Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 3

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After the clubhouse I made it out to the field and scoped the scene:

Phillies stretch.JPGThe Phillies take a much more casual approach to stretching than the circle-em-up Pirates do.
 
Howard skinny.JPGAt the risk of best-shape-of-his-life cliches, I really can’t impress upon you just how good Ryan Howard looks. He has absolutely transformed himself over the past couple of years.

Catcher Pitching.JPG I hadn’t noticed catchers warming up from the mound anywhere else, but both of the catchers who were suited up for Philly on Saturday did. Also: earlier, when the position players were warming up, Shane Victorino got down in a catcher’s crouch and Howard fired in a couple of full windup pitches to him. Worth noting that the pitches from both catchers and Howard were harder and more accurate than the pitches from the best dude most of you faced in high school.
 Dugout.JPGI don’t think I’ve ever paid close enough attention to notice if this is common or not, but I kind of like the two-row dugout.

Phanatic.JPGBright House is a new stadium — opened in 2004 — and has a lot of amenities that aren’t typical in the Grapefruit League. One of them is a cool kids’ area, complete with a playground, a special kids’ snack bar and, of course, a Phanatic statue for photo opportunities and, for the more intrepid youngins, climbing on.

Practice field.JPGThis practice field sits directly behind the stadium. There’s absolutely no truth to the rumor that it was a prototype designed to extend Pat Burrell’s usefulness as a defensive player. I mean, that would be silly. He couldn’t cover a left field that large.
Thome Homey.JPGThe Twins were in town, and Jim Thome made his way out to the field to say hello during Phillies’ BP. Everyone who came near him, be it players, coaches or media, either hugged him or gave him a fist bump. Everyone loves Jim Thome. I’ve been following his career since he broke in with the Tribe, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a negative thing about the guy.
Police Truck.JPGYou think the City of Clearwater wasn’t cognizant that 10,000 Philly fans were on the premises? They had a police command station set up right outside the ballpark. They know who they’re dealing with.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak ended 78 years ago today

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There’s nothing special about a 78-year anniversary. It’s not a round number or anything and we tend to like round numbers. But (a) I was reminded of this today; and (b) we have no idea if the Martians will have invaded and taken over the planet come 2021, so I feel like it’s best to run this now than wait for the 80th anniversary. Cool? Cool.

Anyway: on this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio’s still-unbroken and possibly unbreakable (see below) 56-game hitting streak came to end. The game took place in Cleveland in front of a staggering 67,468 fans. Not bad for a Thursday night. The way the streak ended, courtesy of an ESPN Classic post from Larry Scwartz back in 2003:

Third baseman Ken Keltner makes two outstanding plays, grabbing DiMaggio smashes down the line in the first and seventh innings and throwing him out at first base. In between these at-bats, left-hander Al Smith walks DiMaggio in the fourth.

The Yankee Clipper has one more chance to extend his streak when he bats in the eighth with the bases full against Jim Bagby, a young right-hander who just enters the game. DiMaggio hits the ball sharply, but shortstop Lou Boudreau plays a bad hop perfectly and turns the grounder into a double play.

Stuff happens.

To be clear: 56 may not be broken in my lifetime or yours. It’s obviously a SUPER difficult task to string together a hitting streak of considerable length. As we saw when guys like Pete Rose or Paul Molitor or whoever have come within spitting distance of DiMaggio’s record — long spitting distance — the pressure ramps up and it’s hard to do you job with a lot of pressure. Add in the fact that simple base hits are harder to come by in today’s game than they used to be due to prevalent hitting, pitching and defensive trends, and it’d be no shocker whatsoever if no one ever does it.

But I draw the line at “unbreakable,” simply because, as noted above, stuff does happen. And because there’s nothing structural preventing it from happening. It’s not like Cy Young’s 511 wins or something which fundamental changes in the game have made basically impossible. No one is going to win 26 games a year for 20 years straight or what have you. Heck, CC Sabathia is baseball’s current gray hair among pitchers and only has a few dozen more career starts than that. It’s just a different game.

Hitters do play in 150-160 games now, though, and the good ones do average more than one hit per game. Putting them in the right arrangement may never be likely, but doing so is only a matter of stars aligning, not breaking the fundamental rules of engagement. It could happen. Maybe. Because, unlike some other records, it did before under broadly similar circumstances.

OK, that aside, I’ll offer up my favorite and most maddening DiMaggio hitting streak fact.

During his streak, which lasted from May 15-July 17, DiMaggio went 91-of-223, which is a .408 average. Between April 15-September 28 (i.e. the whole dang season) Ted Williams hit .406. And when it was all said and done he was substantially better in virtually every other batting category as well.

Joe DiMaggio won the MVP Award.