Hot Stove #230 – Happy Days – A Royals Winning Streak and American Graffiti’s 50th Anniversary

Just when I thought the Royals season was over, they pulled me back in. It’s been a tough year, but their recent 7-game winning streak produced some welcome excitement for Kansas City fans.

And some entertaining statistics. Some would call them “junk stats,” the oddball and obscure facts we get from sportswriters and broadcasters. “Random” might be a kinder word. Or maybe “find me some good news” stats. Some arise from small sample size (like a 7-game span).

WEEDS WARNING: With all the stats, Managing Editor Rita reminds me that I am down in the weeds – a good thing for baseball nerds, but maybe not casual fans. So for those so inclined, feel free to skip to Lonnie’s Jukebox where the 50th anniversary of American Graffiti is being celebrated. But only after you read the next section featuring Rita’s junk stats.

Rita’s Junk Birthday Statistics: Satchel Paige famously said “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”. Rita likes that approach, but she also uses two objective methods to help friends establish alternative (lower) ages on their birthdays.

One is the high temperature on that day. Works fine for Rita. She was born in December. Not as good for me. I was born in August.

The other is to reverse the numbers. I’m at a stage where this works nicely. I turned “28” yesterday. Ultimate junk stat.

The Royals Are The Best Team in Baseball: From July 28 to August 4, as measured by won-loss record, the Royals were indeed the best team in baseball. The Royals proudly sent out this tweet after their August 4 victory:

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The Kansas City Star ran this headline:

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The non-positive side was that this was the first time in 2023 that the Royals had won more than two consecutive games. Which explains why the Royals are tied for this dubious record:


KC Star sportswriter Pete Grathoff wrote about this in his column “For Pete’s Sake”: “That was 116 years ago when Teddy Roosevelt was president and just four years after the Wright brothers took flight for the first time. So yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve seen something like the Royals were doing.”

[Cardinals Trivia: Grathoff also noted that the 2023 Cardinals team “got off to the worst start in franchise history since, you guessed it, 1907.”]

Beware of small sample sizes. Since the end of the winning streak, the Royals have gone 1-4. But there was a silver-lining junk stat in their one win. In Tuesday night’s 9-3 victory over the Red Sox, the Royals became the first team ever to hit three home runs and steal six bases in the 112-year history of Fenway Park.

Bobby Witt Jr. is Willie Mays: Bobby Witt Jr. was red hot during the 7-game streak. In the first two games, he drew a comparison to Willie Mays.

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What Bobby did was great, but this is a classic junk stat. There are many players who have matched (and exceeded) the first five categories listed. The twist is they did not steal a base while doing so.

Want to make it even more exclusive? Name all players who put together those six stats while playing shortstop. Bobby is the only one. Sorry Willie.

Bobby Witt Jr. is Patrick Mahomes: During the winning streak, Bobby made a play that drew a comparison to Patrick Mahomes. As headlined by the Star:


There were two fielding gems on this double play. First, the stop and flip by Michael Massey. Then the amazing throw by Bobby. Video here.

When Bobby got the flip from Massey, the runner was bearing down on second and Bobby could not step forward to make the throw. So he jumped up and relied only on his arm strength to get the ball to first. Just as Patrick Mahomes has been known to do with defenders bearing down on him.

After the game, Massey was asked if Witt’s arm action reminded him of anyone. His response: “Patrick Mahomes. He’s incredible.”

This was not the first time Bobby has been compared to Mahomes. In his second game as a rookie in 2022, he fielded a ball while playing third and needed to quickly throw sidearm to get the runner at the plate. Just as Patrick Mahomes has been known to do while scrambling. Video of both here.

The Witt/Mahomes acrobatics do not surprise trainer Bobby Stroupe who has worked with both of them for years. Stroupe: “A candle doesn’t burn out by lighting other candles. And those two guys, they get it. They understand that energy gives energy. And the only way to succeed is to connect with people. Moreover, neither feels constrained by other people’s sense of boundaries or thinks of expectations as burdens. They’re in the moment.” 

Bobby Witt Jr. is Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout and Ronald Acuna Jr: Last year, Bobby joined a special club: Players under the age of 22 who have hit 20+ homers and stole 30+ bases in a season. This combination of speed and power at that age has only been matched by Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, Mike Trout and Ronald Acuna Jr.

Then this year…

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Two years is a small sample size. But I’m thinking we could be watching a future Hall of Famer.

Most Home Runs by Roommates: Last week, I was at breakfast with some regulars at Classic Cup and someone mentioned Bob Cerv who played for the Kansas City Blues and Kansas City A’s. I couldn’t resist – I had to share my Bob Cerv trivia that came from his playing days with the Yankees.

