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Mehring Monday: What If...?

November 30, 2015

I am a fan of alternate history. It probably goes back to the old What If…? series from Marvel. But, I also enjoyed reading Harry Turtledove, watching It's a Wonderful Life, and wondering what would have happened had Patrick Ferguson pulled the trigger during the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777.

There are also two volumes of counterfactual history (as the historians involved in the project call it) on bookshelf at the trailer. They go by the titles of What If? and What If? 2. The subtitle on the second title is: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been.

There are a few reasons why I bring this up today. The first is that I am binging on Amazon's adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. The second is Gary D'Amato's article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel What if the Packers had taken a pass on a young Brett Favre?

The thing about these scenarios of alternate history is that they all turnout horrible. The Punisher kills everyone. George Washington dies and America loses the Revolutionary War. The South wins the Civil War. There's a town named Potterville instead of Bedford Falls. The Axis wins World War II. The Bears win a bunch of Super Bowls. No one wants any of those things to happen.

I am far from an eminent historian, but I did want to do something happier for an Alternate History in this week's column. So, What If…..Rick Manning Walked on August 26, 1987?

The setup for those unfamiliar with the event: Milwaukee Brewers designated hitter Paul Molitor had a 39-game hitting streak going into this game at Milwaukee County Stadium against the Cleveland Indians. He was the leadoff batter that night. He was 0-for-4 in his first four plate appearances against John Farrell.

The game was in a scoreless tie going into the bottom of the tenth inning, thanks to ten shutout innings from Teddy Higuera as the Brewers starter.

Milwaukee got a rally going against Doug Jones in the bottom of the tenth. Rob Deer was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Ernie Riles grounded into a fielder's choice that sent pinch-runner Mike Felder to second base. Jones intentionally walked Dale Sveum and Juan Castillo, the #9 batter in the Brewers' order was due to hit. Manager Tom Trebelhorn sent Rick Manning to the plate as a pinch-hitter. Manning singled to drive in Felder with the winning run. That hit meant that Molitor wouldn't get a chance to extend his hitting streak to 40 games.

Manning was booed by those in attendance. That has always bothered me. Now, Manning was already in trouble with Brewers fans. He began his career with the Indians and was traded to the Brewers on June 6, 1983. The problem for the fans was that Gorman Thomas, one of the most popular Brewers in team history, was sent to Cleveland for Manning. Granted, this walkoff hit came more than four years later, but fans have long memories.

Here's the alternate history: What if Rick Manning walked?

Jones was not yet the full-time closer for the Indians. He had just intentionally walked one batter and is in his first full season. However, Jones had decent control in 1987. He walked 24 against 87 strikeouts in 91-1/3 innings pitched.

Manning had a 13-year career and walked 471 times in 5,832 plate appearances. In 1987, Manning walked 12 times in 129 plate appearances.

The possibility for a walk is there, but it is pretty slight. So, imagine that Manning does draw a free pass to load the bases for Molitor.

This brings Molitor to the plate to face Jones. If you look at this page on Baseball Reference, you will see that Molitor is tied for the third most career plate appearances against Doug Jones. He is tied with Cal Ripken, Jr. (Both had 29). Only BJ Surhoff (31) and Tony Fernandez (30) faced Jones more in his career.

Jones won most of the matchups between the two. Molitor was just 6-for-28 (.214) with a homer, three RBI, no walks, and four strikeouts against Jones. 

But, since this was early in Jones's career and he is facing Molitor with the game on the line I can picture Molitor getting the game-winning hit to get his hitting streak to 40 games.

In his next game, Molitor would go 2-for-4 against Cleveland and that moves him to 41-games and into a tie with George Sisler for the fifth longest hitting streak in MLB history.

Unfortunately, there is no path to a 56-game hitting streak for Molitor in this alternate timeline. Les Straker and Juan Berenguer held Molitor hitless in four at bats on August 28. 

Another branch of alternate history allows for a path to making DiMaggio's hitting streak out to 73 games. The short story is Cleveland's Ken Keltner doesn't make a spectacular play on one of DiMaggio's hot shots to third base on July 17, 1941 and he gets a hit move his streak to 57 games. DiMaggio would get a hit in his next 16 games…which is amazing in and of itself.

What would be your baseball What If?