The Jose Bautista smear campaign continues

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Jose Bautista hit his 19th home run last night, helping power the Blue Jays past the Yankees. The game and its aftermath is making me want to take a walk down memory lane.

For instance, remember back in 2009 when speculating that an unusual spike in a player’s performance could be steroids-related would get you torn a new one by virtually every credentialed writer in baseball and featured in a public pillorying on ESPN for your lack of journalistic ethics?

Wait, maybe I dreamed that, because there is no way that could have happened and this article in the Daily News could still appear without a similar outrage. That would be crazy!

Bautista is the power-hitting sensation the sport desperately needs these days.

Let’s hope he’s clean.

Sorry, but even in this drug-testing era, it’s impossible not to be suspicious when someone suddenly starts hitting the ball to the moon in his late 20s. Unfortunately, steroids forever hardened us to the romance of a late-bloomer like Bautista, especially when baseball still has no test for human growth hormone … Bautista is a great story. Let’s just hope he’s legit.

One more walk down memory lane: remember when, back in 2003 or so, baseball writers used to say that unless and until there is steroid testing in baseball, everyone will be under suspicion?  How then, is it possible, seven years after the imposition of steroid testing, for them to still be under the same suspicion?  Is there absolutely no basic, prima facie presumption of innocence? Is there not anything apart from the mere hitting of some home runs, that is required before this kind of skepticism and innuendo is warranted?

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.