Monday, April 19, 2021

Down at the Five and Ten

In 1879, Frank W. Woolworth opened his first store, Utica, New York. He called it "The Great Five Cent Store," because everything could be sold for 5 cents. It went bust, because there weren't enough things that could be sold for that much.

Later in the year, he moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and opened a new store, a "Five and Ten Cent Store." Now, there were so many things that could be sold for either amount that he quickly ran out of stock. He had to open new stores, and became one of the first franchisers in American business.

Woolworth's become a huge chain, although it went out of business in 1997, by which point, selling things for no more than 10 cents was no longer possible. Similar chains propped up, rising and falling. One of these was J.J. Newberry's, which even had a store in Cooperstown, New York, next-door to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

These stores became known as "five and ten," or "five and dime" stores. (Never "nickel and dime," which suggests not just cheapness, but being no good.) People used to say, "Meet me down at the five and ten."

It was my grandmother, as Woolworth went under at the end of the 20th Century, who figured out that "dollar stores," usually smaller than five and tens, had replaced them and forced them out of business.

Why do I bring this up? Because the Yankees' record is now five and ten.

*

You would think that, with Gerrit Cole starting the finale of the Yankees' weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays, they would win. He pitched well enough to win. With the Yankee bullpen worn out due to 2 bad games, Brian Cashman and his flunky Aaron Boone let Cole throw 109 pitches. He got into the 7th inning, allowing 3 runs, 2 of them earned, on 5 hits, no walks, and 10 strikeouts. That gave him 39 strikeouts in his 1st 4 starts of the season, a Yankee record. (As if anybody cares about that.)

But all those "pitching wins championships" and "defense wins championships" people forget: You can't win unless you score. Early on, it looked like they might: Giancarlo Stanton led off the 2nd inning with a home run. That had to be a good sign, right?

As it turned out, wrong: The Yankees stranded a runner on 1st with 2 out in the 2nd; stranded runners on 1st & 2nd with 2 out in the 5th, after an RBI single by DJ LeMahieu; stranded a runner on 1st with 1 out in the 6th; stranded a runner with 2 out in the 7th; and went down 1-2-3 in the 1st, the 3rd, the 4th, the 8th and the 9th.

Rays 4, Yankees 2. WP: Ryan Yarbrough (1-2). SV: Jeffrey Springs (1). LP: Cole (2-1).

*

So the Yankees' record is now 5-10. That is the worst record in the American League. Over a full 162 games, that would be 54-108, which would exceed by 5 the most losses the team has ever had in a season (1908). They are 4 1/2 games behind the hated Boston Red Sox. Only the Colorado Rockies, at 4-12, have a worse record in the entirety of Major League Baseball.

Cashman's plan to build a team capable of outscoring any team on any day is failing. The Yankees have scored 55 runs, tied with the Detroit Tigers for dead last in the AL. 

Check out these OPS+'s, keeping in mind that 100 is exactly average: Kyle Higashioka 267 (in 8 games), Aaron Judge 140, DJ LeMahieu 132, Gary Sanchez 128, Brett Gardner 105, Tyler Wade 97, Gio Urshela 92, Giancarlo Stanton 76 (and that includes yesterday's homer), Gleyber Torres 66, Clint Frazier 41, Aaron Hicks 41, Jay Bruce 38, Rougned Odor 29, Mike Tauchman -15.

Bruce retired after the game. This was his 14th season, and his 1 home run as a Yankee gave him 319 for his career, a decent total. He made 3 All-Star Games, 2 with the Cincinnati Reds and 1 with the Mets.

I was in favor of the acquisition. I figured, if Bruce has anything left, it will help; and, if he doesn't, we're no worse off than we were.

Unfortunately, he turned into another one of Cashman's overage destroyers. That's a term that was used for ships from the World War I era that President Franklin D. Roosevelt let the British have in World War II, at a point before Pearl Harbor when America couldn't yet get in, and Britain needed all the help it could get.

At least Bruce was a lefthanded hitter, with a swing designed for Yankee Stadium. Most of Cashman's power hitters have been righthanded, with swings designed for Fenway Park in Boston, Minute Maid Park in Houston, any stadium with a nice, close left field wall, preferably with a CITGO sign above it.

For Cashman, it's either overage destroyers or prospects. This led to me posting a joke on Facebook and Twitter yesterday: Did you hear about Brian Cashman's girlfriend? He traded her to a college for 4 sorority sisters, and a professor who wrote a great Ph.D. dissertation in 2012, but she hasn't published anything since.

The Yankees have today off. Tomorrow night, they begin a brief 2-game home series with the Atlanta Braves.

Let's hope they stop playing like five-and-ten products. Stop nickel-and-diming us. As Yankee Legend Yogi Berra was quoted as saying (but may not have actually said), "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

(Asked to explain this, he correctly said, "Well, it ain't!")

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Cavalry Is Not Coming to Save the Yankees

The Yankees are off to an atrocious start. Brian Cashman's apologists are pointing out that the Yankees started off the 1998 season poorly as well.

The 1998 Yankees were assembled by Gene Michael and Bob Watson. The 2021 Yankees have been assembled by Brian Cashman. This is not going to be another 1998.

The Yankees lost the opener of this home series to the Tampa Bay Rays to fall to 5-8 on the season. And then, yesterday, they had to face the Rays' ace, Tyler Glasnow.

Swell. Jordan Montgomery, our starter, was really going to have to be on his game.

For a while, he did well. Montgomery pitched 6 full innings, and wasn't terrible. The teams exchanged single runs in the 2nd inning, and it was still 1-1 going into the 4th. But Montgomery allowed 2 homers, a solo and a 2-run, and it was 3-1 Rays after 6.

Yankee broadcaster John Sterling likes to say that a 2-run deficit is "just a bloop and a blast." Which is fine, if your team is capable of that. The 2021 Yankees, thus far, haven't been.

And then, going against Cashman's usual strategy, Aaron Boone let Montgomery start the top of the 7th. Cliche Alert: Walks can kill you, especially the leadoff variety. And Montgomery started the inning with a walk, and was pulled. That baserunner would turn out to be critical.

Boone brought in Jonathan Loaisiga, who was off to a great start this season. Not this time: He gave up a home run to make it 5-1 Tampa Bay.

The Yankees mounted a comeback in the bottom of the 7th. With 1 out, Rougned Odor hit his 1st home run as a Yankee, DJ LeMahieu singled, and Aaron Judge doubled him home. For a moment, there was a sense that the game -- maybe even the season -- was turning around, right here.

So much for that idea: Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton struck out, ending the threat.

