People forget this, but there was a two-year or so period after Tiger Woods launched himself into golf’s stratosphere when he didn’t play legendary golf. This happened after he won the 1997 Masters by 77 shots or whatever it was, and everyone expected him to thoroughly and repeatedly obliterate the field.
Oh, sure, he was still very good for the next two years, still won four tournaments, still made a ton of money, still had some Top 10s in the major championships. But the singular greatness of that display at the Masters, the promise that it evoked, well, it didn’t repeat. We know now that Woods, in one of the boldest moves in sports history, rebuilt his swing during that time. He was great, sure, but he didn’t want to be great. He wanted to be the best who ever lived, and so he tore down his swing and put it back together. We know now that the new swing came together in the second half of 1999, and in 2000 he had what is probably the greatest season in the history of golf.
But in 1998, he won just one golf tournament, the Bell South Classic, a one-shot victory over Jay Don Blake. And it was a strange time … even though Tiger was still absurdly young then and it was entirely unfair for us to rush him, we wanted to rush him. We were saying: “OK, we’re ready now for you to blow up golf, Tiger. Come on. Let’s go. Let’s do this.”
This has been the hunger that has surrounded Giancarlo Stanton the last two years.
Every single thing about Giancarlo Stanton says star, from his Hollywood name to his perfect physique to the unnatural way baseballs jump off his bat. He has this unique charisma; he blends “intimidating” with “teddy bear,” like no one I can remember. He has to be the scariest guy to face — scary in the “I’m worried this guy will hit the ball so hard it explodes” sense of the the word — and yet he has been our youngest daughter’s favorite player since she was 10. She just instantly loved him.
But for Stanton, stardom, real stardom, it proved elusive. For the last two years, Stanton has been troubled by injuries, inconsistencies and perhaps the dispiriting feeling of playing for a blah team in a city that doesn’t love them. The Marlins have been dead last in the National League in attendance every year but one since 2006, and that one year they jumped up all the way to 12th because a new stadium was built. The Marlins have not had a winning record since Stanton came up in 2010. This stuff can wear on a person, even a 6-foot-6, 245 block-of-granite person like Giancarlo Stanton.
There are, best I can tell, two unique players in Statcast™. The first, of course, is Aroldis Chapman. There are 29 players who have thrown at least one pitch at 101 mph since Statcast™ began. Mauricio Cabrera has thrown 199 of them, putting him second on the list — he has more than twice as many of anyone not named Chapman.
Aroldis Chapman has thrown 1,129 pitches at least 101 mph.
So that’s crazy, but here’s another one — only 51 players have hit a home run with an exit velocity of 113 mph or higher. Aaron Judge has 10 of them, which is incredible considering how short his career has been, and it puts him in second place.
Giancarlo Stanton has 27 of them.
Nobody hits those amazing, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, neck-craning, blood-draining, brain-shocking, knee-knocking, rail-gripping, bat-flipping home runs ike Stanton.
This is the one he hit three days ago (114 mph). That’s a once-in-a-year homer.
Then, this is the one he hit four days before that (114 mph). It’s more ridiculous than the first one.
And this is the one he hit four days before that, 116 mph, this one off a 78-mph R.A. Dickey knuckleball. Watch the outfielder reaction. He starts running and then stops like, “What am I even thinking about?”
These are not normal home runs. They are career-making bombs, the sort you brag about long after you’ve hung them up. These are the ones old-ballplayers talk about in their “remember when” sessions.” Kyle Schwarber, who has hit some memorable blasts already in his young career, has two 113-mph homers. Stanton had three in one week.
We’ve been waiting for this. We kept waiting for Giancarlo Stanton to reinvent the game. Here was exactly the sort of player we baseball fans pray for, someone who is not only great but a player who is larger than life, a bigger than our imagination player, a Babe Ruth, a Mickey Mantle, a Willie Mays, a Sandy Koufax, a Bob Gibson, a Pedro Martinez, a (yes) Barry Bonds. Stanton seemed the sort of player who can take this crazy game and lift it a step higher, make us believe we might see something so amazing, so impossible, that we will forever remember that exact moment.
This, I think, is why Aaron Judge so thrilled us for the first half of the year. It wasn’t just the numbers, though the numbers were preposterous. It wasn’t just the Judge nicknames. It was that this guy seemed new, a 2.0 version of the greats of the past, an iPhone 8 version of Willie McCovey and Mark McGwire and Frank Howard and the rest.
This was to be Giancarlo Stanton’s role. But it just wasn’t quite happening. Oh, he led the league in homers twice, which is pretty darned good. And then he got the mega contract and we rubbed our hands together, the same way we did when Tiger Woods blew away Augusta, and thought: “Now we’re really going to see something.”
Two years ago he hit 27 home runs in 74 games, so that was crazy, but the problem was he only played in 74 games. Last year, he hit a career low .240, did not slug .500, missed more time with injuries. Then this year, first couple of months, he was eh — he was hitting .270 with 11 homers in late May, more than respectable power numbers but the earth wasn’t exactly shaking.
And it was easy to wonder: Would the earth ever shake? In late April, Bill James put out a tweet calling Stanton the Dave Kingman of the 21st Century, and while THAT was a bit harsh, it was true that Stanton’s previous two years had some Kingmanesque qualities — lots of strikeouts, low batting averages, injury prone seasons. For those of us who love Giancarlo Stanton, it all seemed kind of discouraging.
And then … Giancarlo Stanton ignited.
At this moment, Stanton is on one of the greatest home-run stretches in baseball history. He has hit 10 home runs in his last 11 games, and he has homered in five games in a row. More though: These home runs, as seen above, are not normal. For these 10 homers, he has AVERAGED 109 mph exit velocity, which is insane — Cody Bellinger has two 109-mph exit velocity homers all year, Miggy Cabrera (the former king of exit velo) has one. His home runs have AVERAGED 430 feet.
Stanton’s home runs have AVERAGED 430 feet. Eric Thames has hit 27 homers this year — only one of them went 430 feet.
This is insane stuff. And it is what we have been waiting for with Stanton. The Marlins are typically blah — even with a recent hot streak, they are 8 1/2 games out of the wildcard race. They are averaging less than 21,000 fans per game, last in the National League by more than 3,000 fans. But Giancarlo Stanton is the must see-player in baseball right now. Every at-bat has a chance to be a baseball moment. Every swing has a chance to be a lifelong memory.