JUNE 22-Veeck as in Wreck

*1946 | CLEVELAND, OHIOGroucho Marx once said, “I would not join a club that would have someone like me for a member.” Non-conformist Bill Veeck probably shared some of that attitude, but on this date in 1946 he joined a club he would often be at odds with – major league baseball owners.

Veeck was a showman who would stop at practically nothing to get fans in the stands.

Veeck put together a group, which included entertainer Bob Hope, that inked a deal for the Cleveland Indians on June 22, 1946. This was the start of a career as a major league club owner. He later ran the St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox (twice) franchises.

Veeck was a showman who would stop at practically nothing to get fans in the stands. He employed a midget who had one at bat for the Browns and walked; the pitcher had a tough time finding 3’7″ Eddie Gaedel‘s strike zone. The commissioner’s office didn’t like the idea and immediately barred Gaedel from baseball, but not before his one at bat.

There were a number of Veeck innovations fellow owners originally balked at that have since become commonplace; player names on uniforms, fireworks displays, food other than peanuts and Cracker Jacks available at the ball park.

He also understood the importance of winning. Only three teams other than the New York Yankees won the American League pennant from 1947 to 1959, two of them were Veeck’s – the ‘48 Indians and ‘59 White Sox. Each team set attendance records under Veeck’s leadership as well.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES: 
Richard Dugan, United Press (UP), June 23, 1946, Cleveland, Ohio
Post season results

JUNE 19-America’s game takes shape

1846 | HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY – It’s unlikely anyone will ever figure out when the first game of baseball was played because, in all likelihood, there was no first game. Baseball evolved. Some version of the game dates back to pre-Revolutionary War days, and is based on “ball games” played for centuries. However, a significant contest in that evolution occurred on this date in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The Knickerbocker Club of New York organized a game at Elysian Field using rules documented in 1845 by member Alexander Cartwright (Abner Doubleday was nowhere to be found). Cartwright, a surveyor by trade, laid out the dimensions of the field. Club members tinkered with the rules and practiced among themselves before the June 1846 game. Historian Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, says the Cartwright rules “formalized” many of the rules that remain intact today.

Among the 20 rules laid down by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in the 1840’s:

  1. There would be four bases in a diamond configuration.
  2. The “batter” placed at “home plate” at the bottom of the diamond, if looking from above.
  3. The game consists of 21 outs.
  4. Three outs made up a half inning.
  5. Runner no longer out by having ball thrown at him
  6. Foul and fair territory established
  7. The bases shall be from “home” to second base, 42 paces; from 1st base to 3rd base, 42 paces, equidistant.
  8. The ball must be pitched, and not thrown, for the bat.
  9. A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of first or third base, is foul.
  10. Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught is a hand out; if not caught is considered fair, and a striker is bound to run.
  11. A ball being struck or tipped and caught either flying or on the first bound is a hand out.
  12. A player running the base shall be out, if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base, or the runner is touched with it before he makes his base; it being understood, however, that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.
  13. A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base is a hand out.
  14. No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.
  15. A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made by the pitcher.
  16. But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.

Reportedly, a team called the New York Nine beat the Knickerbockers 23-1 on that June day in 1846. They played four innings.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, 2004, Leonard Koppett
Knickerbocker Rules
Baseball in the Garden of Eden, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011
LISTEN: John Thorn NPR interview

June 18-Not again!

1962 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Remember yesterday’s story about Lou Brock being only the second player to hit a home run into the center field bleachers of New York’s Polo Grounds on June 17, 1962? The bleachers were 475 feet from home plate.

Well, it happened again the very next day. Henry Aaron, a more likely slugger, put one into the bleachers in center as the Milwaukee Braves beat the New York G.

What are the odds? Just four players had hit balls into the cent-field bleachers in the 52-year history of the Polo Grounds (Luke Easter of the Negro Leagues also did it) two of them on consecutive days.

The Polo Grounds had some interesting quirks. While the center field fence was a great distance away. The left and right field lines were short. The distance down the left field line varied over the years, but was usually 270 or 280 feet away, never more than 300 feet away, the right field line was even shorter. The upper deck in left hung over the lower deck, meaning a ball that could be caught if it fell all the way to the ground, could end up in the upper deck and be a home run.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Polo_Grounds
http://www.ballparks.com/baseball/national/pologr.htm
http://www.retrosheet.org/

http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2014/04/not_715_ten_other_great_hank_a.html

June 17-Who’da thunk it

*1962 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The centerfield bleachers in the old Polo Grounds in New York, home to the New York Giants before they moved to San Francisco, were 475 feet from home plate. Quite a poke. Before June 17, 1962 only one player had hit a home run into those bleachers – the Milwaukee BravesJoe Adcock. At 6’4″ Adcock looked the part of a slugger. 

On June 17, 1962 a second ballplayer hit a ball into the center field bleachers of the Polo Grounds, but you’d be surprised who. It was Lou Brock, a man known more for his base stealing than slugging. Brock wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with the slow trot around the bases. He finished his career with 149 home runs and over 900 runs driven in.

Brock was still playing for the Cubs on this date, but would be traded to St. Louis two years later where he’d spend the rest of his hall of fame career as a Cardinal.

Bill Grimes is a member of SABR (The Society for American Baseball Research)

 

June 16-Yankees revisit a peaceful RFK

*2006 | WASHIGTON, D.C. – The New York Yankees returned to RFK Stadium in Washington, D. C. on this date in 2006. They beat the Washington Nationals 7-5 in inter-league play.

The last time the Bronx Bombers played at RFK was September 30, 1971 – the last game played by the old Washington Senators.  The Yankees won that game too, but by a 9-0 forfeit when fans stormed the field in the bottom of the 9th and wouldn’t leave. The fans were upset with the Senators leaving the nation’s capital for the second time in ten years.

Here’s where you need a scorecard to keep track; The Senators left the first time in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins, but the deal that allowed owner Calvin Griffith to leave Washington for the Twin Cities brought a new franchise to D.C. in 1961 also called the Senators. The new Senators played at old Griffiths Stadium, still owned by the Griffiths’ family, until “District of Columbia Stadium” was ready in 1962. D.C. Stadium became known as RFK Stadium after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

The new Senators’ attendance reflected their play – dismal. They moved again in 1971, this time to the Dallas where they became, and remain, the Texas Rangers.

To pour salt on the wounds of fans in Washington, D.C., the Minnesota Twins (the original Senators) made it to the World Series four years after leaving the nation’s capital (1965). And they won the World Series in 1987 and 1991.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Washington Senators

June 16, 2006 box score/play-by-play

June 15-One that got away

*1964 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – This date in 1964 is infamous for older Chicago Cubs fans. It’s the day the team let a youngster named Lou Brock go in a six-player deal with the rival St. Louis Cardinals. The marquee name the Cubs got was right-handed starter Ernie Broglio. Brock played 16 more seasons for the Cardinals and ended up in the Hall of Fame. Broglio was out of baseball in less than three years after the trade.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Brock was a speedy, 24-year old outfielder who was hitting .251 at the time of the trade and struck out a lot. At the same time, he showed promise as a base stealer and had some pop in his bat.

Some described Broglio at the time as an “aging” hurler. In fact he was 29, and was no slouch. He won 21 games for the Cardinals in 1960 and 18 in ’63. Unfortunately, he won only 7 games for the Cubs over the next two and a half years and was out of baseball by 1967.

Brock paid off for the Cardinals right away. He hit .348 and stole 33 bases the remainder of the ’64 season, helping St. Louis win the World Series against the New York Yankees.

Also part of the trade were pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth who were sent to the Cardinals along with Brock for Broglio, pitcher Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens.

READ MORE:
Lou Brock stats
More Lou Brock

June 14-The real Roy Hobbs

*1949 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus was shot by a deranged fan on this date in 1949. The event became the inspiration for The Natural, first a novel, then a movie.

The book was written by Bernard Malamud in 1952. The movie came out in 1984 starring Robert Redford. The character in the book and movie, Roy Hobbs, was out of baseball for a while after being shot, but eventually made a dramatic comeback.

Eddie Waitkus didn’t make quite as dramatic a comeback, but was back in the Phillies lineup in 1950, and went on to play six more years in the majors.

Waitkus started his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1941, but World War II interrupted and he ended up in the Philippines. He didn’t return to the Cubs until 1946. It was during this time that a young Chicago secretary named Ruth Ann Steinhagen became obsessed with Waitkus. Though not a term used at the time, she became a stalker. The Cubs first baseman was oblivious to the attraction.

Waitkus was traded to the Phillies before the 1949 season. The Phillies played a one-game series in Chicago in May, but a three-game series in June brought Waitkus closer to Steinhagen for an extended period for the first time since he left the Cubs. She got a room at the upscale Edgewater Beach Hotel where the Phillies were staying. She lured him to her room by using the name of a former high school friend of his. When he arrived Steinhagen shot him in the chest. He was close to death several times before the bullet was successfully removed.

Ruth Ann Steinhagen was never put on trial for the shooting, instead she was committed to a mental institution.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
The Natural by Bernard Malamud, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1952
Associated Press (AP), New York, November 10, 1950, via Ellensburg Daily Record, Ellensburg, Washington
More on Eddie Waitkus

JUNE 13-Yankees, Tigers instigate riot

*1924 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – You think fans get out of control today? Few events of this generation would match what occurred in Detroit today in baseball history – June 13, 1924. The New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers got into a melee that became a full-blown riot involving fans at Detroit’s Navin Field. The situation got so out of control Detroit had to forfeit the game.

Tensions between the two teams had been building for days, led by Tiger star Ty Cobb, and Yankee star Babe Ruth. The animosity came to a head in the 9th inning of this, the 3rd game of the series. The Yankees’ Bob Meusel was batting. He got hit by a pitch from Detroit’s Bert Cole and proceeded to charge the mound. Several fights broke out.

The Associated Press went on to describe it this way in the next morning’s newspapers: “By this time the disorder was general and all Yankee and Tiger players were fighting among themselves. This was the signal for the irate fans to swarm upon the field. Policemen rushed from all corners of the park, but they were unable to cope with the situation.”

Seeing that peace could not be restored, the umpires declared the game forfeited to New York.

After the dust settled, the American League suspended Bert Cole and Bob Meusel, and fined Babe Ruth.

Contributing Sources:
Detroit, June 13, 1924, The Baltimore Sun
Greater Astoria Historical Society

June 12 – A RECORD THAT WILL NEVER BE BROKEN

*2010 | BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTES – Boston Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava did something today in baseball history – JUNE 12, 2010 – that had only been done once before – hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues.

Kevin Kouzmanoff is the only other player to accomplish what Nava did. Kouzmanoff hit a grand slam on the first major league pitch he saw for the Cleveland Indians on September 2, 2006.

It’s a fete that will never be topped – tied, yes – but never topped, because there’s only one first pitch, and four is the most runs that can be driven in with one swing of the bat.

Ironically, Daniel Nava, was never a home-run hitter. He played in 60 games for the Red Sox in 2010, had 188 at-bats and that first pitch slam was his only home-run that year. In his, as of today, seven year major league career, he’s hit a total of 27 home runs.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
June 12,2010 box score/stats/play-by-play
Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9BLMdRRZ-s
Nava takes historic swing, Ian Browne, MLB.com, June 12, 2010

 

June 11-Vander Meer out-hits Boston

*1938 | CINCINNATI, OHIOCincinnati Red Legs pitcher Johnny Vander Meer got more hits than the entire Boston **Bees (today’s Atlanta Braves) team on this date in baseball history – one. Vander Meer no-hit the Braves 3-0 in the first of his two consecutive no-hitters.