Loaisiga got through the 8th with no further damage, but Cashman/Boone replaced him with Justin Wilson for the 9th, and he allowed another run. The Yankees went down meekly in the 8th and the 9th.

Rays 6, Yankees 3. WP: Glasnow (2-0). SV: Diego Castillo (4). LP: Montgomery (1-1).

The Yankees are now 5-9. Over 162 games, that works out to 58-104. They are already 5 games behind the hated Boston Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division. This team designed to blow the opposition out of the yard has a collective batting average of .217, ranking 13th in the 15-team AL; an on-base percentage of .302, 11th; and a slugging percentage of .354, dead last. They have scored 53 runs, 14th. They have hit 15 home runs, 12th.

This is the team that Brian Cashman has built. He meant to design the greatest artillery any baseball team has ever had. Instead, he has built a bunch of rock-throwers who can't hit the target.

The series concludes this afternoon. Gerrit Cole will try to pitch as he usually does, with the hope of getting some run support, against Andrew Kittredge.

It's like that old Sunday school song: "I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot in the artillery... "

And the cavalry is not coming over the hill in the nick of time to save the Yankees. That would require somebody to call them.

And Brian Cashman mans the phone.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

How Long It's Been: Tottenham Won the League

Note: This is an update of a piece I wrote on the 50th Anniversary.

Today is April 17, 2021. Exactly 60 years ago, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club – a.k.a. "Tottenham" or "Spurs," and if you don't like them you can think of a number of other names for them – last clinched the championship of the 1st division of the English Football League, now known as the English Premier League.

The clincher, on the exact same day as the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, came at their home ground, White Hart Lane in Middlesex (it would be brought into London as part of a 1965 boundary redraw), against Sheffield Wednesday, then 2nd in the League. Les Allen scored the winner as Spurs, managed by Bill Nicholson, came from 1-0 down to win, 2-1.

On May 6, Spurs beat Leicester City in the FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium, to "do the Double." It was the 1st time in the 20th Century that a team had won the Double, since Birmingham-based Aston Villa turned the trick in 1897.

Since then, Spurs have won a few trophies, though their last major trophy was the FA Cup in 1991. Thirty years. The League?

April 17, 1961. Sixty years. Half a century. Here's an idea of how long it's been:

The Wembley Stadium at which Spurs won the League has been demolished, and a new one built in its place. Spurs have also built a new stadium, currently named simply Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But they had to tear the old White Hart Lane down to build it. In the meantime, they had to play at the new Wembley in the 2017-18 season and nearly all of the 2018-19 season. Spurs' North London arch-rivals, Arsenal, have also built a new stadium.

Since Spurs last won the League, either as The Football League or as The Premier League (or "The Premiership"), Liverpool have won it 14 times. Manchester United have also won it 14 times. Arsenal have won it 6 times. Chelsea, of West London, and Manchester City have won it 5 times. Everton, "the other team" in Liverpool, have won it 4. Leeds United have each won it 3. Derby County have won it twice. And the following clubs have won it once each: Aston Villa of Birmingham, Blackburn Rovers, Ipswich Town, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City. Spurs? Not once.

The European Cup Final was won by Benfica, of Lisbon, Portugal, although their sensational Mozambicquean forward Eusebio was still a rookie at the top European level and did not play. Benfica beat Barcelona. This was the 1st time in the 6 years that the European Cup was contested that it was not won by the other big club in Spain, Real Madrid.

No British team had yet won it. The following season, as defending English champions, Spurs would advance to the Semifinals, but would lose to Benfica as Eusebio dazzled. Some Spurs fans still think the refs cheated them, and that they would have beaten Real Madrid, with Alfredo di Stefano, in the final, as Benfica went on to do.

Some of the clubs that have gone on to define European football in the years since were virtual unknowns outside their own countries: Liverpool, Chelsea, Olympique de Marseille, Juventus, Ajax Amsterdam, Bayern Munich. The two Milan clubs, AC Milan and Internazionale, were known but neither had yet won the European Cup.

Manchester United were known, but were still struggling to recover from the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, when they were trying to take off after refueling on their return from a European Cup Quarterfinal against Yugoslavian club Red Star Belgrade.

Arsenal, of course, were known: When Dynamo Moscow, then the dominant club in the Soviet Union, wanted to tour Britain in 1945, right after World War II, they insisted upon playing Arsenal at Highbury, saying it wouldn't have been a true test of their mettle if they didn't. If they knew then who Tottenham were, they didn't show it. But in 1961, the whole world knew.

Of the 1960-61 Spurs: Midfielder John White was struck by lightning and killed on a golf course in 1964, only 27 years old; Captain and midfielder Danny Blanchflower died in 1993, manager Bill Nicholson and goalkeeper Bill Brown in 2004, forward Bobby Smith in 2010, left back Ron Henry in 2014, midfielder Dave Mackay in 2015, right back Peter Baker in 2016; and the following are still alive: Centreback Maurice Norman, winger Cliff Jones, forward Les Allen and winger Terry Dyson.

In America, their version of professional football had stretched from coast to coast by 1946, but the other major sports had only just done so. Basketball was in its 1st season with the Lakers, formerly in Minneapolis (Minnesota, "the Land of 10,000 Lakes") in Los Angeles. It was only in 1958 that baseball teams arrived in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The South had just gotten pro football in Dallas and Houston, and a Houston baseball team existed on paper to debut in one year, but the National Basketball Association would not arrive until 1968. In 1973, a basketball team called the San Antonio Spurs would begin play, and have now won 5 titles. 

The National Hockey League still had only 6 teams, all in the northeastern quadrant of North America: Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, and the teams that had just finished the Stanley Cup Finals the day before, Chicago beating Detroit. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on April 16, 1961, and finally ended their 49-year drought, 2nd-longest of any team in NHL history, on June 9, 2010. So even the Hawks have gone all the way more recently than Spurs.

All but one of the 16 teams then in MLB were playing in stadiums with permanent lights, but there were no artificial turf fields, and no domes (retractable or otherwise). There was no designated hitter, and no regular season interleague play. And no divisional play or Playoffs, just the World Series: If you won over 100 games and another team won more – as would happen that year, with the Detroit Tigers winning 101 and still finishing 8 games behind the New York Yankees – you were out of luck.

Most of the big records in North American sports still stood. Babe Ruth was still the leader in home runs for a single season and in a career. Ty Cobb still held the records for hits in a career and for stolen bases in a season and in a career (although the last of these is dubious, as 1900 was often a cutoff point and there was a player before that who had more career steals).

