Taking a break from What Happened Today in Baseball History to turn our attention to the need for a #pitchclock.
NOVEMBER 18, 1980 | KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – This was an easy one. In 1980 Kansas City Royals’ 3rd baseman George Brett was the last American Leaguer since Ted Williams in the 1940’s to flirt with a .400 batting average since. So, who else but Brett should be awarded the American League’s Most Valuable Player award for that year?
Brett didn’t start out gang-busters in 1980. The first two months of the season his average hovered around .260 . As far into the season as May 22nd he was hitting only .255.
George Brett kicked it into gear in June and July, topping out at .390 July 31st. Brett eclipsed .400 (.401 to be exact) on August 17th, going 4 for 4 with 5 RBI.
Fans all over the country followed his march toward the first .400 average since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 for the Boston Red Sox.
Brett was hitting .406 on August 20th, .407 on August 26th. Brett’s batting average was over .400 16 of the final 35 days of the regular season, but not the last day. He finished the 1980 season with a .390 average with 24 home runs and 118 runs batted in.
Brett’s .390 remains the second highest batting average in the Major Leagues since 1941. Tony Gwynn hit .394 in 1994 for the San Diego Padres.
The highest averages since Brett and Gwynn are:
Will we ever see a .400 batting average again? The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, so anything is possible.
Single season batting average leaders
NOVEMBER 17, 1953 | LOUIS, MISSOURI • The story from November 17, 1953 in baseball history is – Browns fade to black. Stockholders of the beleaguered franchise voted to change the team’s name from the St. Louis Browns to the Baltimore Orioles.
The name change was the final step in the transition from former owner Bill Veeck to a new group of owners which would start the 1954 baseball season near the shores of Chesapeake Bay rather than the banks of the Mississippi.
The Browns began as the Milwaukee Brewers in 1901 – a charter American League franchise – not to be confused with the present day Brewers. The team stayed only one year in Milwaukee, moving to St. Louis in 1902 and becoming the Browns, which was the color of their uniforms.
In all the years spent in St. Louis (and one in Milwaukee) the Browns went to the post-season once. They won the American League Pennant in 1944, losing the World Series to the cross-town St. Louis Cardinals.
The franchise’s change of scenery did them good. The Baltimore Orioles have been to the post-season more than a dozen times since moving to Baltimore. They won the World Series in 1966, 1970 and 1983.
The story from November 17, 1953 is Browns fade to black, and the Orioles come out a winner.
NOVEMBER 16, 2017 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • The baseball world is waiting to hear who the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award winners are for the 2017. The awards are announced tomorrow (November 17th). A review of past MVP’s is that more often than not, they were outfielders.
That knowledge would be valuable for your next baseball trivia game. Here are the answers:
MVP recipients by position (as of 11/16/2017)
There were several MVP-type awards early in the 20th Century, but the criteria were often suspect. Raising doubts about their legitimacy was the fact that players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb never won such an award.
The Baseball Writers Association of America took over voting for the Most Valuable Player award in 1931 and continues the task to this day. This brings credibility to the conclusion that most MVP’s were outfielders.
NOVEMBER 15, 2007 | CINCINNATI, OHIO • The youngest player to appear in a major league baseball game died on this date in 2007. The late Joe Nuxhall was 79 when he died. He was 15 the first time he faced a major league lineup.
The 15-year old Nuxhall would have made it nowhere near a major league mound without a ticket, had it not been for World War II.
Nuxhall made it to “THE SHOW” with the Cincinnati Reds on June 10, 1944. It was the height of World War II. Able-bodied ballplayers of a more mature age were hard to come by because they were all in the service.
The 15-year old Nuxhall would have made it nowhere near a major league mound without a ticket, had it not been for World War II.
It was not an auspicious beginning. As the box score and play-by-play of that game show, Nuxhall was brought in to mop up a game pretty much out of reach for the Reds.
The Reds were down 13-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals when Nuxhall entered the game in the 9th. He gave up 5 earned runs on 5 walks, 2 hits and a wild pitch. He wasn’t even able to close-out the 9th. The Reds had to bring another pitcher to get the 3rd out.
Nuxhall’s ERA for that appearance – 67.50. He was shipped back to the minors after the game, not to return for eight years.
Nuxhall went on to have a fine career when he returned to the Reds in 1953. He won 17 games in 1955, 15 in 1963. His career record was 135-117. He wasn’t a bad hitting pitcher either, finishing with 15 home runs and 78 RBI.
Nuxhall was a victim of bad timing when he was traded to the Kansas City A’s in 1961, missing Cincinnati’s only appearance in the World Series during his playing career. He returned to the Reds in 1962.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK • TODAY – NOVEMBER 13th – IN BASEBALL HISTORY: The most valuable player awards for 2017 are due out in a few days. It’s not unusual for each league’s most valuable player (MVP) to be a repeater. The leader of the pack by far is Barry Bonds. Evidence that he took PEDs (performance enhancement drugs) notwithstanding, Bonds won 7 MVP awards, more than twice as many as anyone else.