There are records in baseball many believe will never be broken; Joe DiMaggio‘s 56 game hitting streak, Cy Young‘s 511 career wins, Don Larsen‘s World Series perfect game (it may be tied, but broken? Unlikely). What about this one? What are the odds someone will throw THREE no-hitters in a row? It’s highly unlikely the record will ever be tied.

Vander Meer walked three and struck out four in his first no-hitter. He was down right wild in the second consecutive no-hitter, walking eight and striking out seven. Vander Meer created some drama in the 9th by walking the bases loaded before inducing the Dodgers’ Leo Durocher to fly out to center.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
June 11, 1938 Cincinnati/Boston box score/stats
June 15, 1938 Cincinnati/Brooklyn 2nd no-hitter box score/stats
The Image of Their Greatness, by Lawrence Ritter & Donald Honig, 1979
Consecutive no-hitters

**The Boston Braves were known as the “Bees” for 5 seasons from 1936 to 1940.

June 10-Colavito muscles 4 out of the park

*1959 | BALTIMORE, MARYLANDRocky Colavito hit four home runs against the Baltimore Orioles today in baseball history – June 10, 1969. He became the eighth major leaguer to jack four in a 9-inning game. His Cleveland Indians beat the Orioles 11 to 4.

“Rocky Colavito” was born Rocco Domenico Colavito in New York City in 1933. What a name. He could have been a prize fighter if he wasn’t a ball player. He was signed by the Indians in 1951.

Colavito hit 374 home runs in his relatively short 13 year major league career, which, as of June 10, 2017, puts him 77th on the all-time career home run list.

He was never a threat to the record, but in one eleven year span Colavito averaged 33 home runs, which is the same number career leader Henry Aaron averaged per season, and on par with the other career home run leaders; Barry Bonds (2nd-34), Babe Ruth (3rd-34), Willie Mays (4th-30) and Sammy Sosa (5th-35)

The 6-time all-star bounced around the majors a bit. Besides Cleveland, he played for the Detroit Tigers, and had short stints with the Kansas City A’s, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. His best year was 1961 with the Tigers when he hit .290 with 45 home runs and 113 RBI.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Career HR leaders

 

June 9-Sunday Night Lights

*1963 | HOUSTON, TEXAS – The first Sunday night major league baseball game was played on this date in 1963. Sunday night games were banned at the time, but the Houston Colt .45s asked for, and were granted, an exception because of the oppressive Texas heat.

“We would have been lucky to have drawn 4,000 fans if the game had been played in the afternoon.”

This was before the Astrodome was built, in fact the sweltering heat was an impetus for building it. At the time the Colt .45s were playing in open air Colt Stadium, which had virtually no shade for the fans.

The Houston ball club was ecstatic about the results. Besides beating the San Francisco Giants 3-0 in 1-hour and 58 minutes, in front of 17,437 fans, executive director George Kirksey said, “We would have been lucky to have drawn 4,000 fans if the game had been played in the afternoon. You can’t expect people to pay their money to come to the ball park and suffer in the heat.”

The Associated Press in Houston reported the night game temperature was 79°. It would have been 95º during the day.

Of the cities with major league teams at the time, the heat was an issue in Houston more than any other:

Average highs (from www.myforecast.com)
                                         June   July    August
Houston                       90          92         92
St. Louis                        85          89         87
Kansas City                 84          90         87
Washington , D.C.   84          88         86
Baltimore                    83          87         85
Philadelphia               82          86         85
Cincinnati                    82          86         85
Detroit                          79          83         81
Chicago                        79          84         82
New York                    79          84         83
Cleveland                     79          83         81
Minneapolis               79          84         84
Milwaukee                  76          80         79
Boston                          76          82         82
Los Angeles                72          75         76
San Francisco            71          71         72

The Houston club had to deal with the heat until 1966 when the Harris County Domed Stadium opened. Soon after the stadium name was changed to the Astrodome and the team name changed to Astros.

READ MORE/SOURCES:
June 9, 1963 box score/stats
Weather stats
Houston Astros
Associated Press, Houston, via The Hartford Courant, June 11, 1963

JUNE 8-Let’s play 2… sports that is

*1979 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Two future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks were drafted right out of high school by major league baseball teams on this date in 1979. Dan Marino was selected in the 4th round by the Kansas City Royals. John Elway was drafted in the 18th round, also by the Royals. They both chose college instead; Marino – Pittsburgh and Elway – Stanford.

Elway was drafted again by the Yankees in 1981. He played 42 games for the Yankees Oneonta, NY farm team in ‘82, and showed promise. He hit .318 with 4 home runs and 25 RBI. He was also trying to get the Baltimore Colts of the NFL, who drafted him #1 in 1983, to trade him. They did. That’s how Elway ended up in Denver. Dan Marino did not play any professional baseball.

There have been a bunch of other two-sport stars. Here are a few of them:

Michael Jordan – The basketball icon, made a flight of fancy to the White Sox minor leagues in the mid-90’s. Getting back into basketball was a better use of his talents.

Bo Jackson – Played football for the Oakland Raiders and major league baseball for the Royals and White Sox. A hip injury cut short his involvement in both sports.

Danny Ainge – The future NBA star ( and current Boston Celtics general manager) played 211 games as an infielder for the Toronto blue Jays from 1979 to ’81, finishing with a .220 average.

Deion Sanders – Deion was probably the most successful two-sport pro athlete. He played parts of 9 seasons for the Yankees, Braves, Reds and Giants, hitting .273 and stealing 56 bases for Cincinnati in 1997. Much of this overlapped with his 14 years in the NFL, 8 as a Pro Bowler, around the same time.

Brian Jordan – Played defensive back (with Deion Sanders) for the Atlanta Falcons in the early 90’s. Jordan settled on baseball after that.

Dave DeBussshere – Pitched 102 innings for the White Sox in 1962 & 63 with an impressive ERA of 2.90 before settling full time on an NBA career with the New York Knicks.

Chuck Connors – Played baseball for the Dodgers and Cubs and basketball for the Boston Celtics in the late 40’s and early 50’s. He’s probably best known, however, for his lead role in an old TV show, “The Rifleman.”

George Halas – Played 12 games for the Yankees in 1919 before focusing on football and helping found the National Football League and the Chicago Bears.

 

JUNE 7-From the school yard to “The Show”

*1973 | NEW YORK, NEW YORKThis doesn’t happen very often. Three players chosen in the first round of the major league draft on this date in 1973 went straight to the major leagues. Number one pick David Clyde went from high school to the Texas Rangers. Outfielder Dave Winfield went from the University of Minnesota campus to the San Diego Padres. And Eddie Bane went from Arizona State University to the Minnesota Twins as a pitcher.

Another player from that draft became a regular major leaguer at 18 – Robin Yount – though he technically did not go straight from high school. He became the regular Milwaukee Brewer shortstop the following spring.

The results of these “can’t miss” draftees were mixed.

David Clyde started and won his first major league start June 27, 1973. His career was not a memorable one though. Clyde developed arm problems and his major league career was over before he was 25.
Dave Winfield was a highly sought-after athlete. The same year he was drafted by MLB, he was also drafted by the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. He never played professional football or basketball, deciding to stick with baseball. His major league career was spent mostly with the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees. He made his MLB debut June 19, 1973

Eddie Bane had an impressive major league debut July 4th 1973. He gave up one earned run over 7 innings, but got a no-decision. He finished the year 0-5 in 1973. He never quite got it together in “the show,” and was out of baseball by 1976.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
MLB Draft: The 1970’s
David Clyde  
Robin Yount
Dave Winfield

 

June 5-Can’t we all just get along?

*1974 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – The Oakland A’s came out swinging on this date in 1974, before the game against the Detroit Tigers. A’s teammates Reggie Jackson and Billy North got into a fight in the visitors’ clubhouse. It was broken up by teammates Vida Blue and John “Blue Moon” Odom, who had their own scuffle two years earlier.

A few minutes after the first fight was broken up Jackson and North came to blows again. This time Jackson banged his shoulder, but teammate catcher Ray Fosse playing peacemaker crushed a disc in his neck that virtually ended his season.

Jackson and North were close friends at one time, but according to the Oakland Tribune they had not spoken in a month. Apparently they had something to say to each other that day.

The ’74 A’s weren’t exactly the picture of harmony, still they went on to win their third straight World Series; a feat no team not named Yankees has ever done.

Oakland players have said they played so well as a team because of their common dislike for micromanaging owner Charles Finley. Oh, by the way, the A’s beat the Tigers that day 9-1.

Contributing sources:
Oakland Tribune, June 6, 1974
Consecutive World Series winners
World Series winners

JUNE 1-Iron horse begins his journey

20170222_144857_resized*1925 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – On this date in 1925 twenty-one year old Henry Louis Gehrig pinched hit for New York Yankee shortstop Paul Wanninger. It was the start of something special. Lou Gehrig would play in every single game for the next 14 years. He would surpass Everett Scott‘s consecutive game record of 1,307 and set his own of 2,130 consecutive games played.

The oft-repeated story is that Gehrig’s streak began when New York Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp asked for a day off because of a headache. Another story is Yankee manager Miller Huggins didn’t start Pipp and several other regulars that day to shake up a slumping lineup. Either story may be true. Gehrig did start at first in place of Pipp, but it was the second day of his streak, June 2nd.

Interestingly, the guy Gehrig pinch hit for on June 1st to start his streak, Paul Wanninger, several years earlier had replaced former consecutive game record holder Everett Scott in the Yankee lineup.

Gehrig’s consecutive game streak ended sadly in 1939. He was forced out of the lineup by a rare disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His seemingly unbreakable record would stand for 56 years. It was broken by Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles in 1995.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
June 1, 1925
ESPN on Gehrig
Wally Pipp

 

May 31-Legends meet in Milwaukee

1975 | MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – Baseball generations were bridged in dramatic fashion at Milwaukee County Stadium on this date in 1975. The Brewers were hosting the Kansas City Royals. Hank Aaron, in a Brewer uniform, was in his 22 major league baseball season, as was Harmon Killebrew, in a Royals uniform.

Also in Royals blue was pitcher Lindy McDaniel, in his 21st season. Playing shortstop for the Brewers was a tall slender, curly haired 19-year old named Robin Yount. Aaron, Killebrew and McDaniel all started playing major league baseball before Yount was born.

Aaron and Killebrew were at the ends of Hall of Fame careers. Yount was at the beginning of one. He would end up in Cooperstown twenty-four years later.

Yount would be American League MVP as a shortstop in 1982, the year the Brewers went to the World Series. He would be MVP a second time in 1989, as a centerfielder. One of only three players in baseball history to win the MVP at two positions. The others were Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg.

The ever modest Yount was probably in awe being on the same field with those legends back in 1975, but he went on to prove he belonged.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 2004

 

MAY 29-1st place on Memorial Day good omen

*2017 | MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL – USA • It’s a surprise to many that the Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees were leading their divisions this Memorial Day (2017).

Since Major League Baseball (MLB) division play began in 1969 records show that teams leading their division or in a wild-card position on Memorial Day have a better than average chance of making the playoffs.

American League LEADERS today-May 29, 2017:
East: YANKEES
Central: TWINS
West: ASTROS
Wildcard #1: RED SOX
Wildcard #2: ORIOLES

National League LEADERS today-May 29, 2017:
East: NATIONALS
Central: BREWERS
West: ROCKIES
Wildcard #1: DODGERS
Wildcard #2: DIAMONDBACKS

We’ll have to wait and see how predictive the division leaders were today.

