THE WRONG END OF THE MOP

 

Years ago, when I was working for a municipality in Connecticut, the Mayor of the community was constantly complaining about the part-time Janitor, or Maintenance Specialist or whatever he would be called today.  His biggest complaint about the man, who was older, semi-retired, and a part time worker, was that he could never keep the floors in the old Town Hall clean.

 

One day, when I was in the Town Hall, the Mayor called me in to his office and took me down the hall to the Janitor’s Closet.  He opened the door and pulled out what looked like a Space Age mop, with all kinds of attachments and gadgets.  He held it up proudly and said, “Even he should be able to keep the floors clean with that elaborate mop”.  I said, “I hate to tell you Mister Mayor, but I think you are working on the wrong end of the mop.”

 

Baseball’s infamous Pace of the Game Committee has been working from the premise that the game is too slow and lacks action in making recommendations for change.  Like the Mayor above, baseball is working on the wrong end of the mop.   

 

Baseball has been applying band aid after band aid to what they perceive as the problem, in the form of things like a pitch clock, reducing the visits coaches and other players can make to the mound, eliminating the need to throw four pitches to intentionally walk a batter, and the latest, to take effect next year, requiring relief pitchers to pitch to three batters before they can be removed.  All these changes and others have the potential to reduce the length of games a mere few minutes.   Like the Mayor with the mop, in order to resolve this problem, baseball must first identify the problem.

 

I have expressed my concern with the changes that have been tested and/or implemented in an attempt to stop the attendance losses in this column before.  The problem with baseball is not the length of games, it is the lack of excitement in the game as played today.

 

The Gods of Baseball all but eliminated the exciting and entertaining on field arguments between players and umpires with their instant replay and propose to further reduce the possibility of disagreements by installing a robot umpire to call balls and strikes.

 

They eliminated collisions at second base and home plate with their insane rules preventing runners from trying to score or break up double plays.  They can do all they want to shorten the game by gentrifying it and that will not resolve the problem of diminishing attendance.

 

They have added Wild Card teams to the Playoff system, reasoning that the increased numbers of Playoff spots will keep more teams eligible for the Playoffs longer in the season.  They reason that the additional teams contending for the Playoffs will stimulate interest in the lesser teams’ fan bases and thus help attendance.

 

I have talked in this spot, in the past about other ways to address this problem. For example, eliminating the extreme defensive shifts, which have focused attention on the long ball as the way to beat the shift and increased home runs and strikeouts to hitherto unimagined levels, would go a long way toward making the game more exciting.  Who would not agree that scoring a run with three base hits was more exciting than three strikeouts and a home run?

 

Over the years since 1994, when the Major leagues adopted a three Division format for the first time, the difference between the haves and have nots in baseball has steadily increased. 

 

In 1994, the last place teams in the American League’s three Divisions, ended the season an average of 18 games behind the first-place team.  In the National League, the difference between the first place and last place team was also 18 games. 

 

Last year, the last place teams in the American League trailed the Division winners by an average of 43 games and the average deficit of the last place teams in the National League was 30 games.

 

How much interest can the lower teams generate even when competing against the leaders?  Worse than that, how much excitement, which translates to attendance, can a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers generate in the last month of this season. 

 

The O’s, as of Wednesday of this week, had lost 98 games and won just 46 and trailed the first place Yankees by 48 games.  The Tigers had already lost 100 while winning just 43 and trailed the Twins by 45½ games.  

 

In the National League, imagine the lack of excitement generated by a game between the Colorado Rockies, in last place in the West, 32 ½ games out, and the Miami Marlins, trailing by 38 games in the East.

 

This is just one of many problems at the root of baseball’s diminishing attendance, but it is one that needs to be addressed. It has been caused by many factors, not the least of which is the huge salaries that haves are able to pay Free Agents, the abuse and inept use of revenue sharing funds by the smaller market teams and a Collective Bargaining Agreement that has, year by year, eroded baseball’s ability to control its own game.  