The year was 1961, and Maris and Mantle were both chasing Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers in a season. Maris and Cerv were roommates in an apartment in Queens. It was suggested that Mantle should join them to cut down on Mantle’s carousing. Mantle did so for a good part of the summer, although he tired of the slow life and moved back to Manhattan. But it makes for a fun record:

Most Home Runs In a Season by Roommates: 121 (Maris – 61; Mantle – 54; Cerv – 6).

Image result for mantle maris cerv

Hidden in that junk stat is a true record. Most Home Runs In a Season by Two Teammates: 115 (Mantle and Maris). The prior record of 107 was set in 1927 by Babe Ruth (60) and Lou Gehrig (47).

Most Memorable MLB Trade Deadline Day: On August 1, I was checking ESPN and my Twitter (X) feed as the trading deadline was ending. Would Ohtani be traded? Would the Royals make some moves? Would the Mets continue to drop expensive stars?

And just as the deadline approached, my Twitter (X) feed exploded with other news. Trump had been indicted again. I moved to from ESPN to MSNBC, and this junk stat soon showed up on my feed:

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And there’s more. On what trade deadline day was a former president indicted AND a no-hitter thrown? August 1, 2023. Houston’s Framber Valdez pitched a complete game no-hitter against Cleveland.

Best Baseball Photo In 2023: In our travels, Rita and I have often followed in the footsteps of Bob Morantz (RIP) and Marsha Murphy. When Rita and I were planning our first Africa photo safari in 1989, Bob gave me his Africa books and wise travel advice. When we went to Luxor, Bob and Marsha insisted that we hire that same guide they used – an elderly man named Peter who as a boy watched the first opening of King Tut’s tomb – and Peter’s tour was grand. And on it went, Petra, Galapagos, Viet Nam, Cuba, etc.

Bob was especially enamored with Bhutan, a small Buddhist country in the Himalayas between India and Tibet. He encouraged us to go, but we have not made it (yet).

Why is this relevant to Hot Stove? In what is maybe the remotest country of the world, the kids of Bhutan are becoming baseball fanatics. The country did not even have internet service until 2000, and the traditional sports were archery and darts. But with the help of an expatriate American and a Bhutan citizen who attended college in the United States, the sport has grown from small teams to hundreds, then thousands, in leagues. The teams are named for endangered species (like the Thimphu Red Pandas), a major part of the environmental pillar of the “Gross National Happiness” that is the guiding principle in the country.

The fascinating story was told by Michael Claire in an column last week (click here). The article includes several striking photos, and below is my favorite:


Oldest Winning Professional Pitcher In the Pecos League: This is not a junk stat. It’s a cool story.

The Marysville (CA) Drakes play in the Pecos League, an independent professional baseball league. When they have been short on pitching this year, they have called in Dan Clemens who has claimed two victories. Each time, Dan broke his own record as the oldest pitcher to win a game in the Pecos League. And probably close to the oldest pitcher in any pro league.

And get this. In his second win (July 27), Dan pitched a complete game – all nine innings. This was the headline and photo in the local paper:

Dan Clemens, 55, wins again as Marysville Drakes take down Dublin  Sports

The article in the paper of course noted the connection to Satchel Paige: “Clemens is only four years younger than the oldest pitcher in MLB history. Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige, who played his final game for the Kansas City Athletics on Sept. 25, 1965, at 59, is the oldest player in MLB history.”

Small world. I know Dan Clemens. He is the son of my high school classmates Janet Pavola and Phil Clemens. Dan and Phil visited Kansas City for a Rockies game in 2017, and Rita and I joined them.

Dan played college baseball, but injuries ended his dream of playing in the major leagues. He continued to play competitive amateur ball, and in 2019 at the age of 51, he was called by an old friend who was managing the Tucson Saguaros of the Pecos League. The team was temporarily short on pitching and asked Dan to be in the bullpen for the weekend. Finally, a chance to play professional baseball. YES!!

Dan pitched an inning of relief and had his “cup of coffee” in pro ball. But then it got better. He was called a couple of weeks later to do a spot start. He pitched into the fifth inning and allowed only one earned run. The younger players had been skeptical, but as Dan walked off to cheers, he heard one of them say “the dude is legit!” – the best baseball compliment he had ever received. He made a couple of additional appearances that year for the Saguaros.

Dan has now played for three teams in the Pecos League and hopes to be back on the mound in 2024.

The experience prompted Dan to write a screenplay (with his sister Laurie), telling Dan’s personal baseball journey of following your passion, aging and unconditional love. The script includes the Baseball Gods who comically narrate the story. Realizing that Dan’s college injury was their mistake, they have to figure a way to make things right. The screenplay has won three awards to date:

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Dan and his financial team are using an innovative crowdfunding model to raise funds to produce the movie. Check out the offering here. Dan’s introductory video is excellent, and the offering is a good read on the producing of films and the history of baseball movies, ranging from The Natural and Bull Durham to Field of Dreams, Moneyball and 42.

