With DiMaggio's streak in the spotlight, Ventura recalls his own
White Sox manager set the Division I mark of 58 games in 1987
NEW YORK -- Robin Ventura didn't want the attention.
That fact hasn't changed almost three decades later.
But there he was as a 19-year-old sophomore, fighting for a College World Series title in Omaha, Neb., with his 1987 Oklahoma State squad, while much of the focus was placed upon his collegiate-record hitting streak.
"Too much attention for me," said a smiling Ventura, sitting in the visiting manager's office at Yankee Stadium. "Even now, at 48, it would be too much attention. Definitely, at that time, I was not real comfortable that they were trying to make it more about me than our team."
The Cowboys eventually lost the championship to Stanford, and Ventura's hitting streak came to an end at a still-standing NCAA Division I mark of 58 games. Jack McDowell started Ventura's hitless game during the College World Series, with the right-hander being selected by the White Sox with the fifth-overall pick in the 1987 MLB Draft. Ventura joined McDowell in Chicago when he was chosen 10th overall in the 1988 Draft.
The incredible run of consistency by the understated Ventura is drawing attention this weekend because of its parallels with a much more ballyhooed streak achieved on baseball's big stage. Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the start of Joe DiMaggio's legendary 56-game hit streak. It also happened to begin against the White Sox, who the Yankees face again on Sunday, and in the Bronx.
DiMaggio did his initial damage with a first-inning single against the White Sox Eddie Smith, and connected against the South Siders in 12 games over the course of the streak. His third-inning single off Smith on July 15 at Comiskey Park marked the 55th consecutive game.
When Ventura put together the collegiate streak, DiMaggio had praise for the left-handed hitter.
"I don't care what league you're in," DiMaggio told The Associated Press in 1987. "It's not easy hitting in 58 games in a row."
"Yeah, not quite as high pressure," said Ventura with a laugh when comparing the streaks in the present time.
Ventura honestly didn't know about the streak in its early stages. There wasn't much media coverage at the time.
During a blowout victory over Kansas on April 17, 1987, the streak reached 30 and gained national prominence, according to a 2012 story from NCAA.com. Ventura vividly remembers that game against Kansas, as he remained hitless until his final at-bat.
"We were winning by a lot at Kansas and I was still in the game, and [during] my last at-bat, I remember having a 3-2 count and everybody is telling me to swing at it," Ventura said. "I didn't understand it and I ended up getting a hit, but I didn't go out of the zone or anything to get a hit. I couldn't figure it out.
"Finally, when I was back in the dugout, guys were like, 'That's a 30-something-game hitting streak.' And I was like 'Oh, all right. Cool.' From that point forward, it became harder because it's in your mind: I have a hitting streak going."
Oklahoma State coach Gary Ward left Ventura in the game to get that hit. Not wanting the streak to ever take on such importance, Ventura would have been equally as satisfied to be pulled with the big advantage.
"Now, I'm glad he didn't," Ventura said. "But I wouldn't have been upset if he did."
Playing in the Big Eight conference tournament and the playoffs made the streak easier to handle for Ventura because he was trying to do his part to help the Cowboys win and advance. He remembers driving to a game at one point and hearing the streak mentioned on the radio. But it didn't get intense exposure until ESPN picked up coverage in the College World Series.
Eventually Ventura broke Phil Stephenson's collegiate record of 47. The streak came to an end on June 4, 1987, in Ventura's fifth at-bat against Stanford. It was a hard-hit ball to second baseman Frank Carey, who knocked it down and then threw wildly to first base. It was ruled an error, and correctly so according to Ventura.
"At the time, I didn't care. I still don't really care all that much. It just never sat well," Ventura said. "We won the game [against Stanford], so for me, it was like it didn't really matter.
"It was great for the school, the program and all that. That was the biggest thing, and you are OK with it. It's cool, but it was always more about our team. I just didn't like it being a focus away from what we [were] all trying to accomplish."
Oklahoma State eventually lost to Stanford in the College World Series final, and Ventura was selected by the White Sox in the 1988 Draft. Ventura's Division I record streak was challenged by Florida International's Garrett Wittels a few years ago, but his run was stopped at 56 games in 2011. The closest anyone has come to DiMaggio since 1941 is Pete Rose, who had a 44-game streak in 1978. Ventura surmises that in order to challenge DiMaggio, a hitter needs to have a high contact rate and above-average speed. He also must deal with setup men and closers throwing 98 or 99 mph in the eighth and ninth innings, not to mention the social-media scrutiny following his every step.
DiMaggio's streak might stand forever -- much like Ventura's record has withstood the test of time, even if it's something he appreciates but doesn't necessarily treasure.
"To even think of a guy doing that now, it's just crazy. I really don't think it will ever be broken. It's too hard," Ventura said. "I thought Ichiro probably had the best chance being able to get there. But it's a crazy number. It's still so impressive."