Dial 867-5309 For History
Baseball has a love affair with history. It also has a love affair with numbers. Baseball has more numbers than stairs in Manhattan, and some of them happen to be extremely famous.
While not to the same magnitude as Major League Baseball, music has some pretty famous numbers as well. “1979” by Smashing Pumpkins and “99 Luftballons” by Nena, to name a few, but most memorable of all would have to be the maddeningly catchy “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone. Sadly enough, 8675309 may sound more like a player’s annual salary than a phone number these days.
Tommy Tutone’s beloved numbers once pushed him to the top of the charts back in the early 1980’s. Did he actually read these numbers off a bathroom wall as is implied in the song? Did this number belong to the ex-girlfriend of a band member who wanted to exact revenge by publicizing her digits? What about all those poor sods who happened to actually own the number? Was there ever actually a girl named Jenny who owned this number, and if so, was she available and at least halfway decent looking?
The number has been the subject of court-cases and Ebay auctions. Phone companies had to disconnect those numbers in hundreds of area codes because so many crank callers would dial them and giddily ask for Jenny, possibly while high. There are still a few unfortunate owners of that number, but it seems that by now they can at least go about living normal lives, as the craze has somewhat died down.
A few years ago I was perched at a bar nursing a Jack Daniels and a beer-league softball injury. After a few minutes, I grudgingly decided to hobble over to the jukebox to queue up this song, which had inexplicably popped into my head as songs do.
As I was blissfully bopping my way through its memorable refrain, I felt a huge paw on my shoulder. I turned to find a sloppily grinning drunkard who had been whittling away his child’s college fund on Keno all day. Apparently, he had heard the song I selected, quickly entered those numbers in the next Keno game and ended up winning a thousand dollars! I can’t remember if he bought me a drink or not.
So where does baseball come in?
I decided to break down the numbers in that song and look at each one as they relate to major league baseball records and statistics. Some of the records you may be familiar with, but others may come as some surprise. There is a relevant lyric from the above song associated with each record as well.
Jenny, are you out there? If so, don’t change that number.
8. Hall of Fame careers ruined by PED’s
“You gave me something I can hold on to.”
Well, it looks like all the players from the steroid era will be able to hold onto their records, but the almost inevitable prospect of the Hall of Fame has been torn from their grip thanks to their reliance on performance enhancing drugs.
Some have made total wankers out of themselves by denying it like Rafael “finger pointing” Palmeiro, Mark “I’m not here to talk about the past” McGwire and Roger “if I did Steroids I’d have an ear growing out of my forehead” Clemens. Others such as Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez made the wise choice of admitting it after being busted. Will their honesty (or partial honesty) be enough to earn them plaques in the hall?
6- Lost World Series' before winning
“I know you think I’m like the others before.”
In the case of Brooklyn baseball, their first six World Series appearances were exactly like the others before; they all resulted in losses! Four came as the Brooklyn Dodgers, a derivative of the slang term “Trolley Dodgers” that New Yorkers would call Brooklyn residents in the 1800’s. The first two losses were when the team was officially referred to as “The Brooklyn Baseball Club” but affectionately called “the Robins”.
Brooklynites and their “you talkin’ to me?” attitudes have been bitter ever since being incorporated with the city of New York as a borough in 1898. All these World Series losses were enough to push them over the edge, and when their hated rivals the New York Giants won it in 1954, they had collectively had enough. Brooklyn fans would be treated to their first Championship the next year in 1955, but only two years later were forced to witness the tragic departure of the club and all of it’s history to L.A. Poor Brooklyn.
7- No hitters in a career
“I tried my imagination but I was disturbed.”
Well, opposing batters might have tried their imagination, but on seven different occasions, even that couldn’t produce a hit against the overpowering arm of Nolan Ryan. You better believe that Ryan deeply disturbed many batters years after they faced him; particularly Robin Ventura.
Ryan’s last no hitter came at the tender age of 44, right as he was unveiling a line of Advil commercials directed at his fellow aching backed middle-agers.
Despite the fact that he threw all of those no-hitters, Ryan never managed to toss a perfect game or earn a Cy Young award. But then again, Mike Marshall won a Cy Young award. Who? Exactly.
5- Strikeouts in a game
“For the price of a dime, I can always turn to you and then call.”
Was this said by an umpire? Does he mean call strike three? If we’re talking strikeouts, then only 46 players in history can claim they have been rung up five times in one nine-inning game. Andruw Jones was one of the most recent players to accomplish this in 2007.
Striking out five times means that your team has been up to bat at least 45 times. This indicates that while the rest of your teammates were doing some serious damage to the pitcher, all you could do was lumber your way to and from the plate to strikeout.
No batter has ever reached six k’s in a nine-inning game, but hey, there is always Mark Reynolds.
3- Years of service
“I got it I got it, I got your number on the wall.”
Well, Ted Williams’ number is not only on the wall at Fenway Park, but on the wall in Cooperstown as well. He dedicated over three years of service to the United States Navy from 1942-1946 and consequently missed three MLB season. But did shooting down enemy planes cause his swing to go down in flames? Hardly.
Williams returned to the Red Sox in the 1946 season as if he had never left, hitting for a .342 average, belting 38 homers, and driving in 123 rbi’s. These numbers looked very similar to the ones he left with in 1942 (.356 avg, 36 hr, 137 rbi). Williams was not done, though, he reenlisted and gave his country a second tour of duty in the Korean War. The only wars that most athletes get into these days are at 3 a.m. outside of some seedy downtown club.
0- Hits in a career
“I lost my nerve.”
Call it nerves or call it a pure lack of skill, but two players will forever be remembered for what they didn’t do when called up to the big leagues. At least Tommy Tutone was a one hit wonder, which is more than these next two hacks can say.
Before Harry there was Mike. Mike Potter and Larry Littleton are notoriously the only two players to have significant at-bats in the bigs without getting a single hit.
Both Potter and Littleton went 0-23 in their careers. Potter did it over two seasons in 1976 and ’77 with the St. Louis Cardinals, and Littleton did it in 1981 with the Indians. At least both got on base with walks, but both also struck out famously more than twenty five percent of the time.
9- Games under 500
“Oh you don’t know me but you make me so happy.”
Andre Dawson would go about making depressed Cubs fans somewhat happy with his 1987 performance that set a record yet to be broken; no batter other than Dawson has ever won an MVP award while playing for a last-place club. Not surprisingly, the Cubs finished in last place in 1987 by no fault of Dawson, who posted a .289 batting average, knocked in 137 RBIs and slammed 49 homers. The Cubs record that year? 76 and 85; nine games under .500 and good for last place in the division.