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

2015 MLB All-Star Game…Something is Fishy.

The 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is now in our rearview mirror. Kudos to the City of Cincinnati for hosting a great event for the baseball world. There are some elements of the two day baseball fest that I want to discuss.

Let’s start with the Home Run Derby. I generally do not watch the ‘skills competition’ in any sport, which would explain my revulsion at the shootout in the National Hockey League, as well as the compulsory 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 in their overtimes. But that is a debate best left to another forum. The Home Run Derby had become this tedious, almost mind-numbing exercise. I was not sure that an imposed time limit would help, but I was pleasantly surprised and quite happy to be wrong. I have to admit that it is better now. I am not going to say that the ending felt scripted, but really…Todd Frazier, the hometown kid, winning the competition by one home run with precious little time left on the clock? You be the judge.

Next up, the Pete Rose saga. If MLB wanted to instill a sense of insane frenzied emotion, why didn’t Commissioner Manfred announce that he was going to reinstate Rose? It would have been appropriate given that the game was in Cincinnati. At least that is what I thought at first glance. But then I thought about it a little more, and I drew a very different conclusion. If the Commissioner had done that, it would have basically allowed the spectre of the whole Pete Rose debate to hijack the entire event, and THAT would have been wrong. It would have taken the attention away from the people who truly deserved it, and that is the players on the field. Rose got some love, and a 1 minute 20 second standing ovation by being allowed to participate in the ‘Franchise Four’ ceremonies, and he was on one of the television promos. That should be enough for now. The Pete Rose soap opera will be best left to another time.

And now, for the game itself. I’ll get right to it….how did Mike Trout win the MVP award in this game? Yes, he opened the game with a leadoff HR off of Zach Greinke. Sorry baseball fans, but I was not impressed. Trout was the first batter Greinke faced. His adrenaline was pumping. He was not dialed in yet, and he had not settled down into his normal pitching rhythm. It is not a huge surprise that Trout took him over the wall. If you look at how Greinke pitched AFTER the Trout bomb, it is a very different story. My point is that a single home run at the very beginning of a game should not an MVP make. There were other performances that were much more worthy. How about Lorenzo Cain? He had a great night, going 2 for 3 with an RBI. Prince Fielder had a pretty good night with the stick as well. But thinking a little outside the box a little bit, an argument can be made that Zach Greinke could have been the MVP. If we break down what MVP actually is about, it is for the player who was the most valuable to his team. The HR that Greinke allowed had no bearing on the outcome of the game. It was also the only hit that he allowed, and that goes along with the 4 K’s that he rang up. Pretty valuable if you ask me. How about Jacob DeGrom of the Mets.  He strikes out three hitters on TEN pitches (9 is the absolute minimum)… In the All-Star game! Impressive, no? Who does that?

Don’t misconstrue my meaning. Mike Trout is a great player. He is possibly, okay, probably the best player in the Major Leagues now. He is deserving of all the accolades that he receives…almost. In my opinion, he was not the MVP of the 2015 All-Star game. But Trout has become the face of MLB, and MLB needs to sell that image. Who will sell more merchandise and tickets for MLB, Trout or Lorenzo Cain? DUH! In a time of sky-rocketing contracts and other distractions, MLB needs a fresh faced 23year-old stud outfielder like Mike Trout to be its representative. It is great for the game to be sure. In the wings are players like Kris Bryant, Alex Gordon, Andrew McCutchen, Brock Holt, Joc Pederson, and many others, but today it is Mike Trout….a great player. I am just not sure that he deserved the ASG MVP this year.

MLB…The Case of Charlie Hustle.

