May 2016

Streakers

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox

Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of 12 Red Sox players to have hit in 24 or more consecutive games (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

When the Red Sox resume play here Friday night against the Cleveland Indians, Jackie Bradley Jr. will be taking a 24-game hitting streak into the game, the longest such streak in the majors in 2016 and the longest by a Sox player since Dustin Pedroia hit in 25 straight in 2011. (David Ortiz had a 27-game hitting streak, but that carried over from the 2012 season to 2013).

There have been 16 single-season hitting streaks of 24 games or more by Sox players. Dom DiMaggio holds the club record with 34 games, and Nomar Garciaparra and Tris Speaker are the only other Sox players to have hit in 30 or more, Garciaparra as a rookie in 1997, Speaker as a future Hall of Famer in 1912.

DiMaggio, Garciaparra and Boggs all had multiple streaks of 24 or more games, with Garciaparra having three (24 in 1998, 26 in 2003), so Bradley becomes the 12th player to accomplish the feat.

DiMaggio’s club-record streak attracted relatively little fanfare in 1949, perhaps because only eight years earlier, his brother Joe set the major-league record by hitting in an astonishing 56 straight, shattering Wee Willie Keeler’s record of 44 set in 1897. Keeler, by the way, stood only 5’4, but that didn’t keep him from using a bat that was only 30 inches long but weighed as much as 46 ounces, according to the Hall of Fame.

During the course of the Little Professor’s streak, however, the Boston Globe noted the impact his diet was having on his performance in an interview with his wife, Emily, described by the Globe reporter (a woman) as “beautiful, but intelligent.’’ As if those attributes are mutually exclusive.

“He really likes what’s good for him,’’ Emily DiMaggio was quoted as saying. “Custard, bread pudding, rice pudding—even liver and onions.’’
Also on the menu for Dom was a bigger breakfast than he’d previously had, one that included cereal, fruit, juice, scrambled eggs, and “sometimes chicken liver.” For dinner, chicken or lamb were featured, “never beefsteak.’’

On the eve of an August series between the Red Sox and Yankees, Joe DiMaggio talked to Cliff Keane of the Boston Globe about Dom’s streak.

“It’ll get tough for him to keep that streak going,’’ Joe D. said. “I hope he breaks the record, really I do. But I don’t think that I’m going to let any balls fall in front of me for him.

“You know, I talked to him on the phone before I came here tonight, and we never even mentioned it. Guess it just passed my mind.’’

Before a packed house of 35,091, the Sox won the first game of that series, 6-3, but Dominic went 0 for 5 against Yankees right-hander Vic Raschi, ending his streak. In his final at-bat, in the bottom of the eighth, DiMaggio lined out to center field—where brother Joe was waiting.

Years later, in an interview with author Alan Schwarz, DiMaggio talked about his streak. A portion of that interview:

“A lot of people make a big deal about my 34-game hitting streak in the summer of 1949, and how it was snapped on a great play in center field by my brother, Joe. I’d like to set the record straight.

“First of all, when I hit in 34 games in a row, I was only doing my job. I played every game pretty much as I played any other game. I got my fair share of walks during the streak — I don’t think I chased bad pitches. I was a line-drive hitter. My job was to get on base and let the sluggers like Ted Williams drive me home. I wasn’t even aware of my streak until it was at 22 or 23 games, and I didn’t make a big deal of it.

“On the day it ended, Aug. 9, we were playing the Yankees at Fenway Park. Our rivalry with the Yankees was great — every bit as emotional as it is now. The atmosphere was very thick whether we played at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. That afternoon we were in third place, six games behind the first-place Yankees, but playing great. We were just entering the pennant race. These were big games.

Dom DiMaggio batting

Dom DiMaggio in 1949 hit in 34 straight games, a Red Sox record  (Photo purchased from Brearley Collection, 2013)

“But when you feel pressure, you do not perform. The first thing you’ve got to do is be completely relaxed. And that’s the way I was. On that day against the Yankees, I felt good. I hit one solid shot to the third baseman (actually, shortstop) that was turned into an out. I got out another couple of times. I was 0-for-4 when I got to the plate in the eighth inning against Vic Raschi, who was a darn good pitcher.

“I smacked a line drive right up the middle so hard that it passed Raschi’s ear! He ducked to get out of the way of it! As soon as I hit it, I said, “O.K., that’s 35.” But that ball wouldn’t drop. The ball refused to drop. Joe is standing out there in center field, and he didn’t have to move. He said it himself later — if he hadn’t caught the ball, it would have hit him right between the eyes. So there was no effort on his part. It wasn’t a great play by him, like they’re still saying today. I just hit the ball too damn hard!’’