Multiple MVP winners as of November 12, 2016:
Barry Bonds (7)
Albert Pujols (3)
Alex Rodriguez (3)
Mike Schmidt (3)
Yogi Berra (3)
Roy Campanella (3)
Joe DiMaggio (3)
Mickey Mantle (3)
Jimmie Foxx (3)
Stan Musial (3)
Ernie Banks (2)
Johnny Bench (2)
Miguel Cabrera (2)
Mickey Cochrane (2)
Lou Gehrig (2)
Hank Greenberg (2)
Juan Gonzalez (2)
Rogers Hornsby (2)
Carl Hubbell (2)
Walter Johnson (2)
Roger Maris (2)
Willie Mays (2)
Joe Morgan (2)
Dale Murphy (2)
Hal Newhouser (2)
Cal Ripken (2)
Frank Robinson (2)
Frank Thomas (2)
Ted Williams (2)
Robin Yount (2)
There were several post-season “best player” awards prior to 1931, but their criteria was not always well thought out, as evidenced by the absence of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and others.
The current MVP awards have been presented in each league since 1931. They are presented annually by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA). Today – NOVEMBER 13th – in baseball history: The most valuable player awards
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS • Today – NOVEMBER 12TH – in baseball history: Pete Townsend wrote “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” in the Who classic, Won’t Get Fooled Again. That’s not unlike when Major League Baseball owners gave in to Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis on this date in 1920. They named him the game’s first Commissioner.
The public relations nightmare of the 1919 Black Sox scandal was just coming to light. Owners were fearful the effect of the scandal would have on the popularity of the game. They were pursuing an independent 3-member commission to rule the game. A favorite of the owners to be one of the commissioners was Judge Landis, but he would only serve if he was sole Commissioner. That’s how a single baseball Commissioner came to be.
According to Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, Judge Landis negotiated a pretty good deal to help major league baseball “come clean.” He got an annual salary of $50,000 for seven years. He would remain on the federal bench, but his $7,500 judge salary would be deducted from his baseball salary.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis is most remembered for banning eight members of the Chicago White Sox for life in 1921 for throwing the 1919 World Series.
Koppett suspects Landis was named commissioner as payback for bailing out major league baseball when he was the presiding judge over an antitrust lawsuit in 1915.
While the antitrust litigation had a more lasting effect, Kennesaw Mountain Landis is most remembered for banning eight members of the Chicago White Sox for life in 1921 for throwing the 1919 World Series. A jury had found the players not guilty of throwing the series – partly because confessions they made were lost – but Judge Landis didn’t care about the acquittals. His view was they confessed to accepting bribes, so they were forbidden to ever play major league baseball again.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis was Commissioner for 24 years – the longest of any baseball commissioner. That’s what happened TODAY – November 12th – in baseball history.
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 2004
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA • TODAY – NOVEMBER 11TH – IN BASEBALL HISTORY: Fernandomania continued into the post-season on this date in 1981. Los Angeles Dodger phenom pitcher Fernando Valenzuela won the National League Cy Young award as the league’s best pitcher. He was the first rookie to win the award.
Valenzuela displayed excellent composure, enthusiasm and ability though he was only 20-years old.
Valenzuela could hit too. He hit .250 with 7 RBI in his rookie year. His career batting average was .200 with 10 home runs and 84 RBI.
Valenzuela finished the ’81 season with a 13 – 7 won-loss record and a 2.48 ERA (earned run average). He beat out established stars Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan for the Cy Young award. Valenzuela also won the National League Rookie-of-the-year award.
Valenzuela could hit too. He hit .250 with 7 RBI in his rookie year. His career batter average was .200 with 10 home runs and 84 RBI .
Fernandomania lasted 17 years. During that time Valenzuela won 173 games and lost 153. That’s today – November 11th – in baseball history.
“Fairy Tale Ending to Fairy Tale season,” by Mike Littwin, Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1981
1981 Post-season awards
NOVEMBER 5, 1998 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Houston Astros fans are relishing in the team’s first-ever World Series championship. Compare that to what the New York Yankees accomplished on this date in 2009. They won their 27th World Series. Yankees 27 Astros 1.
It’s more than double the 11 won by the team with the second-most – the St. Louis Cardinals.
But it’s a start – Yankees 27 Astros 1.
OCTOBER 26, 1991 | MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – Minnesota Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett was not having a good World Series against the Atlanta Braves. The Twins were facing elimination in game 6 of the 1991 fall classic. It all changed on this date. The best way to describe it; ‘Puckett carries Twins to promised land.’
