May 9, 2011
At least once every few years, we see MLB Players make a run at Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56-game hitting streak. The most recent contestant in ‘Attempting to Break Unbreakable Records’ was Dodgers’ star, Andre Ethier. Ethier’s streak ended at 30 games this past weekend in a game against the New York Mets. In recent years, several other players including Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Moises Alou, and Willy Taveras all reached 30. Chase Utley and Luis Castillo were so bold to make it to 35 and Jimmy Rollins and Paul Molitor even put together streaks of 38 and 39 respectively. But after that point, there have been considerably fewer players to challenge DiMaggio’s record.
The insurmountable evidence that exists as to why the record will not be broken is that it’s never even really approached. The last time someone even reached 40 was Pete Rose’s 44 in 1978 – and he’s the all-time career leader in hits, after all. As for 50? A grand total of zero players other than DiMaggio have eclipsed that mark.
Cero. Nada. None.
Next in line after Mr. Marilyn Monroe? Willie Keeler had 45 in the 1896 and 1897 seasons. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Keeler’s Baltimore team was in the National League, some guy named William McKinley was President, and Babe Ruth was two years old.
So why would it be so difficult to break? Well, in addition to it being an absolutely incredible feat, there is a laundry list of reasons why today’s players have it tougher than DiMaggio did back in 1941. Cross-country flights, specialty relievers, improved pitching with the integration of baseball, more media – they all add up to the record being unapproachable.
Then, there’s the ‘invisible barrier of 30.’ For some reason, players fall apart once they reach that number. That’s when the media attention really starts to kick in and every at bat is scrutinized. There have been a total of 54 hit streaks of at least 30 games or more. In 20 of those times, nearly 40%, the streak has ended precisely at 30. In addition, ten more players only made it to 31. So, in actuality, DiMaggio’s record can be broken down into two parts: The first 30 games and the remaining 26. Hitting in the first 30 is difficult enough, but then, there’s the constant attention of each game and a player comes to realize … he’s only about halfway there.
In addition, one thing constantly gets overlooked when discussing the record: No one really gets a second crack at it. Ty Cobb, George Sisler, and Sam Rice are the only players to put together more than one streak of at least 30 games or more. All three played nearly 100 years ago and Rice (1930) was the last player to do it. This record isn’t similar to Maris’ home run record where we saw players make multiple runs at it. It’s basically a one-and-done situation.
Also, there’s the fact that hitting in that many consecutive games is somewhat a fluke by nature. Ted Williams, the last player to bat .400 and perhaps baseball’s greatest hitter of all-time, never even reached 30. Some of the best hitters in history have joined Williams in not even coming close – Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lou Gehrig, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Ichiroall failed to reach that mark. On the flipside, mediocre major leaguers such as Jerome Walton, Benito Santiago, and Sandy Alomar, Jr. did. You need the right combination of skill, luck, and even help from the game’s official scorer.
Baseball is a game where batting .300 (essentially, succeeding 30% of the time) is seen as a great accomplishment – which, by the way, is why hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but it’s almost a lock that ‘56’ will stand forever.
April 25, 2011
I know, I get it – the MLB seasonis really just getting underway, and many fans aren’t even paying attention yet with the NBA and NHL playoffs dominating the sports world. But some early season surprises are still worth noting – here are a few:
What’s going on in Beantown? The Sox were picked by many prognosticators to not only reach the playoffs, but win the World Series. Until this recent hot stretch, though, Boston’s lineup of All Star MLB players hasn’t translated into a lot of wins. So why the early struggles? Offseason acquisition Carl Crawford is batting around .150 – about ½ the production at the plate most expected. Another player picked up, Adrian Gonzalez, has only one home run to date after hitting 31 last year. And Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, both near .300 career hitters, are batting a little over .200. In a nutshell, too few players are contributing far too less.
The verdict: All of the aforementioned MLB players are veterans and likely just off to slow starts. I expect the current hot streak to continue; the Red Sox will turn things around and sneak into the MLB playoffs.
Over in the AL Central, things have been literally upside down. On the bottom of the standings, there are perennial contenders, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royalsare sitting on top and are doing it with offense – both MLB teams are tied for first-place in the league in scoring runs. Neither was expected to do much, but each squad has some young players stepping up, including Indians’ pitchers Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin (a combined 7-0) and the Royals’ Alex Gordon, who looks to be finally cashing in some of his enormous potential, hitting over .350.
The verdict: Neither MLB team has had much trouble scoring runs to date, but the Indians have had some of the best pitching in baseball. Because of that, Cleveland should be able to contend throughout the duration of the season, but I expect the Royals to drop off a bit at some point…especially without former ace Zach Greinke, who went to Milwaukee in the offseason.
After doing little in five seasons in Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Kansas City, Bautista slugged a league-leading 54 home runs last year for the Toronto Blue Jays. While his past track record didn’t indicate he was capable of such a year, he proved everyone wrong with a highly-publicized alteration to his swing. Many have been anxious to claim that last year was a mere fluke (a la Brady Anderson circa 1996), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Bautista is again leading the AL with seven home runs and is batting .360 – more than .100 points over his career average. Jose’s on pace for another 50+ home run season and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The verdict: Pitchers are starting to catch on to the fact that Bautista is a real threat, as evidenced by his league-leading 19 walks. Because of that, his home runs should dip a bit, but I’m not betting against him for another big year.
