No-hitter offers no guarantee of future success, history shows

ON FANTASY SPORTS

Commentary

June 14, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

Nothing charges a ballpark like the possibility of a no-hitter.

When a pitcher gets into the sixth inning with that 0 under the H on the scoreboard, everything changes.

Players crowd to one side of the bench, leaving the starter to his thoughts. Patrons no longer leave their seats for between-innings beers. Beat writers fret, trying to imagine words that will be as memorable as the game they're describing.

I can only imagine how Detroit fans must have felt Tuesday night. Not only did Justin Verlander become the first Tiger since Jack Morris to pitch a no-hitter, but he also seemed to announce his arrival as a future great by striking out 12 with 101-mph fastballs and impossibly bending curves.

I felt pretty bad because I failed to keep him in one fantasy league this offseason, but that's neither here nor there.

Because no-hitters are such memorable, galvanizing experiences, we often ascribe great meaning to them. The game becomes more than a single outing in a which a starter has good stuff and receives a few breaks - a great stab by the shortstop or a line drive falling just foul. It can feel, instead, like a gateway to legend.

But the world doesn't work that way. Most great moments are just that, moments. Can they illustrate special qualities about a performer? Sure. Do they offer any assurance that we'll see those qualities over and over for many years? No.

This hit home for me as I gazed at one of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's most effective displays last month. Posted on one wall in Cooperstown are balls from many of history's no-hitters. At first, it's amazing to be visually reminded that Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax had ridiculous enough stuff to post seven and four no-hitters, respectively.

Several Orioles who toured the museum that same weekend mentioned their awe at Ryan's record.

But what struck me about the display was the amazing cross-section of pitchers unified by that special, one-night achievement.

Certainly, there were future greats who announced themselves with early no-hitters - Bob Feller, Jim Palmer, Randy Johnson.

Others such as Tom Seaver and Warren Spahn added no-hitters to resumes that already glittered.

Could Verlander become one of those guys?

Maybe, but maybe he's the next Ewell "The Whip" Blackwell.

Blackwell was 24 and on his way to 22 wins for the Cincinnati Reds when he pitched a no-hitter in 1947. He stood 6 feet 6 and possessed great stuff, leading the league in strikeouts that year. He was done as a regular by the time he turned 30.

Maybe he's Steve Busby, who pitched no-hitters in 1973 and 1974 but saw his career ruined by injuries at age 25.

Johnny Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters at age 23 and was turning into a fine pitcher when World War II got in the way. He finished 119-121 for his career.

Former Orioles public-address announcer Rex Barney pitched a no-hitter in 1948. But as he was happy to tell anyone who called his radio show, he could never control his awesome fastball for long enough to make a great career. He was done two years later.

Verlander's probably too polished for that, but maybe he'll join the likes of Vida Blue or John Candelaria - prodigies who pitched no-hitters and went on to solid careers but rarely recaptured their early magic due to wear and tear.

Ramon Martinez pitched a no-hitter in 1995 only to be rapidly eclipsed by his brother, Pedro, who has never tossed one.

None of this is to say that Verlander isn't a future great. He's got the stuff, the performance record and, if we're to believe those around him, the mentality. But pitching is hard. It grinds the body to such a degree that even among the prodigiously talented, long-term success rates aren't high. As much as it's a testament to the Ryans and Koufaxes and Spahns, the no-hitter wall at the Hall of Fame is a reminder of that difficulty.

Remember that during all the Verlander coronations this week.

This column may not have a lot to do with the nuts and bolts of fantasy. But I've always viewed the game as a philosophical exercise as well. And I believe there's value - fantasy and otherwise - in appreciating spectacular moments for what they are without demanding that they be beacons, pointing to something more.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

To read Sheil Kapadia's all-fantasy team, go to That Fantasy Guy blog at baltimoresun.com/fantasy.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.