December 13, 2013
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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
In case you missed today's "And That Happened" entry by Craig Calcaterra (and you shouldn't have), along with all the other sports news since late last night, Alex Rodriguez got into the record books again.
When he hit a grand slam in the eighth inning against Atlanta, he did more than sweep away a 4-0 deficit on the road to a comeback win. A-Rod's grand slam was the 23rd of his career, tying the mark held for so long by Lou Gehrig. Closing his Yankees-Braves recap, Craig archly noted, "I expect someone today will write a column in a New York tabloid about how A-Rod doesn't deserve to hold the record or some noise like that."
I don't write for a New York tabloid. (The real fun there, of course, is composing their front and back-page headlines.) They can write whatever noise they like. My regret today is not really that Rodriguez matched the record, but that it's not wholly Gehrig's any more.
Lou Gehrig was always fated to be overshadowed. What other explanation is there? He would have been the undisputed star of three-quarters of the teams in baseball when he hit his playing stride, maybe more. He wound up playing with Babe Ruth, the Un-eclipsable Man.
He got along well in his supporting role, to say the least. Eventually Ruth's career wound down, with Lou still in prime shape. He was named team captain, and in 1936 led the Yankees to their latest championship, first of an unprecedented string of four. And the talk was all about this raw-boned rookie from California, name of DiMaggio. He was really gonna be something special, wasn't he?
Lou kept smiling, and kept playing. Until he couldn't play any more. Even at that fabled Fourth of July ceremony in 1939, you couldn't say Gehrig finally had his day in the sun. The shadow of Death was looming too close.
At least he had a few records that nobody was ever going to touch. Chief among them was his consecutive-game streak: at 2,130, a mark held up for decades as beyond breaking. That is, until Cal Ripken Jr. cruised past it, in a moment of such joy and class that not even the bitterest Gehrig partisan could begrudge Ripken his awesome achievement. (And that 2,632 figure really does look unbreakable, doesn't it?)
But at least there was still the American League single-season RBI mark. Gehrig had that at 184, set in 1931, and nobody in the modern game was likely to make a run. Nobody in the modern game has—but someone from Gehrig's era did. In the most recent SABR Baseball Research Journal, Herm Krabbenhoft published the results of his painstaking examination of Hank Greenberg's day-by-day records. Among other things, he discovered a missing RBI tallied on June 20, 1937, that never made the official records. The original Hammering Hank drove in 183 runs that season, officially. In truth, he had 184, tying Gehrig's record while Lou was still active.
It's a tough way to lose a record: not just for Lou, but for Hank. He never got to learn that he had matched Gehrig's mark, and that's a pity. As for Gehrig, well, at least the tie came from someone getting an RBI added, rather than him losing one on a double-counting error. It's more dignified that way, even if once again he had to move over and share the stage.
And at least he had the grand-slam record all to himself. Until last night. Move over, Lou.
I'll say it: Lou Gehrig deserves a record or two all to himself. He deserves something in the game where he is number one, not 1-A. He deserves something out of the shadows. That's my sentimentalism speaking, and so be it. Sentimentalism is woven into the game: it's part of what makes it matter so much to us. To me, it's not quite right if our lone singular image of him is that sad figure standing before a forest of microphones, exhibiting the quiet bravery that would define him even more than his play.
But that isn't so terrible. A number of great ballplayers have been lousy human beings, whose mortality did not move grown men to tears. Maybe there is no crying in baseball, but Lou Gehrig proved there can be crying between games of a doubleheader, when they held his farewell ceremony. Perhaps this should be a moment to remember and celebrate instead. Perhaps we should go listen to his speech—not the re-ordered, Hollywood-ized version they put in Gary Cooper's mouth, but the one he delivered himself. Listen to it all: that would honor him.
Except we can't. There is no full audio or video recording of Lou Gehrig's farewell address. The transcript we have is pieced together from various film and tape snippets, along with reporters' notes. And we probably shouldn't trust those notes too much. Go look up The New York Times for July 5, 1939, and its story on Gehrig's ceremony. See how it turned the most famous line he would ever speak into a garbled, mis-quoted mess in less than 24 hours.
Y'know, Craig, maybe the New York papers ought to stand up for Lou Gehrig a little today. Seems they owe him one.
Royals 2, Brewers 1: Luis Mendoza took a no-hitter into the seventh, but it was still close as prodigal Royal Zack Greinke was pretty sharp too, striking out eight and allowing one run over seven innings. Billy Butler's RBI single in the eighth was the difference.
White Sox 6, Cardinals 1: Paul Konerko is batting .373. And he's still, like, 300,000 votes behind Prince Fielder for the All-Star Game. One day he's gonna be dead and we're gonna treat him like we treated Whitney Houston and Levon Helm Donna Summer and all of those others who died recently: we're gonna pretend we always recognized his greatness when, in the moment, most of us truly didn't.
Yankees 6, Braves 4: If you get up 4-0 on CC Sabathia after seven innings and you have a bullpen like the Braves do, you can normally expect to win the game. But nope, not last night. Jonny Venters has been a weak link this year (he's got a 7.04 ERA and a .382 opposition average in his last 20 appearances) and gave up a grand slam to Alex Rodriguez, after which Cory Gearrin gave up a two-run job to Nick Swisher. The slam was A-Rod's 23rd, tying Lou Gehrig's record. I expect someone today will write a column in a New York tabloid about how A-Rod doesn't deserve to hold the record or some noise like that.
