day 4: the master

Today is four days of the omer: netzach she’b’hesed.

I could have chosen Gehrig, but we did the Yankees yesterday. So I’m going with another hometown hero, New York Giant Mel Ott. (This is the team that became today’s club in San Francisco, a move that didn’t inspire as much fiery, enduring ire as a certain other New York team’s decampment to a certain other California city.)

Anyway, I have a soft spot for diminutive power hitters (hello, Jose Altuve). The right-fielder led the National League in home runs a then-record six times. Ott was an All-Star for 11 consecutive seasons, and was the first National League player to surpass 500 career home runs.

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So, we’re still in the week hesed: The phrase “Nice guys finish last” is a mashup of a quote prompted by Ott. Manager Leo Durocher (whose 95 career ejections are still fourth all-time) once said, “Look at Mel Ott over there. He’s a nice guy, and he finishes second. Now look at the Brat. He can’t hit, can’t run, can’t field. He’s no nice guy, but all the little son-of-a-bitch can do is win.”

And today our sefirah is netzach (endurance, triumph, ambition) — which Ott had in spades. He is only one of six NL players to spend a 20+ year career with one team (and hello to another Astro, Craig Biggio) and the first NL player to earn eight consecutive 100-RBI seasons. Plus, he set the NL record for most 100-plus-walk seasons. It takes a lot of persistence to stand there that long! (Remember, this was before the unfortunate video-game-style travesty of walking a batter is now.)

Here’s some vintage film showing Ott in the 1933 WS Game 5 hitting what he thought was a home run in the 10th inning, being held at second, arguing with the umpire, and getting the call reversed. The Giants hung on to that lead to beat the Senators and secure their WS victory. That’s a triumph if ever I’ve seen one. (Also, this was the last WS game to be played in D.C. until 2019.)

I’m claiming that Ott has staying power, while this internet guy claims that Ott is forgotten because he has never heard of him — but this video does make some good points about why The Master was never MVP and is certainly less-remembered than his contemporaries.

I have to conclude with the delightful fact that no sports figure’s name appears more often in the New York Times daily crossword puzzle (though Bobby Orr may be a quite close second). If that’s not endurance, I don’t know what is. So let’s count Day 4 in honor of the nice guy that finishes lasts.

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