Kirby Puckett hit a triple in the first inning to drive in a run and later scored. In the third he robbed the Braves’ Ron Gant of extra bases by seeming to hang in mid-air to snag a 400-foot drive off the Plexiglas in left-center field. The future Hall-of-Famer broke a tie in the fifth with a sacrifice fly to deep center. After the Braves tied it up in the 8th, Puckett singled and stole second, but didn’t score.
Puckett’s real heroics came when the game went into extra innings. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis was packed with 51,155 frenzied fans. Puckett led off the 11th. He was facing the Braves’ Charlie Leibrandt. The count was 2-balls and 1-strike. Puckett hit the next pitch over the left field fence prompting television play-by-play man Jack Buck to say, simply, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night.”
The Twins won that game too, and won a thrilling 1991 World Series.
Still a Series to Savor
October 22, 1845 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Baseball historian John Thorn says in his book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, the first box score appeared in the New York Herald newspaper on this date in 1845. It recorded a game from the previous day between The New York Ball Club and a team from Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the actual box score from 1845 could not be located. Here is another from the same era:
The box score appeared to be patterned after cricket, a more commonly played game in Manhattan, New York at the time.
The baseball graphic included a box with two columns listing players for each team in the order of how they batted. It recorded little more than their names, number of outs made and runs scored. It didn’t have pitching statistics, except for what the pitchers did at the plate.
Today the typical box score has names, positions, at bats, runs, hits and runs batted in. Many box scores also record who had extra base hits, committed errors, hit sacrifice flies, stole bases and stats on all pitchers. Plenty to lose yourself in for a half hour or so. Below is a how-to on a modern baseball box score courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, by John Thorn, 2011
The New York Times, “Cooperstown? Hoboken? Try New York City,” by Fox Butterfield, October 4, 1990
More on the box score
OCTOBER 17, 1989 | SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Broadcaster Al Michaels was frantic as ABC lost its signal just before game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. Rain, sometimes snow, has been known to interrupt post-season play. This time the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 brought all activity in Candlestick Park, other than self-preservation, to a screeching halt, because, as Michaels’ said off-camera, “I’ll tell ya what. We’re having an earth…”. He was unable to get out “quake” before he was cut-off.
Millions watching the broadcast saw highlights of the previous game being described by announcer Tim McCarver when all of the sudden the picture sizzled and the broadcast signal was lost.
Candlestick Park, with 62,000 people inside, bent – fans felt the stands move and the light standards sway several feet – but did not break. There was catastrophic damage in other parts of the Bay Area; a section of the double deck Nimitz Freeway collapsed, as did part of the Bay Bridge. There were multiple explosions and fires in the Mission District of San Francisco. Sixty-three deaths and almost 4,000 injuries were reportedly caused by the earthquake.
The World Series, coincidentally involving the two Bay Area teams, was postponed for ten days, because, “I’ll tell ya what… we’re having an earth-“. The A’s eventually swept the Giants in four games.
OCTOBER 12, 1986 | ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – The California Angels were one strike from their first World Series on this date in 1986 when they suffered a heartbreaking loss. It was a spectacular series that had tragic consequences beyond baseball. On this day, there were no Angels in the outfield.
It was game 5 of the best-of-five American League Championship Series (ALCS). California had a three games to one lead over the Boston Red Sox. The game was filled with drama.
The Angels were up 5-2 in the ninth. It was the Red Sox’ last at bat. Designated hitter Don Baylor hit a two-run homer on a two-strike pitch with one out. The Red Sox were within a run.
After the second out Angel’s reliever Gary Lucas hit catcher Rich Gedman. Angel’s manager Gene Mauch brought in Donnie Moore to pitch to the Red Sox’ Dave Henderson. Moore had bounced around the major leagues for several years, but appeared to have found a home with the Angels. Moore had two strikes on Henderson. The Angels were one strike from their first World Series.
Henderson hit a two-run homer to give the Red Sox the lead.
As dramatic as that was, it wasn’t the end. The Angels tied the game in the last of the 9th. Neither team scored in the 10th. The Red Sox scored the go-ahead run in 11th on a sacrifice fly by Dave Henderson. The Angels were held in check in the bottom of the 11th to end the game. The Red Sox were still down three games to two, but were heading back to Boston where they won the final two games.
Sadly, Donnie Moore’s life spiraled down after that. He was booed regularly by Angels’ fans who couldn’t forget that one fateful pitch. Moore was tough on himself too. It’s unlikely that failing to retire the Red Sox on that October day in 1986 was his only demon, but he fell into deep depression after being released in 1988. There were no Angels in the outfield for Donnie Moore on that day. He committed suicide in 1989 at the age of 35.
OCTOBER 7, 1969 – ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – Curt Flood was a pretty good baseball player. He broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 18. He had a .293 lifetime batting average and won several Gold Glove awards. Flood did a lot for the Cardinals. He is most remembered for what he would not do.