Pete Rose. The name is instantly recognizable. The name conjures up images of a Cincinnati Reds player crashing headfirst into a catcher at the 1971 All-Star Game. There are images of a gritty, tough ballplayer with a funny haircut. Images of a hustling, all-or-nothing leader. Images of disgrace…and no images of Cooperstown.
Everybody knows the tragic story of Pete Rose. MLB’s all-time hits leader, World Series champion, perennial all-star, and his fall from grace after agreeing to a lifetime ban for betting on his own team, always to win, while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Pete Rose has petitioned all the MLB commissioners since the ban to lift it, and it has always failed to be acted upon. Just today, Pete Rose petitioned new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for reinstatement, and that is why this article exists today.
I am not going to get into all of the sordid details. There are endless records in other places where you can get that information. I only want to ask the question if enough time has passed for Rose to be reinstated? Should a lifetime ban in this case actually be a lifetime ban? Was what Rose did so egregious that he should be denied the opportunity to come home? Is it okay to have many players and other baseball figures who have done far worse still be included in the baseball family (Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, etc.), while Rose is a pariah?
The answer to these questions rests with the individuals. And once an individual has answered these questions, does the opinion matter? Let’s look at this. Even if the progressive new MLB commissioner agrees to lift the ban, it still does not get Rose into the Hall of Fame. The Baseball HOF is still a private institution, and they alone decide who is and who is not eligible for enshrinement.
And now, because you didn’t ask, I will offer up my own personal opinion. I believe that the lifetime ban that Rose agreed to (or was coerced in to?) was unjustified. The punishment did not fit the crime. Pete Rose had a gambling addiction. He bet on his own team to win, never to lose. It is highly unlikely that the action or inaction of Pete Rose while he was managing the Reds had any effect on the outcome of any game. He did not cheat. He did not use steroids, or any other performance enhancing drug. My belief is that then-commissioner Bart Giamatti wanted to make an example of Rose. He certainly did that. Now it is time to let it go. Lift the ban. Allow Pete Rose his proper place in baseball history as the all-time hits leader, and as one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
The case of Charlie Hustle is a sad one. Please let it be rectified in Pete Rose’s lifetime, while there is still time to do so. He has suffered the punishment. Now let him enjoy the accolades that he has earned.

MLB…One Fans Tweet On Progress.

When I jumped on the computer this morning, I was greeted by the following Tweet…”Life-long Red Sox fan but I wish they would rip this garbage park down. There is plenty of room in Southie to build a new one. Plus, it would be on the water.” I almost spit out my coffee. How could someone who is a self-professed ‘life-long Red Sox fan’ even consider the demolition of venerable Fenway Park?
My very first thought was that the guy who Tweeted this out must be a troll looking to crank people up. If he was, he didn’t do a fabulous job because there were not a lot of responses, as far as I could tell. But then again, Twitter updates so quickly that even if there were a lot of responses, they got pushed downward very quickly. Anyway, back to this particular Tweet. I might ask how any ‘die-hard Red Sox fan’ could even consider tearing down Fenway Park and building another one somewhere else? Does this person have no regard for the history of the Park? Where is the sentiment? Where is the respect for a Boston icon?
Now before I go off on a crazy tangent, the Tweet in question makes a few good points. First of all, let’s face that a park on the waterfront would be neat. AT&T Park in San Francisco is probably one of the best examples of a beautiful ballpark being built on a waterfront. But we can counter that with old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is not too far from Camden Yard (walking distance, actually), and that is also nice. My point however is that just because you can do a thing does not mean that you should…The Tweeter also calls Fenway a ‘garbage park’. Question…does something being old make it garbage? I am getting older, but I am not getting any garbagier (?). A 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa is old, but a well preserved and restored model sold at auction for over $16M. I could spend days listing examples of the fault in this person’s thinking, but I will refrain. I believe that I have made this point.
The John Henry ownership group is constantly working to improve Fenway Park. Yes, it is old. In fact, it is the oldest ballpark in the major leagues, having been built in 1912. Yes, it may be limited by the confines of the streets where it was built, but I believe that is part of Fenway’s charm. There is no other park in baseball like Fenway, and its uniqueness is what makes it great. In the same vein, workers are now scrambling to update Wrigley Field in Chicago, but nobody would ever dream of moving it from 1060 W. Addison, and tearing it down is completely absurd. The same thing goes for Fenway Park.
Baseball is a game of traditions. It is a game of great history, and we as baseball fans revere that history. Why is it that in some people’s minds that just because there is progress, things that are older need to be discarded? I certainly do not believe that, and I know very few baseball fans that do. We cherish our history. We delight in it. We pass it down to our children and grandchildren, just as it was passed down to us. Are you familiar with the sad story of the Tribal Fires? There was a tribe of people that lived for centuries without any modern conveniences of any kind. They hunted and fished. They made their own clothes and tents. They were happy and content with their lives. At night, all the members of the tribe, both young and old, would sit around the tribal fire and tell stories and teach lessons. The Tribal Fire was the center of their community. Well, one day well- meaning missionaries found this tribe and offered them some modernization, in the way of electricity and the light bulb. They told the tribal members of how this miracle of electricity and light would allow them to farm more effectively, and be able to preserve more food and make more things because they could work in to the night. But then something happened. Because the tribe had lights in all of their dwellings, the nightly Tribal Fire was no longer considered a necessity. It was a tradition that died off. As you can imagine, the tribe lost its identity and its traditions because the elders were not sitting around the Tribal Fire and teaching the younger ones any longer. Also, as you may have surmised, the tribe died off. It is a sad and true story, and it also starkly illustrates my point about traditions, and the need to keep them alive. Just because there is a newer model does not mean that it is a better model.
In closing today, I hope that the person who Tweeted out his opinion of ‘the garbage park’ has some time to reflect on what he said. Maybe some of the Boston Tribal Elders will correct him and his badly considered idea. Progress is a good thing, but progress has to be carefully balanced out with tradition and history. If it is not, then we lose some of the things that make us, well…us. Gone are the classic ballparks like Tiger Stadium, Comiskey Park, Ebbets Field, the Astrodome, and so many others, only to be replaced by the modern cathedrals of baseball. The new parks are beautiful to be sure, but we cannot keep tearing down the old parks just for the sake of having a new one.
Rest easy, though. Fenway Park is on the National Register of Historic Places, and as such it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. May Fenway Park last for another 100 years.

