7/16/41=56

7/16/41=56
When we think of records that seem to be unbreakable, one invariably always comes up. That would be the 56-game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio. On July 16, 1941, Joltin’ Joe extended his hitting streak to that magical number of 56 games…unbelievable. So unbelievable that in that same year, there was s song (Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio by Les Brown, sung by Betty Bonney) written about it. Since that time, there have been many noble tries to eclipse that mark, but in reality no one has really come close. I remember watching Pete Rose take a hitting streak to 44-games in 1978. It was enthralling stuff to a 14 year-old baseball infatuated teenager. My friends and I used to watch this event unfold on a daily basis, and we were disappointed when it ended in August 1st of that season.
Of course, this has got me thinking. What other MLB records are ‘untouchable’? Before McGuire / Sosa, it was thought that the home run records of Babe Ruth (60 in 154 games) or Roger Maris (61 in 162 games) was unbreakable. Well, WRONG!!! In the summer of 1998, Mark McGuire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs gave us an unbelievable fireworks show, with BOTH of them eclipsing Ruth and Maris. In fact, between Mark and Sammy, they would surpass the 60 or 61 home run mark 5 more times. This would stand as the gold standard of slugging until 2001, when Barry Bonds hit 73 dingers. Of course, now I have to ask if the 73* mark will ever be broken…
Let’s give the pitchers some love also. The modern era (post-1900) record for strikeouts is 383, set in 1973 by one Nolan Ryan. A close second is the 382 K’s by Sandy Koufax in 1965. Randy ‘Big Unit’ Johnson came close in 2001 with 372, and there have been several other worthy mentions, but in my humble opinion I don’t see anyone breaking Ryan’s mark. As good as Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner are, and as good as I think Jacob deGrom may become, breaking Ryan’s record is a tall order.
And now on to Mount Olympus. Lou Gehrig was considered to be the Iron Man. His 2,130 straight games played was thought to be unbreakable, until Cal Ripken Jr. did just that on the night of September 6th, 1995. Ripken became the all-time Iron Man. Ripken would go on to set the new consecutive game record at 2,632. I also do not ever see this record falling.
Whenever I think of records and how they are considered untouchable, I am reminded of one Roger Bannister. You may have heard of him. Roger Bannister is the first human being to ever break the 4-minute mile. On May 4th, 1954, Bannister accomplished what many experts considered to be a ‘physical impossibility’. It was believed that the human pulmonary and respiratory systems were simply incapable of supporting such an effort, and that the human heart would just explode. The experts were wrong, and since that historic day, the sub 4-minute mile is almost routine.
Oh. My original point. On this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio etched himself in the Mount Rushmore of baseball immortals with his 56-gamne hitting streak. Many have tried to equal it. All have failed. It is a record that I do not see ever being broken.