The Mediocrity that is the NL Central
It’s early, but the NL Central is looking like it will produce a .500-ish champion. Heading into the Sunday night matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, both were tied for the Division lead at 11-10 with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 10-11 Cubs were only a game back, while the Pirates (9-12) and Astros(8-14) weren’t far behind. With only 3.5 games separating the first- and last-place teams, this is the tightest division in all of baseball. The NL Central appears to be wide open and could be reminiscent of 1997, when the race went right down to the wire with the Astros taking the title with only 84 wins.
The verdict: Predicting a winner in this Division would be akin to predicting when Charlie Sheen will utter another iconic phrase or when Donald Trump will call out another celebrity, but I’ll go with the Reds. I also think that by the MLB season’s end, there will be a clear separation of the top three teams (Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers) and the bottom three (Cubs, Pirates, Astros). There’s also not much pitching in the NL Central, so there will be some big numbers offensively by some of the individual MLB players in the division.
When you look at the Mets’ lineup, consisting of great MLB players like Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Bay, you expect great things. But so far, this season has looked like the past two when the club finished under .500, despite the big payroll. In all fairness, though, New York has had to deal with some major injury issues. The team is missing staff ace Johan Santana, who is on the disabled list with an elbow injury and not expected to return until June or July. And the aforementioned Bay just began his season, coming off of a DL stint of his own.
The verdict: With so much talent, it’s hard to see the Mets finishing below .500 again. While they don’t have the horses to compete with the Phillies (few teams do), a second-place or even Wild Card chase isn’t out of the question if they can stay healthy and add a pitcher down the stretch.
April 18, 2011
I’d love to say there’s some warm and fuzzy tale of me being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since childbirth, but there’s really not. See, I grew up in north-central Pennsylvania, but my affinity as a young kid for Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, combined with the fact that New York’s channels reached down to our cable provider, officially made me a Mets fan. The only thing I knew about the Pirates was that … well, they were one of the MLB teams that played against the Mets.
I was too young, really, to understand why Dwight Gooden had stopped pitching for the Mets when he was suspended for cocaine use in 1987. The only thing I knew was that he wasn’t on TV anymore. My first game in-person was in 1988 when my family took a bus trip to see the Mets and the … Pirates. Other than meeting an 11-year old girl who was a pretty fanatical Gary Carter fan on the bus, I don’t remember much from that trip.
So anyway, fast forward to 1996. Kid from rural Pennsylvania turns into respectable college student and heads to the big city – Pittsburgh. I was still a pretty diehard Mets fan, but after going to a few Pirates games, I started slowly rooting for the team to win…mostly because they did so little of it. I guess I did it for the same reason a lot of people cheer for MLB teams – they become familiar with the players. The only problem was that, while more fortunate fans of Central Division teams had posters of guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, and Barry Larkin, I had Tony Womack and Jason Kendall. Both fine major leaguer players, mind you, but neither was someone you’d hang your hat on and call a bonafide star.
The struggles grew. I was now somewhere in between a Mets fan and a Pirates fan. But when the 2000 World Series with the Mets and Yankees came around, something surprising happened.
I wasn’t interested.
Maybe it was because I was in college. Maybe it was because I had more pressing issues such as finals, paying the rent, and parties. But after that, things just weren’t the same. I was transformed. I was a Pirates fan. And not only a fan, but I was hooked, attending about 10-12 games a season and watching almost every game on TV.
The Pirates went on to get more recognizable talent. With four straight 35+ home run seasons, Brian Giles is still the best Pirate in the past 20 years dating back to Barry Bonds. Aramis Ramirez went on to a great career and Jason Bay was Rookie of the Year and a multi-year All-Star. And then there was the new ballpark in 2001.
If it weren’t for that pesky ‘winning’ thing, I’d be fully content.
Ah, yes, the winning. Why are the Pirates one of those MLB teams that don’t actually win? Well, there are a number of reasons. Some of it could be management. In the past, it seemed like they always got rid of star talent (some of which has worked, and some of which hasn’t). There have been the halfway-rebuilding years to the all-out rebuilding years, which we saw a couple of seasons ago. And, like any fan, I’m not sure I always agree with the decisions.
For instance, not finding a way to keep Barry Bonds was probably a mistake, regardless of what you think of his career. He went on to win five more MVPs, after all. Trading a budding All-Star in Ramirez for something along the lines of a few pouches of Big League Chewand a 1988 Topps baseball card set maybe wasn’t a great idea, either. And I can’t say that I was on board with dumping Bay, who had become a good young power hitter, for a minor league prospect and three guys who are no longer with the team.
Then, you’ve got the “Who saw that coming?” category. The Pirates put Jose Bautista, who had done little to suggest he was a major power threat, on waivers. He had 43 home runs total in several years as a Pirate, but had 54 last year alone, leading the AL. Jason Schmidt went 44-47 in Pittsburgh, but 79-41 the rest of his career. Heck, he didn’t even wait to become a star as he went 7-1 and lowered his ERA by more than a run the rest of 2001 after he was traded.