Walter Johnson still held the record for pitching strikeouts in a career, and Bob Feller for a single nine-inning game and a season (although an official finding an error would later discover that another pitcher held that last record).

The record for points in an NBA game was still 71 by Elgin Baylor, but Wilt Chamberlain would break that record the next season with 78, and then again that season with the still-standing 100.

Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion had just become the 2nd hockey player, after his recently retired Montreal Canadiens teammate, Maurice "the Rocket" Richard, to score 50 goals in a season; Richard still had the career mark.

No NFL player had yet passed for 40,000 yards, nor run for 10,000, and only Don Hutson had scored over 100 touchdowns. Nor had any player passed for 4,000 yards nor run for 2,000 in a single season.

The record for sacks in a game, a season, a career? Nobody knew, as David "Deacon" Jones, the great Los Angeles Rams defensive end who created the term for a tackle of the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, was still a few days away from entering the NFL through its draft. Floyd Patterson was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Spurs had dethroned Lancashire club Burnley as League Champions, and West Midlands club Wolverhampton Wanderers as FA Cup holders. They would win the Cup again the next year, defeating Burnley. The defending champions in American sports were the aforementioned Blackhawks, the Boston Celtics, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Green Bay Packers. 

The defining athletes of my childhood? Most were still in school. More to the point of the team and sport in question: Charlie George was 10, Ossie Ardiles was 8, Liam Brady was 5, Glenn Hoddle was 3, and none of the players on the Arsenal and Spurs teams that played each other in the 1991 and 1993 FA Cup Semifinals had yet been born except for Gary Lineker and Pat Van Den Hauwe of Spurs, and David O'Leary of Arsenal. That's right: Tony Adams, Alan Smith, Michael Thomas and Paul Gascoigne weren't even twinkles in their daddies' eyes.

Terry Venables, who managed Spurs in those games, was an 18-year-old rookie at Chelsea when Spurs last won the League. Arsenal manager George Graham was 16, and a few months away from making his professional debut with Aston Villa.

Arsène Wenger was 11, Harry Redknapp was 14. Alex Ferguson was playing in his native Scotland for St. Johnstone. José Mário dos Santos Mourinho was a year and a half from being born.

George Swindin, former Arsenal goalkeeper, was Arsenal manager, but without success. Liverpool was in the Second Division, although under Bill Shankly it was about to get promoted back to the First. Walter Winterbottom was England's manager, Johnny Haynes its Captain.

Queen Elizabeth II was on the throne of Britain -- that hasn't changed -- but Prince Edward had not yet been born. Nor had Diana Spencer. The Prime Minister was Harold Macmillan. Alec Douglas-Home was his Foreign Secretary, Edward Heath his Lord Privy Seal.
Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden were still alive.

Harold Wilson was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher were also in Parliament. John Major was working in his father’s garden-ornament business. Jeremy Corbyn was about to turn 12, Gordon Brown was 10, Tony Blair was about to turn 8; and David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer had not been born yet. 

John F. Kennedy had just been inaugurated as President, Lyndon Johnson as Vice President. Dwight D. Eisenhower had just left the office, with his Vice President, Richard Nixon, beginning an odd semi-exile. Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman, and the widows of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, were still alive. Gerald Ford was in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was farming in Georgia, and thinking about running for the State Senate.

Ronald Reagan was still an actor, and still a Democrat, although an increasingly conservative one: He had given speeches denouncing JFK's economic and social plans, saying, falsely and stupidly, "Under the tousled boyish haircut, it is still old Karl Marx."

George Herbert Walker Bush was in the oil business in Texas, and his family included a 14-year-old boy named George who was a freshman at his father's alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Joe Biden was in college. In junior high school were Billy Blythe and Hillary Rodham, although we don't remember them by those names today. Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson (Obama) had not yet been born.

The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, the Mayor of the City of New York was Robert Wagner Jr., and the Governor of New Jersey was Robert Meyner. The Pope was John XXIII. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, the Father Joseph Ratzinger, was teaching at the University of Bonn in his native Germany. The holder of the Nobel Peace Prize was Albert Lutuli, President of the African National Congress.

There were 22 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. There had been Civil Rights Acts in 1957 and 1960, but not that of 1964, nor the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Fair Housing Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, Title IX or legalized abortion.

Children in American public schools could still be forced to say a Christian, most likely Protestant, prayer. There were still living veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Boer War.

The Soviet Union had just sent the 1st man into space, Yuri Gagarin, 5 days before Spurs last won the League. The United States followed soon thereafter, and President Kennedy then told a joint session of Congress that America "should commit itself, before this decade is out, to reaching the goal of putting a man on the Moon, and returning him safely to the Earth."

It would not be done with computers as we now understand them. Most computers took up much of a big room. My mother, who was in high school at the time, claims that one of her first jobs was in a city office building where a computer took up an entire floor. There was no Internet. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee? They would all have their 6th birthdays that year.

There were a few cars with telephone hookups, but not many, and there were certainly no cordless phones – indoor or outdoor. It would be another year before Telstar was launched, making satellite television possible. Color television existed, but was not in every American home. It would be 1965 in the U.S., and 1969 in the U.K., before most TV shows were in colo(u)r.

The tallest building in the world was the Empire State Building. Credit cards were still a relatively new thing, and there were no automatic teller machines. There were artificial kidneys, but no artificial hearts. Transplanting a kidney was possible, but not a heart, lung or liver.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times, Canada and Japan 3 times each; Austria, France, Russia and Korea twice each; and once each in Mexico, Germany, Bosnia, Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Brazil. The World Cup has since been held in Germany and Mexico twice each, and once each in America, England, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Brazil and Russia.

When Tottenham last won the League, 60 years ago, Ernest Hemingway, Whittaker Chambers, Ty Cobb and Edith Wilson were still alive. All would die later in 1961, as would the 1st of the Marx Brothers to do so, Chico.

Major films of 1961 included the film version of West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, El Cid (in which Charlton Heston solidified his lucky bastardhood by fooling around with Sophia Loren at the peak of her Lorenness), La Dolce Vita, the original version of The Parent Trap, and what might have been Elvis Presley's last good feature film, Blue Hawaii. There hadn't been a live-action Batman since Robert Lowery in 1949, and with the previous year's death of George Reeves, Superman was in an interregnum as well.

Major novels of 1961 included Ian Fleming's James Bond story Thunderball (but there had been, as yet, no Bond films), John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent, Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers, and J.D. Salinger's last published work, Franny and Zooey.

