I see that USA Today, journalism’s answer to the phone book, has begun sketching out games for Paul Molitor and his incredible hitting streak.
Atop Tuesday’s sports section, the newspaper ran several small yellow boxes — “Tonight,” “Wednesday,” “Thursday” — detailing the scheduled pitchers Molitor should face, and his statistics against each. (This, by the way, was in addition to a giant picture of Molitor on the front page of the paper. Which was accompanied by a giant front-page story. Which fell just beneath USA Today’s top news headline: “Summer’s The Ticket For Record Movie Year.” And you thought it had only a weather map.)
But wait. I don’t see why we should stop here. Why just sketch out the pitchers? Ha. Pitchers will not be the major obstacles to Molitor’s pursuit of Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak. No way. Pitchers will be the easy part.
The hard part will be the media circus that is already coming aboard. Every breath, every scratch, every Molitor burp will be recorded and analyzed the closer he gets to the record. Batting practice will be filmed. Balls will be collected and held for shipment to Cooperstown.
There will be nothing like it ever in the history of sports. Therefore, as a public service, I will tell you right now what will happen. This way you won’t have to miss any of those great movies USA Today was talking about: He can’t even go home again GAME 40: Molitor cracks a double on his first at-bat against Cleveland, pulling even with Ty Cobb’s record of 40 straight games set in 1911. “How do you feel?” he is asked afterward by a mob of reporters. “I’m real happy to tie Ty, uh, Ty, tie, tuh, tu-tu, well, you know.” A story comes out that Molitor has developed a stuttering problem. GAME 42: Molitor loops a single against Minnesota to move within two games of Pete Rose’s streak (44). When Molitor returns to his locker, he finds several reporters from People magazine sleeping inside it. “If you could be any animal in the world. . . . ” one of them begins. Molitor retreats to the showers. Until morning. GAME 44: The game is a complete sellout. Pete Rose is seen in the seats behind home plate, champing on a Nestle’s Crunch bar each time Molitor takes a swing. Despite the distraction, Molitor hits a home run in the seventh. He then asks Rose if he can have a piece. GAME 47: A double against Kansas City keeps the streak alive. Reporters invade Molitor’s hometown of St. Paul, Minn., which has changed its named to St. Paulie, in honor of its most famous citizen. “He used to put air in his bicycle tires right here,” says a local gas station attendant. “I could tell even then the boy was something special.” GAME 50: Barbara Walters scores a major coup by getting Molitor to agree to a brief pre-game interview for her prime time special. The cameras roll. Walters gazes soulfully into Molitor’s eyes. She asks, “Pauwie, have you ever cwied?” The interview ends when Molitor cannot stop laughing. He then goes 4-for-5 against the Twins, and is still heard laughing on the way out to his car. GAME 52: Calls come from “The Tonight Show,” “The Letterman Show,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Eric Show and Showtime. Molitor poses for Time magazine with DiMaggio, who was once married to Marilyn Monroe. “He should marry Madonna!” says one marketing genius. “She looks like Marilyn Monroe! Great publicity!” Someone says both Molitor and Madonna are already married. “So?” asks the marketing man. “Does that make a difference?” The questions keep coming GAME 55: Molitor electrifies the crowd by laying down a bunt single in the eighth inning against Detroit to push the streak to the brink of DiMaggio’s. There are more reporters than fans inside County Stadium. Tickets are going for $300 apiece. Molitor has to be taken off the field in an armored truck. Questions are collected by a PR man. Molitor answers them on tape, which is then played back to the media. The most popular questions: 1) What will you eat for breakfast? 2) What will you eat for lunch? 3) What shoes will you wear? 4) What will you eat for dinner? GAME 56: The stadium is a dizzy, sweltering mass of humanity as Molitor, hitless in his first three at-bats, comes to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Goodyear blimps are circling overhead. Helicopters hover in between. Network television interrupts all programming, and the broadcast is beamed around the world, including China, Australia, Iceland, Suriname and the Virgin Islands. A voice booms over the stadium loudspeakers: “NUMBER 4 NOW AT BAT, WILL EVERYONE PLEASE JOIN IN PRAYER?” The sellout crowd rises in unison. Police ring the field. Molitor take a few practice swings, then looks up at the crowded sky. He remembers when he played baseball as a kid, the simple joy of smacking a hit, running the bases and getting his uniform dirty. He pauses for a moment, and 50,000 flashbulbs explode in his face. Blinking, he steps into the box, swings at three straight pitches and is called out. “What the . . . ?” he says, still blinking. His agent jumps off the roof.