The headline at Sports Illustrated reads, “Justified Hype.” This is after a two-inning Spring Training debut for Aroldis Chapman. Chapman if you recall is the Cuban pitcher who defected last year, and was granted free agency. The left-handed Chapman had pitched in the World Baseball Classic, but a wild bidding war for his services never materialized, and he ended up in Cincinnati. I’m not going to say he was forgotten about, but until he hit the mound, it wasn’t a name that a lot of baseball people were throwing around. He wasn’t getting half the attention of Steven Strasburg. But, a couple good innings, and one 100 mph reading on the radar gun, and Chapman has already fulfilled the hype, and we are talking about a rebirth of Reds baseball.
Is this going too far? Of course it is. Everything is hyperbole and overstatement at this point. Even the scouts get in the mix. These guys like being quoted, I’m sure. So, how do you get into the article? You make insane comparisons and projections based on two innings. “The best arm I’ve seen since Herb Score.” A classic scout quote. Drop a reference to a pitcher most fans have never heard of. (Score was a dominant left-hander whose career got derailed after being hit with a line drive 50 years ago) There’s no doubting Chapman’s gifts. They stare you right in the face. By all accounts he did look devastating, but this is a guy who the day before most people assumed would be spending some time in the Minor Leagues. Now, he’s part of a new Reds nucleus that could lead them back to prominence. I wonder how much rests on that one number, 100 mph.
Would people have been as excited if Chapman threw 96? I don’t think they would have. It would have almost been a disappointment. This was his calling card, the 100 mph fastball. A lot doubted he could deliver, but when he did, the hype explodes. It’s still a powerful number in sports. A 100 mph pitch isn’t something you see every day. The difference between 99 mph and 100 mph is cavernous. I remember when I was a kid, I think Guinness listed Nolan Ryan as having the fastest pitch ever at 101 mph. I never saw such a number, but there it was in the book, and since then every time someone hits 100 mph on the gun, it’s an occasion for celebration. I marvel at its staying power.
Other sports numbers have been made obsolete. A 300 yard drive for example is nothing. The long hitters now pound it out there 330, 340. But, that doesn’t carry the same weight that 300 yards did in the eighties. Or, a 4.4 second 40 yard dash. Four-four is still fast, but you see guys like Chris Johnson running 4.2something, and 4.4 doesn’t sound so impressive, and 4.2 doesn’t sound so mythical. Numbers fall by the wayside all the time in sports. 1,000 yards rushing is long dead, but 100 mph fastball can still turn heads. It sure did in Arizona.