Joseph Heller published a novel about a World War II pilot, and wanted to title it Catch-18. But Leon Uris had just come out with Mila 18, so, thinking it a funnier-sounding title, changed it to Catch-22. Tennessee Williams produced his play The Night of the Iguana, the late Frantz Fanon's nonfiction work The Wretched of the Earth was published, and Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

No one had yet heard of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, Monty Python, Alex Portnoy, John Rambo, Spenser: For Hire, George Smiley, The Punisher, Basil Fawlty, Rocky Balboa, T.S. Garp, Arthur Dent, Jason Bourne, Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, Hannibal Lecter, Edmund Blackadder, Celie Harris, Kinsey Millhone, Jack Ryan, John McClane, Alex Cross, Alan Partridge, Bridget Jones, Harry Potter, Robert Langdon, David Brent, Bella Swan, Lisbeth Salander or Katniss Everdeen.

Television shows that debuted in 1961 included The Avengers (the British spy series that wouldn't be shown in the U.S. until 1966), ABC Wide World of Sports, Car 54 Where Are You (cop comedy), Mr. Ed (sitcom about a talking horse), Ben Casey (medical drama), The Dick Van Dyke Show (a groundbreaking sitcom) and The Mike Douglas Show (a groundbreaking daytime talk show).

The Number 1 song in Britain was Elvis' version of "Wooden Heart," from his film G.I. Blues. His version was not released as a single in America, but a cover version by Joe Dowell would hit Number 1 there. 

In America, the current Number 1 hit, soon to top the British charts as well, was the Marcels' doo-wop reworking of the 1934 Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart classic "Blue Moon." This would be turned into the unofficial theme song of the blue-clad Manchester City Football Club, and rewritten about a thousand other ways for British soccer teams.

The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best – did not yet know of the existence of Brian Epstein, nor he of theirs. They did know Ringo Starr as one of the best drummers in Liverpool, but the idea of him replacing Pete was, at the time, ridiculous. And the idea of a British music group topping the U.S. charts was ludicrous.

Bob Dylan had recently arrived in New York, and was getting his first notices. Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were in the 6th grade. Michael Jackson, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, and Prince Rogers Nelson were 2 1/2 years old.

Inflation has been such that what $1.00 would buy then, $8.80 would buy now -- or, in the nation in question, what cost £1.00 then would cost £23.20 now. (This was before the British pound was "decimalised" on February 15, 1971.) A U.S. postage stamp was 4 cents. A New York Subway token was 15 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 27 cents, a cup of coffee 35 cents, a McDonald's meal 45 cents, a movie ticket $1.00, a new car $2,850, and a new house $12,550. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had closed the day before at 692.06. 

American telephone numbers were still based on "exchanges," based on the letters on a rotary dial. So a number that, today, would be (718) 293-6000 (this is the number for the Yankees' ticket office, so I’m not hurting anyone's privacy), would have been CYpress 3-6000.

There were no ZIP Codes, either. They ended up being based on the old system: The old New York Daily News Building, at 220 East 42nd Street, was "New York 17, NY"; it became "New York, NY 10017." Of course, Britain still uses the postal codes that were in place in 1961: Arsenal's Islington was, and is, N5, while Tottenham is N17.

There were artificial kidneys, but no artificial hearts. Transplanting a kidney was possible, but not a heart, lung or liver. The birth control pill was new, but we were a long way off from having Viagara.

In the Spring of 1961, there were successful coups in South Korea and the Dominican Republic, and a failed one in Portugal. Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann went on trial in Jerusalem. Amnesty International was founded. The Freedom Rides, challenging public-facilities segregation in the southeastern U.S., began.

Gary Cooper, and George S. Kaufman, and Carl Jung died. Lothar Matthaus, and Don Mattingly, and Isiah Thomas were born. So were actors Eddie Murphy, George Clooney and Tim Roth. And British Isles-born singers Enya and Susan Boyle.

April 17, 1961. Tottenham Hotspur won the English Football League. They have not done so since. It's been 60 years.

Will they ever do it again? Men have gone broke, old and insane while counting on it. 

It Begs Questions

It's getting frustrating out there. Last night, the Yankees began a new homestand by playing the Tampa Bay Rays. With the possibility of having their rotation on the proper rest, the Yankees decided to go with a "bullpen game" last night. And, as it usually is, this was a very bad idea. 

This begs the question: Was it the decision of field manager Aaron Boone, or general manager Brian Cashman? Who's actually the manager here? Who's minding the store?

Nick Nelson started, and only pitched 1 inning, because he had nothing. His 1st 3 batters: Walk, double, double. 2-0 Tampa Bay already. He settled down enough to get out of the inning, having thrown 30 pitches, only 15 of them for strikes.

Michael King then pitched 3 scoreless innings -- and then got sent to "the alternative site" after the game. It begs the question: Why wasn't King the reliever-who-started? It also begs the question: Why send down the guy who pitched well, not the guy who pitched lousy?

It got worse from there. Luis Cessa pitched the 5th inning. Never, ever let Luis Cessa pitch the 5th inning. Or any other inning. But if you're bringing him in for the 5th, you are basically saying, "This game's lost, and he needs the work." No, he doesn't need the work. He needs to find a new line of work.

(In all fairness, Cessa's 1st 5 appearances this season were very nice. This was his 1st bad game of the season.)

Cessa's results: Single, strikeout, RBI double, error by Gio Urshela resulting in a run, walk, walk, ground-ball forceout resulting in a run, bad throw by Rougned Odor messing up the double play and allowing another run, strikeout. He gave up 4 runs, but because of the errors, only 1 of the runs was earned. Do not let that fact, or the fact that he got 2 strikeouts, obscure the fact that Cessa took the mound with a 2-0 deficit, and put the game out of reach.

Lucas Luetge pitched the rest of the way, and allowed 2 more runs in the top of the 6th -- and then retired the last 10 batters he faced. I guess that's something. It begs the question: Why wasn't Luetge the reliever-who-started? 

The Yankees wasted a 1-out single by Urshela in the 2nd, a 1-out walk by Gleyber Torres in the 4th, and a leadoff walk by Odor in the 6th. That leadoff walk didn't kill anything. Otherwise, they were punchless for the 1st 6 innings.

Torres led off the bottom of the 7th with a single. Then, Giancarlo Stanton did his best impression of Alex Rodriguez, hitting a home run with the game already out reach, for the team's only runs in this game.

Joey Wendle singled to open the top of the 8th for the Rays. He ended up not scoring. But this one hit seemed to push things too far for some people. It was then that things began to boil over. In the left-center field bleachers, a dozen or so fans, among the 10,202 fans allowed in, began throwing things onto the field.