 

There is no magic bullet for solving the problem of diminishing attendance, but one thing is clear and becomes clearer with every misguided attempt to resolve it, baseball is working on the wrong end of the mop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

CORA’S IN THE ‘CATBIRD SEAT’

Who wouldn’t want to be Alex Cora right now?  At just 43 years of age, the young Red Sox Manager is getting ready to start the 2019 season at the helm of a team that not only won 108 games in the regular season last year, a franchise record, but sailed through the American League Division and Championship Series, making short work of the reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros and one of the strongest New York Yankee teams in years.

If that wasn’t enough, they demolished the best the National League had to offer in five games in the World Series and would have swept them, in four, if the turf hadn’t given way under Ian Kinser, giving the Dodgers a new life, in Game 3.  At the end of the season, Cora must have thought it couldn’t get any better.

Guess what, things may have gotten better this past week.  How would he like to have that team back, almost intact, for the 2019 season?   The big headline was the signing of Mookie Betts, last year’s American League Most Valuable Player to a one year, $20. million contract.

Mookie, who everybody, except a few members of the media and about twenty people in California, recognize as the best player in baseball today will be back and, with the class he has shown since bursting on the Boston scene in 2014, he acknowledged his signing by tweeting one word GRATEFUL to the world.

As if that weren’t enough to make Alex believe things could get better, the Sox reached agreement for next year with Xander Bogaerts, $12. million, Brock Holt, $3.6 million, Matt Barnes, $1.6 million, Eduardo Rodriguez, $4.3 million, Brandon Workman, $1.2 million, sandy Leon, $2.5 million, Blake Swihart, $910,600. And Steven Wright, $1.4 million.

Of course, they had already resigned Free Agents Nathan Eovaldi, Steven Pearce and Eduardo Nunez.  J. D. Martinez is in just the second year of his contract, Chris Sale in the third year of his seven-year contract, David Price has opted to come back for the fourth year of his seven and Rick Porcello is signed through the end of 2019.  Add to that the fact that Dustin Pedroia is expected to be ready to come back to full time action and is under contract.

Many of the younger players, including Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Ryan Brasier, Hector Velazquez, Bobby Poyner and Brian Johnson haven’t even been around long enough to have qualified for arbitration yet so are locked in for the near future.

Then there is Craig Kimbrel, the Closer, who became a Free Agent and hasn’t signed with anyone yet.  It doesn’t appear that the Sox are too anxious to spend a lot of money to entice him back, but the way things are going with Free Agents, he might not be worth as much as he thinks he is.  Whether he comes back or not, Dave Dombrowski has shown he can be counted on to work his magic and come up with a replacement, even if he has to put Eovaldi in that spot and find another starter.

While the Red Sox have plenty of reasons to be happy, things were more subdued in Yankee land this past couple of weeks as the Yankee family mourned the loss of veteran pitcher and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyer.

Stottlemyre, who won 164 and lost 139 with an earned run average of 2.97, in 11 seasons, from 1964 until 1974, as a starter with the Yankees, was the Pitching Coach on a team that won four World Series between 1996-2005, through Joe Torre’s reign as Skipper of the Yankees. He lost a long battle with bone marrow cancer on January sixth.

At age 22, he won the first game he pitched as a Yankee on August 12, 1964, pitching a complete game against the White Sox in Chicago and won 9 and lost 3 down the stretch helping the Yankees to rally from third place to a pennant win.

In the 1964 World Series, after Yankee Ace, Whitey Ford, went down with an injury in Game 1, young Mel pitched a complete game victory in Game 2 against none other than the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson.  He came back in Game 5 and, despite giving up just two earned runs in seven innings, lost to Gibson.  In Game seven, with just two days rest, the Yankees had so much confidence in the rookie that they started him against Gibson again but, after shutting out the Cards for three innings, he gave up three runs and took the loss as the Cards won the Series four games to three.

He would win 20 and lose 9 with a 2.63 ERA the following year, one of three years in which he would win 20 or more.  His son, Todd would win 138 games while playing for five different teams in a 14-year career and his son Mel, would pitch briefly for the Kansas City Royals.

Mel Stottlemyre was one of the most beloved Yankees of all time and was honored with a plaque in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium in 2015.

