These Are the Times to Remember (Sorry)

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

We're living in the golden age of baseball youth, and it's not stopping anytime soon.

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My senior year of high school there was a vote, as I expect there was in your high school, for an official prom song. The leading candidate was a bathetic, constipated Billy Joel song from 1986, even though the year was not 1986 and hadn't been for some time. I don't really recall what the others were, but looking at the top singles for that year, it very well could have been something by Milli Vanilli, the less said about which the better. The winner, "This is the Time to Remember" from Joel's album The Bridge, begins:

We walked on the beach beside that old hotel
They're tearing it down now
But it's just as well...

This is the time to remember
‘Cause it will not last forever
These are the days to hold on to
Cause we won't, although we'll want to
This is the time, but time is gonna change
You've given me the best of you
And now I need the rest of you

You've given me the best of you, now I need the rest of you. You know, the parts that are less than the best, the ugly, subpar stuff you try to conceal even from those closest to you. Push it out; I need it. But hey, even if you don't, this ephemeral moment that currently lacks the rest of you, we have to cling to it. We have to try, even though we know we won't succeed, because when you get down to it, life is all about futile effort. Like high school relationships, which, okay, makes "This is the Time to Remember" an appropriate prom song, even if it's not for the reasons anyone voting intended. See what I mean by constipated?

There is no present to hold onto, of course, just a ticking clock, relentlessly pulling us into the future. Even Mike Trout is getting older, moment by moment -- but despite the old hotel being torn down, we must acknowledge that these are indeed the times to remember, because something historic is happening. We are witnessing a changing of the guard. It's not just that Mariano Rivera is gone, Derek Jeter is going, and Alex Rodriguez is quietly growing older in his own version of Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu, but that the game is, right this very moment, enjoying its next great influx of likely Hall of Fame talent.

If you look at the top 200 single-season performances by position players 22 and under as determined by wins above replacement (WAR, Baseball-Reference flavor) and break them down by season, it becomes apparent that there is not only a generational change taking place, but at the risk of being redundant, it is especially young youth:

#

Year

Key Players

8

1977

Andre Dawson, Willie Randolph, Garry Templeton, Rupert Jones

7

1909

Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Donie Bush

5

1939

Ted Williams, Charlie Keller, Ken Keltner, Buddy Lewis

5

1964

Dick Allen, Boog Powell, Bill Freehan, Jim Fregosi

5

1973

Cesar Cedeno, Buddy Bell, Jeff Burroughs, Darrell Porter

5

1978

Jack Clark, Robin Yount, Eddie Murray, Lou Whitaker

5

2013

Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Yasiel Puig, Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper

4

1913

Buck Weaver, Stuffy McInnis

4

1928

Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Freddie Lindstrom, Shanty Hogan

3

-

13 other seasons


Add pitchers into the equation -- and in the case of 2013 that means Jose Fernandez, Julio Teheran, and Shelby Miller -- and the epochal change becomes even more apparent:

#

Year

Position Players + Pitchers

12

1977

Dennis Eckersley, Willie Hernandez

10

1909

Walter Johnson

9

1978

Bob Welch, Dave Rozema, Don Robinson

8

2013

Jose Fernandez, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller

7

-

7 seasons

6

-

7 seasons


I didn't list every name in the tables above, not just because that would have been crowded and unwieldy, but because there's a point to not listing them. Look at the two listings for 1909. There are four inner-circle Hall of Famers mentioned there, but I didn't bother with first baseman Dick Hoblitzell, lefty Harry Krause, who as a 20-year-old rookie went 18-8 with an American League-leading 1.39 ERA, or Laughing Larry Doyle, the longtime Giants second baseman who was probably about two good seasons short of being a Hall of Famer. Except for the dedicated baseball aficionado, these guys fade and vanish over time -- and so will some of the eight special players from 2013.

The one element of truth in Joel's song is, "These are the days to hold on to [but] we won't." The reason is because, lacking foreknowledge, we don't know who to watch, who we should cleave to and who we should dismiss as a flash in the pan. We can make educated guesses, of course, but in many cases they are going to be wrong. I mean simply this: If you get into your time machine and drop down in Houston circa 1980, you will discover that the man on the street was measuring Cesar Cedeno, 29 years old and with about 1600 career hits, 500 stolen bases, and 850 runs scored, for his Hall of Fame plaque. Go backwards. We recall Buck Weaver because he might have gotten screwed in the Black Sox scandal, but Stuffy McInnis, famous first-sacker for the A's "$100,000 Infield?" Not so famous anymore.

The fact that as time passes some of the great eight will drop out of the pack, perhaps due to injury, misadventure, or an untimely decline in skills, doesn't make what we're seeing any less special. We have a rare high tide of talent to cheer for and appreciate. As we observe Jeter's farewell tour, applaud an increasingly geriatric Raul Ibanez home-run trot around the bases, enjoy David Ortiz playing out his contract extension, or nervously hope Freddy Garcia can somehow bail out the Braves' injury-shattered starting rotation, we will need to keep in mind that though the sun is setting on the stars of the 1990s and early 2000s, the next generation has already arrived, and arrived with a specialness that we haven't seen since the 1977-1978 expansion period.

So, these are indeed the times to remember, not because we're having the last dance, but the first. Go out and catch Mike Trout or Bryce Harper while you can, knowing you're seeing something special... But for goshsakes, pick a better song to hum when you do.

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