Don’t be alarmed. It’s only today. It’s the day that one of baseball’s unbreakable records was recorded. In sports, there’s a lot of talk about unbreakable records and the people who hold them. Joe DiMaggio, who hit in 56 straight games, is a fairly recognizable name. You have probably heard of Cy Young, who recorded 511 pitching wins, a fairly safe record considering that the second place guy is 100 wins behind him and nobody has come within 150 of 511 in the last 50 years. However, the real unbreakable records in baseball are the fluky things that unheralded players simply happened into in circumstances so unlikely that it’s a miracle they happened at all and for them to be broken would require circumstances exponentially more unlikely so much so that we’ll never see them. The list of men who have hit two grand slams in one game is a very short one. 13 people are on it. No one has ever hit 3 grand slams in one game. Tomorrow, on May 10, 1999, for example, Nomar Garciaparra hit a grand slam in the first inning of a game against Seattle and he hit another in the third inning, which is fairly impressive. However, today, in 1961, a guy you’ve never heard of named Jim Gentile hit a grand slam in inning one and then another in inning two. Nobody has ever hit grand slams in consecutive innings before or since and don’t hold your breath about seeing it happen in three straight innings. Someone will hit in 57 straight games before we see someone hit a grand slam in three consecutive innings. See, records are funny things because we like the person who holds them to be of great stature. For example, you probably know the people who are tied for the record for most grand slams in a career; Alex Rodriguez and Lou Gehrig. And you may recognize who holds the American League record for grand slams in a season (Don Mattingly, with 6) and the National League record (Albert Pujols and Ernie Banks, with 5). Most of those guys are in the Hall of Fame (Pujols will be for sure, Mattingly probably not but still a star), however the man who holds what may be the most unbreakable record in baseball, if not in all of sports, isn’t going to to get within sniffing distance of the Hall of Fame. He’s a lifetime .265 hitter and his name is Fernando Tatís. Tatís only hit 113 home runs in his career but two of them came in the 3rd inning in a game in 1999, both times with the bases loaded. He hit two grand slams in a single inning. For that record to be broken, meaning for a player to hit 3 grand slams in a single inning, three records would have to fall. First, no one has hit three home runs in one inning, let alone grand slam records. Thirdly, 22 batters would have to come to the plate in the inning which would break the current record by four batters. Not going to happen. Someone may hit in 60 straight games. It’s possible, if the right arm comes along, someone could get up to 512 wins. Nobody is going to bat 3 times in the same inning, come to bat with the bases loaded, and hit a home run each time.
Today is also the day that Newton N. Minow, the chairman of the FCC went to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, perhaps at the very moment that Jim Gentile was hitting grand slams in consecutive innings, and told them all that what they were doing is garbage. Here’s a snippet of what he said:
“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”
I’m a movie guy first and I don’t really care for television and I understand that we are allegedly in a TV renaissance but for every Mad Men and Parks and Recreation there are 10 or 20 shows that fit into what Minow is talking about here and there hasn’t been a day since I first became aware of it, that I’ve turned on a set and not thought of this speech. There’s your crotchety old man complaint of the day.
Today marks the beginning of the the Feast of the Lemures, which was a festival in Ancient Rome that was dedicated to removing unfriendly ghosts and spirits from your home. It was like spring cleaning but for ghosts. What you would do was that the head of the household would wake up at midnight, take beans, and walk around the house barefoot throwing the beans over your shoulder as, obviously, that’s the best way to get rid of ghosts. Then the rest of the household would bang pots together while saying, “Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors, be gone!” nine times. This was, by the way, the most powerful empire in the world for a thousand years. I wonder if adults really believed this or if it was sort of like the tooth fairy now where they just put on a good show for the kids.
INT: Roman Villa, 11:58pm
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! It’s the first night of the Feast of the Lemures! You’ve got to get rid of the ghosts!
ROMAN MAN: (under his breath, groggily) What the cock is this shit?
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: Wake up, wake up! It’s almost midnight.
ROMAN MAN: Oh, sweetie, sweetie, Daddy had a little too much ambrosia last night and his head sort of hurts, do you mind if he sat this one out? We’ll do the beans thing on one of the two other days of the festival.
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: NOOOOOOOOO!
ROMAN MAN: Alright, alright, I’m getting up.
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: YAAAAAAY!
ROMAN MAN: (under his breath) Goddammit. (to PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD) Here we go, I’m throwing the beans over my shoulder now.
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: NOOOO! You’re not throwing enough beans, Daddy! The ghosts are gonna get mad!
ROMAN MAN: (under his breath) You’re about to become one of those goddamn ghosts. (to PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD) I know, sweetie, but somebody has to vacuum these beans up afterwards so…
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: Throw more! I’ll go get the pans.
ROMAN MAN: Jesus. Of course, when its my week with the kids it’s the fucking Feast of the Lemures. I’ll get Lucrecia for this.
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: (banging pots and pans) GHOSTS OF MY FATHERS AND ANCESTORS, BE GONE!
ROMAN MAN: Sweetie, do you mind banging those pans just a little softer, Daddy’s head is on fire.
PRECOCIOUS ROMAN 10-YEAR-OLD: (banging pots and pans) GHOSTS OF MY FATHERS AND ANCESTORS, BE GONE! Seven more times!
ROMAN MAN: Fuck this noise, I’m going back to bed.
The great English actor Albert Finney was born today as was James L. Brooks, Candice Bergen and Billy Joel. Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters of all time who hit only 3 grand slams in his career, was born today. Andrew W.K., who is on record as an enthusiast for parties, was born today.
Dan Devine, former head coach of the University of Missouri (and also Notre Dame, but who cares about that), died today. The wonderful Lena Horne died today.