Joe DiMaggio’s Second-longest Hitting Streak at 70 Years

Joe DiMaggio barnstorms (and instructs) in Japan following the 1950 World Series.

As I (Evander) write this on July 16, today is 79 years since Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak reached its 56th and final game.

In the twilight of his proud career the Clipper would enjoy his second-longest consecutive-game batting streak: 19 games.

Between September 7, 1950, and September 26, 1950, DiMaggio collected 29 hits in 75 at-bats. That’s a .387 accomplishment. He had 8 home runs and drove in (RBI) 25 during this streak.

On September 11 he even hoisted three home runs into the distant left-field bleachers of Griffith Stadium. In his career, DiMaggio had hit three home runs in only two other games: on June 13, 1937, and on May 23, 1948 (this the first game of a doubleheader in Cleveland…two of the homers came off Bob Feller).

Overall that 1950 season, his last great one, Joe DiMaggio led the American League with a .585 slugging percentage. He walked 80 times that year, an unusually high number for his career. He had 32 home runs, 122 RBI, and a .301 batting average.

Meanwhile, an 18-year-old slugger in Class C Ball, Joplin, Missouri, presumably still learning to ply his trade at shortstop, had 199 hits for a .383 batting average, 26 homers, and a .638 slugging percentage.

By 1951, and in right field not shortstop, Mickey Mantle would join the American hero, the greatest since Lindbergh and Ruth, on the New York Yankees.

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Babe Ruth Had the Spanish Flu Twice in 1918

The magazine everyone in the US once read identifies Hemingway and Ruth as two of the most-important Americans of the preceding century.

My (Evander’s) old friend and longtime supporter of the Right off the Bat project, Mike Katzmarek, reported a story he’d heard on a French-radio broadcast that started me on the slightly scattered subjects of this blog. Any errors of fact or logic or proportion are my own.

Nineteen-eighteen is one of those big-news years. Getting into the action early, Ernest Hemingway, too young to be famous, sailed from New York to Europe on May 11. By July, he was injured by mortar-fire in Italy. A bogus letter (see the link four paragraphs below) from F. Scott Fitzgerald claims Hemingway was too macho to quarantine during the early stages of the Spanish (originating in Kansas and likely transported to Europe by US soldiers) Flu, not even to wash his hands they say.

On May 19 and a world away, Babe Ruth—who would hit 11 home runs that year, a staggering total, more than entire teams (Ed Barrow was among many who felt the home run was something of a fad to fade away), though Tillie Walker matched the great one’s power-number—came down with a high fever.

Ruth would be reported near death.

The Behemoth of Blast was transitioning to a legend. So was Papa Hemingway. The pair, in age separated by four years, would soon come to define the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties.

In a smidgen of that era, Hemingway would have to quarantine at the Fitzgeralds’. It was at Cap d’Antibes, in 1926, part of a deft à trois arrangement the Babe would’ve admired…while Papa gravitated toward rich (“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me….”)* women. (Ruth is never known to have quarantined, and he’d have plenty of his own gold, sans digging, by the 1920s.)

Ruth’s heroics would be reported, in Boston particularly, as akin to an avenging Uncle Sam on the battlefields of France. The Red Sox luckily had sent few players to that bleak theater.

The 1918 World Series, which would haunt Red Sox Nation (the agony of Cubs fans would be a footnote to it) for nearly a century, was over by early September as the MLB season ended on the eleventh (after a 140-game schedule). Due to the pandemic the government had ordered citizens to find “meaningful work.” Ruth signed on with Charles Schwab’s steel factory in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, largely to play ball.

By early October, however, and always on the move (another trait shared with Papa), the Babe was back in his native Baltimore. He was likely recovering from a second-round knockout by the pandemic. Antibodies? Antigens? Herd immunity? Curse of the Bambino?

Though Papa Hemingway had several brushes with death before his ending a crowded life, only Babe Ruth could succumb to a pandemic twice (!) and win a World Series in the same year.

Coda: The 1918 (e.g., Hal Chase’s suspension) and 1919 seasons were front-and-back-loaded with scandal not unlike what MLB had in store for the public a hundred years later, in 2017 and 2019.

*The quote is from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Rich Boy,” not said by Hemingway or Ruth: just likely thought by them, too, along with many of us.

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Great Stadiums (12): When No One Shows Up

A remnant of baseball games

June 1, 2020, with nary a game played. There is no lockout. There is no players’ union work-stoppage. There has been no declaration of war. There is no paralyzing scandal. What do we do with an empty stadium? As the song says, we could put up a parking lot. If not for the social-distancing suggested, we could turn it into an urban mall…as the artist’s conception shows.