Meanwhile, with only 24 days left before pitchers and catchers report, 34 days left until the first game of Spring Training between the Sox and Northeastern University at Jet Blue Park and 68 days before the Sox open up the 2019 season at Safeco Field in Seattle, Alex Cora must feel like he’s on top of the world or, as the Dodgers’ famed broadcaster, Red Barber, used to say, ‘In the Catbird Seat’.

A LOVE AFFAIR WITH BASEBALL

Baseball World: A lifelong love affair with baseball


With my 81st birthday jut a few days away, I sat down, as I do every week at this time, to come up with a subject for this week’s Baseball World. This morning I thought, what possesses an 80-year-old man to love the game so much that he spends half his time watching or reading about baseball and producing article after article and book after book about the game?
I saw my first Major League Baseball game in the original Yankee Stadium on May 15, 1948. Of course, by then, at the ripe old age of 10, I was already a rabid Yankees fan and had listened to hundreds of games on the radio.

Some of you may ask, why the radio? In 1948, we were still three years from the first national television broadcast of a sporting event, the Giants/Dodgers playoff in 1951 that ended with Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” — and the radio and newspapers were the only way to follow your heroes from afar.
My first game was the first half of a doubleheader — single admission, which was common in those days — and the Yankees were hosting the Philadelphia Athletics.
Our seats were what you would call field boxes today, close to the field on the third base line. They were courtesy of the Fulton Fish Market which bought most of my father’s fish. He captained a fishing dragger out of Stonington, Connecticut, and the Fulton had several such boxes in the great old ball park and was generous with them.
In the top of the eighth inning, with the Athletics ahead 2-1, a Czechoslovakian immigrant’s son, Elmer Valo, the A’s right fielder, doubled to right, scoring Eddie Joost to make it 3-1, A’s.
In the last of the eighth, that same Elmer Valo — who, not unlike the “Flying Hawaiian” Shane Victorino, years later — had a tendency to run into walls, leaped at the low right field wall and took a Yogi Berra drive out of the seats before crashing into the wall. The impact knocked him unconscious and he was carried off the field.
I have since seen many spectacular catches, both in person and on that new invention television, but the best part of seeing this one, for me, was watching the “Tall Tactician,” the legendary manager Connie Mack, in his usual civilian business suit, make his way out to oversee the people tending to Valo. He was in his 48th year of managing the Athletics and was the last manager to manage without a uniform. He would manage two more years, for a total of 50 and win a record total of 3,731 games, nine American League Championships and five World Series Titles.
The losing Yankee pitcher that day was Spec Shea, who had been the first rookie to win an All-Star Game the previous year. Until checking my facts for this article I always thought that the nickname Spec was because he wore glasses but found that he didn’t wear glasses, and the nickname came from the specks of freckles on his face.
Elmer Valo, by the way, broke two ribs in that crash, but didn’t tell anyone until he had played for over a week with the ribs broken. Quite different from today when a “contusion” keeps a player out for days.
The Athletics would win that game 3-1 and sweep the doubleheader with an 8-6 win in Game 2. Joe Coleman pitched a complete game in Game 1, for the win, holding my two biggest heroes, Yogi and Joe DiMaggio, hitless. Phil Marchildon, despite giving up six runs on 10 hits, pitched the complete game win in Game 2. The only bright spot for me was a triple by Joe D as Yogi went hitless again. Marchildon would join the Red Sox, as a Free Agent, in 1950, pitching in relief in just one game, a 13-10 loss to Cleveland, before retiring.
The Yankees finished in third place that year, 11/2 games behind the second place Red Sox who trailed the league winning Cleveland Indians by just one game and 10 games ahead of the fourth place Athletics.
I attended many more games in the old Yankee Stadium over the years, many of them as a guest of the Fulton. In one of them, on September 28, 1951, at age 13, on our way to Florida, my father and I took in another single admission doubleheader, this time against the Red Sox in the Bronx.
The Yankees were in first place by 2 1/2 games over the Cleveland Indians going into the doubleheader with five games to play after it. In Game 1, the Yankees took an 8-0 lead into the ninth inning with Allie Reynolds just three outs away from being the second pitcher in Major League history to throw two no hitters in one year.
The Sox sent up Charlie Maxwell to lead off the ninth and he grounded to Jerry Coleman at second who threw to Joe Collins at first and there was one out. Joe D’s brother, Dom, “the Little Professor,” then drew a walk. Johnny Pesky took a called third strike and Reynolds was one out away from history.
The only person between Allie and a no hitter was the last person you’d want to face in that situation — The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams. Reynolds got Ted to hit a foul pop up and, unbelievably, Yogi dropped it, giving Ted another shot. Just as unbelievably, Reynolds went back to the mound and got Ted to pop up foul again and Yogi caught it this time and the no hitter was in the books. To this day, it’s hard for me to believe that Reynolds got Ted for the last out, twice.
The Yankees went on to win Game 2, 11-3, behind Vic Raschi to clinch the pennant and went on to beat the Giants in an all-New York World Series, four games to two.
Looking back at this article, I guess perhaps that I have answered the question posed in my first paragraph about why I do what I do today.