Joltin' Joe DiMaggio

Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio

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MLB…The Numbers Game

To all of you who thought that this article was going to be about player salaries, I am sorry to disappoint you, but it is not. This particular rant is about the retirement of uniform numbers in baseball. On the surface, it seems that this would be a fairly benign subject, but I wanted to examine it a little more closely.
Over the course of MLB history, there have been 179 players who have had their uniform numbers retired, and some of them by more than one team. I used several sources, including The Baseball Almanac and Wikipedia to source my data, so unless I got all cross-eyed during my count, I believe that it is accurate. The breakdown is that there have been 77 players in the American League, and 102 players in the National League to have been honored in this way. I have also included the numbers of managers and team executives, such is in the case of the then Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins) assigning #5 to team executive Carl Barger, and then retiring the number. As you have probably surmised, the New York Yankees lead everyone in this category with 16 retired numbers, while the St. Louis Cardinals lead the National League with 12. There 10 players/managers who have had their numbers retired by more than one team, and there is only one player (Jackie Robinson #42) that has had his number retired by the entirety of Major League Baseball.
I want to take a look at a few questions that I have, and that you may have as well about this business of retiring a uniform number. It is the highest honor that a team can bestow on a player. It says that ‘You were so great, that no one else can ever fill your shoes, so we are going to retire your number so that no one can ever wear it again.’ If no one can ever fill his shoes, why don’t they just retire his shoes? They could do a nice bronze job, and then display them in the Team Museum… All kidding aside, the retirement of uniform numbers does present an interesting dilemma, and it only multiplies with the retirement of more numbers. I am going to pick on the New York Yankees (I am a Red Sox fan, so it is my birthright…), because they best illustrate my point. When the Yankees retired the #2 uniform number of Derek Jeter after last season, the Yankees became the first team in the history of any professional sport to run out of single digit uniform numbers that could be issued to a player. The list goes #1-Billy Martin, #2-Derek Jeter, #3-Babe Ruth, #4-Lou Gehrig, #5-Joe DiMaggio,# 6- Joe Torre,# 7-Mickey Mantle, #8-Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey and,# 9-Roger Maris. I am also going to throw in the #10 of Phil Rizzuto. Are you still with me? Okay. The Yankees recently announced that they are set to retire the numbers of ‘the next generation of Yankee greats’, which includes Andy Pettitte (#46), Jorge Posada (#20), and Bernie Williams (#51). That will give the Yankees a total of 19 retired uniform numbers. That is a lot of retired numbers, isn’t it? I know that the Yankees want to be at the top of the world in everything, but does that also include this? At some point, you have to start asking yourself about when will the Yankees run out of uniform numbers below, say #30? This season, if all goes as planned, the Yankees will have retired 14 of the first 30 numbers that exist in the numerical alphabet. Now, the Yankees can do whatever they want to honor their players, and if they want to retire everybody’s number, it is their right to do so. I have to wonder what they will do when, after the next generation or two of ‘Yankee greats’ retire, they simply run out of uniform numbers 1-99. Will the Yankees become the first team in the history of any professional sport to issue the first three-digit uniform number? Look, Mr. Steinbrenner, another way to be first!
Let me throw this out there…I understand that the retiring of a uniform number is a singular honor, but I think that a better tribute is shown in a ‘Ring of Honor’ in a ballpark. Also, the Yankees have a great idea with Monument Park beyond the outfield wall. Almost all other MLB teams now have something like this, be it in a Stadium Club, or a team museum, or something along those lines. My thought is that many people don’t know from uniform numbers, but they do recognize names. Also, what about the baseball greats who played before uniforms had numbers on them? They can’t have their number retired, so what is a fitting tribute to them? These are my thoughts on the numbers game. I would like to hear some of your ideas on this, too.

MLB…The Face of the Franchise.

This is one of those pieces that is tough to write, but fun at the same time. For one thing, it is in no way scientific. It is really a matter of opinion, and that opinion will be clouded by what span of years that you consider. I am talking about whom do you think is the all-time face of a particular franchise? I will offer a few opinions based on my own personal view, but please do not take it as gospel. I will caution everybody ahead of time that this sounds like an easy task on its surface, and in some cases it is. Overall however, it is harder than it looks.
I wanted to start with the Chicago Cubs, largely due to the sentiment that I am feeling with the passing of Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks. Believe it or not, that sad event is the inspiration behind this article. With that said, we could consider Ron Santo, or perhaps Rogers Hornsby, or maybe even Ryne Sandberg, but at the end of the day, it is Ernie Banks.
Next was a real hard one for me, because we are now talking about MY team, the Boston Red Sox. Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Pesky, Dustin Pedroia, Roger Clemens… and so on and so on through a list of greats. However, this is not about who was the greatest player in franchise history. This is about who is the player that you instantly think of…the Face of the Franchise. For me, the Boston Red Sox who exemplifies this is Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky second, Carlton Fisk third.
How about the Oakland A’s? They have had some remarkable personalities, but none are more the Face of the Franchise to me than Rollie Fingers. Granted, there was Ricky Henderson, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Reggie Jackson, and Mark McGuire, but when I think of the green and gold of the Oakland A’s, I immediately think of Rollie Fingers.
Okay, time for an easy one, the Kansas City Royals. George Brett. Could there be anyone else?
When I considered the New York Yankees, I was once again looking at a team with a really long and storied history, and that history is contains some of the greatest players to ever wear a pair of baseball cleats. Lou Gherig, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle. Thurman Munson, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter…Sorry guys, but like the Frank Sinatra song says,’ A number one, top of the list, King of the hill, A number one’ belongs to George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth. Yankee Stadium wasn’t called ‘The House That Ruth Built’ for nothing.
The last team that I will consider for my own inclusion in this piece is the Cincinnati Reds. So many greats, so little space… Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey Jr, Brandon Phillips, Joe Morgan. Before I give my opinion on the Reds, I needed to stop for a minute and consider just how many good, near great, great, and ‘face of the franchise’ players there have been for every team over the years. It is positively mind-blowing. I think that every fan should at list consider it at some point. Anyway, for me the face of the Cincinnati Reds will always be Pete Rose.
I hope that a lot of you readers reply to this question. I would really like to get everyone’s take on their particular team. Remember, there is no right or wrong, just opinion. Thanks for reading!