Here’s how predictable Memorial Day standings were in 2016:

American League LEADERS on Memorial Day 2016
East: RED SOX (PREDICTIVE-WON THE DIVISION)
Central: TWINS (DID NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS)
West: ASTROS (DID NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS)
Wildcard #1: BLUE JAYS (PREDICTIVE-WON WILDCARD #1)
Wildcard #2: BALTIMORE (PREDICTIVE-WON WILDCARD #2)

National League LEADERS on Memorial Day 2016
East: NATIONALS (PREDICTIVE-WON THE DIVISION)
Central: CUBS (PREDICTIVE-WON THE DIVISION)
West: GIANTS (PREDICTIVE-MADE PLAYOFFS AS WILDCARD)
Wildcard #1: PIRATES (DID NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS)
Wildcard #2: METS (PREDICTIVE-WON WILDCARD #1)

2016’s Memorial Day standings were quite predictive of who would make the playoffs. There were 10 postseason playoff slots available in, and 70% of the Division leaders on Memorial Day 2016 made the playoffs.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Division standings
Wild card standings
May 29, 2016

MAY 27 – Size matters

*1960 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK –  It’s been said, ‘catching a knuckle-ball is like trying to catch a butterfly with a fly swatter.’  It’s one of the biggest challenges a catcher faces. The Baltimore Orioles tried to do something about it on this date in 1960.

One of their starters was premier knuckler Hoyt Wilhelm. Oriole catchers had an especially difficult time catching him. The Orioles set a record in 1959 for the most passed ball with 49, 38 while Wilhelm was on the mound.

On this date in 1960, Baltimore manager Paul Richards. had an idea. He came up with an oversized catcher’s mitt for catcher Clint Courtney.

It worked. Courtney had no passed balls on this date – there had been 11 in Wilhelm’s previous 28 innings – and Wilhelm pitched his first complete game of the season beating the New York Yankees 3-2.

The oversized mitt led to a rule change a few years later. Beginning with the 1965 season catcher’s mitts were limited to 38 inches in circumference and 15 ½ inches from top to bottom.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated, David Nemec,  2006
The knuckle-ball

MAY 26 – The greatest pitching performance

*1959 | MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – What a shame! Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates took a perfect game against the Milwaukee Braves into the 13th inning on this date in 1959 – no runs, no hits, no walks, no hit-by-pitch, no nothin’.

Up until the 13th, Haddix retired every single batter, but before the inning was over he would lose the game, the perfect game and the no-hitter, 1-0.

Talk about records that may never be broken, Haddix pitched a perfect game for 12 innings! No one had ever done more than 9.

The Pirates had 12 hits that night, including one by Haddix himself, but they couldn’t muster a single run for the guy on the mound.

Haddix lost the perfect game when his 3rd baseman Don Hoak committed an error. He lost the no-hitter when Braves’ first baseman Joe Adcock doubled. He lost the game when Felix Mantilla scored from second on Adcock’s double, and the run wasn’t even earned. The game went 13 innings, but only took 2 hours and 54 minutes. Of course, there wasn’t much scoring and no pitching changes.

Did you know that the Pirates had 12 hits that night, including one by Haddix himself, but they couldn’t muster a single run for the guy on the mound?


There was another interesting thing that happened that night, Braves slugger Eddie Matthews laid down a sacrifice bunt in the 13th inning to get Mantilla to second. When’s the last time you saw a slugger (he hit over 500 home runs) lay down a sacrifice bunt – successfully at that!

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 26, 1959 Box score
The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 27, 1959

MAY 25 – 9 home runs in a week

cropped-nigiht-game-5.jpg*2002 | PHOENIX, ARIZONA – The Los Angles DodgersShawn Green hit his 8th and 9th home run in a week on this date in 2002 – at the time, a new National League record.

Green hit 4 home runs two days earlier (May 23rd).

Two days before that he hit a pair of home runs.

He hit one on May 24th.

The two he hit against the Arizona Diamondbacks on this date added up to nine for the week.

Shawn Green was born in Des Plaines, Illinois on November 10, 1972. His family later moved to California where he attended Tustin High School in Tustin, California. He received a scholarship to Stanford University in 1991, but was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays the same year.

He broke into the major leagues with Toronto in 1993 at age 20. At the end of the 2007 season Green had 328 career home runs.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 25, 2002 box score/stats
The Associated Press, Phoenix, AZ, May 26, 2002
Shawn Green background

MAY 24 – Let there be lights

*1935 | CINCINNATI, OHIO – The first night game took place on this date in 1935. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt flipped a switch from Washington, D.C. creating that now familiar glow emanating from night baseball. The first game under the lights took place at Crosley Field in Cincinnati where the Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 before 20,422 fans.

Night baseball is commonplace today, but it took a while to catch on. A number of charter major league teams were still without lights well into the 1940’s (well into the 1980’s for the Cubs).

It’s a wonder night baseball didn’t arrive sooner because it brought out the fans. Attendance went up just about everywhere lights went up.

According to The Sporting News, September, 1940 issue, the New York Yankees led the majors in total attendance that year with a little over a million fans. That’s about 17,000 per game at Yankee Stadium which did not have lights. Cleveland had lights, and averaged 33,000 fans when it played at night, which was only during the week.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Attendance throughout the years
Retrosheet
Night baseball

MAY 23 – Senators start poorly & go downhill from there

*1901 | The Washington Senators were one of eight charter members of the American League when it began play in 1901. The Senators were also the image of futility during most of their 60 years in the nation’s capital (the franchise moved to Minneapolis in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins). They spent 60 years in the Washington, D.C., winning one World Series**.

A game on this date in 1901 gave their fans a glimpse of how difficult it would be to love the Senators. Washington had a 13-5 lead over the Cleveland Blues (today’s Cleveland Indians) in the bottom of the 9th with two outs.

The Senators needed one more out. They couldn’t get it. Cleveland scored 9 runs after two outs with nobody on-base and beat the Senators 14 to 13.

Contributing Sources:
retrosheet for May 23, 1901
Chicago Daily Tribune, May 22, 2017,

 

 

 

May 22 – 620-foot home run?

*1963 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK  –  Mickey Mantle himself thought he hit the longest home run of his career on this date in 1963. This from a man who was quite modest about his accomplishments. It was a walk-off home run in the 11th to break a 7-7 tie against the Kansas City A’s (today’s Oakland A’s).

The Baltimore Sun reported the next day that those who saw the mammoth blast are certain that the ball was rising when it hit the façade of Yankee Stadium’s roof in right field. That would be about 115 feet above the ground, 370 feet, at ground level, from home plate.

So how far did the ball travel? Or how far would it have traveled had the façade of the roof not been in the way? Many record books say the ball traveled over 600 feet. That’s more than double the distance from home plate to the right field corner. It’s the length of two football fields.

Is there a little hyperbole here? Could Mickey have been given the benefit of the exaggeration because he was likable, handsome and hit a lot of tape measure home runs?

What cannot be denied are the statistics of a guy who was a speed demon when he broke in at age 19. Look at his on-base percentage. And while Mantle was a great RBI guy, he had more runs scored.

Mickey Mantle Career Stats
Batting average: .298
On base percentage: .421
Home runs: 536
RBI: 1,509
Runs scored: 1,677

Contributing Source:
The Baltimore Sun, May 23, 1963

MAY 21 – Don’t Blink

*1943 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – The Chicago White Sox beat the Washington Senators (today’s Minnesota Twins) 1-0, on this date in baseball history. The game took 1 HOUR and 29 MINUTES – the quickest night game in American League history. Sox starter Johnny Humphries beat Senator starter Dutch Leonard.

The National League has the American League beat in the quickest night game category, however. About a year after the above referenced Senators/Sox game, the Boston Braves (today’s Atlanta Braves) beat the Cincinnati Reds 2 to 0 in an hour and fifteen minutes in Cincinnati. And these are just night games.

The times for the quickest day games are startling: 51 minutes in the National League (NY Giants-Philadelphia Phillies September 26, 1919) and 55 minutes in the American (St. Louis Browns-NY Yankees, September 26, 1926).

It’s remarkable that a game could be played in less than an hour and a half. What’s even more amazing is that 13 of the first 26 games the St. Louis Browns (today’s Baltimore Orioles) played in 1943 took less than 2 hours. Only one took more than 3.

The same was pretty much true for the White Sox. By their 26th game, 13 had been under 2 hours. None took more than 3 hours.

There are probably several reasons games are longer now, one is relief pitchers – there are more of them, and complete games by starters – there are fewer of them. In 1943 Chicago White Sox starters completed 70 games. In 2005, Sox starters completed 9, and that was the year they won the World Series.

Commercial breaks add to the length of games. And you can’t ignore the fact that pitchers and hitters do a whole lot of nothin’ between pitches.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 21, 1943
BASEBALL ALMANAC

See my Opinion piece, “Why Baseball Needs a Pitch Clock.”

MAY 20 – One-armed outfielder

*1945 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURIPete Gray may have had his best day on this date in 1945. He helped the St. Louis Browns sweep a doubleheader from the New York Yankees 10-1 and 5-2. Gray had three hits and two RBI in the opener. He scored the winning run in the second game, and hauled in three great catches in the outfield. Maybe not the stuff of legend, except Pete Gray had one arm.

He was born Peter J. Wyshner in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1915. He lost his right arm in a farm accident at age six. He played two solid seasons for the Class A Memphis Chicks in 1943 and ’44. The St. Louis Browns purchased his contract and brought him up to the big leagues in 1945. Gray’s major league career was just 77 games. He hit just .218 but had a .959 fielding percentage playing mostly left or center.

If not for World War II, which was still going on when the season started, when many regular players were in the military, it’s quite certain Gray would never have stepped between the lines during a major league baseball game. Still, Peter Gray made it to “The Show,” something millions can only dream about.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream, by William C. Kashatus, McFarland & Company, 2001

MAY 19 – Almost perfect

*1981 | PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – The first batter Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Jim Bibby faced on this date in 1981 got a hit. Terry Harper would be the only Atlanta Brave batter not to go right back to the dugout. Bibby was perfect after Harper’s hit. He retired 27 hitters in a row for a one-hitter as he and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves and Phil Niekro 5-0.

Bibby was not unfamiliar with low hit games, especially in 1973. He threw a no-hitter, a one-hitter and a two-hitter his second year in the majors.

Except for going 19-6 in 1980 and 12-4 in 1979 Jim Bibby’s won-lost record was unremarkable. He finished his twelve-year career just over .500 at 111-101, but his career earned run average was a solid 3.76. The year of his almost perfect game he was 6-3 but a very stingy 2.50 ERA.

Bibby was not unfamiliar with low hit games, especially in 1973. His record was 9-10, but he threw a no-hitter, a one-hitter and a two-hitter that year, his second year in the majors.

Jim Bibby came from a family of athletes. His brother, Henry Bibby, was a professional basketball player in the NBA, also coached the University of Southern California basketball team. Jim’s nephew, Mike Bibby (Henry’s son) played for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 19, 1981 box score

 

MAY 18-Get me to the station on time

*1957 | BALTIMORE, MARYLANDDick Williams of the Baltimore Orioles hit a ninth-inning, game-tying solo home run against Chicago White Sox pitcher Paul LaPalme seconds before 10:20 p.m. on this date in 1957. If Williams had done anything else – taken a pitch, hit a foul ball, gotten a single, double or triple, struck out – any of those things, the game would have ended with the White Sox a winner because the Sox led and a curfew was about to put an end to the contest.

Curfews were fairly common in the major leagues into the 1950’s and 60’s. The initial impetus was World War II

The curfew was an agreement by the two teams ahead of time so the White Sox could catch the last train out of Baltimore. With the game now tied, it was suspended and replayed from the beginning at a later date. Baltimore ended up winning the next time.