 

THE JOHN HENRY YEARS

THE JOHN HENRY YEARS

 

‘Twas eighty-four years,

Since their last Series win,

In two thousand and two,

John Henry moved in.

 

The next two years,

The change didn’t show,

The Sox finished second,

Made it four in a row.

 

Then on came Francona,

In two thousand and four,

With a bunch called the ‘Idiots’,

Kicked the curse out the door.

 

They went to the Playoffs,

Swept the Angels in three,

Lost three to the Yankees,

Said it couldn’t be.

 

Then came the great comeback,

They won four in a row,

And were in the Series,

How far could they go?

 

The Cards were no match,

Four games it would take,

To give them the title,

That ‘pesky’ old curse they did break.

 

Three years later, two thousand seven,

Won the Division once more,

Swept the Angels with ease,

Showed the Indians the door.

 

The Series brought the Rockies,

From the National League West,

It lasted just four games,

Hardly even a test.

 

Four years later, two thousand eleven,

With just one month to go,

They lost twenty, won seven,

And the playoffs did blow.

 

Out the door went poor Terry,

Midst talk of fried chicken and beer,

Theo went right behind him,

There was nothing to cheer.

 

 

We’d won two World Series,

And beaten the curse,

But we didn’t know,

Things would only get worse.

 

Along came Bobbie V,

A smooth talking Fella,

And took our great team,

Right to the cellar.

 

As soon as they could,

They bade him Goodbye,

And brought in John Farrell,

To give him a try.

 

The team all grew beards,

John was really laid back,

And we went from the bottom,

To the top of the pack.

 

John had four more years,

But didn’t make the show,

With all of that talent

Was time for him to go.

 

 

The talent was there,

To go all the way,

But needed a leader.

To manage their play.

 

From out of the pack,

Alex Cora was the pick,

To bring back the glory,

Could he do the trick?

 

He seemed a great fit,

The team thought him great,

In his very first year,

Won one hundred and eight.

 

They zipped through the Playoffs,

In the blink of an eye,

Then buried the Dodgers,

As easy as pie.

 

Red Sox Nation’s ecstatic,

With lots of good reason,

And can’t wait to start,

Their next winning season.

 

 

The Sox have the horses,

There’s nothing to fear,

Red Sox Nation is in,

For a Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BEST TEAM EVER?

Were the 2018 Boston Red Sox ‘the Best team ever to walk the planet’ as Chris Sale said in August, or were they just another really good team?

They won 108 games in the regular season and defeated a Yankee team that had won 100 games in the ALDS, three games to one, easily. They defeated the Astros, who were the defending World Series Champions and had won 103 games in the ALCS, four games to one, easily. They beat the Dodgers, who had won the National League pennant, in the World Series, four games to one, easily, and would have swept them had not the turf given way under Kinsler’s foot in the13th inning of Game 3.

As a team, they had the highest batting average in baseball, at .268, the most runs scored, 876, only five teams gave up less than the 647 they gave up, the most doubles, 355, the best on base percentage, .339, the best slugging percentage, .453, the highest OPS, .792, the third most stolen bases, 125, and were at or near the top in most other offensive categories.

There is an old adage in baseball that every team, no matter how good, has at least one slump every year, this year’s Red Sox were the only team in baseball that never lost more than three games in succession all year.