Reds 7, Indians 2: It's the BATTLE OF OHIO! Winner gets to leave, I suppose. Anyway, Johnny Cueto went the distance, allowing only one run on six hits. Joey Votto's ridiculously good season continues with a two-run homer.
Cubs 4, Tigers 3: Know what was fun? Before the season how if you suggested that Detroit's defense was lacking and how, in response, Tigers people on the Internet would get all up in your face about it, saying how that's all overblown and how easy and lazy a storyline that was to be peddling. Well, sorry, it's true. Last night the Tigers were undone by defense once again as the Cubs scored the winning run by virtue of not one but two Jhonny Peralta throwing errors in the eighth inning. Some easy, lazy storylines are easy and lazy because they're true.
Red Sox 2, Marlins 1: A strong outing from Clay Buchholz, who allowed one run in seven innings to help the Sox snap a four-game skid. The Marlins played with the roof open for the second straight night, presumably because they broke a losing streak the other night while doing it. Guess it goes back to closed now.
Rangers 9, Diamondbacks 1: Colby Lewis went the distance and allowed one run on four hits. He didn't allow a base runner until the sixth inning.
Twins 11, Phillies 7: Another easy storyline? How the Phillies are playing so bad because of so many injuries. Guess what: the people who aren't injured sort of suck this year too. Kyle Kendrick was shelled and Joe Savery and B.J. Rosenberg weren't much help in relief. The Phillies are actually farther out of first place than are the Twins.
Mets 11, Rays 2: Jordany Valdespin drove in four runs. Ike Davis chipped in three more with a homer. That's a name we haven't called around here very often this year. Chris Young is one too. He got his first win in a year.
Nationals 4, Blue Jays 2: Bryce Harper hit a looong homer run. Yawn. I'm far more interested in the one hit by Nats catcher Jhonatan Solano. Because if he can stick in the bigs, he and Jhonny Peralta could form some sort of super hero team of misspelled Johns.
Orioles 8, Pirates 6: Brian Roberts returned to action for the first time in13 months. He led off, went 3 for 4 and hit a sac fly. The 1-4 hitters in the O's lineup combined to go 11 for 19 while driving in six.
Dodgers 5, Angels 2: The Dodgers had a four-run eighth inning to rally. And you know what was special about that inning?
The entire inning was set up when second-base umpire Joe West called Dee Gordon safe on a two-out stolen base. Television replays appeared to show the throw from catcherHank Conger beat the runner.
Knock me over with a feather.
Padres 5, Mariners 4: Down 5-1 in the ninth, the Mariners rallied, but it fell short. Felix Hernandez looked rusty after going 11 days between starts. He went six innings, allowing nine hits, five runs and three walks.
Athletics 8, Rockies 5: Brandon Moss homered twice. When he was called up the other day I asked whether he was truly an upgrade over Kila Kaʻaihue. Since that callup he isn't exactly setting the Earth on fire, but he has hit three home runs.
Giants 6, Astros 3: Madison Bumgarner: one-man wrecking crew. He struck out 12 in seven and two-thirds and hit a homer.
A hundred years ago today, one of the game’s greatest talents achieved one of the game’s great milestones.
On June 13, 1912, New York Giants ace Christy Mathewson chalked up career win No. 300. He was just the eighth pitcher to reach that lofty milestone, and the first in more than a decade. Cy Young, the seventh guy to win 300, had done it back in 1901.
However, calling it a “lofty milestone” is both true and anachronistic. It’s true because it is a great milestone, but it’s out of time because people didn’t pay too much attention to career milestones back then. As Bill James noted in the original Historical Abstract, career milestones became a bigger deal with the opening of the Hall of Fame a quarter century after Mathewson’s achievement.
That said, it was a great achievement. Mathewson’s win was 3-2 over the Cubs, the Giants’ main rival during Mathewson’s career. It would have been perfect if it had come against Mordecai Brown, Mathewson’s longtime peer and nemesis, but he was injured in 1912.
Mathewson entered the 1912 season with a career record of 289-134. I don’t know exactly what his record was 100 years ago today, but the Giants had lost two of his starts earlier in the year. He was probably 11-2 or so, giving him a record of 300-136 upon win No. 300.
Ever since, no one has had a record that good upon winning hisr 300th game. Lefty Grove came close, with a mark of 300-138 when he did it in 1941. He’s the only one even close. Roger Clemens was 300-155 and Pete Alexander 300-157. Mathewson benefited not only from being a great pitcher, but also playing on a great team.
That’s 164 games over .500. Hardly anyone has ever been that high up at any point in his career, let alone when he won No. 300. Cy Young did. Since he lasted forever and pitched in a ton of games, Young ended his career nearly 200 games over .500, the all-time champ.
Alexander made it to 164 games over .500, barely. He peaked at 169 games over .500, which he first reached with a record of 371-202. He retired at 373-204. Since then, only one more man has done it—Clemens. He peaked at 171 games over .500, a level he hit several times, ranging from 339-168 to 354-183.
But Mathewson did it the day he won his 300th contest—and that happened exactly 100 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to just skim the lists.
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