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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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…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…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…PED versus HOF.

MLB…PED versus HOF
I was reading an article where a reader asked a pointed question about the topic of whether or not players either convicted or accused of PED use during the so-called ‘Steroid Era” should be allowed admittance to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? The reader further asked that if a convicted PED user is granted admittance, what about a guy like Pete Rose who merely gambled on the results of the games he managed? Further still was the question of whether or not the BBWAA was punishing the PED users by denying them admittance? My first thought was that this person must have eaten their Wheaties that morning, because these were some very good questions! My second thought was that this issue has been beaten to death, resurrected, and beaten to death again. Why revisit it? My third thought was to ask myself if I wanted to revisit it here on ‘Blager’s Blog’? My answer is that I don’t want to break out the scalpel and dissect every possible angle and argument, both for and against. It has been rehashed so many times, and I really do not think that there is an end in sight for this subject. With that said, I do have a few thoughts that I would like to share…
First, there is the issue of Pete Rose. His accomplishments are a matter of record, and I don’t need to restate them. I know that he agreed to a lifetime ban when then MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti handed it down. I never believed that a lifetime ban was justified, and I still don’t. There is no evidence that Pete Rose’s gambling had any bearing on the outcome of any game. The gambling issue happened when he was a manager. They did not happen when he was a player, and that is what the BBWAA and the HOF itself sets as the criteria for either denial or admission. Now the lifetime ban stipulates that Rose has no involvement of any kind with MLB. However, MLB did find it in their hearts to allow Rose to participate in one of its’ on-field tributes, the 1999 All-Century Team festivities, when it suited the purposes of the League. Another case in point is that MLB is allowing Pete Rose to participate in the 2015 All-Star Game festivities at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Gee, a little hypocracy, anyone? I hope that the new commissioner Rob Manfred who replaces the outgoing Bud Selig on Sunday, January 25th 2015, overturns this ridiculous banishment, reinstates Rose, and that Rose can finally take his rightful place in Cooperstown.
The second question that I would like to tackle is whether or not the BBWAA is punishing the players of the ‘Steroid Era’ by simply not voting for any of them. Perhaps I should say that the BBWAA is not giving players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGuire enough of the vote to gain induction, while they can still offer up a ‘mea culpa and say that at least they got some votes. There were a few whispers going around that the Hall of Fame decreased the player eligibility window from 15 years to only 10 years, simply so that the ‘Steroid Era’ players would drop off the ballot in a shorter period of time. It is an interesting thought, is it not?
The last question that I have for today is that should an entire era of players and their accomplishments be simply expunged or ignored because they took an illegal substance? Should baseball’s All-Time Home Run King have to buy a ticket to get into the Hall of Fame? The same question goes for one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of the game. Were there players who took illegal substances long before steroids, but are somehow glorified with a bust in Cooperstown? I submit that there are. When the whole steroid scandal broke across the baseball world, I was outraged, just as many others were. I believe that over the years, I have softened my stance. I think that the players who used were wrong for doing so, but I am no longer so sure that they should not be in the Hall of Fame. That will be an issue for others to decide, as I am not a voting member of the BBWAA.
My intent is not to have a debate over inclusion or exclusion. Again, this argument has a lot of miles on its’ tires. I just want to encourage some thought on the questions posed by the person who read the same article that I did. They are some good questions. They deserve some good answers. I hope that I helped…