In Interleague Play, they won 16 and lost 4 against National League opponents, the best Interleague record in baseball.

They had everybody’s Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts, who led the league in batting average at .346, runs scored with 129, slugging percentage at .640, extra base hits, 84, and was the first player in baseball history to win the batting title and join the 30-30 club with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same year. He also won a Gold Glove as the best fielding right fielder and a silver slugger as one of the three best hitting outfielders.

They had J. D. Martinez, who finished fourth in the MVP voting, but most experts felt should have been second behind Betts. He led all of baseball in runs batted in, with 130, in total bases with 358, finished second in the batting average race, .330, and second in home runs, 43, and came that close to winning the Triple Crown, which has been done only once in the last fifty years. He also won the Silver Slugger as an outfielder and as a designated hitter, the first person in baseball history to win the award at two positions in one year, and the Hank Aaron Award as the best hitter in the League.

They also had Chris Sale who, despite missing most of August and September with a shoulder problem still won 12 and lost 4 with a 2.11 earned run average and managed to strike out 237, sixth best in baseball. Rick Porcello won 17 and lost just 7, David Price was 16-7 and Eduardo Rodriguez who also missed a lot of the season with injuries, was 13-5. Their Closer Craig Kimbrel saved 42 games in 47 opportunities with a 2.74 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 62 innings.

The bull pen won 40 games, third best in the league and had the least losses, at 16. They had the fourth best ERA in the league at 3.72 and the third most strikeouts at 628.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., won a Gold Glove in the outfield as did Ian Kinsler at second base. Bradley also had the highest success rate in stealing bases in all of baseball at 94.44%. Andrew Benintendi was tied for first in the league in outfield assists with 12.

Their shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, had an outstanding year at the plate and in the field, hitting .288 with 23 homers and 103 runs batted in while left fielder, Benintendi, hit .290 with 16 homers and 87 runs batted in.

Their depth was an important part of this season. They had 15 position players who had 100 or more at bats and 12 who played in over 80 games. In addition, eight players hit 10 or more home runs and there were 10 grand slam homers hit during the year

Manager Alex Cora, who led the team to its fourth World Series win of the century, and its highest win total in history, 108, finished second in the American League Manager of the Year voting.

They did all this without their leader, Dustin Pedroia who spent almost the entire year recuperating from knee surgery. It is expected that he will be back at full strength to lead the 2019 Sox.

There is no question that the 2018 Red Sox were the best team to play the game that year. Were they the best team ever? That seems a question that no one would ever be able to measure accurately enough to give a definitive answer.

They have been compared with the Yankees of Murderer’s Row, the Reds’ Big Red Machine, and many others, including the 2004 Red Sox.

There is no question that the players of 2018 are bigger, faster, better conditioned and throw harder than the players of a century or even a decade ago. The players have evolved over time like every species of animal does but each eras players played against similarly equipped players.

Trying to compare players or teams from different eras is like the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges.

The game is still played on the same size diamond, with 90 foot base paths, there are still three outs to an inning, nine innings to a game and the team with the most runs still wins but the players and the equipment they use to get ready and play the game are different.

The only realistic comparison we are able to make accurately is in the area of statistics and, in that area, this team was at least one of the best.

The bottom line is, we will never know if it was the best team ever but anybody who saw them play can testify to the fact that this was as exciting, motivated and talented a team that has played in Fenway Park, or any park for that matter, in a long time.

That should be sufficient for any baseball fan. I know that I feel fortunate to have watched this team do their thing and, whether they were the best team ever or not, they gave me a season for the ages, and that is enough for me.

DIMAGGIO AND WILLIAMS 1941

Seventy-seven years ago today, on November 11, 1941, Joe DiMaggio was named the American League Most Valuable Player and Ted Williams was the runner up. Joe received 291 points in the balloting and Ted got 254, with Joe being named number one on 15 ballots and Ted on eight of the 24 cast.

That year, only months before the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the nation into war, these two were responsible for two of the most memorable performances in baseball history.

