The Spirit Of 56
Joe DiMaggio's record lives on as speedy Luis Castillo runs out
of scratch hits
Old baseball records have fallen in recent years, but the king
of them all--Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, set in
1941--survives. Last Saturday talk of Marlins second baseman
Luis Castillo's surpassing DiMaggio filled the home clubhouse at
Pro Player Stadium. The Marlins were optimistic because the
26-year-old Dominican, a speedy, slap hitter, always seems to
find a way to get on base. A switch-hitter who covers the 90
feet from home to first in 3.7 seconds when batting lefthanded,
Castillo already had 28 infield singles this year, including 18
since his hitting streak started on May 8.
His first hit last Friday night against the Tigers, which
extended his streak to 35 games, came on an infield single in
the bottom of the third. After reaching third base two batters
later, Castillo said in Spanish to Marlins coach Ozzie Guillen,
"My God, I've got to do this s--- again tomorrow night."
Or at least he'd try. On Saturday night Castillo was hitless in
his first three at bats. Then he came up in the eighth with his
team trailing Detroit 4-1. Castillo made the sign of the cross
twice, stepped in lefthanded and grounded out to short. The
streak, it seemed, was over. Most of the 14,713 fans stood and
applauded his accomplishment. Castillo returned to the dugout
and sat on the floor for a moment, his head between his knees.
Then he popped up for a curtain call, raising a fist in the
muggy South Florida air.
But in the bottom of the ninth four of the Marlins' first five
batters reached base, and soon the game was tied at four with a
runner, Andy Fox, on third. Coming to the plate with one out was
pinch hitter Tim Raines, and Castillo was on deck.
"Do you want me to bunt?" Raines asked Marlins manager Jeff
"No," Torborg said.
"But what about...."
"I don't care," Torborg said, loud enough to be heard in the
stands. "Win the game."
Raines hit a fly ball to shallow center, but it was deep enough
to score Fox with the winning run. It was a thrilling victory
for Florida, which won its fifth straight and moved within 5 1/2
games of the front-running Braves in the National League East.
As his teammates celebrated at home plate, Castillo stood in the
on-deck circle, just as the Brewers' Paul Molitor did when his
39-game hitting streak ended in 1987.
In Castillo's face you could see nothing. Not happiness, not
disappointment, not relief. "I was glad we won," he said
afterward, "but I wanted to bat again." Castillo hit .403 during
the streak, raising his average to .341.
Though he had the longest hitting streak in 15 years and tied
for the 10th longest in history, Castillo still finished 21
games short of DiMaggio's record. He made it almost two thirds
of the way. "Fifty-six remains astronomical," says DiMaggio's
lone surviving brother, Dom, who had a 34-game hitting streak
himself while playing for the Red Sox in 1949. "These days they
write up eight-game hitting streaks. For this young man to get
to 35, that's pretty darn good. Fifty-six might be the one
record that doesn't ever get broken."
Lesson on Hitting Streaks
Why Castillo Kept It Going
Luis Castillo is no magna cum laude when it comes to baseball
history. He once mistook Stan Musial for Lou Brock and had never
heard of Rogers Hornsby until last week. But he put himself in
elite company when he became only the 25th player to extend a
hitting streak past 30 games. It's been done 27 times (twice by
Ty Cobb and George Sisler). How rare is that? More hitters have
had 50-homer or 150-RBI seasons than 35-game hitting streaks.
Three-hundred-strikeout seasons or 16-game winning streaks by
pitchers are more common than 35-game hitting streaks.
Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn
and Wade Boggs are just a few of the many great hitters never to
have a 30-game streak. Based on those who streaked before him,
Castillo had the right profile to join the 24 other players who
have taken hitting streaks beyond 30 games. Here is what it takes.
--Speed. All 24 players who came before Castillo had above
average speed except outfielder Rico Carty (1970) and first
baseman George McQuinn (1938). Even 37-year-old Pete Rose still
had good speed when he hit in 44 straight games in 1978.