Flood was traded from St. Louis to the Philadelphia Phillies on this date in 1969. He wouldn’t go. Flood didn’t like that he had no control over where he played. If a team traded a player to another team, that’s where the player went. That was the essence of the “reserve clause.” Flood balked, “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.”
Flood’s case against the reserve clause went all the way to the U-S Supreme Court. While the court ruled against Flood in 1972, the decision altered the landscape which soon allowed much freedom of movement by the players – and much higher salaries.
Kurt Flood https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/floodcu01.shtml
“Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball” by Leonard Koppett
OCTOBER 3, 1951 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK –
There’s a long fly. It’s gonna be I believe…
THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!”
Those were the words that blurted out of Russ Hodges‘ mouth as he described, arguably, the most dramatic moment in sports history – Bobby Thomson’s pennant clinching home run for the New York Giants to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hodges was the Giants’ play-by-play man. His description was as much disbelief as excitement.
The drama was the result of a perfect storm; a Giants comeback from 13½ games down in August, a Brooklyn Dodgers‘ collapse, the third game of a best of three playoff to decide the pennant, the Giants’ last chance in the bottom of the 9th down 4-2, two men on, one out.
Bobby Thomson hitting a home run wasn’t so unusual. He hit 32 of them in 1951, 264 in a 15-year career. Thomson also had over a thousand RBI (1,026) in his career, and was a lifetime .270 hitter. Still, what happened at 3:58 p.m. Eastern Time on October 3, 1951 was as dramatic as anything that had ever happened in sports. The discovery of an audio recording of the play-by-play only intensified the drama.
It’s ironic that a recording of the radio broadcast is saved for posterity in that that game was one of the first to be televised nationally, but the TV broadcast was apparently not recorded.
OCTOBER 1, 1932 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – What did or didn’t happen in Wrigley Field on this date is debated to this day. Some believe Babe Ruth called his shot while batting in game-3 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees – that is, pointed toward the bleachers, indicating he was going to hit a home run there, and then hitting one there. So did Ruth call his shot? I say no.
Ruth definitely gestured, as film from that day shows, but was he calling his shot? [I don’t have the rights to show a still frame from that film, but you can see it by Google-ing “called shot copyright Kirk Kandle”.]
The Yankees were up 2 games to none against the Cubs in the ’32 series. New York took an early lead in game three on a home run by Ruth, only to be tied by the Cubs.
It was the 5th inning and Ruth came to bat again. He and the Cubs were jawing back and forth at each other. It’s obvious from the film that Ruth was gesturing with the count 2-balls and 2-strikes. On the next pitch, he hit a mammoth home run about 450 feet.
Did Ruth call his shot? Sportswriter Joe Williams of Scripps-Howard newspapers started it with this headline in the next day’s paper:
“Ruth calls shot as he puts home run no. 2 in side pocket”
Cubs pitcher Charlie Root, who gave up the home run, insisted Ruth did not call his shot. “If he had made a gesture like that I’d have put one in his ear and knocked him on his (backside).” Ruth did not initially acknowledge that he called his shot, but embraced the story more and more as time went on.
Below is how Ruth’s 5th inning at-bat appears, including the bold type:
YANKEES 5TH: Sewell grounded out (shortstop to first); the Cubs bench players were riding Babe Ruth mercilessly and Ruth yelled and gestured back; Ruth homered;
Whoever wrote that does not believe he called his shot. And if you look at Ruth’s gesture it appears to be straight ahead. When a left-handed batter stands in the box straight ahead is toward the 3rd base dugout, which is the Cubs dugout. My belief is Ruth was gesturing toward the Cubs, not center-field. Did Ruth call his shot? I say no.
SEPTEMBER 26, 1981 | HOUSTON, TEXAS – Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to throw 5 no-hitters on this date in 1981. Ryan shut down the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 while pitching for the Houston Astros in the Astrodome.
Nolan Ryan is in a class by himself when it comes to career no-hitters. He ended up with 7. Sandy Koufax, with 4, is the only other pitcher to throw more than 3 (although indicative of Koufax’s short-lived dominance, he threw his no-hitters in a span of 4 seasons. Ryan’s no-no’s were thrown over a 19-year span – a testament to his enduring dominance.
I didn’t know thatPl
Ready for another “I didn’t know that” stat? Nolan Ryan had a no-hitter broken up after the 7th inning 24 times. Second on the list is Randy Johnson with less than half that number (11).
Back to September 26, 1981…
Ryan came close to losing his shutout in the 2nd when he walked Steve Garvey to lead off. The Dodger first baseman stole second and went to third on a wild pitch – still with nobody out. Ryan struck out Pedro Guerrero and Mike Scioscia (the current Angels manager) and got Ron Roenicke to fly out.
Ryan finished the day striking out 11, walking 3 and giving up no hits.