on the 1933 team. He had a famous disputed catch in the 1925 World Series, in which he fell into the right field seats and disappeared from view before emerging clutching the ball.

Provincial Minnesotan or not, I'll take Rice as the franchise leader over Puckett. After all, 2,889 hits (Rice's total with the Senators) looks better than 2,304 (Puckett's total).

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