Castillo, who led the majors with 62 stolen bases in 2000, is
among the fastest players in baseball and a threat to bunt for
--Consistent contact. Hitters with big strikeout totals don't
show up on the list, except for Benito Santiago, who whiffed 112
times as a rookie with the Padres in 1987, the year in which he
had a 34-game streak. Nobody else on the list struck out more
than 67 times in the year of their streak. Castillo is a
slash-and-run hitter who may be another exception; he was on
pace to strike out 88 times this year. He struck out 16 times
during his 35-game streak--more than DiMaggio did over the
entire 1941 season (13).
--Avoid walks. The key is to get as many at bats as possible and
put the ball in play. A hitting streak is the one time when a
walk is not as good as a hit. Castillo walked eight times during
the 35-game streak and is on pace for 55 this season, which
falls in the typical range for players on the list. DiMaggio
walked 21 times during his streak and 76 times for the season.
(Interestingly, Detroit manager Luis Pujols said on Sunday that
he would have ordered a walk to Castillo if he had come to the
plate with the game tied 4-4 in the ninth last Saturday.)
--Hitting pedigree. We're talking good hitters. Fly-by-night
guys don't hit in 35 straight games. Only two players who did so
failed to finish the season hitting .300: Hal Chase hit .287 in
1907, and Ken Landreaux hit .281 in '80. Indeed, of the 22
retired players with hitting streaks of more than 30 games, 18
of them finished with a lifetime batting average of .290 or
better. Castillo began this year with a .282 career average. If
history means anything, that average is likely to get higher.
Toronto Rookie Eric Hinske
Rebuilding Jays' Hot Cornerstone
When the season began, Toronto's Eric Hinske was low on the list
of rookie third basemen trying to break into a major league
lineup. Sean Burroughs of the Padres and Hank Blalock of the
Rangers were projected as the next big stars at the position;
even Morgan Ensberg of the Astros got more hype. Hinske, 24, was
just another prospect looking for a chance to play every day on
a rebuilding team. "No one really knew about him," says Blue
Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi. "Not that we minded. We
didn't want to put all that pressure on him."
Burroughs, Blalock and Ensberg wilted under the spotlight, and
all three were gone from the majors by the end of May. Hinske,
meanwhile, is putting together one of the most productive rookie
seasons in Toronto history. Through Sunday he was hitting .286
and leading all AL rookies with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs. With
33 extra-base hits he was on his way to breaking the franchise
rookie record of 50 set by Shawn Green in 1995. Hinske's .538
slugging percentage was 29 points better than Green's mark that
season, which was also a team record for rookies.
Hinske's development may have been enhanced by his relative
anonymity as he climbed through the minors, getting more
seasoning than many blue-chip prospects do. He was drafted in
the 17th round by the Cubs in 1998 and played 2 1/2 seasons in
their system before a trade to the A's led to a breakout year in
2001. He batted .282 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs for Oakland's
Triple A Sacramento River Cats. "He played at every level and
honed his craft the right way, which is unusual," says
Ricciardi. "Most young kids are rushed."
Ricciardi, a former assistant to Oakland general manager Billy
Beane, was impressed by Hinske's discipline at the plate and
knowledge of the strike zone. When Ricciardi was hired by
Toronto last November, one of his first moves was to deal closer
Billy Koch to acquire the third baseman, whose path to the big
leagues was blocked by Oakland's rising star Eric Chavez. Hinske
needs to work on his defense (he's already made 15 errors), but
the rebuilding Blue Jays are pleased with what they've seen so
"He fits a lot of things we're trying to create here," says
Ricciardi. "He's a cornerstone we're trying to build around."
Ageless Benito Santiago
Catching Up At 37
Ponce de Leon never found the fountain of youth during his
journey through the New World, but the Spanish explorer would
have been encouraged had he come across Benito Santiago. Born
and raised in the Puerto Rican coastal village of Ponce (named
for its discoverer), Santiago, the 37-year-old Giants catcher,
is having an All-Star-caliber season--10 years after his last
midsummer classic appearance. Through Sunday, Santiago was
batting .270, and among National League catchers he was second
to the Mets' Mike Piazza in RBIs (38), tied for third in home
runs (seven) and was fifth in runs (24).