MLB…Was it worth it?

…and then there are incidents and storylines that leave me sadly shaking my head, while I try to understand what motivates people to act in a certain way. What was the driving force that led to a particular action? What did they hope to gain? Was the risk worth the reward? Today, my plan is to shine a light on this subject as it relates to the world of baseball. Believe me, there are plenty of case studies to be had, but I am only going to use a small sample size.
Our first stop is in The Bronx at venerable Yankee Stadium, the home of one Alex Rodriguez. He was accused in the Biogenisis lab scandal involving PEDs. He swore up-and-down that he was innocent of using steroids, or falsifying testimony, or any number of other actions. He was investigated, and MLB found him guilty of all the charges. I am not going to go into all the minutiae of the scandal, as anybody can just look it up. MLB suspended Rodriguez for 162 games, which amounted to the entire 2014 season. Rodriguez was once that player who was considered to have the potential to be one of, if not THE greatest player in the history of the game. It was once thought that the name of Alex Rodriguez would have been able to be mentioned in the same breath as Ruth, Gherig, Mantle, Dimaggio, Aaron, and the other immortals of baseball. Now his golden-boy reputation is permanently stained. He has lost the respect of the baseball community. He is a punchline. In his quest to be the greatest ever, he became the example of what not to do for everyone to see. It is sad. All of his great potential and impressive career statistics are now going to be forever scrutinized, and he will be lumped in with the vilified cheaters in baseball history. So, Alex Rodriguez…was it worth it?
My next stop is Chicago, home of the 2014 U.S. Little League World Series winners, the Jackie Robinson West team. What makes this so sad is that the kids themselves were simply playing the game. If things were being manipulated behind the scenes, they certainly had no part in it. They had talent. They had a drive to win. They had fun. They were also pawns in a larger game being played for some glory-seeking adults. These people will say that they just did it for the kids, but I am not so sure that I believe that. The adults from Jackie Robinson West knew that they were using ineligible players. Of course, the officials and coaches from the league will jump up and down and shout that they are innocent, but all anyone had to do was jump on the internet and do a quick search on the players, and they will find that many of the players who played on the championship team were not eligible to be on the team. That folks, is called cheating. The result is that the Jackie Robinson West team was stripped of their title, and they were forced to vacate all of their wins. The Jackie Robinson West team is now forever linked with a cheating scandal. So tell me, was it worth it?
Why does it seem that stories of cheating get everybody so spun up? Well, for one thing it is simply wrong. Most people will play by the established rules of a game. They will stay inside the lines. When somebody cheats, everyone loses. In the old Wild West, if you were caught cheating at cards, you got shot. The 1919 Chicago Black Sox conspirators were banned from baseball. Lance Armstrong had all seven of his Tour D’ France titles stripped from him, and he was permanently banned from his sport. Pete Rose was accused and found guilty of betting on his own team when he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He accepted a lifetime ban from baseball. And then we have the whole ‘steroid era’, filled with accusations and asterisks. Sadly, there are too many examples of dishonesty and cheating for me to list here in this blog.
I think that another question that I have is this…What made these people think that they were not going to get caught? Did they believe that they were really that smart? Did they believe that the world-at-large was so gullible that nobody would notice? There is an arrogance to people like this that disgusts me to my core. And the worst part is that the people that are generally harmed from things like this are usually innocent. The young ballplayers from Jackie Robinson West? They have been hurt, and it is permanent. They may move on from it, but they will never forget it. They will have to live with the stigma of having played on ‘that little league team from Chicago that cheated’. It will follow them everywhere. As far as Alex Rodriguez is concerned, he not only hurt himself, but he hurt his team, he hurt baseball fans, he hurt the people who he tried to drag down with him, and he hurt the game by giving it another black eye.
So my question to all of the cheaters, whether or not you got caught…was it worth it?

