As Cubs finally raise their banner, here are five more things we can't wait to see in MLB
- From a 50-50 season to a Padres no-hitter, there is plenty that baseball has yet to give us.
On a daily basis, baseball has a knack for giving us something we've never seen before, whether it's Madison Bumgarner becoming the first pitcher to club two home runs on Opening Day or a dropped third strike defying gravity to stick to Yadier Molina's chest protector. On Monday evening, we'll see an event that's been much longer in the making, and at times has seemed even more improbable: a world championship banner raised over Wrigley Field. The Cubs will do so prior to their game against the Dodgers, a first in the ballpark's 103-year history.
With that checked off the list, here are five more things in baseball that we've never seen before but can't wait to witness, ranked roughly in order of near-term likelihood.
A pennant for the Nationals or Mariners
Now that we don't have to talk about the Cubs' 108-year championship drought, it's worth noting that eight teams have never won a World Series, namely the Rays (established in 1998), Rockies ('93), Mariners ('77), Nationals ('69, as the Expos), Brewers ('69, as the Seattle Pilots), Padres ('69), Astros ('62) and Rangers ('61, as the second version of the Washington Senators). All but two of those teams have at least been to the World Series: the Nats and the M's.
The Expos only made the playoffs in the strike-torn 1981 season, beating the Phillies in the Division Series but losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS on Rick Monday's tie-breaking homer in the top of the ninth in the decisive Game 5. They also had the best record in baseball in 1994 but never got to chase that elusive pennant because of the strike that wiped out the postseason. The franchise moved to Washington in 2005, and the Nationals have already had more success than their Canadian forebears did, winning the NL East in 2012, '14 and 16, though they've been ousted in the Division Series all three times.
At least they've been to the dance lately. The Mariners were once an AL West powerhouse thanks to Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez, making the playoffs four times from 1995 to 2001. Three of those teams advanced to the ALCS, but lost all three times, falling to the Indians in 1995 and to the dynastic Yankees in both 2000 and '01, the latter year a season in which they tied an MLB-record with 116 regular season wins. In the 15 years since, Seattle has zero playoff berths.
Maybe this will be the year that changes. In our preseason predictions, all eight Sports Illustrated writers and editors polled chose the Nationals as a playoff team, six of them as division winners. Five participants tabbed the Mariners as well; Albert Chen even picked the two to face off in the World Series, which would guarantee that at least one of them ends both the pennant drought and the World Series title drought as well.
A Padres no-hitter
When Johan Santana threw the Mets' first no-hitter in their 50-year history on June 1, 2012—a 134-pitch gem against the Cardinals—it left the Padres as the sole franchise never to produce one. Granted, San Diego didn't begin play until 1969, but it has been on the wrong side of a no-hitter nine times (twice by a post-peak Tim Lincecum), and the other three teams from that expansion class (the Nationals/Expos, the Royals and the Brewers) have combined to produce 12 no-hitters.
All of which is to say that the Padres are long overdue for a no-no, but by the looks of their current, retread-heavy rotation, this isn't their year. Already this season, Jhoulys Chacin became the first Opening Day pitcher to yield nine runs since 2011, while neither Clayton Richard nor Trevor Cahill has thrown a complete game since 2012, Luis Perdomo had the majors' highest hit rate among pitchers with at least 140 innings in 2016 (11.5 per nine), and Jered Weaver, who tossed a no-hitter for the Angels in 2012, was third by that same measure (10.6 per nine).
Commissioner Rob Manfred has spoken more than once about MLB eventually expanding to 32 teams, and a year ago he hinted strongly that the league is itching to add a city outside the U.S, saying, "If we were to expand, I do think a city that makes sense geographically—meaning in terms of realistic travel distances—and is outside of the 48 contiguous states would be a positive choice for us in terms of growing the game."
While Montreal—which had the Expos from 1969 to 2004—certainly figures to be in the mix, Vancouver is another plausible destination in Canada, and Manfred has spoken of Mexico as well, with Mexico City and Monterrey the most likely options. Puerto Rico, though technically a U.S. territory, has a rich baseball history as well as a venue (San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium) that has been used occasionally to host MLB games.
While a North American addition (or two) makes the most sense from a travel standpoint, the recent World Baseball Classic served as a reminder that baseball should continue to focus on broadening its horizons. Why not consider a team in in Europe—Italy and the Netherlands both have professional leagues already—or in South Korea, where the fans are as exuberant as any in the world, and where games played in the evening would be airing in the States in the morning? Breakfast baseball is too a wonderful thing to limit to every four years.
A 50-homer, 50-steal season
There’s no shortage of single-season or career records with infinitesimal odds of being surpassed, whether we're talking about Cy Young's 511 wins, Ty Cobb's .366 lifetime batting average or Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. The same principle applies for certain milestones such as 30 wins or a .400 batting average. While neither 50-homer nor 50-steal seasons are as rare—in this millennium alone, we’ve seen 14 of the former and 43 of the latter—no player has done both in the same season. What an electrifying combination that would be!
There have been 60 30-homer, 30-steal seasons accomplished by 38 players, with Bobby Bonds and his son Barry doing so five times apiece. Bonds the Younger is one of four players to produce a 40-40 season, along with Jose Canseco (1988), Alex Rodriguez ('98) and Alfonso Soriano (2006). None of them approached 50-50; Canseco had 42 homers and 40 steals for the A's in 1988; Rodriguez went 42 and 46 for the Mariners in '98; and Soriano had a 46 and 41 season for the Nationals in 2006.
Still, it wasn't that long ago that a 30-30 season seemed like a rare achievement. There were only 10 of them through 1982, half by Bonds the Elder. If there's an active player who might have a chance at 50-50, it's Mike Trout, who set a career high in steals with 49 in his 2012 rookie season (accompanied by 30 homers); his high in homers is 41 ('15), but that was accompanied by a career-low 11 steals. Given that this dual milestone would be a long way from Trout’s 29-homer, 30-steal 2016 season, perhaps we'll simply have to dream upon this mythical speed-power combo for a few more years.
A female major leaguer
Women have played professional baseball at various levels for decades. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League ran from 1943 to '54 and inspired the hit 1992 movie, A League of Their Own. Mamie "Peanut" Johnson was one of three women to play in the post-integration Negro Leagues, doing so from 1953 to '55. There have been several women who played in independent leagues: Ila Borders was a lefthanded pitcher from 1997 to 2000; Eri Yoshida was a righty in Japan in 2009 and then in the U.S. from from 2010 to 12; and last summer Stacy Piagno (pitcher, first base and second base), Kelsi Whitmore (outfield and pitcher) and Anna Kimbrell (catcher) played for the Sonoma Stompers, with Whitmore and Kimbrell teaming up to form the first professional all-female battery since the AAGPBL.
Still, no woman has ever played for a major league team, and the limited opportunities for them to play competitively at high levels mean that it will take years or even decades to change that. As with last year's Fox drama Pitch, the likelihood is that the trail would be blazed on the mound, where the physical differences between male and female players would matter less—and perhaps play to a woman's' advantage when it comes to avoiding soft-tissue injuries. Don't wait up for 2014 Little League World Series star and Sports Illustrated cover subject Mo'ne Davis, who has shifted her focus to basketball, with dreams of a WNBA career.