Game Honors Lou Gehrig On June 2

ALSO: HIGH TIME TO JUNK INTERLEAGUE PLAY, RESTORE BALANCED SCHEDULE

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know . . .

Warren Spahn was the only man to start an All-Star Game in three different decades . .

Vida Blue was the first man to start an All-Star Game for both leagues . . .

During the four years that the majors played two All-Star Games, league rosters for the two games were not identical . . .

Both Moises Alou and Gary Sheffield were All-Stars for five different teams . . .

The last man to hit two home runs in an All-Star Game was Gary Carter in 1981 . . .

No team has ever scored more than 13 runs in an All-Star Game, with the AL reaching that total in 1983, 1992, and 1998 . . .

Hank Aaron was selected an All-Star 25 times, more than any other player.

Leading Off

Baseball To Salute Lou Gehrig On June 2

By Dan Schlossberg

On the 80th anniversary of his untimely death, Lou Gehrig will be remembered across Major League Baseball June 2 for his integrity, durability, and devotion to the game.

It’s actually a double anniversary, since Gehrig actually died on the same month and day that he started his consecutive games playing streak in 1923.

He started his streak on June 2, 1923 died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37.

The degenerative disorder gradually causes victims to lose motor skills, eroding their ability to walk, talk, eat, or breathe.

There is no proven cure, though medical researchers in Israel seem close to discovering one.

BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, an Israeli bio-med company conducting Phase II clinical trials on ALS patients, claim that some patients treated with a cell therapy called NurOwn have shown dramatic improvement – even walking and talking after the disease had stopped those functions.

Like Gehrig, Senator Jacob Javits, and actor David Niven, most ALS patients die 2-5 years after symptoms begin. Only four per cent last longer than 10 years. The United States has an estimated 25,000 ALS patients.

The new Lou Gehrig Day will raise awareness of ALS and funds for finding a definitive cure. Players will wear red patches and wristbands and individual clubs will mark the day in their home ballparks.

Active players Stephen Piscotty (Athletics) and Sam Hilliard (Rockies) have personal connections to the disorder. The former lost his mother to the insidious disease in 2018, the same year the latter learned his father had contracted it. Mike Piscotty, Stephen’s father, is president of the ALS Cure Project and a Lou Gehrig Day committee member.

According to Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, “While ALS has been closely identified with our game since Lou’s legendary carer, the pressing need to find a cure remains. Welook forward to honoring all the individuals and families, in baseball and beyond, who have been affected by ALS and hope Lou Gehrig Day advances efforts to defeat this disease.”

Even before Gehrig joins Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente as posthumous honorees of the game, his name lives on through the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, created in 1955 by Phi Delta Theta, his Columbia University fraternity. It goes annually to the player who best exemplifies the character of the long-time Yankees legend.

Gehrig was one of the game’s brightest stars when he was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic. On July 4, 1939, when the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium, he gave a speech that was even more memorable than his Hall of Fame career.

“For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break,” he told 61,808 teary fans at the celebrated Bronx ballpark. “Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

His gifts that day included a fishing rod and tackle from his teammates, candlesticks from the New York Giants, and a trophy from the Yankees featuring an eagle on top of a baseball. He even got a DON’T QUIT placard from the visiting Washington Senators.

A Bronx native who spent two years at Columbia before going directly to the Yankees in 1923 – the same year the stadium opened – Gehrig never made much money playing baseball. He got a signing bonus of $1,500 and had a peak salary of $39,000 a year.

Still, he played his heart out. Humble and low-key, especially when contrasted with bombastic teammate Babe Ruth, he produced 493 home runs, 1,995 runs batted in, and 1,888 runs scored on a .340 batting average. Only Ruth and Ted Williams topped his 1.080 lifetime OPS.

The soft-spoken first baseman did things Ruth never did. He had a four-homer game, won a Triple Crown, hit 23 grand slams, and knocked in 500 runs over a three-year span. He also played in 2,130 consecutive games – ignoring broken fingers, lumbago, and multiple other aches and pains – and hit .361 in seven World Series.

Gehrig had 185 runs batted in, still an American League record, in 1931 and more than 150 RBI in six other seasons.

Only ALS stopped him.

“It’s a miracle he played at all in 1938,” says Jonathan Eig, author of Luckiest Man: the Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. “I think it’s the greatest achievement in the history of baseball. He had symptoms of ALS throughout the season but still hit .295 with 29 home runs and 114 runs batted in even though his muscles were melting away game by game.”

The first major-leaguer whose number was retired, Gehrig wore No. 4 because he batted fourth, following Ruth in the lineup of a team known as “Murderer’s Row.” His pictures and quotations are all over the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Yankees Museum, the Yogi Berra Museum, not to mention Monument Park.

