Let's begin the week going down a quirky little baseball rabbit hole. One beautiful part of baseball is that one year leads to another, one accomplishment reminds of another, and so on. And the deeper you look, the more stories you find.
On Sunday, Boston's remarkable rookie Andrew Benintendi cracked five hits. It was just his 51st game in the Majors, and it makes you wonder: Has anyone else had a five-hit game just 51 games into his big league career?
Answer: Yes. Lots of people -- 83 in the past 100 years, to be exact. So while it's a great accomplishment, it's not exactly rare. Three players had five-hit games in their first 51 games just last year. There have been 23 players who have done it just since 2000.
It turns out that five-hit games are not quite as rare as expected.
So then you ask: How early in a career has a player managed to have a five-hit game?
I'm glad you asked. In 1933, the Washington Senators called up a shortstop named Cecil Travis. It is possible, even likely, that under different circumstances, Travis would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He became the Senators' everyday shortstop when he was just 20, and he hit .319. The next year, Travis hit .318. The year after that, he hit .317. Travis was fifth in the league in hitting in 1937 and '38. And in '41, he actually hit for a higher batting average than Joe DiMaggio, who you might recall had a 56-game hitting streak that season.
When that season ended, Travis had a .327 career batting average, he was a three-time All-Star, a versatile fielder, and he was just 27 years old. The future seemed bright. But Travis, like most men of his generation, went to war. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and suffered such severe frostbite that for a time it seemed like his feet would need to be amputated. He received a Bronze Star.
Travis was gone from the Major Leagues for almost four years, and when he returned, he could not get himself back into baseball shape. He played in 226 more games before retiring at age 33. Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, ranked Travis the 29th best shortstop, ahead of several Hall of Famers. With those four prime years … well, "what ifs" are a whole other baseball rabbit hole.
In any case, Travis came up in 1933, and in his first game against Cleveland, he had five singles.
In more recent times, say 2014, Pittsburgh's Gregory Polanco had a five-hit game in just his fourth game.
But let's try something else: Benintendi did not just have a five-hit game. He actually went 5-for-5. Who was the last guy to go 5-for-5 so early in his career?
Answer: Cincinnati's Steve Selsky. It's a very different story. Selsky, unlike Benintendi, was not a top prospect. He was a 34th-round pick as a junior at the University of Arizona, so he went back to school and, the next year, he was a 33rd-round pick. Selsky plugged away in the Minors for six years, bouncing all around, in his hope of finally getting a big league look.
Selsky comes from an absurdly athletic family. His father Steve played in the Minors for the White Sox in the early 1960s. His mother, former Lou Ann Terheggen, was an All-American volleyball star and played on the Pan Am team. Both of his sisters, including his twin sister Samantha, played college volleyball. So you can imagine what it meant to Selsky to get to the big leagues and to start against St. Louis on Sept. 26.
And for one day, Selsky couldn't miss. In the second inning, facing Michael Wacha, he smashed an opposite-field home run. That was hit No. 1.
Selsky's second time up, he rifled a single to left off Wacha. That was hit No. 2. In the same inning, now facing Luke Weaver, he hit a sinking line drive to right field, scoring a run. That was No. 3.
The fourth hit came against another relief pitcher, Dean Kiekhefer, a ball hit squarely up the middle.
And the final blow came in the seventh, against Mike Mayers, a hard line drive with an exit velocity of 101 mph to left-center field for his fifth hit.
It was just Selsky's 19th big league game, and it was a dream come true. You can imagine the way his whole family would have celebrated. If Selsky had been a big prospect, if he had been a little bit younger than 27, if he had impressed scouts somewhere along the way, that 5-for-5 night might have been the launch of a big career. But there is a harsh baseball reality for fringe guys like Selsky. After the season ended, though Selsky hit .314 with some power in his 24-game trial, the Reds released him.
And do you know who picked Selsky up? The Red Sox.
On Sunday, when Benintendi was demonstrating his breathtaking potential again with a 5-for-5 night, Selsky was on the Red Sox's bench. He was put into the game in the eighth because third baseman Pablo Sandoval injured his knee. Selsky grounded out to third in his one at-bat in the eighth. And Benintendi got his fifth hit in the ninth.