There could be some history made on Friday night in Buffalo. Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mudhens needs one more homer to break the all-time International League career home run mark. Before you say "big deal" as I was tempted to do, you should know who Mike Hessman is and how he made this journey over a long and varied career.
First off he was born in Fountain Valley, California, and grew into the dimensions of a true slugger. He is 6'5" and 215 pounds. He was chosen in the 15th round of the 1996 MLB draft by Atlanta. He made it to the "Show" with the Braves in 2003. He had a long looping swing and struck out too much and generally over a short-lived big league career, the 3B/1B also seemed to be stuck behind better players such as Chipper Jones. Besides Atlanta, Hessman also made pit stops in Detroit and with the New York Mets between 2003 and 2010, hitting .188 with 14 home runs.
Over time Hessman became a fixture in the International League. Now 36, he has slugged 258 homers in the "I" to tie the late Ollie Carnegie, who spent the bulk of his career playing in Buffalo. Carnegie played his final season with the Bisons in 1945. These two were a study in physical contrasts. While Hessman is 6'5", Carnegie was only 5'7" and weighed 175 pounds.
Surely the Major League home run record is more impressive and more prestigious. Babe Ruth broke Roger Connors' career mark of 138 back in 1921. The Bambino ran that total up to 714 by 1935, and that mark endured until Hank Aaron broke it on April 8, 1974 at Atlanta against Al Downing and the Dodgers. So Babe Ruth held the career home run record for 53 years.
Carnegie's mark of 258 has stood since the year he retired as a player in 1945. If you do the math, that's 69 years. Oddly enough Carnegie never played in the Majors, largely because he didn't start playing pro ball on a regular basis until he joined Buffalo at age 32 in 1931. Before that he played mainly semi-pro or amateur ball and held down a regular job.
Nowadays 258 home runs doesn't sound like all that imposing a number. But remember today, it's all about player development. If you don't make the Majors by your mid-20's or maybe late 20's if you're lucky, you're going to be out of a job. You have to have a special talent and be a unique individual, as Mike Hessman must be to stick around until the age of 36.
Hessman had a bit of a scare about a week ago. He had to have some tissue removed from his nose and his forehead. Luckily it proved to be non-cancerous. He missed three games this week waiting for the swelling on his face to go down, then went 0-for-3 at Coca-Cola Field on Thursday afternoon.
Friday night is the series finale at Buffalo and it would only seem fitting that he would hit his 259th homer in the city where Ollie Carnegie spent the bulk of his career and is enshrined in the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
When Hessman ultimately does break this record, he has other mountains to climb. He is also third on the all-time list of homers hit in the minors. Buzz Arlett is number one with 432, Nick Cullop has 420 and Hessman checks in with 403.
Pitching and defence may win championships, but you can't deny the fact that the Blue Jays offence could carry them a long way. They've scored 311 runs in 61 games and slugged 87 homers, tops in the American League in both categories. You can add the total home runs for the Royals and Yankees and get 77, 10 fewer than the Jays, or the Rangers and Red Sox and get 85, still two less than the Blue Jays.
In the runs scored category, the Jays have rung up 57 more than the second-best team in their division - Baltimore (254) - and then you drop off to Boston and the Yankees at 240 and Tampa Bay at a paltry 228. Boston was the runaway leader in runs scored in the American League last season with 853 and ultimately won the World Series. I'm just saying.
This is something that happens so rarely in baseball, yet it happened twice in the last week. The Angels' Garrett Richards and Cleveland's Justin Masterson both struck out the side on nine pitches. Another oddity came on Wednesday when the Phillies' 35-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins struck out four times in a game for the first time in his career, earning the famed "Golden Sombrero". The opposing pitcher though was Washington's Stephen Strasburg, so we'll cut Rollins some slack.
Rollins incidently is up to 2,226 hits now for his career. He needs nine more to pass Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt as the Phillies all-time hits leader. Since the Phils are having such a dismal season, the feeling is growing that Rollins will waive his 10-and-5 rights and will agree to a trade once the record is broken. The Tigers would be a perfect fit.
The Atlanta Braves lead the National League East. Yet strangely enough, they have been held to 0 or 1 runs in a game a Major League-high 18 times.
At the Draft
If you're wondering why the Blue Jays used their ninth-overall pick in the Draft Thursday night to take a pitcher who just had Tommy John surgery in May, consider this. Veteran baseball writer Danny Knobler has seen Jeff Hoffman out of East Carolina pitch and said this of him: "He could be Justin Verlander's brother". Say no more!