PHILADELPHIA -- Last week I suggested that a way to keep an expanded postseason from ending between Halloween and Thanksgiving could be for each team to schedule a couple of day-night doubleheaders.
A surprising number of readers shared their memories of doubleheaders past, when the Double-Dip, Two-for-the-Price-of-One twinbill was deeply woven into baseball's fabric.
I remember something Rich Ashburn told me about the effect of doubleheaders on offense -- particularly the nightcaps.
"As a hitter, I used to salivate over the prospect of facing the second-line pitching you usually saw in those doubleheader second games," Whitey said. "I would have paid to face some of those second-game donkeys."
Hmmm. I decided to see exactly how that worked out for Whitey, and 1958 provided a perfect laboratory.
Ashburn and the great Willie Mays were locked in a race for the batting title and seemed within 10 points of each other most of the season. Ashburn won his second title in the Phillies' final game with a career-high .350 average. Mays finished at .347, also his career high. Whitey led the National League with 215 hits. Mays had 208, but 29 of his were home runs, matching Ashburn's career total. Willie photoed Whitey in career homers, 660-29.
Beset by rainouts, the Phillies played 20 doubleheaders, including back-to-backers Aug. 31 and Labor Day, Sept. 1.
So how did Ashburn and Mays fare in those second games that caused the good hitters of the day -- and probably the bad hitters, as well -- to salivate at the prospect of half-fastballs and hanging balloons?
Ashburn played in 19 of the second games and went 28-for-79, a .354 average that helped prop his final .350. In fact, a 4-for-4 in the second game of a 1-0 victory over the Pirates triggered a final-week spurt that overtook Mays. He added to his narrow lead with a final-game 3-for-4.
General manager John Quinn was unimpressed.
"We finished last with you," Quinn snorted, "and we would have finished last without you."
Thanks to a typically cool and rainless San Francisco summer, the Giants played just 14 doubleheaders, which gave Mays five fewer chances to punish second-game pitchers. But Willie beat the ones he faced like rented donkeys. His 21-for-58 was good for a .362 average. Extrapolate that through 16 additional at-bats against second-line, second-game pitching and he could have won the batting title.
There was a third contender that season.
Stan Musial was in the mix going into the final week. But Stan had been battling injuries and barely had enough at-bats to qualify. The Cardinals star didn't play in enough doubleheaders to be used in this comparison. Whatever, "The Man's" .337 average was the last in an incredible run of 16 consecutive seasons of batting over .300. Musial fell off to .255 in 1959. But at age 41, he took advantage of 1962 expansion pitching and rang up a .330.
So, how did the Ashburn Second-Game Theory work for American League legends Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio during the End-of-Innocence summer of 1941?
That's when DiMaggio, 26, hit in 56 straight games.
That's when Williams, 22, batted .406.
Both marks have been unchallenged for 69 years.
DiMaggio played in 19 second games that season, seven during the hitting streak. In five of those seven games he kept the streak alive with a single hit. He was 9-for-27 during that stretch, a pedestrian .333. But remember, DiMaggio was a marked man as the streak knocked the Battle of Britain out of the headlines.
After the streak ended on July 17 in Cleveland, Joe kept his groove until the end of the month, going 7-for-12 in three second games. He finished 20-for-66 in the 19 nightcaps, a so-so (for him) .303. Joe actually went hitless in five second games, and nagging injuries shortened his season by 23 games as a Yankees juggernaut coasted to an easy pennant.
Meanwhile, confronted with some of the worst New England spring and summer weather of the century, the Red Sox wound up playing an incredible 27 doubleheaders. Can you see Charlie Manuel setting up the Phillies' pitching rotation for 27 doubleheaders? The man would be in a straitjacket by the Fourth of July.
Williams missed three second games with injuries and went 26-for-71 in the rest, batting a paltry -- for him -- .366. Not yet nicknamed "Teddy Ballgame," he famously refused to sit out a season-ending DH against the A's in Shibe Park despite his .3997 average rounding off to .400. Nah, gods don't answer letters, nor do they ask for fractions to be made whole.
In Game 1, he pounded the baseball all over Connie Mack's yard, going 4-for-5. With his average at .404, Williams went 2-for-3 in the second game, a flourish that raised him to .406.
In 1942, he won the Triple Crown, then went off to fly fighters for the Marine Corps. One amazing Ted Williams stat, perhaps the most amazing: His OPS was a career-high 1.287 in 1941. Starting with his rookie season in 1939, Williams never had an OPS lower than 1.019 for 17 straight years. He was 40 when it fell to .791 in 1959.
In his final season, 1960, the one where he homered on his final career at-bat, Williams carpeted the adieu so superbly chronicled by John Updike with an OPS of 1.096.
If only the guy had hit a little better in those doubleheader nightcaps.