MLB…Truck Day!

What an exciting time of year this is! No, it is not because I like snow, and while I do like chocolate, Valentine’s Day isn’t the reason either. And don’t get me started on than damn Groundhog… The reason for my personal excitement is because February 12th is what is affectionately referred to in Boston as ‘Truck Day’. This is the day that the 18-wheelers pull up to the service entrances of Fenway Park by Gate D on Van Ness St., and all the equipment needed for spring training is loaded up for the 1,465 mile trek from Boston to Ft. Myers Florida and JetBlue Park. This has become an annual rite of spring, and there are those that say that Truck Day is the unofficial start of the baseball season. It is kind of hard to argue. It is a big deal to Red Sox Nation (of which I am proudly a member of!). It is a sign of the new season that is just around the corner. It is a sign of hope anew. It re-kindles the flame of baseball romance in us. We look forward all winter to this, and as weird as a tradition as this might seem to be, it is a tradition that is unique to the Red Sox, and it is OURS!
This year as the trucks head south, they will be carrying enough gear to get the Red Sox through the 2015 spring training schedule of workouts and games. This will include over 20,000 baseballs, 1,100 assorted bats, over 200 batting helmets and batting gloves, and a massive supply of uniforms and such. And don’t forget the 20 or so cases of bubble gum and the 60-plus cases of sunflower seeds. But I like to think that the trucks are carrying something much more important than gloves, gum, and bats. They are carrying the hopes and dreams of every single Boston Red Sox fan for a championship in 2015. They are transporting the very first pieces of a season that will hopefully conclude with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred handing over to Red Sox owner John Henry, general manager Ben Cherington, manager John Farrell, and the rest of the Red Sox, the 2015 Commissioner’s Trophy! It has been a long, cold winter, and it was made even worse and even longer by the awful season that the Red Sox had in 2014. Adding to that misery was the losses of some of the key Red Sox during the 2014 campaign. We had a lot of time to seethe, to ponder, to hope, and to dream. And now it is here. It is time to pack it up for the 21-hour drive to the winter home of the Red Sox. This is what we have been waiting for…a new season. Truck Day is here!!!

MLB…Heroes.