The umpires decided that it was bad enough to stop play. Public-address another Paul Olden warned them to stop. It was much like a late 1970s game, except The Stadium was mostly empty, and the Yankees were terrible.

This begs the question: How bad would the fans' reaction have been if the place had been allowed to be full? We've seen it in European soccer games since a sliver of fans have been let in: How many managers have been allowed to keep their jobs because there aren't 40,000 or more fans on hand, booing the hell out of them?

At any rate, with his homer, Stanton became the last Yankee "baserunner" of the night. The last of 5, along with the single by Urshela, the walk by Odor, and 1 of each by Torres. Rays 8, Yankees 2. WP: Michael Wacha (1-1). No save. LP: Nelson (0-2).

Current Yankee OBPs -- not batting averages, on-base percentages: Kyle Higashioka .455 (in only 11 plate appearances), Brett Gardner .423, DJ LeMahieu .364, Aaron Judge .354, Gary Sanchez .349, Torres .346, Tyler Wade .333, Urshela .298, Clint Frazier .270, Aaron Hicks .255, Stanton .234, Jay Bruce .231, Odor .167, Mike Tauchman .143. The team as a whole: .306.

Current WHIPs (Walks and Hits, combined, divided by Innings Pitched): Chad Green 0.522, Justin Wilson 0.667, Aroldis Chapman 0.750, Jonathan Loaisiga 0.750, King 0.778 (remember, he's the one who got sent down late last night), Gerrit Cole 0.818, Jordan Montgomery 1.000, Albert Abreu 1.000, Darren O'Day 1.125, Cessa 1.174, Luetge 1.258, Jameson Taillon 1.440, Domingo German 2.000, Nelson 2.000 (remember, he's the one who did not get sent down last night), Corey Kluber 2.226.

It's not the bullpen that's the problem. It's the guys, other than Cole and Montgomery, who have been called upon to fill the starting pitcher role. And it's the lineup, not hitting.

The Yankees are now 5-8 on the season, 4 games behind the hated Boston Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division.

This begs another question, how much longer can we afford to have Brian Cashman in charge?

It begs another question Is Cashman a double agent? Has he been working on sabotaging the Yankees on the inside for the last 20 years?

The series continues today. Montgomery goes for us, and... Tyler Glasnow goes for them. Oy vey.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Yankees Drop Dunedin Finale to Blue Jays

In the old days, up until 1960, when a season was 154 games long, and the Yankees spent their Spring Training in St. Petersburg, Florida, April 15 was around the time they had finished their northward trek back to New York to begin the regular season, and any games played before that weren't counted.

If only that were true this season. This time, the Yankees will be glad to get out of the Tampa Bay area, and away from the again-temporarily-relocated, permanently-pesky Toronto Blue Jays.

Yesterday afternoon, in the conclusion of a 3-game series at tiny TD Ballpark in Dunedin, on the St. Petersburg side of the Bay, the much-ballyhooed, injury-recovering Corey Kluber started. It would be unfair to say he had nothing. It would be fairer to say he pitched to extremes: His good pitches were insanely good, but there weren't nearly enough of them. He went 4 innings, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks, with 4 strikeouts.

Until there were 2 out in the top of the 4th, the Yankees' only runs were on a pair of solo home runs by Aaron Judge. The 2nd, leading off the 4th, was followed by a walk by Brett Gardner, a flyout by Gary Sanchez, a double by Gleyber Torres, a strikeout by Jay Bruce (who is now bearing the brunt of online Yankee Fan frustration), and an RBI single by Gio Urshela. That gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead.

Jonathan Loaisiga came out to pitch the bottom of the 5th. He got the 1st 2 outs, before Cavan Biggio, son of Hall-of-Famer Craig, got a hit to right field that Judge absolutely butchered. It went all the way to the wall, and was generously scored as a triple, but should have been a single and an error.

Biggio thought he could turn it into an inside-the-park home run. He got caught in a rundown, and Loaisiga was out of the inning after 3 batters. Had the Yankees won the game, Biggio might have been praised for his hustle, but he also might have been ripped for costing the Jays the tying run.

Loaisiga has done well in middle relief so far this season, but he was bad in the 6th inning. He allowed back-to-back singles, then hit a batter with a pitch. Bases loaded, nobody out. Bruce showed enough sense to take the next ground ball and throw it home for a forceout. But Loaisiga threw a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score.

He got the next 2 batters out. Ordinarily, getting into a bases-loaded-nobody-out jam, and getting out of it with only 1 run allowed, is a relief, especially on the road. But that 1 run would loom large, as the Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the 7th and the 9th, and wasted a 1-out single by Judge in the 8th.

Bo Bichette, son of All-Star Dante, led off the bottom of the 9th by taking Chad Green deep. Blue Jays 5, Yankees 4. WP: Rafael Dolis (1-0). No save. LP: Green (0-2).

The Yankees are now 5-7, 4 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. That's a pace for going 67-95 over a full season.

Today is an off-day. Tomorrow, the Yankees open a series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium II.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

1941: The Year of the Streak

April 14, 1941, 80 years ago: Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. President Franklin D. Roosevelt goes to Griffith Stadium, and throws out the ceremonial first ball.

Though he lives in Washington, at the White House, FDR is from New York. He sees Joe DiMaggio hit an RBI triple in the 1st inning, Yankee pitcher Marius Russo help his own cause with an RBI single in the 5th, and Russo finish off a 3-hit shutout. The Yankees beat the Washington Senators, 3-0.

It is the major league debut for the previous season's Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year. The 23-year-old from Queens goes 0-for-4, but goes on to become the Yankee shortstop (except for 3 seasons in World War II) until 1956: Phil Rizzuto.

This was the only game played on this day. It was a big day in baseball for another reason, but no one would know it for a long time. A child was born in Cincinnati, who would go on to make history in the sport, in several ways, some good, some not. His name was Peter Edward Rose.

That's right: Pete Rose turns 80 today.

*

The Yankees had won the World Series in 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939. But early in the 1939 season, they said goodbye to their Hall of Fame 1st baseman and Captain, Lou Gehrig. He was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS results in the progressive loss of motor neurons that control voluntary muscles. The disease would become known as Lou Gehrig's disease in North America, motor neurone disease in the British Commonwealth, and Charcot disease in French-speaking countries.

Ellsworth Tenney "Babe" Dahlgren became the new Yankee 1st baseman, and while he only batted .235 in 1939, he hit 15 home runs and had 89 RBIs. The Yankees won the title. In 1940, Dahlgren had a better year overall, batting .264 with 12 homers and 73 RBIs. But his fielding wasn't as good. The Yankees finished 3rd in the American League, 2 games behind the Pennant-winning Detroit Tigers, with the Cleveland Indians finishing 1 game back.