On July `15 of that year, Joe had gone 3 for 4 to extend his consecutive game hitting streak to 56 games, the longest streak in Major League Baseball history and one of the few records that will never be broken. The next day, Joe went hitless against the Cleveland Indians, ending the streak. He was robbed twice of base hits on back handed stabs by Cleveland Indians third baseman, Ken Keltner as he went 0-4 on the day and the Yankees lost 2-1. During the 56 game streak, Joe had 91 hits in 223 at bats for an average of .408.

On July 16, when Joe’s streak ended, Ted Williams was batting .395, en route to a final batting average of .406, the last time anyone had hit .400 or better in a season. Ted had played in his first 73 games and had gone 96-243, with 16 home runs and 63 RBI’s.

The next day, July 18, 1941, The Yankee Clipper got two hits in four at bats against the Indians, starting a new streak of 16 games in which he would get at least one hit in each game and would bat 68 times while accumulating 29 hits for a .426 batting average.

The 56 game streak had started on May 15, 1941 and lasted through July 16. In the 73 game stretch that included both streaks and the 0-4 against Cleveland that ended the first streak, Joe went 120 for 295 for an average of .406, coincidentally, exactly the same average that Ted hit for the entire 154 game season.

When the streak started, on May 15, the Yankees had won 14 and lost 14 and were in fourth place in the American League, five and one half games behind the first place Cleveland Indians. When the streak ended, the Yankees had won 55 and lost 27 and were in first place by six games over Cleveland. During the streak, the Yankees had won 41 and lost just 13.

The Yankees would end the season with 101 wins and 53 losses and would beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, four games to one. The World Series win was the Yankees fifth in six years after winning four in a row, from 1936 until 1939. They would win again in 1943, over the St Louis Cardinals, for a total of six wins and seven series appearances in eight years.

Wee Willie Keeler of the Baltimore team in the old National League had held the consecutive game streak with 45 games prior to Joe’s streak. Keeler had his streak over two seasons, from 1896-1897. The closest anyone has ever come in the modern era was Pete Rose’s streak of 44 games in 1978.

Joe was no stranger to hitting streaks. He made his debut in professional ball with the San Francisco Seals of the AAA Pacific Coast League in 1932 and, the next year, he had a consecutive game hitting streak of 61 games which lasted from May 27 until July 25. That streak, according to Baseball Almanac, had only been exceeded once when Joe Wilhoit hit in 69 consecutive games in the Western League in 1919.

Yankee and Red Sox fans can and do argue all day about who was the better hitter or the better all around player between the two of them. The fact is that the year 1941 saw two of the greatest performances in the history of baseball by two of the greatest players ever to play the game.

Ted, The Splendid Splinter, and Joe, The Yankee Clipper, had 997 at bats between them that year. Ted came up 456 times and struck out just 27 times. Joe had 541 at bats and 13 strike outs. In 997 at bats, they struck out a total of 40 times between them, an average of one strikeout in every 25 at bats. Ted hit .406 and had 37 homers and 120 RBI’s while Joe hit .357 with 30 homers and 125 RBI’s.

Ted’s performance over the entire year will probably never be equaled and neither will Joe’s streak. Ted’s career batting average was .344 over 19 years and Joe’s was .325 over 13 years. Ted lost four of his most productive years while serving his country in the military in the Second World War and Joe lost three.

Joe had the luxury of playing with some of the greatest teams ever assembled in New York while Ted was playing for an also ran in most of his career in Boston. Ted had a 19 year career, all of it spent with the Red Sox, while Joe spent his entire 13 year career with the Yankees.

In the history of baseball, there may never have been two such talented players playing for arch rivals for such a long period of time and the year 1941 saw them both at their best.

I was fortunate to have seen both of these greats play many times, later in their careers. There are not many people still around who witnessed their performances 75 years ago, in 1941. Over my desk in my office, I have a picture of the two of them, both holding bats and obviously talking hitting and who, in the history of baseball, was better qualified to talk hitting.

Whether you agree that they were probably the two best hitters of all time or not, no one can change the fact that, at least in 1941, they were as good as it can or ever will get.

eventy-seven years ago today, on November 11, 1941, Joe DiMaggio was named the American League Most Valuable Player and Ted Williams was the runner up. Joe received 291 points in the balloting and Ted got 254, with Joe being named number one on 15 ballots and Ted on eight of the 24 cast.