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Great Stadiums (11): From Blueprints

And use your imagination….(credit: New York Times)

Credit Rod Kennedy Jr. for a keen perseverance. Pursuant to the story linked to his name, Kennedy unearthed (the right word) the blueprints for Ebbets Field. This is where Kennedy lives in his memories (as all us fans of baseball and cricket do, whatever the era or place in the world, Flatbush or Tibet) of a wild (in terms of where the ball was going after it left his hand)-young Sandy Koufax and the then-more-established Boys of Summer from the 1950s.


Kennedy’s dream is a one-quarter scale re-creation of Ebbets Field for a Dodgers museum. Kennedy went scavenging, in a place he more expected to find Bela Lugosi morphing into a bat, for the original stadium plans. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Municipal fathers have reclaimed the blueprints. But much had been learned:

“The drawings revealed unknown aspects of the ballpark’s design…. ‘Photos are usually taken from some distance away, and when you stand back from the entrance you see little tiny round things on the roof of the ballpark,’ [an observer] said. The blueprints showed that these rooftop decorations, known as antefixes, were in fact baseballs, ornaments that echoed the baseball-adorned terracotta spandrels above the pilasters. The lot plan also showed that McKeever Place, on the…third-base side, was named Cedar Place in 1912.”

Charles Hercules Ebbets would be happy. His great club wouldn’t win a championship till 30 years after his death.
Whether instruments of the Dodgers Symph-phony Band have been or will be discovered, since the wrecking (base)ball of early 1960, remains unknown.

                      She’s the lyrics of Hart
                      When he wrote with Dick Rodgers,
                      A raspberry tart,
                      And the ol’ Brooklyn Dodgers!

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The Ol’ Neighborhood Play

It’s a beautiful day in the Neighbor “Hood” Play.

  • The pitcher does a little shuffle: By the time the ball’s released his back foot is ten inches in front of the rubber.
  • The ball whizzing toward the batter is loaded with pine-tar or similar foreign-substance; or the ball’s been scuffed on a sharpened belt-buckle to make it dance a little, dip, or sail.
  • Then there’s the ol’ neighborhood play: The shortstop maybe not even straddles second base to double up the runner at first.
  • Standing on second, the runner transmits the catcher’s signal to the batter thro some even-more elaborate signal.
  • Two out and the ball’s popped up toward third as the runner, formerly on second now scooting by, orally distracts the infielder camping under it.
  • On the bench players decode the third-base coach’s signs.

Cheating? Gamesmanship? News for the Delphic Oracle? (“They pitch their burdens off.”)

Leo Durocher may have stationed someone with jewels and binoculars in the center-field clubhouse of the Polo Grounds. But the latest revelations round the Houston Astros of 2017 and beyond (there were rumors of whistled-signals from the bench in 2019, substituting the garbage can; and were batters wired for pitch-info?) replace all the rest with an electric amplifier….or maybe an Apple Watch.

To think: It all started with Mike Fiers (who’s had a whole other on-the-field history), the most-famous whistle (tho not literally, from the Astros dugout) blower since the White House real-world Ukraine phone call.

PED are serious enough. Ditto the Suits messing with the liveliness of the ball and players corking their bats. The reason the Chicago Black Sox Scandal of a hundred years ago is the seismic U.S.-sports infraction to our time is that it leaves fans questioning whether they are yawning thro predetermined exhibitions. Pro wrestling.

Think further: about the clubs that go from rags to riches in only a few seasons….The hi-tech scandal hovers over the coming schedules and, surely, whatever seasons ahead.

The ukases (if they could be called that) of the commissioner have been timid and unimaginative and weak. No championship has been stripped: even officially questioned.

As 2020 dawns (with more rules changes), this is the most-serious and unexpected situation faced by MLB, which has seen attendance continue its slide, in decades.

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There Used to Be a Ballpark Again

Don’t let the discus-thrower throw you. It is one of the 1930s-style art-deco flourishes of a baseball stadium that today serves as a backdrop to cricket, Bangladesh-style.

“How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” (Lamentations)

William Carlos Williams is the author of an epic poem about Paterson. It is one of the cities “left behind.” Maybe not anymore.

