Hello? Potential Triple Crown Winner Over Here!
At some point today, just go around and ask people, without offering any sort of hints or context, if they know who Derrek Lee is.
Most of them probably won't.
But Derrek Lee, as you probably have a better-than-average chance of knowing if you've decided to read this, is the Chicago Cubs first baseman, and the first serious Triple Crown contender in baseball in years. At present (i.e., Monday, July 25, 2005) Lee sits atop the National League with a .369 batting average, is tied for the lead in home runs with 32 and trails Carlos Lee of Milwaukee by only two RBI, 83 to 81.
No one, of course, has led his league in batting average, RBI and home runs in the same year since Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox did it in 1967. No one has done it in the National League, as Lee is attempting to do (well, to be perfectly honest, I'm sure all National League batters are attempting to win the Triple Crown; it's sort of their job. Lee's just doing much, much better at it than the rest of them so far), since the Cardinals' sublimely named Joe "Ducky" Medwick in 1937. Derrek Lee winning the Triple Crown would be the sports feat of the young century, and would be a much, much bigger deal than anything anyone else has done in quite a while (to whit: since Yaz last won the Triple Crown in 1967, six different riders have repeated at least once as Tour de France champion. In fact, just to put things into prospective before we all get carried away: since 1967, 17 of 38 Tour de France races -- not quite half, but almost -- have been won by the defending champion).
And yet it doesn't seem as though Derrek Lee is generating as much hype as I'd always assumed a potential Triple Crown winner would. Maybe that's because before this season, Derrek Lee's career best Triple Crown numbers were .282, 32 and 98 (and that's not in a single season; those are his career highs for each category) and he had never been an All-Star. I haven't seen any "Derrek Lee Watch" on SportsCenter or in the local paper (though, to be fair, I don't watch much SportsCenter and I never read the local paper).
And why not? Why no Derrek Lee buzz? I certainly imagine baseball is capable of it. If Barry Bonds were closing in on Hank Aaron's career home run record right now, Major League Baseball would be blanketing the nation with leaflets dropped from airplanes, every single TV station (including Bravo! and The Weather Channel) would be breaking into its programming to show you every at bat, and I'm pretty sure a guy would just break into your place through the window every single night, blast you in the face with an air horn, and scream "Barry Bonds is about to break the home run record!" before scuttling away into the darkness.
Of course, the analogy isn't perfect, since if Bonds were chasing Aaron there's be virtual certainty that he'd break the record eventually, whereas with Lee the assumption is that he'll fall short. I suspect if he's within two or three homers, two or three RBI or five points of batting average in the middle of September, you'll be hearing a lot more about it (especially since, if the Nationals can find a way to score some runs, there might not be a single decent pennant race in the NL).
I, for one, really hope it happens. What I'm really curious to see is whether -- assuming all the pennant races are decided early and most of the games in September don't really matter all that much -- Lee starts getting really good pitches to hit, or whether Carlos Lee (or Andruw Jones, or whoever ends up competing with Derrek Lee in any of the three categories) starts getting pitched around.
I hope Derrek Lee hangs around and makes a serious run at the Triple Crown. If he does, you might finally see his incredible 2005 season get the sort of coverage that such an astounding athletic accomplishment deserves.