Garciaparra’s streak in 1997 received considerably more attention, especially as he drew closer to the rookie record of 34 straight set by Padres catcher Benito Santiago in 1987. The Sox were a mediocre club in 1997, but Nomar was a sensation. He broke Fred Lynn’s record for a rookie (20 games in 1975) and the AL rookie record (26), set by Guy Curtright of the White Sox in 1943.

There was no bigger Nomar fan than Sox great Johnny Pesky.

“The best-looking shortstop we’ve ever had around here,” Pesky said. “{Joe} Cronin couldn’t field or throw with this guy. The closest is probably {Luis} Aparicio, but this kid’s a better hitter. He can run. He has good baseball instincts. I’m telling you, if he’d come along in my era, I’d be sitting on the pine.

“You could almost classify him as the perfect player.”

But on Aug. 30 in Fenway Park, against the Atlanta Braves in what was the first season of interleague play, Garciaparra’s came to an end. He flied out, popped out and hit a sacrifice fly off Braves’ rookie Kevin Millwood in his first three plate appearances, then came to bat for a final time in the eighth inning against another Atlanta rookie, Mike Cather, as a Fenway crowd of 32,085 implored him to keep the streak going.

“I knew there was no way I could walk him,’’ Cather said afterward, “and get out of this town alive.’’

The first pitch was a ball outside. At the next offering, which ran inside, Garciaparra swung.

“It was like the whole park kind of stopped,” said Red Sox first base coach Dave Jauss. “Nobody from the dugout wanted to leave. The crowd really makes it happen here. The crowd did it from his first at-bat.

“He had a good swing, and when he swings like that, it’s usually a hit. Off the bat, it looked like a hit.”

Instead, as with Dominic DiMaggio’s last at-bat in the Yankees game, it was a line drive right at an outfielder, in this case Braves left-fielder Danny Bautista.

“I had some good swings,” Garciaparra said, “but some days they just don’t fall.”

So far, they’ve kept falling for Bradley, who has 37 hits in 91 at-bats during his streak, including 7 doubles, 3 triples, and 7 home runs.

Here is how JBJ’s slash line compares:

Tris Speaker, 1912: (unavailable)

Dominic DiMaggio, 34 games, 1949: .352/.430/.503/.934

Nomar Garciaparra, 30 games, 1997: .383/.407/.652/1.059

Dustin Pedroia, 25 games, 2011: .404/.459/.752/1.211

JACKIE BRADLEY JR., 2016: .407/.460/.780/1.240

The chase of history resumes Friday night.

When ‘Pride’ steps to the plate

TOWN HALL

Former outfielder Billy Bean, now baseball’s ambassador for diversity, speaks to Red Sox front office employees at Fenway Park “town hall.” (Photo by Billie Weiss, Boston Red Sox)

 

“You haven’t lived,’’ the man said, “until you’ve walked into a room full of people you haven’t met and seen your worst mistakes and choices put on a video screen.’’

His name is William Daro Bean. In Baseball-reference.com, he is listed as Bill Bean, perhaps to distinguish him from Billy Beane, who also played big-league baseball and is now the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Oakland Athletics. But when he played for the Tigers, Padres and Dodgers, in a six-year career of modest accomplishment, his teammates knew him as Billy.

What they didn’t know—teammates, managers, friends, even his own mother and stepfather—was the secret Billy Bean harbored, one that he had persuaded himself would shatter his world if it was ever revealed.

“I chose to keep my life secret,’’ he said. “I chose not to reach out to people that probably would have been supportive of me. I only looked at myself through the one thing I hated about myself. It was my inability to understand my sexual orientation.’’

But it was in the act of suppressing the truth, that he was gay, Bean lost almost everything that mattered to him, including the game he loved.

“I never thought I’d be a part of baseball again,’’ he said.

But now, in a Red Sox town hall meeting of Red Sox employees, an audience that included owner Tom Werner, club presidents Sam Kennedy and Dave Dombrowski, and Sox bench manager Torey Lovullo, a childhood friend, Bean was staking his place back in the game, in a role he could not have imagined when he was living in the shadows.

