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*** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Sometime in the late 1960s, we were visiting my Aunt Kitty and Uncle Ben in Detroit, and were out for a walk. We walked past a park, and Uncle Ben (who knew I was a baseball savant) asked me to guess who the park was named after - I immediately said "Ty Cobb,: and he (in his 70s at the time) said, "No, no, no! Ty Cobb wasn't loved here in Detroit - this park is named for Harry Heilmann!" (With his accent, I thought he had said "Harry Hahmann," and I never got the name right for the next twenty years). Uncle Ben had lived in Detroit for decades, and remembered both players very well - he said how much Heilmann was loved by the residents of Detroit - little did I know that Heilmann was also arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all-time (apologies to Rogers Hornsby). He's the only player ever to be in the .400 / 40 club (with 40 Doubles) - I may be wrong about this: Someone please let me know if I am. If you're unfamiliar with Heilmann, look at his batting statistics in the 1920s! Maybe the greatest hitter you've never heard of? Nobody has ever hit .400 in four seasons, but people say that if Heilmann - whose nickname was "slug" - wasn't so slow afoot, he'd be the one who had done it: He was a total of 8 hits away - 8 infield hits away - from accomplishing the feat, had he hit them judiciously in 1921, 1925, and 1927.
Refer also to "Parity in Baseball: A Blessing or a Curse?" Not to mention the splitting of the leagues into divisions in 1969, which means that the best team in the league was no longer guaranteed of going to the World Series. I was recently doing some research about Al Kaline and Harmon Killebrew vis-a-vis Mickey Mantle to see whether or not there was some merit to the hypothesis that those two players would have gotten Mantle-like fame had they played for the Yankees (I believe they would have, if they had comparable stats) - but I didn't get far enough into my research, because I read that in 1961, Al Kaline finished 2nd in the American League batting race, losing to his teammate Norm Cash. Norm Cash won the batting title? Really? So I did some more digging, and found out that Kaline batted a fine.324 that year, but Cash batted an *unbelievable* .361. Are you kidding me? .361? That is the highest single-season batting average that *any* major-league player hit in the 1960s! And he hit 41 home runs and 132 RBIs! That's a better year than Bryce Harper had in 2015, without question. When Norm Cash retired, he was in 4th place all-time for most home runs ever by an American League left-handed hitter, behind Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig. That's some pretty sweet competition. And the 1961 Detroit Tigers won 101 games! That's a record of 101-61! But because *The Best Team* won the pennant every year through 1968 (without any of this playoff nonsense), the 1961 Yankees, with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hitting a combined 115 home runs, won 109 games (109-53!), and won the pennant by 8 full games. Kind of takes the excitement out of it, doesn't it? Having a "real" pennant race perhaps once only every decade? But what it *also* does is ensure that the best teams win, year in, and year out, and that's why the Yankees always won - because over the course of 154 (or in this case 162) games, they were almost *always* the best team.