Yankee manager Joe McCarthy blamed Dahlgren's error in a late-season game with the Indians for costing the Yankees the Pennant. It was ridiculous: Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez was hurt for much of the season; Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey got hurt and had a down year; 3rd baseman Red Rolfe also had a down year; and shortstop Frank Crosetti batted just .194, leading to Rizzuto's promotion the following season, possibly too late. If the Scooter had been promoted in mid-1940, it might have been enough to give the Yankees the Pennant.

This was 1940, 4 years after the film Reefer Madness, and 3 years after "the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937" began America's 1st "war on drugs." Any association with marijuana was a kiss of death. McCarthy accused Dahlgren of using the stuff, and that it dulled his reflexes. Dahlgren became aware of McCarthy spreading this rumor in 1943, and volunteered to take a drug test. He passed. He remained in the major leagues through the 1946 season, and had a decent career.

But he ended up forgotten, except as the answer to a trivia question, "Who replaced Lou Gehrig as the Yankees' 1st baseman?" But in 2007, his grandson, Matt Dahlgren, a high school baseball coach, published the book Rumor in Town, getting to the bottom of the case, and proving beyond doubt that McCarthy had unfairly blackballed Babe Dahlgren from the Yankees.

The Yankees started 1941 off even weaker than in 1940. Johnny Sturm was now the starting 1st baseman, and batted just .239. It turned out to be his only season in the major leagues, as he went off to war, and got hurt in his first Spring Training back.

It wasn't just Sturm: Nobody on the Yankees was hitting. Except their biggest star, center fielder Joe DiMaggio, who had won the last 2 American League batting titles and the 1939 AL Most Valuable Player award.

DiMaggio had starred for his hometown San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, but a knee injury had scared the eastern major league teams away. The Yankees took a chance on him in 1934, wanting him so badly that they let the Seals keep him for one more season in 1935. (In international soccer, it would have been considered a "loan deal.")

In 1936, DiMaggio had one of the best rookie seasons any player has ever had. In 1937, he was even better, hitting 46 home runs, which remained a Yankee record for a righthanded hitter until Alex Rodriguez in 2005. He wasn't yet 23 years old.

Before the 1938 season, he held out for more money. This was during a setback in the Great Depression, and Yankee management painted him as greedy and ungrateful. He caved in about a month into the season, and got booed. He still hit, though, and had great seasons in 1939 and 1940.

But even as Gehrig had to retire, DiMaggio wasn't yet the biggest star on the team. That was Dickey, Gehrig's best friend on the team, and arguably the "unofficial captain" thereafter. Robert W. Creamer, later a renowned sportswriter but then in high school in Bronxville, New York, put it, "He wasn't yet DiMaggio the god." It would take 2 months in the '41 season to make him the defining player of baseball's "radio generation."

He didn't get a hit on May 14. He got one on May 15, but the Yankees got pounded 13-1 by the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

It was the Yankees' 5th straight loss, dropping them to 14-15 on the season, in 4th place, 6 1/2 games behind the League-leading Indians. And an even nastier rumor than the one that befell Dahlgren got around: That Gehrig's disease was contagious. At the time, so little was known about ALS that it was believable. But the disease is not contagious. The Yankees just weren't getting the job done.

The next day, the Yankees entered the bottom of the 9th trailing the White Sox 5-4. DiMaggio and 2nd baseman Joe Gordon led off the inning with back-to-back triples, tying the game. The White Sox purposely loaded the bases -- with nobody out -- by issuing intentional walks to Dickey and Crosetti. Cliche Alert: Walks can kill you. Red Ruffing, not pitching that day but a good hitter for a pitcher, was sent up by McCarthy to pinch-hit for Sturm, and he singled Gordon home to win the game, 6-5.

That game turned the season around. And DiMaggio kept hitting. And hitting. And hitting. He got hits in 10 straight games. 20 straight. 30. Another streak: The Yankees won 8 in a row between from June 7 to 16.

On June 2, the Yankees lost 7-5 to the Indians in Cleveland. Upon returning to their locker room, they were told that Gehrig had died, a few days short of his 38th birthday. But that sad day was, for that season, an aberration. DiMaggio, already known as Joltin' Joe and the Yankee Clipper, had put the team on his back, and they were winning. On June 25, a 7-5 win over the St. Louis Browns at Yankee Stadium put them in a tie for 1st place.

On June 28, they prepared to play the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park, trailing the Indians by 1 game. DiMaggio had hit in 39 straight. The American League record was 41, set by George Sisler of the Browns in 1922. For a while, that was believed to be the all-time major league record, until someone remembered that Willie Keeler had hit in 44 straight for the National League version of the Baltimore Orioles in 1897. (Records set before 1900 tended to be dismissed, for various reasons.) But now, DiMaggio was close to both records.

Athletics pitcher Johnny Babich was determined to stop the streak. He told the media that he would get DiMaggio out the 1st time up, and then intentionally walk him every time up after that. He said that he'd gotten permission to do so from A's owner and manager Connie Mack.

And in the top of the 1st inning, he got DiMaggio to pop up to short. Having gotten the 1st part of the job done, he decided to keep his word, and pitched out to catcher Frankie Hayes. But on ball 3, DiMaggio decided to swing. He smacked the ball between Babich's legs, almost hitting him in the... protective cup. The ball sailed into center field, and Joe made to 2nd base. He told the reporters, "When I got to 2nd, I looked at Babich. He was white as a ghost."

The Yankees won the game 7-4, and, with the White Sox beating the Indians, there was another tie for 1st place. With the streak now at 40, the Yankees went to Washington, for a Sunday doubleheader against the Senators. The Yankees won the opener, 9-4, moving into 1st place, and DiMaggio tied Sisler's record of 41.

But between games, he couldn't find the bat he'd been using throughout the streak. It turned out, it was stolen. It was soon retrieved -- possibly with the assistance of Joe's friends in the Italian wing of organized crime. (The rumor I heard was that they simply paid the thief off, rather than threatening him, or moving straight to hurting him.)

But Joe was one of those superstitious ballplayers who had to have things just right. He was proud of himself for having sanded the bat down to where he'd cut off 3/4 of an ounce, so it felt perfect. He began to think he wouldn't get a hit with any other bat.

