HERM DOSCHER

One of the wonderful things about baseball is that it provides players with so many ways to be remembered — and many of  those  ways have little or nothing to do with success on the field.

Herm Doscher was an example. So was his son, Jack. In fact, together they constitute one example, because they were the first father and son combination to play the major leagues. Herm played third base for five different teams in the National Association and the National League from 1872 to 1882 – a spotty career for which there don’t seem to be a lot of statistics – and he was later a major league umpire. He was reputed to be hard-nosed in that role. He once ejected Rochester Broncos outfielder Sandy Griffin for arguing a call and, when Griffin wouldn’t leave the field, Doschler forfeited the game to the St. Louis Browns — who were leading 10-3 in the eighth inning anyway.

Jack Doscher (actually John Henry Doscher Jr.) was a pitcher from 1903 to 1908 with three teams including the Brooklyn Superbas, appearing in only 27 games. Doscher died in 1971 at the age of 90 and was at one point recognized as the oldest surviving player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, successors to the Superbas.

NICK SWISHER

The Doschers come to mind today because Major League Baseball announced this evening that Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher had been elected to the All Star Team. Whatever one thinks of the wacky manner in which those players are chosen these days, Swisher last season and this has made a good case for himself on the field. This is the first time Nick Swisher has been named to the All Star team,  and it puts him in an exclusive baseball group — fathers and sons who have made the team. Swisher’s dad, Steve – a National League catcher for 10 years in the ’70s and ’80s – was on the 1976 team when he was with the Cubs, although he didn’t get to play. One of Steve Swisher’s colleagues on that ’76 team was Ken Griffey Sr., whose son also became an All Star — many times.

Altogether, 195 men who have played in the majors had sons who followed. A handful had two sons make it to the bigs. Three men — Sammy Hairston, Ray Boone, and Gus Bell — sent sons and grandsons to the majors. The Hairstons hold the record for multigenerational families with five major league players, although the Delahanty family had five of the same generation.

STEVE SWISHER

The Swishers are the tenth family to have a father and at least one son on the All Star team. (There have been three such families in the World Series.)

I was introduced to baseball by my father, who had managed a semi-pro team and knew a lot about the game. I would like to have been a better baseball player for his sake, but that gene went missing. Dad never expressed any disappointment about my weak performance; he wasn’t cut out that way. We made up for it with the many hours we spent together watching the Yankees in the Bronx and on TV or listening to them on the radio in our grocery store. We did other things together, but baseball provided the strongest bond. Dad’s been gone for more than 30 years, but I still watch baseball with him in mind. Meanwhile, it’s fun to speculate about the satisfaction Steve Swisher must be deriving from Nick’s success in general and from this benchmark in particular.

Steve Swisher cuts Nick Swisher's hair in 2007 on the field at the Oakland Coliseum. Nick Swisher had let his hair grow for 10 month so that he could donate it to a program that assists cancer patients.

DEREK JETERThe coverage this week of Derek Jeter receiving the Roberto Clemente Award got me to wondering again about how he will be regarded a few decades from now. I’m not questioning Jeter’s qualifications; the performance and the stats are there. But baseball immortality, if that’s the right word, comes in more than one form. Many players of at least Jeter’s ability are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and their statistics are indelibly spread upon the record book, but they are largely forgotten except by people like me who have nothing better to occupy their minds.

Jeter isn’t done, and his career base-hits total promises that his name will come up again and again when that category is open for discussion. But whether he will take on a more transcendent presence in the baseball conversation of the future — especially outside the New York area — is not at all certain.

JOE SEWELLA player who comes to mind in this regard is Joe Sewell, who was a starting infielder in the American League from 1920 to 1933, the last three years with the Yankees and the rest with the Cleveland Indians. Sewell got into the Indians’ everyday lineup as a replacement for Ray Chapman, who was killed by a pitch thrown by the Yankees’ Carl Mays. A couple of Sewell’s batting statistics compare favorably to Jeter’s. His lifetime batting average was .312 compared to Jeter’s .317, and his on-base percentage was .391 compared to Jeter’s .388. But hidden in that on-base percentage was a factor that made Sewell one of the most remarkable players in history.

plaque_122023Sewell was the hardest man to strike out in the history of the game. Not by a little bit, by a lot. No one else comes close. He came to bat 7,132 times, and he struck out 114 times. Nick Swisher, to pick a convenient example, strikes out more than  that every year — 129 times in 2009, for instance. There were four seasons in which Sewell played every day and struck out only four times — only three times in 1932, which is the all-time record. He once went 115 consecutive at-bats without a strikeout — also the record. Over his career, he averaged one strikeout per 63 at-bats. The closest challenger is George Stone who, over seven years in the early 20th century, struck out once in every 50 at-bats.

It’s always risky to talk about sports records that will never be broken, but it’s safe to say that I’ll be shagging flies with Shoeless Joe and “Moonlight” Graham long before anyone makes contact better than Old Whatshisname.