Curfews were fairly common in the major leagues into the 1950’s and 60’s. The initial impetus was World War II, during which there were curfews to accommodate dim-outs (as in “dim” the lights) to save energy. Games all over the country had curfews putting a limit on how long a night game could last. By the 1970’s curfews were gone, and night games could last as long as it took.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 1998

MAY 17th-The overly friendly confines

1979 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – On this date in 1979 the Chicago Cubs scored 6 runs in the first, 3 in the fourth, 7 in the fifth, 3 in the sixth, 3 more in the eight and still lost.

There were eleven home runs on this windy afternoon at Wrigley Field, a record at the time.

The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Cubs 23 to 22 in ten innings, but not before the Cubs made a miraculous comeback from a 21-9 deficit in the 5th to tie it 22-22 in the eighth.

There were eleven home runs on this windy afternoon at Wrigley Field, a record at the time. The ‘friendly confines’ were overly friendly on this date. It’s as though former NFL great Gale Sayers sneaked into Wrigley Field, which his Chicago Bears called home during football season, and ran off a few touchdowns.

The Cubs’ Dave Kingman had three home runs. Teammate Bill Buckner had a grand slam and seven runs batted in. The Phillies Mike Schmidt hit two home runs, including the game winner.

_________________

The 45 combined runs by the Cubs and Phillies today in baseball is not even the record. You have to go back to August 25, 1922 when the same two teams combined for 49 runs when the Cubs beat the Phillies 26-23.

The most runs scored in an American League game is 36, done twice. The Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia A’s 22-14 on June 29, 1950. On August 12, 2008 the Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers 19-17.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, May 18, 1979
May 17, 1979 box score/play-by-play
Runs Scored Records
MLB Rare Feats

MAY 14-Stands collapse causing stampede

cropped-cropped-ball-2.jpg1927 | PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – A section of the stands at Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl collapsed on this date in 1927 causing a stampede which killed a fan and injured more than 50. The 50-foot section of the lower deck seats down the first base line gave way during a Philadelphia Phillies – St. Louis Cardinals game throwing some 300 fans out of their seats.

According to newspaper reports at the time, “The collapse threw the crowd into a panic and it swarmed on the field…” (The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia). The game was suspended with the Phillies ahead 12-3.

The ball park was officially named National League Park, but gained its moniker Baker Bowl or Baker Field as a reference to one-time owner William F. Baker.

“The collapse threw the crowd into a panic and it swarmed on the field…”

Since the ball park had to be squeezed into Philadelphia’s street grid there were some interesting dimensions. For example, the right field foul pole was just 275 feet from home plate. Right center was only 300 feet away. These softball-like distances required the erection of a wall 60 feet high in right field. By comparison, the “Green Monster” in Boston is 37 feet high.

Contributing sources:
The Pinstripe Press
The Baker Bowl
Philadelphia Phillies

 

MAY 13-Stan the hitting machine

1958 | CHICAGO, ILLINOISStan Musial got his 3,000th hit on this date in 1958, a double off the Chicago CubsMoe Drabowky at Wrigley Field. At the time only seven players in history had reached 3,000 hits; Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Cap Anson, Paul Waner and Nap Lajoie, quite a list.

Stanley Frank Musial ended up with 3,630 hits in a career that spanned 22 years. As of this writing, he is fourth on the all-time career hits list. Only Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have more.

Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh on November 21, 1920. He played mostly outfield, but also over a thousand games at first base.

He was a great hitter with amazing consistency. Musial had a lifetime batting average of .331. He hit .336 at home and .336 on the road. Musial was National League Most Valuable Player three times; 1943, 1946 and 1948.

Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine once said, “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third.”

Musial spent his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Contributing Sources:
MVP Awards
3,000 hits club  

 

 

MAY 12TH-NIGHT TRAIN REACHES 400

1926 | WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Walter Johnson won his 400th game on this date in 1926. Only one other pitcher has reached that plateau,  Cy Young, winner of an astonishing 511 games. You know Cy. They named an award after him.

Walter Johnson came from Humboldt, Kansas. He broke into the majors with the Washington Senators (today’s Minnesota Twins) in 1907 at age 19.

They called him “Night Train,” and he pitched for the next 21 years, finishing with records like 36-7, 33-12, 23-7, 25-13, 20-7, for a team that lost more than it won (The Senators finished under .500 eleven of the twenty-one seasons Johnson pitched for them).

Walter Johnson was said to have the fastest fastball in major league history, of course there were no radar guns in the teens and twenties, so we can’t really be sure.

Here are some figures from the “I didn’t know that” category that we are sure about;

• Johnson pitched 110 shutouts
• He won 38 games 1-0

• Remarkably, 26 of his losses were 1-0

Walter Johnson could hit too. Johnson finished the 1925 season with a .433 batting average, still a major league record for pitchers. His lifetime batting average was .235, not bad for a pitcher.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
300 win club
Walter Johnson, Hall of Fame  

MAY 11-No more owner managers

1977 | PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA  –  Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner became Atlanta Braves manager Ted Turner on this date in 1977. He was fed up with a 16-game losing strike, so he put on the uniform and headed to the dugout himself.

It didn’t help.

The Braves lost their 17th straight. Owner-as-manager also didn’t last long. Turner’s actions were the impetus for a rule change.

National League Commissioner Chub Feeney put the kibosh on the idea of an owner ever taking over managerial authority right away. He also initiated a rule change stating that a team manager cannot own a financial interest in the team (wonder how George Steinbrenner voted).

The Braves won the next game. Molino Leon beat Pittsburgh’s Bruce Kison 2 to 1. It was a long season though. The Braves ended up in last place in the Western Division. Their record was 61 and 101; second worst in baseball to the expansion Toronto Blue Jays.

Read on:
www.retrosheet.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/
www.todayinbaseballhistory.com/

 

 

 

MAY 10-AARON’S ONLY “RUN” HOME

1967 | PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – On this date in 1967, Henry Aaron hit a home run inside-the-park. It would be the only one of his 755 career home runs that he had to sprint around the bases.

It was the eighth inning when Aaron took Phillies’ ace Jim Bunning (later a United States Senator from Kentucky) deep to center field. Aaron sprinted around the bases, driving in pinch runner Miguel de la Hoz who had been on first, and scored ahead of the relay.

Aaron didn’t have only one inside-the-parker because he was slow; he stole 240 bases in his career. Another irony about Henry Aaron’s accomplishments is that he hit 3 home runs in one game only once. But Aaron’s list of records and accomplishments is set apart from mere mortal ballplayers:

  • All-time career home run leader from 1974 to 2001 (755)
  • All-time RBI leader: 2,297
  • All-time extra-base hits leader: 1,477
  • 21 All-Star appearances
  • The Sporting News NL Player of the Year: 1956, 1963
  • NL batting champion: 1956 (.328), 1959 (.355)
  • NL MVP: 1957
  • Gold Glove award: 1958, 1959, 1960
  • Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame: 1982

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Career home run leaders
The Associated Press (AP), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 11, 1967

MAY 9-A GAME THAT WOULDN’T END

1984 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Every once in a while the baseball Gods decide not to let a game end. The Cubs and Yankees got a sense of that two nights ago – May 7, 2017 – with their 18-inning contest finally won by the Yankees. A game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox, which ended on this date in 1984, was even longer, in fact the long-EST.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox‘ 25 inning marathon began at 7:30 p.m. on the 8th of May.


MIL A   0 0 0   0 0 0   1 0 2   0 0 0   0 0 0   0 0 0   0 0 3   0 0 0  0 – 6 20 3
CHI A   0 0 0   0 0 1   0 0 2   0 0 0   0 0 0   0 0 0   0 0 3   0 0 0  1 – 7 23 1


It was halted at 12:59 a.m. due to a league curfew, and resumed later on the 9th.

The game was tied at 1 apiece going 9th. The Brewers scored 2 in the top of the inning. The White Sox matched it with 2 in the bottom. The two teams went for the next 11 innings without scoring. In the 22nd inning the Brewers scored 3 runs. The White Sox did the same. Not until Sox slugger Harold Baines’ solo home run in the 25th inning did the game end.

Usually 2 hits in a game is a pretty good day, but not when you bat 10 or 11 times. Cecil Cooper, for example, had eleven at bats for the Brewers and 2 hits for a .181 batting average.

The longest game (by innings) in the National League, and in the Majors, was 26 innings between the Brooklyn Dodgers (today’s Los Angeles Dodgers) the Boston Braves (Today’s Atlanta Braves)  in 1920. That game, however, never ended. It was declared a draw.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 8, 1984 box-score & stats
10 Longest games in baseball history
Game Length Records

MAY 6-Up on the roof

MAY 6 | CHICAGO , ILLINOISChicago White Sox slugger Dave Nicholson hit a home run over the roof of old Comiskey Park in Chicago on this day in 1964. Some believe the ball cleared the roof, which would have meant it traveled over 570 feet, but that cannot be confirmed.

Nicholson, a relative unknown, joined a select group that day. Before May 6, 1964, only 10 other players reached Comiskey Park’s roof. They were:

Babe Ruth
Lou Gehrig
Jimmy Foxx
Hank Greenberg
Ted Williams
Mickey Mantle
Bill Skowron
Elston Howard
Eddie Robinson
Minnie Minoso

Dave Nicholson had potential written all over him when he broke in with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960 at the age of 20, but the potential never blossomed. His best year was 1963 with the White Sox. He played in 126 games, hit 22 home runs and had 70 RBI. The problem was, he hit only .229 (the highest batting average in his 7 years in major league baseball) and struck out a club record 175 times.

At 6 – 2, 215 pounds, Nicholson is probably more known for something he did off the field as anything he did on it. He became so frustrated after a particularly tough day that he shut off the showers so hard in the Sox locker room none of his teammates could turn them back on. The story is confirmed by former teammate Jim Landis.

Contributing sources:
Total White Sox: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the World Champion Franchise, by Richard L Lindberg, copyright, 2006
Chicago White Sox records

MAY 5 – “Designated runner” experiment fails

1975 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – One of owner Charlie Finley’s novel ideas was put to rest on this date in 1975. Finley’s Oakland A’s released Herb Washington after a loss to the Chicago White Sox. Washington was a speedster put on the team for one purpose – to run.

He appeared in 104 games as a “designated runner, stealing 31 bases in 48 attempts, and scoring 33 runs. He had no at bats, no hits, no runs batted in and a fielding percentage of .000 because the former college sprinter never played in the field.

Herbert Lee Washington was born in Belzoni, Mississippi in 1951. He was a four-time all-American sprinter at Michigan State University. He tied or broke the world record in the 50 and 60-yard dashes several times.

Having a “designated runner” was just one of maverick Charlie Finley’s experiments. There were many. Some became as common as the 108 stitches on a baseball. Some didn’t work at all.

  • White shoes (worked). Before Finley shoes were either black or …. black. Now they are every color of the rainbow.
  • Two-tone uniforms (worked). Before Finley uniforms were either white (for home) or gray (for visitors. shoes were either black or …. black.
  • Orange baseballs (didn’t work)
  • Fired second baseman Mike Andrews for making two errors in a World Series game. (didn’t work, the Commissioner ordered Andrews re-instated almost immediately)
  • Released all his high priced stars in 1976 (initially didn’t work, but common practice now)
  • Pushed for designated hitter (worked)
  • Designated runner (hasn’t been tried since)

CONTRIBUTING:
Herb Washington
Charlie Finley

MAY 4-The Splendid Slugger

1939 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – The skinny rookie from San Diego can hit the ball, and he can hit it far. On this date in 1939, Ted Williams hit a ball that cleared the right field roof of Tiger Stadium – first player to do it. That was his second home run of the day.

Ted Williams hit 521 home runs in his career, not bad, but 19 other guys hit more. He was more a hitter than a slugger, or was he? Maybe he was both? Would Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, have been chasing Williams’ home run title?