MLB Hall of Fame…Should what’s outside effect who’s inside?

This will not be a particularly long blog today, because the more wordy I make this blog, the more likely it is that I will taint or sway your opinion. That is not what I am shooting for here. I am just trying to encourage some thought. Here we go…
There has been some buzz among the baseball faithful that Curt Schilling was hurt in his quest for the Hall of Fame by his personal political leanings. Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t. Curt Schilling has extremely conservative political views. How did that play with the HOF voters, who are generally more left-leaning and liberal? Let me stop here for a quick disclaimer. I am NOT endorsing either side in the liberal or conservative debate. I am leaving my personal politics out of this, and this is EXACTLY my point. Curt Schilling’s political bent, be it Democrat or Republican, Independent or Libertarian, should have absolutely nothing to do with answering the basic question of whether or not Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer? Do his career accomplishments meet the criterion for induction? Yes or no? The BBWAA will need to wrestle with this question in the next few years.
Let’s expand this thought by a step. If we are speaking of someone’s political leanings, we are then speaking about things that occur outside of the field of play, and that my friends, opens up a whole can of hurt. Let’s examine for a moment the on and off the field attitudes of a true baseball icon, a player for whom exclusion from the Hall of Fame would be unthinkable. I am speaking of Ty Cobb, The Georgia Peach. He was one of the greatest players in major league history, and was feared and hated at the same time for his fire and competitive spirit. But he was also an overt racist. I will give you that Ty Cobb played in a different time from the microscope of today, but that does not excuse it, nor does it make him any more right. He was a racist. Even though he began to change his tone after he retired and actually came to support baseball players of all races playing together, this was not the case when he was playing, and that is what the Hall of Fame considers. If this racist was held to the same scrutiny that players are held to today, would Ty Cobb have been inducted into Cooperstown? It is a good question.
Let’s take another icon. This player was considered simply the Greatest Baseball Player of All Time. The Sultan of Swat. The Bambino. Babe Ruth was all of that, but he was also a notorious womanizer and carouser. Who can count how many trysts he had? Is it possible to account for all the booze he drank? Should it make any difference? Who cares how many women he bedded or how much gin he drank? Did he do any of that on the playing field of Yankee Stadium? No? Of course not! The bigger point is that if it didn’t happen on the field, then it should not be open for debate by the Baseball Writers. There are no career statistics for how many N-bombs were dropped in a 9-inning game, and I am reasonably sure that there is no statistic to measure how efficiently a hotdog and a beer were consumed against left-handed pitching.
The point of this exercise is simply that Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth did much more than have conservative political leanings, yet they are glorified and are Hall of Fame members, while Curt Schilling is vilified for being a Republican? Does this make absolutely no sense?!? It does not. If the Baseball Writers are using this as a platform for their own political views and are punishing Curt Schilling, or anyone else, by not voting for a player based on his personal beliefs, then Houston, we have a problem. This is wrong, and it should never be. The problem is that it is impossible to prove. The vote of the Baseball Writers is an opinion. That is all it is. You cannot prove that a writer did or did not vote for a player for one reason or another. It is an impossible task. It would be like trying to prove a religious belief. It cannot be quantified.
I wanted this blog to induce some thought. It certainly caught my attention two days ago when Curt Schilling offered that his political views may have hurt his chances. Now Curt Schilling may be a tireless self-promoter, but he is allowed to be. It is not a crime, although it can be a little grinding after a while. Do I think that he should have said anything if he thought that he was being discriminated against because of his political stance? It isn’t important if I think he should have said anything, because the fact is that he did. I hope for Curt Schillings sake, and for the sake of the integrity of Baseball, that the reason that he didn’t gain induction had nothing to do with his personal beliefs.