Friday, June 23, 2006

Links to the Past

by Rob Hyman

We all know the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” I guess there’s an argument that any actor or actress can be linked to Kevin Bacon within six levels of separation. Well, let’s try a baseball version of this. Despite being well into the 21st Century, you’d be surprised at the links to the past that are only three degrees away (six degrees seems too much for this purpose).

So here we go...

Let’s start with “Three degrees of Julio Franco”
At 47, he’s the oldest player in the Major Leagues since 48 year-old Phil Niekro pitched for the Braves in 1987.

In 1982, Franco started his Major League career with the Phillies, playing 16 games. On that team were Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw. These are pitchers that started their careers in the mid-60s. Carlton’s career started in St. Louis in 1965. In 1967, an aging Roger Maris joined the team. Maris, of course played with the likes of Mantle, Berra and Whitey Ford.

Speaking of Berra – McGraw played with him – albeit it very briefly. In 1963, Berra retired after 18 seasons with the Yankees. The next year he managed the Yanks to the AL Pennant, and then in 1965, he came out of retirement and played 4 games for the Mets. Odd sequence, but I digress.

Well, while Berra played with those same Yankee stars from the late 50s and early 60s, he also was around earlier and crossed paths for six years with Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. I love the fact that despite the fact that DiMaggio retired in 1951, there’s still an overlapping path to him that doesn’t seem too distant. Go to Shea Stadium today and you’ll see a guy who played with a guy who played with a guy who played with DiMaggio. Joe was a sex symbol of his time and I’m sure he had some great stories to speak of. I wonder how far those stories travel. I’m sure Berra told stories about DiMaggio. Did he tell them to McGraw and did McGraw repeat those stories to Franco?

Okay another one –

“Three degrees of Roger Clemens”

The second-oldest player in the majors these days (as of yesterday) is Roger Clemens. Before we get to Clemens’ attachment to the past, however, Clemens had a near miss, which would probably not be able to be topped. Both connections to the past missed each other by one year. Clemens made his debut in 1984, one year after Carl Yastrzemski’s retirement in 1983. Yaz’s debut in 1961 was one year after the retirement of Ted Williams! Williams, whose career started in 1939 played with fellow Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove!!!

That would have been an amazing string, alas, it was a just miss. Clemens, however, can be linked to Roberto Clemente through Mike Easler and Willie Stargell.

One other three-degree connection of note:
Jose Valentin, experiencing a resurgence with the Mets this year, played early in his career with Robin Yount. Yount’s early career was shared with Hank Aaron, whose early career was shared with Warren Spahn.

As the years go by, these links will fade away, but new links will form. Someday it will become interesting to note who has a lineage to the likes of Clemens, Bonds or Pedro.
Whoever they are, I’m sure they’ll have some good stories to tell.

Note: You can play your own "Three Degrees of Separation" at

Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Fridays.


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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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