Modest to a fault, he once said, “I’m just the guy who’s in there every day, the fellow who follows Babe in the batting order. Whether he strikes out or hits a home run, the fans are still talking about him when I come up. If I stood on my head at the plate, nobody would pay any attention.”

Quiet and dignified, Gehrig had to be coaxed to the microphone on the day of his “luckiest man” speech. “When he gave that speech, it was the first time many of the people in the ballpark heard him speak,” says Pinstripe Empire author Marty Appel. “Radio interviews were not that frequent so people in the ballpark did not realize he had such a strong New York accent.

“He didn’t need the support of Babe Ruth to be a great player – his performance on the field spoke for itself. His speech was a baseball moment that had nothing to do with playing. It was baseball’s Gettysburg Address.”

The record for consecutive games played eventually went to Cal Ripken Jr., who had the benefit of various strikes and lockouts that gave me occasional breathers. The night he passed Gehrig, Ripken told the gathered Baltimore fans, “Tonight I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig. I’m truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath.”

Cleaning Up

Time to Bring Back the Balanced Schedule

By Dan Schlossberg

Baseball integrity suffered a serious setback the minute the balanced schedule disappeared.

Sure, every team plays the same number of games but they don’t all play the same opponents — or face them the same number of times.

During the days of the 154-game schedule, which first appeared in 1904, each of the eight teams in the two major leagues played rivals 22 times: 11 home and 11 away.

Expansion to 10-team leagues in 1961 and 1962 created 162-game schedules, with nine home and nine away for each club against each opponent.

In 1969, with 12 teams in each league, divisional play meant that teams would play same-division rivals 18 times (9 home, 9 away) but other-division clubs only 12 times (6 home, 6 away).

The first unbalanced 162-game schedule surfaced with AL expansion to 14 clubs in 1977 but lasted just two years. Starting in 1979, each team in the two seven-team divisons played each opponent 12 times (6 home, 6 away) and each intradivisional rival one additional game.

Then things really got out of whack. Three-divisional play began in 1994, with inter-league play added three years later, followed by further expansion in 1998 and creation of a second wild-card in 2012.

That allowed 10 of the 30 teams into the postseason, created the one-and-done wild-card game, and increased the odds that the best teams would not reach the World Series.

A wild-card team became a world champion in 2002 (Angels) and repeated the following year (Marlins). In fact, the Fish have won two world championships without ever winning a division title.

Under the current format, teams play 19 games against each of the four opponents in their division, six or seven games against intra-league rivals, and 20 games against opponents from the opposite league.

The inmates are obviously running the asylum.

This year alone, for example, the Atlanta Braves are 0-6 against the Toronto Blue Jays but are the only team in the National League East with that many games against the homeless powerhouse of the opposite league.

The New York Mets, the chief obstacle to Atlanta’s bid for a fourth straight division crown, have only three against the Jays — and all at home, where they play much better. Washington has four against Toronto and Philadelphia three.

Philadelphia faces the Boston Red Sox six times, while the Mets have six against the Yankees. Advantage, Nationals: Washington gets the easy-to-beat Baltimore Orioles a half-dozen times, more than any of its four NL East competitors.

If it looks like the scrambled schedule was designed by a committee, it was. Throw in a few overworked and under-performing computers to boot.

Since division races are often decided by a game or two, the quirks of the schedule — in all six divisions — are virtually certain to decide who wins and who goes home for the winter.

The problem can be solved simply: kill inter-league play. Two-team cities can revert to exhibitions like the Freeway Series, Bay Area Series, or Mayor’s Trophy Game and the World Series would be a true meeting between teams from each league.

Nobody cares about Pittsburgh vs. Kansas City or Detroit vs. Atlanta. Plus the plethora of two-game series and extra travel would be eliminated. And teams within each league will get to meet more often to fill in the 20 cancelled interleague games.

Baseball loves Turn Back the Clock day, when teams wear historic uniforms. How about a Turn Back the Clock schedule too?

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg can be reached via ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

When Ozzie Albies homered from both sides of the plate on May 22, the Atlanta second baseman did something Braves players had done only 13 times before — most recently Ozzie himself in 2018 . . .

Kent Emanuel of the Houston Astros worked 8 2/3 innings of relief in his major-league debut after replacing injured starter Jake Odorizzi . . .

Washington is getting a good bargain out of 33-year-old rookie outfielder Yadiel Hernandez . . .

Hideo Nomo won more games (123) than any pitcher who began his career in Japan . . .

Kevin Pillar, now on the IL with multiple nasal fractures after he was hit in the face by a Jacob Webb pitch, previously became the first Met to steal home since Eric Campbell in 2014 . . .

When future Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez walked 11 St. Louis Browns in a 9-0 victory on August 1, 1941, he set a record for most free passes issued by the winning pitcher in a complete-game shutout.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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