There has not been a major non-documentary baseball film in a decade. Dan would like to produce the next one. In case you have not guessed, the title to his film is…

Good luck Dan.

Lonnie’s Jukebox – American Graffiti Edition: This September, Rita and I will head to Arizona for one of our periodic mini-reunions with my classmates from Van Horn 1959. This will include Dan Clemens’ parents Phil and Janet plus Shirley (Maycock) Nuss and Diana (Sullivan) Brewer. All of us are turning “28” this year.

[Age Trivia: When I turned 75, Larry and Diana Brewer gave me a tee shirt that read “75 but only 24 in Celsius.” Today, that would read “82 but only 28 in Celsius.” So I am 28 under two different junk stats for age.]

Our Van Horn crew will no doubt reminisce about our high school days, and a lot of what that looked like is depicted in the film…

AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) POSTER, BRITISH | Original Film Posters Online |  2020 | Sotheby's

American Graffiti was released on August 11, 1973 (50 years ago tomorrow). The film is set in the summer of 1962, just after the high school graduation of the film’s co-writer and director George Lucas. The rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack, dancing, cruising and drag racing are carbon copies (remember those?) of the summer after our Van Horn class graduated in 1959.

Among the 42 songs in the film soundtrack, many were from the late 1950s when I was buying 45 rpm records. I still have my record collection, including those on the setlist below. The video links for each record are clips from the movie, so this is also a set of highlights from American Graffiti

“Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets (1954). This record is played during the credits and the opening scene. Quite the list of talent before they became big stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Suzanne Somers, etc. The producer was Francis Ford Coppola whose Godfather had been released in 1972.

“Sixteen Candles” by the Crests (1958). The snuggling couple are Steve (Ron Howard) and Laurie (Cindy Williams), cruising in Laurie’s 1958 Edsel. In 1974, Howard began his 7-year run as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. Cindy Williams and her friend Penny Marshall made guest appearances on Happy Days and then starred in the spinoff Laverne and Shirley. Howard became an award-winning director (Splash, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, etc.).

American Graffiti Ending Explained: The Calm Before The Storm

“Why Do Fools Fall In Love” by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (1956). Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) sees the girl (Suzanne Somers) in the 1956 Thunderbird for the first time. In the four years after American Graffiti, Dreyfuss starred in Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and won a Best Actor Academy Award for Goodbye Girl.

“That’ll Be the Day” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets (1957). This clip begins with John (Paul Le Mat) in his 5-window yellow deuce coupe (’32 Ford) and his unwelcome passenger Carol (12-year old Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas). After John says “Rock and roll has been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died,” the clip cuts to Wolfman Jack introducing Buddy’s “That’ll Be the Day” on the radio.

InterView- Mackenzie Phillips : Modestoview

“The Stroll” by the Diamonds (1957).

“Little Darlin’by the Diamonds (1957). Toad (Charles Martin Smith) pretends to own Steve’s 1958 Impala to impress Debbie (Candy Clark) so she will ride with him.

“The Great Pretender” by the Platters (1955). Curt makes the mistake of sitting on a car owned by one of the gang members of the Pharaohs. They take him for a ride during which Curt gets another glimpse of the elusive woman in the Thunderbird.

“Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry (1958). Some of the clips in this video bring back drag strip memories. When I got my first car, classmates Bill Lochman and Jim Graham lured me into their hot rod club, the Draggin’ Diplomats. Our club ran the tech line for the Sunday races at the dragstrip on Front Street. When I got out of law school, Lochman and Graham lured me into the Young Democrats. They are persuasive (and fun) friends. Also turning “28” this year.

The drag race is between John’s yellow coupe and Bob’s 1955 black Chevy. Bob is Harrison Ford, then unknown, but only four years away from playing Hans Solo in George Lucas’ first Star Wars movie. In 1981, Lucas released Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first of the Indiana Jones movies starring Ford as Jones.

John Milner's 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe (THX 138) & Bob Falfa's 1955 Chevy (GLD  204) - American Graffiti. | American graffiti, Cars movie, 55 chevy

“Get a Job” by the Silhouettes (1957).

“Come Go With Me” by the Del Vikings (1957).

“At the Hop” by Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids (cover of Danny and the Juniors song from 1957). George Lucas used original hit records for all but two of the songs in the soundtrack. Those were “At the Hop” and “She’s So Fine,” performed by Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids who played the songs at the teen sock hop in the movie. Looks a lot like Saturday night at Teen Town in the gymnasium at Van Horn.

American Graffiti is currently streaming on Netflix.

Still my favorite music. Maybe I’m 17, not 28.