Baseball fans do love their history, though some of them don't really know it all that well.
Heck, some people who work in baseball don't know their history, and I don't just mean the 20-something security guard I met at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, who did not know that the Yankees used to play in Baltimore.
(No offense to him, by the way. Most New Yorkers think the universe starts and ends at the George Washington Bridge.)
I'm talking about important people. (Again, no offense to that security guard, who was created in the image of God, just like the rest of us, and is therefore of preeminent importance...just like the rest of us.)
I mean people like Charlie Manuel, the field manager for the Philadelphia Phillies. Manuel was quoted before the season began as saying that he thought the 2008 Phillies could score 1,000 runs or more.
His argument, essentially, was that they scored a lot of runs last year (892, leading the NL) even with time missed by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He thinks that Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and others on the team have the potential to be even better than they were last year.
He thinks that they could become the first team since the 1999 Cleveland Indians (for whom Manuel was the hitting coach) to score 1,000 or more runs.
Or at least he thought that in Spring Training. I didn't, so I didn't bother to mention it in my Phillies Preview, though I did think they'd be one of the better offensive teams in the NL.
To date, in the regular season the Phillies have scored only 32 runs in seven games, a pace of only 740 runs. Better pick it up a little, guys.
But seriously, could they score that many runs? The short answer is:
Doesn't get much shorter than that.
Want to know why? That's easy. Nobody ever has.
Well, that's not technically true. The 1930 St. Louis Cardinals scored 1004 runs, but no other National League team since the 1890s has scored 1,000 in a season.
Those Cardinals managed the feat in a league that averaged 5.68 runs per game. At that rate, in today's 162-game schedule an average team would score 920 runs.
The 1930 Cards had 12 guys (including all eight regulars) who got at least 100 at-bats and hit .303 or better. As a team, they hit .314. That was only third in the NL that year.
They had three Hall of Famers in their prime in the daily lineup (Chick Hafey, Jim Bottomley, and Frankie Frisch). And they had three guys who hit at least .366 on the bench!
The best mark in a 162-game season goes to the 2000 Colorado Rockies, who scored 968 runs. This, too, was largely a product of the run environment in which the team played.
The National League that year averaged exactly 5.00 runs per game, which means that the average team scored 810 runs. However, Coors Field in Y2K was an insane hitter's park, the most severe in history, I think, increasing run scoring by about 25 percent.
That means that an average hitting team would have scored 911 runs playing half its games in Coors Field. Their 968 runs were only about six percent better than average.
The best hitting team in history, taking league and ballpark context into account, is probably the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers. They scored "only" 955 runs, but they did it in a roughly neutral hitter's park (Ebbets Field), and in a league that averaged 4.75 runs per contest. This is about what the 2007 National League averaged.
They scored about 28 percent more runs than an average team that year. Put the 1953 Dodgers in a neutral park in the 2007 National League, and they'd have scored about 977 runs.
Still 23 shy of Charlie Manuel's prediction
With a little help from Citizens Bank Park (which increases runs by about five percent), they'd easily break the record, scoring about 1025 runs. In Colorado, even though it has been significantly tamed in recent years, tack on another 35-40 runs.
So what would have to happen for the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies to score 1,000 or more runs?
Assuming that Citizens Bank Park doesn't suddenly morph into a severe hitter's park, and that the trend toward normal offensive levels in the post-steroids era doesn't reverse itself abruptly, the Phillies will have to score about 25 percent more runs than an average NL team would. That is a huge number.
Of course they need to get virtually every game out of their stars Howard, Utley, and reigning NL MVP Jimmy Rollins. But they also need just about everybody on the team to vastly out-perform their projected offensive levels.
The simple fact that they play in the National League, with a pitcher hitting about twice a game or more, makes it all but impossible. The last team to score 1,000 runs (the 1999 Indians) did not have to watch their pitchers hit twice a game.
In 1930, the Cardinals' pitchers collectively hit .213 and scored 51 runs.
Last year, Phillies' pitchers hit just .155 as a group and scored 28 runs, and that was the best in the majors for a pitching staff.
But what might we expect—or need—from the rest of the lineup?
Baseball Prospectus uses percentiles in their projections, showing not only what a player is likely to do (his 50 percent projection) but also what he might do if he "kicks it up a notch" or, conversely, gets kicked.
His 50 percent projection essentially means that about 50 percent of the players similar to him were better than he was, and 50 percent were worse.
A 75 percent projection would denote a performance that's better than three-fourths of the players they deemed to be similar in that year.
As far as I can tell, you'd need just about everyone in the starting lineup to meet or exceed his 90th percentile projection, and everyone on the bench would need to hit at least their 75 percentile, in order for the Phillies to score 1,000-plus runs.
That team would look like this at the end of the season:
There would need to be another 350 or so plate appearances for the pitchers as well, which might mean another 25-30 runs. Those are just guesses on the percentages at the bottom.
Anyway, I don't have to tell you that this would be an absolutely incredible team, and that it can only exist in Phantasy-delphia—where the Phans don't boo, the cheese steaks are free and don't contain any cholesterol, and all batters have career years simultaneously.
H.U.R. would have to reach their full potential. Those three are in their primes, so any one or even two of them having their best years simultaneously (as Rollins and Utley did last year) is not totally out of the question.
But all three of them? Again?!!??
Pat Burrell would need to out-do his career batting average by 25 points at age 31.
Thirty-three-year old mediocrity Pedro Feliz would need to hit almost 40 points above his career mark, without losing any power.
Geoff Jenkins, 33 himself, will need to hit .300 for the first time in this millennium.
Carlos Ruiz, who just made it to the show at 28, will have to buck every convention of baseball scouting history and hit over .300 in a full season.
Shane Victorino will need to double his usual power level while increasing both his patience and his average, and can't let his speed be sacrificed.
And everyone on the bench needs to play well enough that they would force the issue of whether or not they deserve more playing time. That is, if everyone on the Phatasy-delphia Phillies wasn't having a career year. Which, as you'll recall, they are.
In the AL, with another All-Star playing as a DH, they might be able to do it.
But they aren't, and they don't, so they can't.
In short: It ain't gonna happen.