In fall 2019, it was announced that plans are full-steam ahead there to restore a neglected monument to the history of baseball: Hinchliffe Stadium. Back in the day, Hinchcliffe had been one of the hubs of the Negro leagues. Today, in the shadow of its glory, Hinchliffe watches over cricket played by immigrants from Bangladesh. Soon, if things work out, these ruins will give rise to a multipurpose-sports facility; though some doubt.

Construction is “in time for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro leagues. Once home to the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans, Hinchliffe was host to…Monte Irvin, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, and Paterson’s own Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League.

“Previous efforts to bring the field back to life faltered, leaving residents, even young ones, fatalistic about its future. ‘When this place is fixed, I’ll be forty,’ laments fourteen-year-old Saleh Ahmed.” (This according to the New York Times.) To paraphrase from the start: maybe not this time, kid.

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The Baseball Scene

The bat looks like a toothpick (or pen) in Henry James’s hand.

Henry James, for whom no abstraction, no characteristic or gesture, was too subtle to be examined (and examined), qualified and qualified again, is generally credited with a fictional form that was actually pioneered by women, mostly Continental-women writers on to Edith Wharton.

Mary Murdoch Mason’s Mae Madden: A Story was published three years before James’s similarly titled “Daisy Miller: A Study.” (This precedent is uncovered by S. A. Wadsworth, out of Minnesota, in an award-winning 2001 essay.)

It “mae” be noted James is also the author of The American. Its drama-version opened outside Liverpool but then fell flat in the West End of London, the city James loved, and lost a lot of money.

What does any of this have to do with cricket and baseball? Scrutinizing it from our most-reliable point of view, as the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox square off in the East End…everything!

Since literature is an element of Right off the Bat, we see James’s endlessly modulated-international theme of naive U.S. citizen encountering more worldly European, whether female and male, male and female, or same-gender, as in some form paralleling, if not quite defining, the short London series and how it will play. MLB injects itself into the heart of a more worldly cricket world.

Writing itself is a lens thro which sport, as part of the general “scene” and culture, is viewed, dissected, evaluated: Izaak Walton, Lardner, Malamud, Updike. (Along with cricket, Jane Austen mentions “base ball” in Northanger Abbey, via a ditzy character.)

Alexis de Tocqueville observed that U.S. democracy ran a risk of settling into a kind of despotic bric-a-brac. Charles Dickens could not abide the U.S. and slandered it. Jaundiced Mark Twain wrote The Innocents Abroad and later A Tramp [not “Trump”] Abroad. James thinks in the way of de Tocqueville thro The American Scene.

OK, the writers, the observers and framers, have had their say. Since London skipped out of baseball as a Summer Olympics sport, it is only fitting some of the best pros (not prose) will treat Brits to the best baseball has to offer. It’s the players’ turn to create a narrative.

In the closing chapter of our book, The Bambino comes under the Yankee Stadium tutelage of the Don. We call this first-1932 summit, and a second two-years-and-change later, “the merger.” Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life all, in the words of those Local Lads, the Beatles of James’s Waterloo, Liverpool, come together.

MLB will do it all over the UK scene again in 2020 (as baseball returns to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo), this time without the DH, as NL rivals the Chicago Cubs face the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Great Stadiums (10): Big Beautiful Shea Stadium

A rendition of Shea Stadium (named for William Alfred Shea) with the dome that never was: looking suspiciously like the Houston Astrodome.

I (Evander) went wild first visiting the then-new home of the New York Mets (short for Metropolitans), something like 55 years ago.

Ground was broken for “Flushing Meadow Park Municipal Stadium” on October 28, 1961.

Shea was McLuhan-cool.

It had escalators.

It had big-sized suburban, Horace Greeley-style parking.

It had exterior-aluminum ’60s-colored Go-Go panels suspended by cables that you could shake from the ramps: an incentive to avoid the Everest-peak escalators, especially on the post-game way down and out.

The game—or anything happening on field-level—was a rumor from the nosebleed seats of the upper deck.

A few years into its run, Tom Seaver would qualify as everybody’s nutty older cousin. On the first Earth Day-game at Shea, Tom Terrific would strike out the last 10 batters he faced.

It hosted the Beatles two times and was rumored to star a-rockin’ Bob Dylan (to prove that the times they were a-changin’) a year later.

Here Nolan Ryan struck out his first batter, fellow-rookie pitcher Pat Jarvis (no relation, as far as ROTB knows, to organist Jane Jarvis).

It was set up for the New York Jets, a team that switched its name from “Titans” so that only a consonant need be changed above the concession stands. Joe Namath passed for a stunning championship comeback in the permafrost and wind of December 29, 1968.

