Last Modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 8:29 PM
We probably shouldn’t even be talking about this, you know.
Somewhere in baseball’s odd traditions, surely there’s an unwritten rule expressly forbidding it, like mentioning a no-hitter in progress.
I’m sorry I ever thought of bringing it up.
Or maybe not.
Maybe there was never any need to address this issue. Maybe we’re in the clear here, uncharted waters.
Baseball players, you see, just don’t hit .500.
Nintendo games, maybe, but not humans.
Somebody way smarter than me once decreed that hitting a baseball is the single hardest thing to do in athletics.
Not sure how that was quantified, but this chore is considered a raging success if you get it right a little less than one third of the time.
Yet LSU second baseman JaCoby Jones was named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday because the previous week he had a .500 batting average, a notable achievement.
But wait, that’s not all.
His teammate, left fielder Raph Rhymes, is also hitting .500 — for the entire, blooming season.
People just don’t hit .500.
We ought to stop the discussion right now.
Yet Rhymes goes into LSU’s weekend series with Vanderbilt, at this late date in the season, still at an even .500, with 85 hits in 170 at-bats.
If he just …
Never mind. This is ludicrous. Next topic. Move on.
Nobody hits .500.
Well, not quite nobody.
It’s been done before.
But nobody in college baseball has done it in 21 years, since Ron Dziezgowski of Duquesne in 1991.
Nobody with a name you can pronounce from a school in a real baseball conference has done it since former major leaguer Dave Magadan of Alabama set the SEC record (.535) in 1983.
Rhymes is 90 points ahead of the LSU record set by Russ Johnson (.410) in 1994. Only two other LSU hitters have ever topped .400 for a season — Todd Walker and Eddy Furniss — and it got both in the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
And they had far better weaponry than the brittle aluminum that the NCAA now arms its hitters with.
As a result, no team in the SEC is batting .300 strictly in conference play.
Rhymes is actually hitting better in conference play, .512 to be precise, presumably against better pitching, than in the midweek games.
He leads the nation in hitting by 54 full points; he leads the SEC by 93 points and he leads his own Tigers by 169 points.
Head coach Paul Mainieri quit trying to figure it out.
Rhymes doesn’t hit many home runs, just three, all by accident, but he’s no slap-hitter, either.
He’s taking big-boy cuts, although his stance doesn’t bring to mind a Furniss, Walker or Albert Belle or any of the other feared LSU batsmen of lore.
He just swings, makes contact, and the ball finds a hole somewhere. It’s uncanny.
But we really shouldn’t even go any further with this.
To be fair, this should be a .400 Watch, too — nobody hits .500 — but that wouldn’t leave much suspense.
Rhymes could go 0 for his next 41 at-bats, or about three weeks, and still be hitting .400.
But we’re talking blasphemy, we’re talking .500.
It will take just one 0-for-5 game and this conversation is probably over for good.
Not likely, though.
In 42 games Ryhmes has almost as many four-hit games (four) as hitless games (five). Since going 0-for-6 in two games at Florida after getting beaned on the noggin, he’s on a 15-game hitting streak — 32 of 56, or a tidy .571.
It was kind of a .400 Watch most of the season, back when Rhymes was hanging around the .460 to .475 range, even then with amazing consistency.
But then on April 21-22, he went 4-for-6 in the final two games at Kentucky — voilà! .500. He’s been bouncing back from .497 to .500 to .503 ever since, occasionally even touching .506.
He doesn’t have blazing speed to leg out many hits, although there was one against Southeastern Louisiana that could loom large in the future, when he was somehow ruled out when he was clearly safe.
Maybe that stuff evens out.
On a Sunday game against Georgia, Rhymes lofted a high infield pop-up that brought groans from the crowd in Alex Box Stadium … until it became clear the Georgia second baseman had lost it in the sun. Official scoring rules make that a base hit, another of baseball’s quirks.
“That’s it,” the guy next to me in the press box said. “His next 30 at-bats will be screaming line drives right at people. Law of averages.”
Since that at-bat Rhymes is 8-for-17, not exactly a slump. His average has dropped three points to an even .500.
That’s the odds he faces. A 2-for-5 game, an encore moment for most players, dips his average for the night.
Surely it’s ridiculous to keep talking about whether it can stay there.
I won’t say anything if you won’t.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org