Billy Bean, who ultimately became only the second major league player ever to acknowledge publicly that he was gay, is MLB’s ambassador for diversity. Silent no more, Bean is an advocate for taking baseball to a place where others of differing sexual orientation will not fear, like he did, that they cannot be true to themselves.

“We all want to create an environment that’s inclusive,’’ Kennedy had said by means of introduction, “that embraces diversity, the differences among us. You cannot have a successful, productive championship organization if you don’t do that. I’ve been here 15 years and really proud to be part of an ownership group that embraces this concept and is commited to it.’’

Sox employees sat riveted as they watched Bean’s life unspool before them in a video. The highlight plays. The storybook wedding to a beautiful woman. The divorce that followed when Bean could not live that particular lie. The attachment to a new partner, his face blurred because his family to this day may not know of their relationship. The partner dying of AIDs, Bean unable to fully share his grief. A doctor telling him he might be next.

“He died of HIV in 1994,’’ Bean said. “In those days, people were dying still. I saw a doctor who told me that because we were a couple that I’d probably become HIV positive within a year and a half, with no understanding or factual nature.

“I tested negative every single month my last year. I didn’t tell the Padres. I literally would have rather died than tell my parents that fact, or a friend of mine.’’

Even after his baseball career ended, Bean preferred to remain in isolation. He moved to Miami, as far away from San Diego as he could. He finally brought himself to tell his mother and his tough-cop stepfather that he was gay, news they accepted with equanimity and love, but still he allowed few others within his inner circle.  It wasn’t until Tim Layana, his college roommate at Loyola Marymount, died in a car crash and Bean didn’t learn of his passing until days after the funeral because no one knew how to contact him, that he decided he could remain silent no more. He came out first to a reporter in the Miami Herald, and then in a story in the New York Times.

“It wasn’t until I stopped hiding and lying about myself that I was able to meet people in the LGBT community that helped me get a bigger picture of what life is all about and how I can make a contribution,’’ he said. “I was certain I didn’t want to do that, because I just felt the shame and all the stereotypes that were a part of my generation, in and around sports especially.’’

But then came a luncheon in Washington, D.C., in which he found himself seated beside Judy Shephard. Her son, Matthew, had been a student at the University of Wyoming brutally slain by two young men driven to do so, police said, because Mathew was gay. Mathew Shepard’s name is now attached to federal hate-crime legislation. Billy Bean recounted his conversation with Judy Shepard.

“Judy looked at me, this mother, a Republican from Wyoming who had never thought about LGBT rights, and said to me: ‘Billy, there are no other people to move this conversation forward. No male role models in sports. A couple of women who were brave enough in individual sports.’ She said, ‘Matthew would have thought you were a hero because you played in the major leagues.’

“The message here is not about me or one person. It is about baseball. People were interested in my life because I was lucky enough to play for a blink of an eye in the history of our great sport. I looked at her and just felt so full of shame, and trying to figure out, ‘What is the meaning of my life. Why am I afraid to pick up the phone and call my best friend? Why is that impossible?’ Why did I decide for them that I wasn’t good enough.’’

Billy Bean imagines a world in which no one in baseball—be it a front-office executive, a ticket seller, a ballplayer, a groundskeeper—will ever believe they are not good enough because of their sexual orientation. It is why he now speaks out, addressing baseball’s GMs in a meeting in Phoenix, addressing groups of minor leaguers, speaking at a Red Sox town hall. Two years ago, when they named him ambassador for diversity, MLB gave him a platform from which his voice can be heard.

It was almost with a sense of wonder that Bean noted the Sox have scheduled a Pride Night for June 3 at Fenway Park, which he called a “historic moment.’’

“For the Red Sox to initiate an evening, a Pride Night, that allows people who have been coming to this stadium for years and years and years,’’ Bean said. “Boston has this amazing, incredible LGBT community that does wonderful, philanthropic things for many people.

“Even if it’s just the message that everyone’s invited, that’s valuable.’’

Billy Bean embraced Torey Lovullo, his old friend who he had avoided for years until Lovullo’s grandfather, a man Bean also loved dearly, died, Billy and Torey reuniting at the funeral. He thanked Dombrowski for being the one who approached him after his speech to the GMs, the others taking their cue from Dombrowski. He thanked Kennedy for the chance to talk to the Sox employees.

“I’m very proud of baseball,’’ he said. “There is a lot of work in front of us, but the important part is we’re trying. It’s not a Powerpoint presentation. It’s about people, and people believing they can be their best selves, and have a great career in the sport they love.’’