Friday, February 22, 2013
'56 of the month: Dale Long
I no longer think of Don Mattingly as a Yankee in Dodgers clothing. I see him now, and he's pretty much all Dodger, as in "why's that fool Dodger manager taking out the pitcher now?"
It was an easy transition. Mattingly always has been a likable sort, even dressed in pinstripes. There is really only one time that I can think of where I resented Mattingly's play on the ball field, and it wasn't for the usual reasons that I despise the Yankees.
It happened in 1987. That was the year when Mattingly hit a home run in eight consecutive games, tying a major league record. The record he equaled was first achieved by Dale Long in 1956. Long, a respectable but mostly forgotten first baseman for the Pirates, hit a home run every game from May 19-28. That record was cool enough that I noticed it as a youngster and treasured it as a fun fact that most baseball fans wouldn't know because who the hell had ever heard of Dale Long?
And then someone like Don Mattingly -- someone everyone had heard of -- went and tied the record (and then it was tied again by another person everyone had heard of, Ken Griffey Jr., in 1993).
But my resentment wasn't about losing a fun fact that few others knew. This had more to do with my constant interest in the lesser players in major league baseball. I love to see regular joes and the mediocre reach fantastic heights before correcting themselves and falling back to the mean. It's thrilling. It's confirmation that someone ordinary can do something extraordinary.
And to have your name etched forever in a record book:
HOME RUN, MOST CONSECUTIVE GAMES, 8: Dale Long, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1956
Well, that was wonderful confirmation that you didn't have to be a star to be phenomenal.
And now Mattingly had to go and hog that spotlight, too.
It was like seeing the high school football all-star date the best-looking cheerleader, ace the calculus test, and ... oh, look, he plays lead guitar in a rock band, too.
I've gotten over it -- mostly because Long still is tied for the record (yes, I know Mattingly hit 10 home runs during his streak and Long hit only 8).
But I still search out other notables held by players who aren't well-known. Those are the best kinds of fun facts.
Dale Long will live on in baseball lore even if someone hits a home run in nine consecutive games, thanks to his experiment behind the plate as a left-handed catcher. I mentioned this once before.
And I've mentioned how fantastic the cartoons are on the backs of 1956 Topps.
I was able to experience a few more '56 cartoons when I opened that package that David sent me recently. He also sent a handful of '56 cards, including the Dale Long card.
Here's another player forgotten by history, although many a Yankee fan knows him as the often-mentioned ill brother of manager Joe Torre during the 1996 World Series.
Sherm Lollar was a multi-year all-star catcher for the White Sox. But his wikipedia bio says right in the third sentence, "Although overshadowed by his contemporary, Yogi Berra ..."
Sensing a theme here?
Gus Triandos was signed by the Yankees before getting traded to the Orioles. He had his fun with the Yanks, though. He caught Hoyt Wilhelm's no-hitter against the Yankees in 1958 and knocked in the only run with a home run. Also, speaking of Berra, he broke Berra's string of eight straight All-Star starts in 1958.
Yay for the little guy.
Pedro Ramos' career is also tied to the Yankees. He gave up one of Mickey Mantle's most tremendous home run blasts in 1956, and later pitched for the Yankees after being acquired late in the 1964 season, helping New York win the pennant.
In fact, every one of the players that I just showed played for the Yankees at some point in their careers, except for Frank Torre. And Frank's brother was one of the most successful Yankee managers ever.
Fortunately, I don't think of any of them as Yankees.
Just like Mattingly.
He's a Dodger to me now.
And I'm ready for him to start setting records as a Dodger.
WORLD SERIES TITLES, MOST CONSECUTIVE YEARS, 8: Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers
Would be nice.
(P.S.: Think I'm done with the cards David sent? I'm not. One more terrific group of cards to go).