Last, there are the high draft picks that never panned out. I give you Pittsburgh’s first-round selections since 1990:
Kurt Miller (1990), Jon Farrell (1991), Charles Peterson (1993), Mark Farris (1994), J.J. Davis (1997), Clint Johnston (1998), Bobby Bradley (1999), John Van Benschoten (2001), and Bryan Bullington (2002) all either never made it to the majors or only were there long enough for a cup of coffee. It’s hard to have success when the guys you draft don’t become even serviceable MLB players.
Chad Hermansen (1995), Kris Benson (1996), and Sean Burnett (2000) had middling careers, but certainly didn’t pan out to anything close to what a first-round pick should. Of former Pirates, only Jason Kendall (1993) went on to have a pretty solid career.
But things have been getting better. The drafts since 2004 have produced guys like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez – all of whom are starting on the major league level. Jose Tabata is a capable leadoff man who was pilfered from the Yankees, and the minor league system still has several quality candidates to join the team in the next year or two. Now, more than ever in recent memory, the team is loading up young players and has a core of talent that makes you think it can compete in a year or two.
So I hope. And I root.
The fact is that things are finally looking up. I know, I know – we’ve been saying that since 1992. But trust me.
April 13, 2011
The recent release of our Dennis Eckersley Fathead reminded us that the overzealous mustache is as large a part of baseball as the stitching on the ball and the blades of grass in the outfield. All three are taken for granted, but without them, the sport wouldn’t be the same. Rollie Fingers. Keith Hernandez. Don Mattingly. Incredible MLB players, impeccable mustaches. Sure, a new season means a lot of clean shaven faces, but we can still admire seasons past while we wait for what’s to come.
After a less than eventful four years with the New York Yankees – a $40 million investment that garnered only a handful of starts for the oft injured MLB pitcher – Pavano has revived his career to be a solid starting pitcher with the Minnesota Twins. Accompanying him last season through this resurrection was a once small painter’s brush mustache (click here to see it) that grew into a full-on Groucho Marx (see the late-season mustache here). Bloggers both chastised and championed his efforts, but after the Twins lost to the Yankees in the ALDS, the mustache was no more. Will he duplicate his facial hair efforts from last year? Or up himself? Pass the torch to someone else?
Words can’t even begin to describe the awesomeness Zavada’s mustache projects. A quick Google image search returns hundreds of pictures of the MLB player with one of two styles – the upward handlebar thinning toward the outer parts of the lip (a la Rollie Fingers — click here to see it) or the more traditionally intimidating chevron (see it there). Double mustache points for sporting the two separate looks. Is the Rollie handlebar his formal wear, and the chevron ‘stache his business casual? From a career standpoint, Zavada may be a marketing genius. If it wasn’t for the ‘stache, no one would know the name Clay Zavada. He’s currently in AAA after a 2009 stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks and a 2010 season eliminated by Tommy John surgery.
Wedge’s walrus mustache, my personal favorite, is storied amongst baseball fans. During his coaching stint with the Cleveland Indians, the team made it within one game of the 2007 World Series only to fall to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS Championship. The next season saw a slow start and an ultimately disappointing season. The more conventional minded fans pointed toward the high expectations on a follow up performance for a still young team, or a poor pitching staff, but some suffering Clevelanders, confused and hungry for a winner, blamed Wedge’s new-found lip hair. How dare they think a mustache of such prowess would cause harm to their city, but hey, if true, that would be one powerful ‘stache. Wedge had the same look as an MLB player, though, so I highly doubt its impact on the team’s performance. The Mariners are obviously not put off by it, having signed Wedge for the 2011 season (see his current mustache here).
Another walrus mustache from a long time MLB professional. Like Wedge, Ron Washington has stuck with the shrub through the majority of his playing and coaching career. Right now he’s at the top after a surprise trip to the 2010 World Series for his Texas Rangers and a hot start to the 2011 season. There’s even a little kid out there that dressed like Washington for Halloween! How awesome is that? (See Washington and the kid here.)
Are all the years of mustache bravado boiling over into a winning explosion the size of Texas? I say yes, and for this one short paragraph, what I say is fact.
Not the singer/songwriter for the Beach Boys, but the maverick closer for the World Champion San Francisco Giants. Including Wilson is kind of cheating, so we’ll refer to this as an honorable mention. He doesn’t only have a mustache, but a full beard. Combine the black beard (that matches the uniforms but not the hair on top of his head), the crazy look in his eyes, and the cannon for an arm, and you have one of the best MLB pitchers in the game. Let’s hope the young Wilson continues the mustached-beard mayhem through a long career (see his hairy face here).
These mustache veterans are only the tip of the iceberg. As the 162 game season slides into summer and creeps into the fall, players get restless. Lots of days on the road lead to lots of shenanigans and creativity, often in the form of wild facial hair. Keep your eye out for new and innovative mustaches throughout the season. There are always a few trend setters, and you never know, we may witness the next great facial hair fad since mutton chop sideburns.