Consider this; Teddy Ballgame averaged 29 home runs a season during his career. During World War II he missed all of 1943, 1944 and 1945 when he was 24, 25 and 26 years old. He missed at least another full season during the Korean War. So, he accumulated zero major league statistics for roughly 4 seasons.

He averaged 33 home runs during the 1940’s. So, let’s conservatively assume he would have hit 30 home runs a year during the time he was in the service. He’d have 641 home runs. At the time that would have put him 2nd on the all-time list. He could probably have averaged 40 home runs those years – he hit more than 40 four times out of seven during the 1940’s. Maybe he wouldn’t have caught Ruth, but he could have been stayed right behind him even to this day.

Teddy Ballgame was still going strong at age 41. In 1960, he opened his last season with a 475-foot home run to right-center field at Washington’s Griffith Stadium.

Contributing Sources:
Ted Williams clears the roof at Tiger Stadium
Ted Williams stats
Los Angeles Times (Associated Press-AP), May 5, 1939  

MAY 3-Now that’s production!

1951 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – Six RBI (runs batted in) in a week is pretty good. Six in a day is a headline grabber. How about six RBI in an inning! That’s what New York Yankees rookie Gil McDougald did on this date in 1951.

McDougald hit a two-run Triple to kick off a 9th inning rally against the St. Louis Browns at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. He came around to bat again. This time he hit a grand slam. The Yankees ended up scoring 11 times that inning on their way to a 17-3 shellacking of the Browns.

The runs batted in (RBI) statistic is a valuable measure of a player’s offensive production, but is dependent on situations. You need to have runners on base or hit a lot of home runs to get RBI. It also depends where you are in the batting order and how productive the hitters ahead of you are.

Bob Johnson, Joe Astroth, Tom McBride, Bob Lemon, Sam Mele, Carlos Quintana, Matt Stairs, Matt Williams and Fernando Tatis have also had 6-RBI innings.

Here are the RBI leaders in various other categories:

Season:
Hack Wilson, Cubs (1930) 191
Lou Gehrig, Yankees (1931) 184
Hank Greenberg, Tigers (1937) 183

Career:
Henry Aaron, Braves, Brewers 2,297
Babe Ruth, Yankees, Red Sox 2,213
Cap Anson, Cubs (White Stockings) 2,076
Lou Gehrig, Yankees 1,995
Stan Musial, Cardinals 1,951

Game:
Jim Bottomly, Cardinals, Sept 24, 1924 12
Mark Whiten, Cardinals, Sept 7, 1993 12
Tony Lazzeri, Yankees, May 24, 1936 11

Contributing Sources:
All-time RBI Leaders
Gill McDougald stats
Baseball-Almanac

MAY 2-SHOCKER! GEHRIG NOT IN LINEUP

1939 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – On this date in 1939 the New York Yankees crushed the Detroit Tigers 22 to 2. But the game was more noteworthy for who didn’t play; Lou Gehrig. The Iron horse first baseman voluntarily decided for the good of the team he couldn’t play. He had played every single game for 14 years – 2,130 games! Gehrig’s record of most consecutive games played would stand until Cal Ripken broke it in 1995.

Something really had to be wrong for Gehrig to keep himself out of the lineup on May 2, 1939. Something was.

Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig was born in New York City in 1903. His name was Americanized to Henry Louis Gehrig. He went to Columbia University in New York on a football scholarship, but also played baseball. Gehrig left Columbia to sign with the Yankees.

As legend has it, early in his career, the Yankees offered Gehrig to the Boston Red Sox for a starting pitcher as kind of re-payment for the Babe Ruth deal a few years earlier. The Red Sox didn’t want Gehrig.

Something really had to be wrong for Gehrig to keep himself out of the lineup on May 2, 1939. Something was. It was Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which later became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, had attacked his body. He was too weak to play baseball. His health deteriorated shockingly fast. Henry Louis Gehrig died just two years later.

Contributing sources:
ALS.org
Lou Gehrig.com 

 

May 1-Turnabout is fair play

1969  –  CINCINNATI, OHIO  –   Cincinnati Red‘s Johnny Vander Meer throwing consecutive  no hitters in 1938 is a fairly well-known bit of baseball trivia. How about this one also involving Cincinnati? On April 30, 1969 Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Maloney no-hit the Houston Astros 10 to nothing. The next day, May 1, 1969 the Astros’ Don Wilson no-hit the Reds 4-0. What are the odds?

No-hitters are significant accomplishments, but they aren’t unheard of. There have been over 300 in the modern era — since 1901. That’s almost two per season.

Here are a few rarer events than a no-hitter:

  • Two no-hitters on the same day – June 29, 1990. Dave Stewart of the Oakland A’s no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays. A couple hours later the DodgersFernando Valenzuela no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • In 1959, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates not only had a no-hitter for 12 innings, he had a perfect game. He lost the perfecto, the no-hitter and the game in the 13th inning. [Look for story May 26th]
  • In 1990 Andy Hawkins of the New York Yankees pitched a no-hitter and lost 4-0 when the Chicago White Sox took advantage of Yankee errors. Initially Hawkins got credit for a no-hitter. Later Major League Baseball changed the criteria and took away Hawkins’ no-hitter because it didn’t go a full 9 innings. It only went 8 and a half because the home team White Sox were ahead and didn’t bat in the ninth.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 2, 1969
Retrosheet’s no-hitters and stuff

April 30th-Mays joins prestigious group

DSCN21301961 | MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – Here’s something you don’t see everyday – 4 home runs by the same guy in a 9-inning game. On this date in 1961, Willie Mays became just the 5th player in major league baseball’s modern era (since 1901) to do it, as his San Francisco Giants beat the Milwaukee Braves (today’s Atlanta Braves) 14-4.

Baseballs flew out of Milwaukee County Stadium on that Sunday afternoon in Wisconsin. Besides Mays’ 4 round-trippers, teammate Jose Pagan hit 2 home runs, as did Henry Aaron of the Braves. Solo shots were hit by the Giants’ Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou.

As of this writing [April 29, 2017], 11 players have hit four home runs in 9-inning games in the modern era:

Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees June 3, 1932  (9)
Gil Hodges, Brooklyn Dodgers August 31, 1950  (9)
Joe Adcock, Milwaukee Braves July 31, 1954  (9)
Rocky Colavito, Cleveland Indians June 10, 1959 (9)
Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants – April 30, 1961 (9)
Bob Horner, Atlanta Braves – July 6, 1986 (9)
Mark Whiten, St. Louis Cardinals – September 7, 1993 (9)
Mike Cameron, Seattle Mariners – May 2, 2002 (9)
Shawn Green, Los Angeles Dodgers – May 23, 2002 (9)
Carlos Delgado, Toronto Blue Jays – September 25, 2003 (9)
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers – May 8, 2012 (9)

Several years usually pass between 4-home run games, but only 21 days separated Mike Cameron’s and Shawn Green’s displays of power in 2002.

Chuck Klein (1936), Pat Seerey (1948) and Mike Schmidt (1976) have also each hit 4 home runs in one game, but they needed extra innings to do it.

No one has ever hit 5 home runs in one game.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
MLB hitting leaders
Baseball-Almanac

April 29-The Lee Elia rant

1983 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS Former big league player, coach and manager Lee Elia came across as a friendly, mild mannered guy – except on this date in 1983.

Elia was managing the Chicago Cubs at the time. They may have been loveable losers, but they hadn’t created the cult following they enjoy today.

The Cubs suffered in relative obscurity on many weekday afternoons back then (lights in Wrigley were still 5 years away). The paid attendance on April 29, 1983 was 9,391, and it was a Friday! Two days earlier 3,384 fans showed up. Twenty years later there would typically be that many people standing in line for a Budweiser.

They lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 on this date. It was the 14th loss in the first 19 games of 1983.

Lee was not happy, but it wasn’t his players who ticked him off. The following is unedited transcript of what Elia told a reporter who had an audiocassette recorder rolling:

CAUTION: EXTREME PROFANITY

“Fuck those fuckin’ fans who come out here and say they’re Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you, rippin’ every fuckin’ thing you do. I’ll tell you one fuckin’ thing, I hope we get fuckin’ hotter than shit, just to stuff it up them 3,000 fuckin’ people that show up every fuckin’ day, because if they’re the real Chicago fuckin’ fans, they can kiss my fuckin’ ass right downtown and PRINT IT.

They’re really, really behind you around here…my fuckin’ ass. What the fuck am I supposed to do, go out there and let my fuckin’ players get destroyed every day and be quiet about it? For the fuckin’ nickel-dime people who turn up? The motherfuckers don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the fuckin’ game. They oughta go out and get a fuckin’ job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a fuckin’ living. Eighty-five percent of the fuckin’ world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here. A fuckin’ playground for the cocksuckers. Rip them motherfuckers. Rip them fuckin’ cocksuckers like the fuckin’ players. We got guys bustin’ their fuckin’ ass, and them fuckin’ people boo. And that’s the Cubs? My fuckin’ ass. They talk about the great fuckin’ support the players get around here. I haven’t see it this fuckin’ year. Everybody associated with this organization have been winners their whole fuckin’ life. Everybody. And the credit is not given in that respect.

Alright, they don’t show because we’re 5 and 14…and unfortunately, that’s the criteria of them dumb fifteen motherfuckin’ percent that come out to day baseball. The other eighty-five percent are earning a living. I tell you, it’ll take more than a 5 and 12 or 5 and 14 to destroy the makeup of this club. I guarantee you that. There’s some fuckin’ pros out there that wanna win. But you’re stuck in a fuckin’ stigma of the fuckin’ Dodgers and the Phillies and the Cardinals an all that cheap shut. It’s unbelievable. It really is. It’s a disheartening fuckin’ situation that we’re in right now. Anybody who was associated with the Cub organization four or five years ago that came back and sees the multitude of progress that’s been made will understand that if they’re baseball people, that 5 and 14 doesn’t negate all that work. We got 143 fuckin’ games left.

What I’m tryin’ to say is don’t rip them fuckin’ guys out there. Rip me. If you wanna rip somebody, rip my fuckin’ ass. But don’t rip them fuckin’ guys ’cause they’re givin’ everything they can give. And right now they’re tryin’ to do more than God gave ’em, and that’s why we make the simple mistakes. That’s exactly why.”


The amazing thing is Elia didn’t get fired for his obscenity laced tirade, at least not right away. He kept his job for four more months. He even managed again – the Philadelphia Phillies in 1987 and ’88.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
The Philadelphia Enquirer Multimedia, April 23, 2008
Lee Elia managerial record

April 28-Frank Robinson: Among the Best Ever

1956 | CINCINNATI, OHIO – On this date in 1956 Cincinnati Redlegs rookie left fielder Frank Robinson hit his first major league home run. He would hit 585 more. The home run came in a 9-1 win over the Chicago Cubs in Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

Was Frank Robinson under appreciated? You be the judge.

He’s the only player in major league baseball history to be MVP (most valuable player) in both leagues (National League in 1961, American League in 1966).

He’s one of just 14 players in major league history to win the Triple Crown (lead the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in).

He’s a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He had a lifetime average of .294.

He drove in 1,812 runs.

He played on 3 World Series teams (Cincinnati Reds-1961, Baltimore Orioles-1966, 1970), 2 of which were winners.

Speaking of Triple Crown Winners, until Miguel Cabrera won it in 2012 there had not been a triple crown winner in 45 years.

