The Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins and the fastest start in history – in any field?

The Philadelphia Phillies have a historic rookie on their hands in Rhys Hoskins, and people are noticing.

Fans and non-fans of the Philadelphia Phillies now hear it in the street: “Rhys Hoskins is ridiculous.”

“Hoskins is sick.”

“Can you believe this Hoskin?” (New fan.)

Giddy texts are exchanged as follows:

Hoskins has no homer today. But he’s started a triple play. / Trade him now! / [An hour and seven minutes later] #11.

Thursday night, when Rhys Hoskins hit his 18th homer in a bit over a month in the big leagues, Inquirer writer Matt Breen and his proofreader were so excited they collaborated on the following garden-variety agreement error: “And now the tide of a rebuilding process seem to be shifting, too.” (It appeared both in print and on-line early Friday.)

“Why the fuss?” the non-baseball fan might innocently ask.

A Hotter Start than Anybody – in Any Field

It’s not just that, at this point, some of Rhys Hoskins’ early stats invoke names like Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. Digging into his current 1.247 OPS reveals that the Phils’ first baseman/outfielder is reaching towards numbers put up by the great judgement hitters like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

Let’s consider his walk to strikeout ratio: OK, he isn’t quite there yet – DiMaggio walked 2.14 times for every time he struck out, and Teddy Ballgame walked a preposterous 2.85 times. But in the free swinging 21st century, Rhys Hoskins’ ratio of just about 1:1 seems a miracle of self-control.

No, every Hoskins figure so far isn’t the greatest in baseball history, and his sample size is still tiny, but it is more than arguable that the Phillies rookie has started hotter than anybody who has not only played major league baseball, but anybody who has done something great in any field.

Who has Hoskins started hotter than? Here’s your checklist:

Albert Einstein: You haven’t been paying attention if you don’t know the guy whose name is synonymous with “genius” started as a patent clerk. It was quite a while before he got to pad around his Princeton study all day with his shoes off.

William Shakespeare: The early plays, really, are sort of unreadable (try Titus Andronicus, go ahead). The exception is Romeo and Juliet, but if you think about it, what do you have there? Two kids die because their parents are idiots, and a note isn’t delivered. Pathetic.

Babe Ruth: Um, the Red Sox wouldn’t even let him hit every day.

Ronald Reagan: Arrow shirt model; film co-star with a monkey.

Indira Gandhi: Despite a real family leg-up in Indian politics, at Oxford she had to take the Latin entrance exam twice, having failed the first attempt. She also served her father, the prime minister, “unofficially” as a personal assistant.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Despite entering college at 15, his doctoral dissertation, written at 28, was found many years later to have been plagiarized.

Emily Dickinson: Never actually went outdoors.

Franklin D. Roosevelt:  Undistinguished as an athlete or student, he never actually finished law school at Columbia. He edited the student newspaper at Harvard, and worked in corporate law.

Warren Buffett: Despite graduating from college at 19 and having been, at that point, an investor for eight years, he was rejected by the Harvard Business School for graduate studies.

Jim Brown: This one’s a close call, but the Browns running back didn’t really hit his stride until his second year in the NFL when he averaged 5.9 yards a carry, a bit above his career average of 5.2.

I could go on all day, and of course, someone would stop me to argue that Hoskins isn’t really “starting” baseball now – he’s been in the minors. The problem with that argument is that he did very well in the minors – perhaps not historically well across the board, but very well indeed. In fact, Hoskins doesn’t really seem to have encountered any real hurdle since his transition to college when he wasn’t really recruited by big name baseball schools because he hadn’t specialized in baseball in high school.

Does a Fast Start Ever Matter?

What remains to be seen is whether the most accomplished starter at anything, ever can pull the current, dreadful Phillies behind him to greatness again. There’s some evidence that might be the case. Three other Philadelphia players homered besides Hoskins on Sept. 14, for example, in a rout of Miami. Moreover, the local nine is no longer the worst team in the majors. They have passed the Giants and may not lose 100 games after all.

What really remains to be seen is whether Rhys Hoskins can overcome the challenge of leading to victory a team that has only one starting pitcher now, and a young catcher who hits well but can’t actually catch.