That year, only months before the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the nation into war, these two were responsible for two of the most memorable performances in baseball history.

On July `15 of that year, Joe had gone 3 for 4 to extend his consecutive game hitting streak to 56 games, the longest streak in Major League Baseball history and one of the few records that will never be broken. The next day, Joe went hitless against the Cleveland Indians, ending the streak. He was robbed twice of base hits on back handed stabs by Cleveland Indians third baseman, Ken Keltner as he went 0-4 on the day and the Yankees lost 2-1. During the 56 game streak, Joe had 91 hits in 223 at bats for an average of .408.

On July 16, when Joe’s streak ended, Ted Williams was batting .395, en route to a final batting average of .406, the last time anyone had hit .400 or better in a season. Ted had played in his first 73 games and had gone 96-243, with 16 home runs and 63 RBI’s.

The next day, July 18, 1941, The Yankee Clipper got two hits in four at bats against the Indians, starting a new streak of 16 games in which he would get at least one hit in each game and would bat 68 times while accumulating 29 hits for a .426 batting average.

The 56 game streak had started on May 15, 1941 and lasted through July 16. In the 73 game stretch that included both streaks and the 0-4 against Cleveland that ended the first streak, Joe went 120 for 295 for an average of .406, coincidentally, exactly the same average that Ted hit for the entire 154 game season.

When the streak started, on May 15, the Yankees had won 14 and lost 14 and were in fourth place in the American League, five and one half games behind the first place Cleveland Indians. When the streak ended, the Yankees had won 55 and lost 27 and were in first place by six games over Cleveland. During the streak, the Yankees had won 41 and lost just 13.

The Yankees would end the season with 101 wins and 53 losses and would beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, four games to one. The World Series win was the Yankees fifth in six years after winning four in a row, from 1936 until 1939. They would win again in 1943, over the St Louis Cardinals, for a total of six wins and seven series appearances in eight years.

Wee Willie Keeler of the Baltimore team in the old National League had held the consecutive game streak with 45 games prior to Joe’s streak. Keeler had his streak over two seasons, from 1896-1897. The closest anyone has ever come in the modern era was Pete Rose’s streak of 44 games in 1978.

Joe was no stranger to hitting streaks. He made his debut in professional ball with the San Francisco Seals of the AAA Pacific Coast League in 1932 and, the next year, he had a consecutive game hitting streak of 61 games which lasted from May 27 until July 25. That streak, according to Baseball Almanac, had only been exceeded once when Joe Wilhoit hit in 69 consecutive games in the Western League in 1919.

Yankee and Red Sox fans can and do argue all day about who was the better hitter or the better all around player between the two of them. The fact is that the year 1941 saw two of the greatest performances in the history of baseball by two of the greatest players ever to play the game.

Ted, The Splendid Splinter, and Joe, The Yankee Clipper, had 997 at bats between them that year. Ted came up 456 times and struck out just 27 times. Joe had 541 at bats and 13 strike outs. In 997 at bats, they struck out a total of 40 times between them, an average of one strikeout in every 25 at bats. Ted hit .406 and had 37 homers and 120 RBI’s while Joe hit .357 with 30 homers and 125 RBI’s.

Ted’s performance over the entire year will probably never be equaled and neither will Joe’s streak. Ted’s career batting average was .344 over 19 years and Joe’s was .325 over 13 years. Ted lost four of his most productive years while serving his country in the military in the Second World War and Joe lost three.

Joe had the luxury of playing with some of the greatest teams ever assembled in New York while Ted was playing for an also ran in most of his career in Boston. Ted had a 19 year career, all of it spent with the Red Sox, while Joe spent his entire 13 year career with the Yankees.

In the history of baseball, there may never have been two such talented players playing for arch rivals for such a long period of time and the year 1941 saw them both at their best.

I was fortunate to have seen both of these greats play many times, later in their careers. There are not many people still around who witnessed their performances 75 years ago, in 1941. Over my desk in my office, I have a picture of the two of them, both holding bats and obviously talking hitting and who, in the history of baseball, was better qualified to talk hitting.