Here are past winners:

Miguel Cabrera (Detroit-AL) 2012
Carl Yastrzemski (Boston-AL) 1967
Frank Robinson (Baltimore-AL) 1966
Mickey Mantle (New York-AL) 1956
Ted Williams (Boston-AL) 1947
Ted Williams (Boston-AL) 1942
Joe Medwick (St. Louis-NL) 1937
Lou Gehrig (New York-AL) 1934
Chuck Klein (Philadelphia) 1933
Jimmie Foxx (Philadelphia-AL) 1933
Rogers Hornsby (St. Louis-NL) 1925
Rogers Hornsby (St. Louis-NL) 1922
Heinie Zimmerman (Chicago-NL) 1912
Ty Cobb (Detroit-AL) 1909
Nap Lajoie (Philadelphia-AL) 1901
Hugh Duffy (Boston-NL) 1894
Paul Hines (Providence-NL) 1878

Maybe “Frank Robinson” doesn’t roll off the tongue like Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays because he played for 5 different teams, and seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face, but his numbers are remarkable.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Frank Robinson – Hall of Fame

April 27-FRAGILE BABE RUTH HONORED

1947 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – “The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball.” Those are the words Babe Ruth mustered up enough energy to utter on this date in 1947. He appeared at Yankee Stadium on Babe Ruth Day despite the havoc throat cancer wreaked on his body. He’d been diagnosed the previous fall.

A crowd of 58,339 fans could see the Babe in person, millions more heard him from the sound of Yankee Stadium piped into major league and minor league ball parks all over the country. April 27, 1947 was declared Babe Ruth Day in every organized baseball league.

George Herman Ruth was born January 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland, one of eight children, he and a sister the only ones to survive infancy. Young George Herman was sent off to boarding school, St. Mary’s Industrial School, because his parents couldn’t control him. Some believe Ruth’s parents simply abandoned him.

While at St. Mary’s, one of Ruth’s passions became baseball. He could hit from the time he first played, but it was his pitching that attracted the interest of the Baltimore Orioles of the International League. They offered him a contract.

This is where the name “Babe” evolved. Still short of his 19th birthday, Ruth wasn’t a legal adult. Oriole’s owner Jack Dunn adopted Ruth. Not long after, players began referring to him as “Dunn’s baby.” That connection, his child-like features and the fact that he was a rookie made the nickname, “Babe” a natural.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Babe Ruth: A Biography by Wayne Stewart, 2006
BabeRuth.com
Babe Ruth

April 26-ONE DOWN, SIXTY TO GO

1961 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – On this date in 1961 New York Yankee outfielder Roger Maris began his historic chase of the most famous record in sports – Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs. In the 5th inning at Tiger Stadium with one out and nobody on, Maris hit a home run off Tiger right-hander Paul Foytack.

Maris didn’t come out of the blocks in a full sprint that memorable season. He hit one, I repeat, one home run in the month of April. Teammate Mickey Mantle already had 7 home runs by the time May rolled around.

If Maris, the shy right-fielder from Hibbing, Minnesota wanted to hit 30 home runs in 1961 he’d have to shift it into gear. He did. Maris hit 50 home runs over a 4 month span that summer. Here’s how his record-breaking 61 home runs were spread out over the season:

April           1
May           11
June           15
July            13
August       11
September 9
October       1

The race to break Ruth’s record was pretty much between Maris and Mantle. Maris eventually broke it on October 1, the 162nd and last game of the season. This led to a controversial ruling by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick; since Maris didn’t break Ruth’s record by the 154th game of the season, an asterisk would be put next to his name because Ruth set the single season record in a 154-game schedule. There’s no evidence an asterisk ever actually appeared in the “record books,” but people think it did, so Maris’ name was unjustifiably tarnished.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 1998

 

April 25-BASEBALL TRIES A COMEBACK

1995 | MIAMI, FLORIDA – 42,125 fans turned out for the first Major League baseball game since a strike stopped play 257 days earlier. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Florida Marlins 8-7 on this day in 1995. Ramon Martinez got the win. John Burkett took the loss for the Marlins.

Major League Baseball had a lot of making up to do in the spring of ‘95. The previous season ended August 12 when the players went on strike. There was no World Series for the first time in over 90 years, no playoffs either.

San Diego Padres’ Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 when the strike started. He had a legitimate shot at .400.

The predominant discussion from spring training on in 1994 centered on a strike, overshadowing some noteworthy events taking place.

Roger Maris‘ single season home run record (61) was in jeopardy.

  • Matt Williams of the San Francisco Giants had 43 home runs when play stopped with more than 40 games remaining.
  • Seattle Mariner Ken Griffey Jr. had 40 when play stopped
  • The Astros’ Jeff Bagwell was not out of range with 39 home runs
  • Nor was Frank Thomas of the White Sox with 38.

A .400 batting average was within reach.

  • San Diego Padres’ Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 when the strike started. He had a legitimate shot at .400.

Could those milestones have been reached? We’ll never know.

The division leaders when play stopped in August of ’94 were the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers in the American League, and Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angles Dodgers in the National. Only the Dodgers out of those six teams went on to win their division in ’95 (the Yankees made it to the post-season by winning the wild card). Oh, what might have been for the White Sox, Rangers, Reds and Expos.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 1998

 

April 24 | AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYS ITS FIRST OFFICIAL GAME

1901 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS  –  The Chicago White Sox won the first official “major league” game of the American League on this date in 1901. The White Sox defeated the Cleveland Blues (today’s Cleveland Indians) 8-2.

The driving force behind the American League was Ban Johnson. He took the existing Western League – a minor league – changed its named to the American League. They played a minor league schedule for one more year, 1900. Then began playing as a major league in 1901. The rest is history.

Contributing sources:
SABR’s Retro sheet

 

April 23-TWO HR STORIES YOU COULDN’T MAKE UP

1952 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The first one took place in New York on this date in 1952. A relief pitcher by the name of Hoyt Wilhelm – you probably heard of him, a knuckleballer who became one of the best relief pitchers in baseball history, he’s in the Hall of Fame – hit a home run in his first major league at-bat.

He never hit another one in his 21-year major league career. This was before the designated hitter. How does that happen?

There is a logical explanation. Wilhelm was a middle relief pitcher. He played in over 1,000 games, but seldom was seen a bat in his hand. In 1968, for example, he appeared in 72 games for the White Sox. He had 3 at-bats the entire year. Struck out each time.

What Wilhelm was known for was pitching. He won 143 games as a starter, saved 227 games as a reliever, mostly with the Sox and New York Giants. He finished with a career ERA of 2.52. Seven different seasons he had ERAs under 2.00

______________

1999 | LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – This may be more amazing. Also on April 23rd in 1999, Fernando Tatis hit two grand slams – IN ONE INNING! Needless to say, a record.

It turned out to be a breakout year for Tatis. He hit 34 home runs and drove in 107. Tatis never came close to those numbers again, but there’s a good chance his two slams in one inning record will never be broken.

CONNTRIBUTING SOURCES:
First at bat HRs
New York Times, New York, NY, April 24, 1952
Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, April 24, 1999
Hoyt Wilhelm
Fernando Tatis

April 22-THE NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYS ITS FIRST GAME

1876 | PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – The National League played its first game on this date in 1876. The Boston Red Stockings (current Atlanta Braves) beat the Philadelphia Athletics (long since defunct) 6 to 5. It became known as the Senior Circuit because it existed for 25 years before the American League.

The National League was started by several teams from the National Association, which basically went belly-up with the birth of the NL. The new league went through many changes in its first few seasons. Some teams folded and some got kicked out. It’s a wonder the league survived. According to several sources, the eight charter franchises were variations of the:

Philadelphia Athletics
Boston Red Caps
(the current Atlanta Braves)
Chicago White Stockings (the current Chicago Cubs)
Cincinnati Red Stockings or Reds
Hartford Dark Blues
Louisville Grays
New York Mutuals
St. Louis Brown Stockings

Only two of the original eight National League teams remain; the White Stockings, which are now the Cubs, and the Boston Red Caps, now the Atlanta Braves. None of the other teams made it into the 20th Century. They all folded.

Some of the names are familiar only because franchises that came along later liked to use old names. By 1900, eight franchises were in place that exist today, though some names and addresses would change, they are the Braves, Dodgers, Cubs, Reds, Giants, Phillies, Pirates, and Cardinals.

Contributing sources:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004
April 22, 1876
Major League Baseball History

APRIL 20-THE SPLENDID SPLINTER ARRIVES

1939 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – A skinny 20-year old kid from San Diego by the name of Theodore Samuel Williams played his first major league game for the Boston Red Sox on this date in 1939. The first of Ted Wlliams’ 2,654 hits was a 400-foot double in the vast outfield of Yankee Stadium as the Red Sox lost 2-0.

Ted Williams’ career spanned 19 seasons and 4 decades – interrupted twice by military duty. He amassed some of the greatest offensive numbers of all time:

Lifetime Stats
• .344 lifetime batting average
• 521 home runs
• 1,839 RBI
• 2-time Triple Crown winner (1942, 1947)
• 2-time MVP (1946, 1949)


… this despite missing three full seasons – 1943 to 45 – to serve in World War II, and playing only 43 games during the 1952 and 1953 seasons because of the Korean War.

Take a close look at the stats above. Williams’ 2 MVP years and 2 Triple Crown years do not overlap. They’re 4 separate seasons. How he could win the Triple Crown and not be MVP is a mystery, but it is what it is.

And consider this; there was a 45-year stretch (1967-Carl Yastrzemski to 2012-Miguel Cabrera) where no one won the Triple Crown (lead either league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average). Williams won it twice in five years. In addition, “Teddy Ballgame” won the batting crown at the age of 40.

Williams was truly larger than life; a Hall of Famer, a decorated fighter pilot, a tireless champion of charity and the loudest guy in the room almost until his death July 5, 2002.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
The Boston Globe, New York, New York, April 21, 1939
The Triple Crown

April 19-RANGERS WIN BY 3 TOUCHDOWNS

1996 | ARLINGTON, TEXAS On this day in 1996 the Texas Rangers ran up a heck of a score against the Baltimore Orioles – both teams happened to be in first place in their respective divisions at the time. The host Rangers showed no mercy in beating the Orioles 26 to 7.

The game was relatively close into the bottom of the eighth, the Rangers last at bat if they were ahead, which they were; 10 – 7. But the Rangers scored an astounding 16 runs in an 8th inning that lasted almost an hour. No team ever scored that many runs in an 8th inning. The inning consisted of a grand slam home run and an Oriole reliever walking four – three with the bases loaded. Some sniping developed between the managers, Davey Johnson for Baltimore and Johnny Oates for Texas. Each thought the other had run up the score in previous games

That was not the only time Texas and Baltimore were involved in a massive slugfest. Texas set a new record for the most runs scored in an American League game by beating Baltimore 30 to 3 August 22, 2007.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Runs scored records: Baseball-Alamanac
April 19, 1996 box score, etc: Retrosheet

April 18-A HOUSE FOR RUTH

1923 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK  ‘The house that Ruth built’ opened on this date in 1923. That’s what Yankee Stadium quickly became known as.

Babe Ruth  came to the Yankees in 1920, the result of an infamous purchase from the Boston Red Sox. He went on to become the biggest drawing card in all of sports.

Yankee Stadium, in effect, disappeared in the mid-1970’s when it was completely overhauled.

Yankee Stadium was baseball’s first triple deck structure. It was also the first baseball venue to be called a “stadium.” Others were usually called “Parks” or “Fields.”

It had some interesting dimensions that changed from time to time. For most of the original stadium’s history the fences down the foul lines were quite inviting: 301 down the left and 296 down the right. Left quickly ballooned out to over 400 feet. Straight-away center-field was 461 feet from home plate. Yankee Stadium, in effect, disappeared in the mid-1970’s when it was completely overhauled.