Shea in early fall: reaching out to Namath.

A couple spins round the sun and peekaboo-safety panels were retrofitted to permit fans on lower levels a view into the bullpens.

There was almost no day-game shade on ticket lines or in the parking lot; these to-be-pitied urban trees reminded me of the sparsely treed and, frankly, cheesy Freedomland of the northeast Bronx.

It was supposed to be domed, as they did in Houston, with a concrete or steel velarium inspired by ancient Rome.

The Eighth Wonder of the World: No one could see balls hit high in the air during day games for the translucent-dome panels and girders. Even the grass died later, tho almost everyone could buy a behind-the-massive-dugouts seat.

The planes taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport were obnoxiously loud.

It was next door to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

There were no fuddy-duddy bleachers at the beginning. Much later, there were friendly outfield stands, a picnic area, and those Piazza-tent shots.

Three indelibly memorable World Series were played there as well as the first-ever National League Championship Series.

Not one of the several concrete ashtrays of the era, Shea Stadium, by any objective measure, may yet have been the worst park in which to see a major-league game. To top (or bottom) things: The years had not been kind to Shea, which always was big but not beautiful…except in the eye of this once-young beholder, even in his ear….

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Great Stadiums (9): Daphne du Maurier Stadium (SF)

One can sense (Wilhelm) Richard Wagner’s Valkyrie (Die Walkuere) in the background: amidst too much fowl territory!

Daphne du Maurier wrote “The Birds,” a short story expanded upon by Alfred Hitchcock to a film of eco-psychology that features his greatest special effects, glamorous skulduggery on Mount Rushmore notwithstanding.

Oracle ParkPacific Bell, then SBC; after those corporate-naming auspices were exhausted, AT&T, the latter noted in the accompanying photo and video—is the real-2019 name, not Daphne du Maurier Stadium, of the San Francisco Giants home field.

Oracle’s a stunner on the Bay and a vast improvement over elevated Candlestick Park, which saw gale-force winds and freezing night-game temperatures during its run, especially before it was enclosed as a multipurpose stadium. Oracle is indeed one of the most beautiful stadiums in Major League Baseball. But it has one big-time flaw. (Read on.)

(Willie Mays, almost as magnificent a centerfielder as the great [as Hemingway calls him] Joe DiMaggio [a San Francisco native and as stylish as any element of that most-stylish city], probably lost a number of homers off his career total of 660 by playing a lot of his games at Candlestick. Mays’s exciting trademark basket-catches were put to the test every night. Needless to say, playing conditions were no Rice-A-Roni treat.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way, a home-field disadvantage to perhaps the best player of the 1960s. [Ironically, Candlestick opened in April 1960, to kick off that controversial decade: with then-presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon tossing the first ball no less and the Beatles performing their last paid-show there, on August 29, 1966.] Famously retold is how, a decade before, Horace Stoneham was shown the site of his new ball field, with all that parking, on the way from the airport and the Daly City Cow Palace, in the smug sunniness of the Northern California daytime. Who knew? Chub Feeney got the gone-with-the-wind details from someone among the stadium-construction team.)

Such a marvelous place, Oracle, night or day—except for the sea gulls that swoop and swarm during late innings. No one quite understands how the birds understand when the game is wrapping up.

It is said the proliferation of seagulls, all unplanned and unanticipated by the stadium architects (Stoneham returns), has to do with newer-ecological city-disposal ordinances and the quick burial of food-waste. Thus, the birds arrive elsewhere (i.e., the Oracle bleachers) for late-game nourishment.

(There has been a reciprocating issue in neighboring Oakland for similar reasons; its Athletics, a franchise that, for many additional reasons, raw-sewage leaks and the existence of Oracle among them, has threatened to move for years.)

Ironically, the old Polo Grounds in upper Harlem, where the Giants played till 1957, was a pigeons’ paradise. Fans in the grandstands wore newspaper-hats to avoid the liquid siftings.

A skein. A gaggle. Even human-fans have been flocking to this great stadium….Really no bird lover, I (Evander): If I were on hand at Oracle, after the seventh-inning stretch, I’d be Alfred Hitchcock-terrified.

A strange bird the pelican,
His beak can hold more than his belly can:
I don’t know how the hell he can.

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Honoring Jackie Robinson on His 100th Birthday

Wrong sport? a natural athlete; the one and only

“Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which come with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides.” These, the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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