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

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.