Before Yankee Stadium, beginning in 1913, the Bronx Bombers were tenants of the New York Giants, but tenant and landlord had a falling out in 1920. The Yankees were told to leave as soon as possible. The discord was partly due to the Yankees Bronx Bombers doubling their attendance that season to almost 1.3 million fans, 100,000 more than the Giants. Babe Ruth, with his prodigious home runs, was the main attraction. So Yankee Stadium was built a quarter mile from the Polo Grounds.

The Yankees won the first of many World Championships in that inaugural year of 1923. The victim – their former landlord, the New York Giants.

April 17-A YOUNG MICKEY MANTLE DISPLAYS HIS POWER

1953 | WASHINGTON, D.C. – Imagine someone hitting a ball the length of almost two football fields! Sportswriters, and others who claim to know, believe 21-year old Mickey Mantle did just that on this date in 1953. The prevailing belief is that the blast traveled an estimated 565 feet out of old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. where the old Washington Senators (today’s Minnesota Twins) were hosting the New York Yankees.

Mantle wasn’t a super star yet. At this stage of his career, he was a young, inconsistent ‘can miss’ switch-hitter from Commerce, Oklahoma.

On this day, Mantle was batting right-handed. On a 1 and 0 pitch, he crushed the ball. According to those present, it not only cleared the regular fence, it sailed over a 55 foot wall 70 feet behind the left center field fence! No one had ever done that before. A ten-year old boy reportedly found the ball in a backyard 105 feet further back.

Why Baseball Needs a Pitch-Clock

Almost overlooked in the same game were some of the talents speed helped Mantle bring to his game early in his career. He dragged a bunt for a single and stole a base.

Before a series of nagging injuries, and the toll of many nights on the town, Mantle was clocked at 3.1 seconds from the left-handed batter’s box to first. One of the fastest times ever recorded.

 

April 16-FIRST AT-BAT HR NOT ALWAYS AN OMEN

1929 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – What a way to start a career. On this date in 1929 Cleveland Indians outfielder Earl Averill hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He hit an 0-2 pitch off Detroit’s Earl Whitehill to help the Indians beat the Detroit Tigers 5 to 4 in 11 innings.

That first at-bat turned out to be an indicator of a stellar career for Averill. He had 18 home runs and 96 RBIs that first year, ended up with 238 career home runs, was elected to the all-star games six times, and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

As spectacular as it is to hit a home run in your first major league at-bat, it has not been a great omen for everyone who’s done it.

As spectacular as it is to hit a home run in your first major league at-bat, it has not been a great omen for everyone who’s done it. According to Baseball-Almanac, 91 rookies got the ultimate hit in their first at bat (21 of them on the first pitch), but 17 never hit another major league home run. For example, the first American League player to hit a home run in his first at bat, Luke Stuart of the St. Louis Browns, not only never hit another, he only had two more major league at bats.

The first at-bat home run hitter with the most career home runs is Gary Gaetti who finished with 360. Second is Jermaine Dye who has 300 and, as of this writing (April 16, 2009), is still active.

Contributing Source:
First at-bat HRs

 

April 15-A BLACK MAN IN THE LINEUP. WHAT A CONCEPT

1947 | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK Jackie Robinson became the first African American major league baseball player of the modern era on this date in 1947. He went hitless, but handled 11 chances at first base to help the Brooklyn Dodgers (today’s Los Angeles Dodgers) beat the Boston Braves (today’s Atlanta Braves) 5-3.

As the description “first African America of the modern era,” implies, Jackie Robinson was not first Black major leaguer. There were a few others, but you had to go back to the late 1800s to find them. An unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” created a color barrier in major league baseball from roughly the late 1880s until 1947.

Many point the finger at Chicago White Stockings (the modern day Cubs) star Cap Anson for leading the charge to exclude Blacks. The story is, Anson refused to take the field in an 1883 exhibition game against the Toledo Blue Stockings because they had an African American catcher. Even if true, Anson was certainly not alone in his bigotry. By the end of the decade the “gentleman’s agreement” was in force barring teams from signing Black players. The color barrier lasted until the Dodgers’ Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1947.

Ironically, the Black player Cap Anson reportedly threatened a boycott over was probably the smartest man on the field. Moses Fleetwood Walker studied Greek, French, German, Latin and math at Oberlin College in Ohio before going to law school at the University of Michigan.

  • Jackie’s brother Mack Robinson was also an exceptional athlete. He came in second behind Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany.

Additional Source:
Spalding’s World Tour, Page 68, by Mark Lamster, 2006

April 14 – FISK IMPRESSES NEW FANS

1993 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS –  Carlton Fisk had little trouble getting acclimated to his new “Sox”. He hit a grand slam home run in the home opener for his new team, the White Sox, after eleven years with the Red Sox. The blast helped the White Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers 9-3.

Fisk ended up signing with the White Sox for which he played the next thirteen years – a longer stint than he had in Boston.

Fisk’s move from Boston to Chicago was the result of a strange turn of events. He became a free agent after the 1980 season when the Red Sox failed to mail his contract to him by the deadline.

Fisk ended up signing with the White Sox for which he played the next thirteen years – a longer stint than he had in Boston.

Carlton Fisk was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000

Contributing Sources:
April 14, 1981 box score/play-by-play
Carlton Fisk Stats

This story is brought to you by www.TODAYinBASEBALL.com

April 13-FEDERAL LEAGUE DIDN’T LAST BUT IT GAVE US WRIGLEY

1914 | BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – The insurgent Federal League, a third major league, began play on this date in 1914. The Baltimore Terrapins defeated the Buffalo Blues 3 to 2 before 27,140 fans.

The Federal League put teams in eight cities, including four where the National or American leagues already had teams. It lured a handful of players from the established leagues, including marquee names Joe Tinker and Three Finger Brown, by waving wads of cash at them. Shoeless Joe Jackson was reportedly offered four times his salary to jump to the new League. The National and American Leagues reacted by throwing more money at the likes of Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Walter Johnson to keep them where they were.

The Federal League didn’t appear to be a fly-by-night operation. All eight teams had new stadiums. Attendance was comparable to the NL and AL. The FL was also trying to beat the established major leagues in court.

It sued the American and National for being unfair monopolies. The parties eventually settled. As part of the agreement, the owner of the Chicago Whales, Charles Weeghman, was allowed to buy the National League Chicago Cubs. The ballpark he built for the Whales became the Cubs home and would later be known as Wrigley Field.

Other FL players and teams were absorbed into the National or American League, but not all. The owners of the Baltimore franchise weren’t happy with the settlement and sued. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Major League Baseball saying it was exempt from antitrust laws, a ruling which for the most part remains in effect today.

  • The Federal League’s inaugural season had teams in Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Buffalo and Indianapolis
  • The judge who presided over the Federal League’s lawsuit against Major League Baseball was Kenesaw Landis, who later became the first commissioner of baseball.

Contributing Sources:
Chicago Tribune, Baltimore, Maryland, April 14, 1914
More on the Federal League

April 12-GREAT SPOT FOR A BALLPARK… NOT!

1960 | SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – The first major league baseball game to take place in San Francisco was played on this date in 1960. The Giants new home, Candlestick Park, was beautiful, but the location was simply not a suitable place to build a ballpark. Unfortunately, New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham didn’t know that when he toured the site on a beautiful day in 1957.

San Francisco Mayor George Christopher promised that the city would build a ballpark at Candlestick Point if Stoneham would make his New York Giants the first tenants. What Stoneham didn’t know, and presumably Mayor Christopher didn’t volunteer, was that the sun isn’t the only thing that goes down at sunset.

The temperature plummets too, and the fog rolls in. This made for some interesting events at Candlestick. For example, during the 1961 All Star game, Giants pitcher Stu Miller was blown off the mound. In 1963, New York Mets Manager Casey Stengel took his squad out for batting practice, only to watch a gust of wind pick up the entire batting cage and drop it on the pitcher’s mound, 60 feet away. The most memorable phenomenon was an earthquake during the 1989 World Series, but the stadium weathered that event quite well.

The Giants moved to a much better location in 2000, Pac Bell Park, which is now called AT&T Park. And attendance has been phenomenal. The San Francisco 49ers still call Candlestick Park home, though the weather seems to be more tolerable in the fall and winter.

April 11-ANGELS LOOK LIKE THEY BELONG

1961 | BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – The Los Angeles Angels looked anything but like an expansion team in their first game on this date in 1961. Slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski hit two home runs and Eli Grba threw a complete game as the Angels beat the Baltimore Orioles 7 to 2 in Baltimore.

It wasn’t a fluke. The Angels were the most successful first year expansion team in baseball history. They won 70 games and did not come in last place-no small task. In fact, the Angels not only finished ahead of the expansion Washington Senators (big deal!), they finished ahead of the established Kansas City A’s (bigger deal!).

Remarkably, the Angels contended for the American League pennant in their second season – 1962. They were in first place on July 4th and finished in 3rd (this is before the American and National Leagues were divided into divisions), ten games behind the New York Yankees.

The Angels played their home games that inaugural season at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. Yes, P.K. Wrigley built a replica of the Cubs ballpark in Los Angeles years earlier for a minor league team. The Angels became a tenant of Dodger Stadium in 1962, which they referred to as Chavez Ravine. They built their own stadium in Anaheim in 1966 and became the California Angels.

Answers to yesterday’s stadiums question
1. Huntington Avenue Grounds (1901-1911) Boston Red Sox
2. West Side Park (1893-1915) Chicago Cubs
3. Jarry Park (1969-1976) Montreal Expos
4. Shibe Park (1909-1970) Philadelphia A’s & Phillies
5. Forbes Field (1909-1970) Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Polo Grounds (1911-1964) New York Giants, Yankees, Mets
7. Griffith Stadium (1903-1960) Washington Senators

April 10-THIS BUD’S NOT FOR YOU.

1953 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick was not amused that the St. Louis Cardinals wanted to name their ballpark after a beer. On this date in 1953 the Cardinals got the hint and backed off. The ballpark they bought from the St. Louis Browns the day before was not going to be called Budweiser Stadium. Instead it was called Busch Stadium.

The head of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an anti-alcohol group, wasn’t impressed by Anheuser-Busch‘s decision. “Busch” wasn’t the name of a beer back in ’53, but it was the name of the family that owned the brewery and the team. So, Temperance Union President Leigh Colvin said, “You could toss up the three B’s. Call it Beer Park, Budweiser Park or Busch Park and they all mean the same thing.”

The Cardinals’ ballpark is still known as Busch Stadium, though it’s on its third incarnation since 1953.

*    *    *

How about a little history quiz. Guess which teams played in these old stadiums?
1. Huntington Avenue Grounds
2. West Side Park
3. Jarry Park
4. Shibe Park
5. Forbes Field
6. Polo Grounds
7. Griffith Stadium

(Answers tomorrow)

April 9-BASEBALL GOES INDOORS

1965 | HOUSTON, TEXAS – Baseball went inside for the first time on this date in 1965. The Houston Colt .45s (today’s Houston Astros) played the New York Yankees in an exhibition game at the Harris County Domed Stadium, the first domed baseball stadium in the world.

The Yankees won 2-1 in 12 innings. Mickey Mantle hit the first-ever indoor home run. President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas native, was among the 47,878 fans at the game. The Harris County Domed Stadium name was soon changed to the Astrodome – the so-called eighth wonder of the world.

An architectural marvel, the Dome presented unanticipated challenges. It was built to allow sunlight to come through a series of clear plastic panels in the roof, thus allowing real grass to be planted. It didn’t work. The grass grew okay, but the players couldn’t see fly balls because of the tremendous glare each panel produced. The panels were painted over to block the sun, but of course the grass wouldn’t grow. Necessity being what it is, artificial grass was invented to put down on the field, hence the name Astroturf.