But right fielder Tommy Henrich reminded Joe that Joe had lent him a bat, and offered it back. Things like this were why Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen had nicknamed Henrich "Old Reliable." In the nightcap, Joe took Henrich's bat, got a hit, broke Sisler's record, and helped the Yankees win 7-5.

They went home to The Bronx, to begin a 3-game series with the Boston Red Sox, whose star left fielder, Ted Williams, was batting .404. Their center fielder, Joe's brother, Dom DiMaggio, was batting .321, but, between Joe's streak and Ted's bid for .400, almost nobody was noticing how well Dom was doing.

The Yankees won the opener of the July 1 game, 7-2. Joe made it 43 straight. The Yankees won the nightcap, 9-2. Joe tied Keeler at 44.

July 2, 1941. It was so hot in New York that day. How hot was it? 95 degrees. But the Yankees were hot, too, completing the sweep of the BoSox, 8-4. In the bottom of the 5th, DiMaggio, 0-for-2, hit a home run, to make it 45 straight. Lefty Gomez was the winning pitcher. He was also DiMaggio's best friend on the team, a fellow San Franciscan. He told him, "You not only broke Keeler's record, you took his advice: You hit 'em where they ain't!"

*

This was a great year for movies. High Sierra premiered on January 21, helping Humphrey Bogart go from his previous standard role as a star's opponent as gangster to a star in his own right. Tobacco Road premiered on February 20, The Sea Wolf on March 21; The Flame of New Orleans on April 6, Road to Zanzibar on April 11, Penny Serenade on April 24, Ziegfeld Girl on April 25, Citizen Kane on May 1, Frank Capra's Meet John Doe on May 3, and Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound on May 10.

Orson Welles starred in Citizen Kane, directed it, and co-wrote it. It appeared to be a thinly, perhaps barely, veiled expose of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. The real Hearst used his media empire to smear Welles. So the film was a bust at the time. Eventually, it became recognized as one of the best films ever made.

During DiMaggio's hitting streak, Hollywood released a remake of Blood and Sand, Moon Over Miami, The Big Store, Blossoms in the Dust, The Sea Wolf, and The Bride Came C.O.D.

During DiMaggio's hitting streak, Britain launched its 1st jet aircraft, sank the German battleship Bismarck, reclaimed Iraq from the Nazis, and invaded Syria along with French troops. Greek partisans retook the capital of Athens, and tore the Swastika Flag off the Acropolis -- but also lost the island of Crete. An ammunition depot outside Belgrade exploded, killing over 2,500 people.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the deposed aggressor of World War I, died in exile in the Netherlands. Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the great pianist who had served as Prime Minister of Poland, died in exile in New York.

And the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, a mistake which would prove their undoing, and would also cause the Cold War. They captured Riga, the capital of Latvia, and by the end of the year, had killed 95 percent of the Jewish people living in Lithuania -- likely including relatives of my grandfather, whose immediate family had already been in America for over 40 years.

In the Pacific Theater of the War, the Bombing of Chongqing led to the asphyxiation of 4,000 civilians in a bomb shelter. Ho Chi Minh formed the Viet Minh, in hopes of overthrowing French rule in Vietnam. And Prajadhipok, known as Rama VII, King of Siam, the last absolute monarch of the nation now known as Thailand, died of heart trouble at age 47, in exile outside London.

Having nothing to do with World War II, a war broke out between the neighboring South American nations of Peru and Ecuador on July 5, lasting until a ceasefire on July 31. Ecuador lost a lot more troops, but got Peru to back off, so Ecuador can be said to have won the war.

In America, Roosevelt proclaimed "an unlimited national emergency," taking the country as close to war with the Nazis as he could without Congressional approval. All German and Italian assets in the country were frozen, and the staffs of their respective consulates were ordered to leave the country.

Animators went on strike at Walt Disney's studio. Duke Ellington released "Take the A' Train," which became his signature song. And New York's Channel 2 and Channel 4 -- eventually to be known, respectively, as WCBS and WNBC -- went on the air, on the same day, July 1, so that neither could truthfully claim to be the 1st.

Automotive pioneer Louis Chevrolet, and jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton, and Lou Gehrig died. Bob Dylan, and Bobby Cox, and Rod Gilbert were born.

*

Les Brown & His Band of Renown recorded "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," with Helen singing lead. It was the 1st song about an individual baseball player to be a hit, and the refrain, "Joe, Joe, Di-Mag-gi-o, we want you on our side!" rang out throughout the country.

On July 8, with DiMaggio's streak at 48 games, baseball played its All-Star Game, at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. (It would be renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961.) Naturally, Joe was selected as the starting center fielder for the American League. Dickey was named as the starting catcher. Ruffing, Russo, Gordon and left fielder Charlie Keller were named as reserves.

Joe was 0-for-2 with a walk when he came to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning, against Claude Passeau of the Chicago Cubs. Joe later speculated that Passeau was throwing spitballs. But Joe hit a double off him. Since the All-Star Game is an exhibition game, this didn't count toward his streak.

Ted Williams then struck out, but Joe's brother Dom singled him home, to cut the National League's lead to 5-3. In the 9th, the AL rallied, including Joe reaching on an error, and Williams hit what we would now call a walkoff home run, giving the AL a 7-5 win.

When the All-Star Break ended, the streak continued. The pressure of chasing the record was gone: It was now simply a question of how long he could keep it going. And, as Robert Creamer, who turned 19 right after the All-Star Break, put it, both in his 1991 book Baseball and Other Matters in 1941 and in his interview for Ken Burns' 1994 miniseries Baseball:

It just got into everybody in the country, people who weren't really interested in baseball. A friend of mine, Andy Crichton, was driving across country, with three friends, just out of high school, in a jalopy. And they got to a town in eastern Montana, and I guess they camped outside of town. They go into a coffee shop for breakfast.

And Andy said, in the coffee shop, dusty place, ranchers, ranch hands, and farm hands would come in. In those days, you didn't get much news. There wasn't any television. You got some of the news from radio. But most of the news was from newspapers.

And these ranch hands would come in, they'd look over at the counter, where the proprietor had a copy of the daily paper. And they'd just say, "Did he get one yesterday?" Didn't have to say who it was, didn't have to say what it was. Just, "Did he get one yesterday?"

And this was the question, all Summer in '41: "Did he get one yesterday?" And when he did, it was such a sense of gratification. I think it was, you know that, "We did that. One of our boys. One of the human race did this marvelous thing." And it just meant so much. It just kept us going. It sustained us. It was such an exciting year.

Today, with social media, you wouldn't even have to turn on ESPN and wait for them to step away from non-sports like golf or auto racing to cover it. You could find out immediately.