I have heard it said that one of the problems facing the youth of America is that they have no heroes to look up to as role models in their lives. I am not sure I agree with that, but I do see where the argument can be made. There are a lot more single-parent homes now. The examples being set by some in the mainstream media are less than ideal (Kardashians anyone?). Even in our world of sports, we are finding so many examples that are less than heroic.
Okay, I hear it. I understand the debate. I tend to look at this discussion differently because I was blessed to have some heroes to look up to as an impressionable kid. Some of them may seem silly, but to me they were very real and they helped to shape my conscience today. But before I get off on some introspective tangent, I want to confine this to one of my happier places. This place exists between two pure white chalk foul lines, a beautifully maintained infield, and great expanses of perfectly manicured green grass.
My first baseball hero was my dad. He was not a big guy, but on a baseball field he was. He was a left-handed hitter with some serious pop in his bat. He could play multiple positions and he was a slick infielder and a smooth outfielder. I never got to see him play in his prime when was on the United States Air Force Pacific Rim championship teams. My dad could have played major league ball, but that is not the life that he wanted. I respected that. When my dad would sit and tell me the stories of his playing days, I was transfixed. My dad was my very first baseball hero, and still to this day, is my biggest. It was because of him that baseball is my first love. He didn’t have a lot of time to play with me, as I had two other brothers who needed attention, too. But I treasured the times when he did. I remember on some lazy, weekend summer afternoons when I was sitting around with nothing to do, and my dad would come out of our garage with our baseball gloves and a ball in his hand. He didn’t have to say a word, but I was up on my feet faster than any soldier could obey the call to attention from a superior officer. He would have a little smirk on his face, and I would have a huge smile on mine. And we would simply have a game of catch. He instructed me where I needed it, and he encouraged me to be a better player. And we would talk. It was in those times that he helped shape me into not a better ballplayer, but a better person. Even to this day that finds me at 50 years old, I find myself wishing that I would still see him walking towards me with our gloves, and we could play catch again, not so much for the game, but because he was my hero.
I had heroes from the major leagues, too. The first that comes to mind is Sandy Koufax. He was arguably the most dominating pitcher who ever donned a uniform. He was from my era, or should I say the end of his career coincided with the beginning of my life. He was quiet and classy. He didn’t do what he did because he wanted to call attention to himself. He was far too classy for that. He did his job under the constant ugliness of anti-Semitism, and through it he always maintained his dignity. When he decided that his arm had enough and the pain became too unbearable, he simply retired, even though he was at the top of his game. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sandy Koufax, and he is one of my baseball heroes.
My next baseball hero is Greg ‘The Bull’ Luzinski. Why? Because he had a cool name and he could knock the cover off of a baseball. I will be the first to admit that he had an almost toxic glove, but this isn’t about a player’s ability. Remember when I said that some of my choices of heroes could be looked upon as silly? This might be a good case in point.
Next is Frank Tanana. The hard throwing left-hander from the California Angels made quite an impression on me. It is too bad that he blew out his arm early in his career, and ended up as a junk-ball pitcher. But when he was young and blowing the ball past everybody, he was quite the hero to me.
This list would not be complete without a catcher, because I was a catcher. This used to be a point of amusing contention between my dad and I. He said that he would never understand how anybody could want to be a catcher, and I would ask him how anybody wouldn’t want to be one? This went on all the time between us, and it was okay. Anyway, my last real major league baseball hero was Carlton Fisk. I used to love to watch ‘Pudge’ play. I fashioned my game after his. He was a get dirty, hard charging, enthusiastic player who happened to have exceptional skill and feel for his position. There were many great catchers who I could have used as inspiration. Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, and Gary Carter were all the very definition of greatness, but to me there was none better than Carlton Fisk.
I really wish that kids today could look at some baseball players as heroes. Not because of multiyear, multi-million contracts, and not because of some of the press that they generate, but because they are stand-up guys who truly love the game. Guys like Jason Varitek , Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez, and Andrew McCutcheon, among others. In our world of 24/7 mass overexposure, it can be difficult not to become somewhat jaded. I understand that. It is a very different world today than it was then. I miss the innocence and wonderment of my world from back then. I was lucky to have heroes. I truly hope that the kids of today can find some too.