"It's amazing for him to be at his age and to still be bouncing
around like a kid back there," says Padres manager Bruce Bochy,
a former catcher and teammate of Santiago's in San Diego.
After signing a two-year, $3.7 million deal with the Giants in
the off-season, Santiago committed himself to a rigorous
six-day-a-week workout routine. At 6'1" and 200 pounds he
retains the chiseled physique he had in '87, when he batted .300
and was the National League Rookie of the Year. Back then
Santiago seemed destined for Cooperstown. During his six years
in San Diego he was an All-Star four times and won three Gold
But suddenly Santiago slid into mediocrity, largely due to a
questionable work ethic and a poor attitude. He skipped extra
batting practice, sparred with pitching coaches and sulked in
the clubhouse. In 1993 he played with the expansion Marlins,
where he hit a career-low .230, and after another year in
Florida, played for three teams in three seasons.
A near-fatal car accident in January 1998, resulting in severe
head injuries and a fractured vertebra, and the subsequent
rehabilitation turned Santiago's career--and life--around. "I
realized how much I loved the game," he says. "I've changed my
attitude about a lot of things since the accident. I'm more
friendly with teammates, joking around and trying to be helpful.
I'm more serious about staying in shape and playing baseball."
After sitting out most of 1998, Santiago had two productive
seasons platooning for the Cubs and the Reds, but his
resurrection came early last season after he signed a one-year,
$500,000 free-agent contract with the Giants. He became an
every-day starter for the first time since 1996, hitting .262
with six homers and 45 RBIs.
There's evidence that Santiago is slipping defensively--after
gunning down 34.7% of would-be base stealers last season, at
week's end he had picked off 13 of 45 (28.9%) this year--but
overall he is holding up well after 1,747 career games. "I have
so many years back there, I know what I'm supposed to do," he
says. "I can catch with my eyes closed." --Albert Chen
SI's All-Star Ballot
With the midsummer classic on tap for July 9, here are the
American League leaders in fan voting and our corresponding
choices (stats through Sunday).
POSITION VOTE LEADER (AS OF JUNE 18) SI CHOICE
First base Jason Giambi, Yankees Paul Konerko, White Sox
(.309, 19 HR, 59 RBIs) (.325, 16, 62)
Giambi is having a terrific year, but Konerko gets the nod
because he's done more with less
Second base Alfonso Soriano, Yankees Soriano
(.323, 17, 44)
With his power, speed and athleticism, Soriano is the league's
most exciting player east of Ichiro
Third base Shea Hillenbrand, Red Sox Hillenbrand
(.315, 13, 49)
Much improved second-year man deserves spot over Yankees' Robin
Ventura and budding A's star Eric Chavez
Shortstop Alex Rodriguez, Rangers (.294, 21, 60) Rodriguez
Toughest call on ballot, but as league leader in homers and
second in RBIs, A-Rod edges Nomar Garciaparra
Catcher Jorge Posada, Yankees (.262, 10, 43) A.J. Pierzynski,
Twins (.325, 4, 27)
Pierzynski's average is tops among AL catchers, plus he's
nailed more runners attempting to steal than Posada
Outfield Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners Suzuki
(.365, 1, 27)
Manny Ramirez, Red Sox Johnny Damon, Red Sox
(.372, 9, 35) (.322, 5, 34)
Torii Hunter, Twins Hunter
(.298, 17, 53)
Leading league with 59 runs, Damon deserves the spot over
Ramirez, who was injured
Who Owns Whom?
Interleague play can't end soon enough for Mulder. In his
three-year career the A's lefthander has faced lefthanded
batters 407 times and given up just 10 home runs. But Bonds is
not your typical lefty swinger. In 11 at bats against Mulder,
the Giants slugger is hitting .545 with three of those 10
dingers and an obscene 1.455 slugging percentage. (Bonds's
career average against lefties was .283 through Sunday.) Mulder
did not pitch in the first series between the two Bay Area teams
this season, but he was scheduled to face Bonds and the Giants
on Friday night in Oakland, the opener of the final interleague
series of the year for both teams.