Whether you agree that they were probably the two best hitters of all time or not, no one can change the fact that, at least in 1941, they were as good as it can or ever will get.

THE UNPREDICTABLE PLAYOFFS

Sunday marked the end of the most successful regular season in Boston Red Sox history. They won their final game against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Several weeks ago, when it looked like the Yankees were going to make a pennant race of it to the end, I surprised my Red Sox fan wife with two tickets to the game that I was amazed to be able to obtain.

I was in Fenway in 1967 when the Impossible Dream ended with a pennant and a trip to the World Series. The possibility of seeing a rerun of that finish, 51 years later, against the Yankees of all teams, was too good to pass up.

As we all know, and as I predicted from the beginning of the season, the Red Sox walked away from the Yankees and the pennant race is long over. My youngest son Steve and my 10 year old Grandson Nick enjoyed the game in my seats.

The Sox go into the Playoffs with the best record in baseball. You would think, as most Red Sox fans do, after such an amazing season, that they would probably win it all easily.

Before you begin the celebration in anticipation of the World Series victory, let’s look at some sobering facts.

Since 2000, a period of 18 years, the team that had, or was tied for, the best record in baseball at the end of the regular season has won the World Series just four times. Four other times in those 18 years, the team with the best regular season in baseball has gotten to but lost the World Series.

Five times the team with the best record in the regular season has made it to but been eliminated in the League Championship Series, the last step before the World Series. If those facts are not sobering enough, on 10 occasions, the team with the best record in all of baseball in the regular season has not even gotten through the first round of the Playoffs, the Division Series. ( In that period, five times two teams tied for the most wins in all of baseball, making 23 teams, with the best record, that made it to the Playoffs in 18 years. )

In 2014, just four years ago the San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. The Giants had a regular season record of 88-74 and the Royals were 89-73 and both made it to the Playoffs as a Wild Card. After winning the Wild Card game to get into the Division Series they had the worst records of all the teams in the Playoffs yet both made it to the Big Dance.

While it appears that there is no correlation between having the best regular season record and winning the World Series, there are a few historical facts that may indicate that the 2018 Boston Red Sox might have a better chance of going all the way than others teams with the best regular season record have had.

Of the four teams with the best records that went on to win the World Series, two of the four, the 2007 and 2013 winners were the Red Sox. The others to beat what you might call the ‘ Best Record Curse ‘ were the 2009 Yankees and the 2016 Chicago Cubs.

The Red Sox, of course, have won the World Series three times in this 18 year period, two of those times, in 2004 and 2013, they were managed by Managers in their first year at the helm of the team, Terry Francona in 2004 and John Farrell in 2013. This year’s version, with the most wins in the regular season, is managed by another first year Manager Alex Cora.

( If you don’t count the Stamford, Connecticut, dancer who posed as the Red Sox Manager in 2012, Bobby, Look At Me, Valentine, the last three real Red Sox Managers have won the pennant in their first season at the helm and Cora has a chance to be the third in succession. )

The Red Sox won the first four World Series they played in in the 20th century as the Red Sox going all the way in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918 in succession. ( The Boston Americans, the original version of the Red Sox won the first World Series ever played in 1903 but didn’t become the Red Sox until 1908. )

They have been in three World Series since the start of the 21st century and have won three straight. Perhaps history will repeat itself and they will have their fourth World Series win of this century, 100 years after winning their fourth of the previous century.

There is almost no correlation between winning the regular season championship and getting to and winning the World Series. For example, a team needs a deep starting pitching rotation to compete over the long season where a team can get by with three or four starters in the short series in the Playoffs. A hot streak can carry a weak team in the Playoffs, where the long season will tend to eliminate that weak team.

As we anxiously await the start of the Playoffs, it’s important to keep in mind that the old adage, ‘ The cream will come to the top ‘ may be true in the long regular season but, more often that not has not been true in the Playoffs.

But ‘ Hold on to your hats ‘ Red Sox fans, it’s going to be a wild ride and let’s hope the Sox can do it. They have certainly given us reason to believe in them but, as they also say “ Expect the Best and Prepare for the Worst ‘.

Go Sox!!!!