The Yankees went to Cleveland. On July 16, DiMaggio got a hit to extend the streak to 56 games. The Indians moved the next game from the 21,000-seat, lightless League Park to the 85,000-seat, lighted Municipal Stadium. A crowd of 67,468 came out to watch.

What they saw was DiMaggio come to bat in the 1st inning, and hit a sharp grounder to 3rd base, where Ken Keltner made a great play to throw him out; DiMaggio draw a walk against pitcher Al Smith in the 4th, but that didn't count as a hit; DiMaggio again robbed by a great play by Keltner in the 7th; and then, in the 8th, with Jim Bagby Jr. coming in to pitch (his father was on the Indians staff that won the 1920 World Series), get DiMaggio to ground into a double play to end a rally.

The Yankees won the game, 4-3, on a home run by Gordon off Smith, with Gomez getting the win. But all the talk was of how the streak was over. Let the record show that, from Game 3 of the streak on May 17 to the end of it on July 17, exactly 2 months, the Yankees went from 7 1/2 games out of 1st place to being in 1st place by 7 games -- a 14 1/2-game swing. (This will sound familiar to those of us old enough to remember the 1978 season.)

DiMaggio then hit in the next 16 straight games. So he got hits in 72 out of 73 games.

From June 7 to 16, the Yankees won 8 straight games. From June 28 to July 13, 14 straight. From July 19 to 27, 9 straight. At that point, they were in 1st by 11 1/2 games. They didn't launch another long streak after that, but the rest of the AL couldn't keep up.

On September 3, 1941, at Fenway Park, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 2-1 in 11 innings. By this point, the Sox were in 2nd place. But this game put them 19 1/2 games back, with 19 to play. Therefore, the Yankees clinched the Pennant. This remains the earliest clinch of a 1st-place finish in Major League Baseball history. 

Think about that: Joe DiMaggio clinched the Pennant 25 days before Ted Williams was certified as a .400 hitter. To this day, Red Sox fans think that Ted was cheated out of the AL's Most Valuable Player award.

The case for Ted is that, to bat .400, you don't just need the equivalent of a 154-game -- now 162-game -- hitting streak: You need what amounts to 2 hits every day: 2-for-5 = .400.

The case for Joe is that you can't have an off-day. If you go 0-for-4 one day, and your batting average drops to .398, you can go 4-for-4 the next, and get back over .400. But to hit in 56 straight games, you need to get a hit every single day. And, as Ted correctly taught us, "Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in professional sports."

You need the skill, and you need a little bit of luck, too: If you're not feeling so hot, or if the pitcher is having a really good day, or if a fielder makes a great play to rob you, or if the weather isn't really conducive to hitting, or if at a key moment in the game you get distracted and miss a pitch, or if you're 0-for-2 after 5 innings and then the game is rained out, and you don't get that 3rd and 4th shot at extending the streak, it's over.

By the way: During the entire 1941 season, DiMaggio struck out only 13 times. Or, as today's Yankee players might call it, one week.

When the 1941 regular season ended on September 28, the Yankees were 101-53, 17 games ahead of the Red Sox. No other AL team was over .500: The White Sox finished 77-77.

The World Series of that season? That's a story for another time. But it's a doozy.

Since 1941, there have been other long hitting streaks. In 1945, Tommy Holmes of the Boston Braves hit in 37 straight, then the longest in the NL since Keeler in 1897. In 1949, Joe's own brother, Dom DiMaggio, hit in 34 straight for the Red Sox.

In 1978, with the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose surpassed Holmes and tied Keeler with 44, but got no closer to the Yankee Clipper than that. Rose was rightly celebrated for his achievement -- but he still came only 79 percent of the way toward the record. In 1987, Paul Molitor of the Milwaukee Brewers reached 39, and Benito Santiago of the San Diego Padres reached 34, to set a new record for rookies. Both were very impressive, but neither was all that close to Rose, let alone to DiMaggio.

When the 2005 season ended, Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies had hit in the last 36 games, and there was a question of whether, should he hit in the 1st 20 of 2006, that would count as 56 straight. The question became moot, as he only extended his streak to 38. Later that season, his teammate Chase Utley had a 35-game hitting streak. No one has matched even that since.

DiMaggio died in 1999. In 2021, 80 years after his streak, he still holds the record. I don't know what it would take to hit in 57 straight games. But I'm 51 years old, and I've never seen anyone get to 45 straight. If you're under the age of 85, you don't remember anyone doing 45 or more, either. I don't think I'll ever see 57 straight.

To put it another way: Martha Reeves, George Clinton, Darlene Love, Paul Anka, Martha Stewart, David crosby, Jackie DeShannon, Bernie Sanders, David Clayton-Thomas, Chubby Checker, Anne Rice, Jesse Jackson, Peter Coyote, both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Anne Tyler, Robert Foxworth, Franco Nero, Beau Bridges, John Davidson, Boog Powell, Ken Harrelson, Art Shamsky, Tim McCarver, Wilbur Wood, Jeff Torborg, Darold Knowles and Alex Ferguson were all born between July 18 and December 31, 1941.

All are still alive as of this writing. And in their lifetimes, no one has hit in at least 45 consecutive games.

Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games.

"One of the human race did this marvelous thing," Robert Creamer wrote. But it seems to have transcended humanity.

Not Too Early

Is it too early to panic over the Yankees' annual slow start? No. It's years too late to begin panicking over those.

Is it too early to stop raving over Brian Cashman's acquisition of Jameson Taillon? No. Last night, at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, he didn't get out of the 4th inning, and put the Yankees in a 5-0 hole.

The night before, a 1-0 hole was not too much to overcome. Last night, as it would be on most nights, 5-0 is to big a hole.

Aaron Hicks got 3 hits, and DJ LeMahieu 2, but there were no RBIs between them. Giancarlo Stanton had a 2-RBI single in the 8th, but it was much too little, much too late.

Blue Jays 7, Yankees 3. WP: Hyun Jin Ryu (1-0). No save. LP: Taillon (0-1).

The series concludes this afternoon. Corey Kluber pitches against T.J. Zeuch. Then the Yankees come home to play the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hey, don't look now, but under formerly Astro-cheating-scandal-suspended, now-restored, manager Alex Cora, the Boston Red Sox, who had lost their 1st 3 games of the season, have now won 7 in a row, and are now in 1st place in the American League Eastern Division. The rest of the Division -- the Yankees, the Jays, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays -- are all 5-6, 2 1/2 games behind them.

I guess the Red Sox found a new way to cheat. Or an old one, and a better way to cover it up.