Astroturf became widespread in baseball and football stadiums for indoor and outdoor sports in the 1970s. Thankfully, many teams have gone back to real grass, including the Houston Astros. Today, those who want artificial turf can at least install something that looks and feels like grass, the most popular being FieldTurf.

Contributing Sources:
The Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas, April 10, 1965

April 8-AARON PASSES RUTH

1974 | ATLANTA, GEORGIA Henry Aaron saved the best for the home town crowd. Four days after tying Babe Ruth‘s career home run record of 714 on the road in Cincinnati, Hammerin Hank broke the record before hysterical Atlanta Braves‘ fans at Fulton County Coliseum. He hit the 715th of his career off Los Angeles Dodger hurler Al Downing. Aaron would go on the hit 755 home runs for his career.

Henry Aaron ended his career back in the city where he made his major league debut. He played the 1975 and 1976 seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The term “home run” was originally a descriptive one. In the early days of baseball, fences were generally farther out than they are today. The batter had to literally run home before being tagged out to hit a “home run.”

Babe Ruth held the career home run record for 53 years, the longest of any player. Here’s a list of the career home run record breakers and total home runs the new record-holder finished that year with.

Year Player HRs
2007 Barry Bonds 762
1974 Henry Aaron 733
1921 Babe Ruth 162
1895 Roger Connor 124
1889 Harry Stovey 89
1887 Dan Brouthers 74
1885 Harry Stovey 50
1883 Charley Jones 33
1882 Jim O’Rourke 24
1881 Charley Jones 23
1879 Lip Pike 20

Here are the current top-10 career home run hitters:

Barry Bonds     762
Henry Aaron     755
Babe Ruth          714
Alex Rodriguez 696
Willie Mays       660
Ken Griffey Jr,   630
Jim Thome         612
Sammy Sosa      609
Albert Pujols      591 (active)
Frank Robinson 586

The term “home run” was originally a descriptive one. In the early days of baseball, fences were generally farther out than they are today, so hitting a ball over the fence was rare. Inside-the-park home runs were more common because outfielders had more ground to cover. The batter had to literally run home before being tagged out to hit a “home run.”

Contributing source:
Henry Aaron in the Hall of Fame
Career home run record holders

April 7-THE SCREEN MONSTER

1958 | LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – It used to be common for football games to be played in baseball ballparks like Wrigley Field, which was the home of the Chicago Bears from 1921 to 1970, but you didn’t see baseball games played in football stadiums like Chicago’s Soldier Field. What the Dodgers had to do to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on this date in 1958 is why.

Before the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers could play the first official major league game west of St. Louis they had to erect a 42-foot screen in left field because the foul pole was only 201 feet away – about the distance normally seen in slow pitch softball.

Straight away left was only about 250 feet.

On the other hand, because the Coliseum is rectangular straight away right was 440 feet from home. 

There was a distinct advantage playing in the mammoth coliseum however, it held a lot of people. Game 5 of the 1959 World Series between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox still holds the record for the biggest crowd to watch a major league baseball game – 92,706.

The Dodgers spent four seasons (1958-1961) in, at the time, the home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams waiting for Dodger Stadium to be completed. As much as Dodger fans poured into the Coliseum they liked the new Dodger Stadium more when it opened in ‘62. A major league attendance record (at the time) was set with 2,755,184 fans.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE: 
The Coliseum revisited

April 6-THE DH IS BORN

1973 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The designated hitter was born on this date in 1973. The New York Yankees’ Ron Blomberg became the first major league baseball player to be in the starting lineup without playing in the field. He also became the first DH to reach base and drive in a run as Luis Tiant of the Boston Red Sox walked him with the bases loaded in the top of the first. Blomberg later singled.

The game changed significantly that day, many believe, for the worse. Hundreds of American League pitchers would go through entire careers without picking up a bat. Hundreds of designated hitters would seldom pick up a glove. The DH has since trickled down to amateur baseball. Many high school and college pitchers don’t bat.

Purists were, and remain, appalled for several reasons, the least of which being, baseball used to be one of the few sports that required every participant be able to do everything with some professional proficiency; run, hit, throw and catch.

Take the National Football League, an offensive tackle can make it to the NFL Hall of Fame without ever throwing a football in a game, or catching one for that matter. Dennis Rodman probably went whole NBA seasons without attempting a 3-pointer, let alone making one.

But supporters of the Designated Hitter say it initiated a re-birth of baseball. Attendance boomed until the players’ strike of 1994, and is on the rise again. Interestingly however, average attendance is higher in the National League, which has never had the DH, than the American League.

  • The DH was first suggested by the National League in 1928, but the American League rejected it [see Dec 12 story].

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
First Designated Hitters
A different way to look at the DH

April 5-MLB EXPANDS SOUTH & WEST

1993 | DENVER, COLORADO (and) MIAMI, FLORIDA – Two new National League franchises began play on this date in 1993. The Colorado Rockies played their first game on the road at Shea Stadium in New York. They were shut out by the Mets 3-0. The Miami Marlins‘ first game was at home in Miami. They beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6 to 3 at Joe Robbie Stadium. The 1993 expansion of the Rockies and Marlins was the first in the National League since 1969.

Since entering the league 24 years ago the Marlins have done remarkably well on the field, but the Rockies have done considerably better at the turnstile. The Rockies set a major league record drawing 4,483,350 fans in their inaugural year, but the Marlins have already won two World Series-1997 and 2003.

The Rockies were the second team in major league history to draw more than 4 million fans (the Toronto Blue Jays were the first). The Rockies probably would have drawn 4 million more often, but the franchise moved in 1995 from 80,000 seat Mile High Stadium where the Denver Broncos NFL teamed played at the time, to Coors Field, which seats 50,227. The Rockies drew more than 3 million fans 9 of their first 13 years. The Marlins have only surpassed the 3 million mark once – their first year.

Here’s a comparison of attendance for the two franchises:

              Rockies     Marlins
1993   4,483,350   3,064,847
1994   3,281,511     1,937,467
1995   3,390,037   1,700,466
1996   3,891,014    1,746,767
1997   3,888,453   2,364,387
1998   3,792,683   1,750,395
1999   3,235,833    1,369,421
2000   3,149,117     1,173,389
2001   3,168,579    1,261,226
2002   2,737,918       813,111
2003   2,334,085    1,303,215
2004   2,338,069   1,723,105
2005   1,915,586    1,823,388

2010   2,875,245     1,532,526
2011    2,909,777     1,520,562
2012    2,630,458    2,219,444
2013    2,793,828     1,586,322
2014    2,680,239    1,732,283
2015    2,506,789    1,752,239
2016    2,602,524    1,712,417

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Baseball-Almanac – Expansion Era
ESPN – Attendance

April 4-MOVE OVER, BABE

1974 | CINCINNATI, OHIOHank Aaron didn’t waste time. In the first inning of the first game of the 1974 season the Atlanta Braves outfielder hit a 3-run homer off Cincinnati Reds starter Jack Billingham to tie Babe Ruth with 714 career home runs.

It was only a matter of time before Aaron broke the record. Despite Aaron’s heroics, the Reds beat the Braves 7-6.

There’s an interesting side-light to this story. Atlanta Braves management wanted Aaron to break the record at home. They planned to sit him for the first three games of the season in Cincinnati. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wouldn’t have it, and ruled that Aaron had to play two out of three.

The rest is history. Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s record in his very first at bat and, fortunately for the Braves, didn’t hit another home run in the series. So, the Braves returned home with the anticipation of Aaron breaking the record in front of the home crowd, which he did four days later.

Henry Aaron retired in 1976. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982. He is the only player in major league history to hit at least 20 home runs in 20 seasons.

Piece of trivia: Who was Sandy Koufax’s first strike out? Hank Aaron.

April 3rd in baseball history-SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME

1987 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – After two and a half mediocre seasons the Chicago Cubs got veteran right-handed starting pitcher Dennis Eckersley off their hands. He was traded to the Oakland A’s for three minor leaguers.

Eckersley won 165 games in 12 seasons, but was 27-26 for the Cubs over 3. The team thought Eckersley’s best days were behind him. He lost more games than he won in ’86, and personal demons caught up with him. Eckersley checked himself into an alcoholism treatment center after the season.

“Eck” didn’t turn a corner, he made a complete about-face. A sober Dennis Eckersley was just getting started-on a second career as a reliever. He would go on to become one of the most dominant closers in history.

The trade to Oakland hit as hard as a hangover. “I’m in shock,” said Eckersley, but he realized a change of scenery can’t hurt, “It’s always nice to get into a new atmosphere. You get pumped up and you’ve got something to prove to other people.” And prove something he did.

“Eck” didn’t turn a corner, he made a complete about-face. A sober Dennis Eckersley was just getting started-on a second career as a reliever. He would go on to become one of the most dominant closers in history.

In his first 12 seasons he started 359 games and saved 3. In his last 12 seasons he saved 387 and started 2. Here’s a good trivia question; Who went ten years without a save but ended up in the Hall of Fame as a closer?

Maybe the Cubs should have taken Eckersley’s checking into alcohol rehab as a good thing.

Top ten Saves leaders in history (as of the start of the 2017season):

  1. Mariano Rivera 652
  2. Trevor Hoffman 601
  3. Lee Smith 478
  4. Francisco Rodriguez 430 (active)
  5. John Franco 424
  6. Billy Wagner 422
  7. Dennis Eckersley 390
  8. Jo Nathan 377 (active)
  9. Jonathan Papelbon 368 (active)
  10. Jeff Reardon 367

Contributing Sources:
MLB Saves leaders
Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1987
More on Dennis Eckersley

April 2nd in baseball history-FAKE NEWS NOT NEW!

1908 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – On this date in 1908 Major League Baseball declared the game was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. A commission came to this conclusion after studying the issue for two years. The evidence was overwhelming. Too bad it wasn’t true. The evidence was overwhelming… to the contrary.

Doubleday, a civil war General, and Cooperstown, named for poet James Fenimore Cooper, had as much to do with inventing baseball as Babe Ruth had with inventing the hot dog. No matter, a man named Spalding was on a mission-he would later go on to build a sporting goods empire. Cooperstown would become a baseball mecca.

Here’s what happened; In 1905 Albert Spalding recommended that former National League President A.G. Mills head up a commission to study the origins of the baseball. Someone uncovered a letter describing Doubleday as being the first to set down “base ball” rules derived from a game called “town ball.” A myth was born, except the rules weren’t new, neither was “base ball” (see September 23, 1845).

This much apparently was true, Abner Doubleday once lived in Cooperstown. And the myth Spalding helped create was strong enough to make this sleepy town in the hills of western New York named after a poet, the site for the Baseball Hall of Fame in the 1930s.

Contributing Sources:
Spaldings World Tour, by Mark Lamster, 2006, Published by Public Affairs
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) www.sabr.org

APRIL 1st in baseball history-A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

1996 | CINCINNATI, OHIO – It was opening day, the unofficial beginning of spring, a sign of rebirth, a starting over. Everybody’s in first place. The Cincinnati Reds are hosting the Montreal Expos.(today’s Washington Nations) Reds pitcher Pete Schrouek fires the first pitch to John Grudzielanek right down the middle. Home plate umpire John McSherry shouts, “Ball.” Schrouek is stunned. Grudzielanek eventually flies out. Mike Lansing strikes out. The count on Rondell White is 1 and 1.

“Hold on,” McSherry says. It’s only the seventh pitch of the game, but the 380-pound man in blue is in trouble. He walks haltingly toward the dugout then staggers and falls face forward. A gasp rises from the crowd. The opening day air is the source of John McSherry’s last breath. He is pronounced dead an hour later. McSherry was 51.

The game is postponed. Players, coaches, managers are in no mood to continue. John McSherry was truly one of the game’s most beloved umpires. Reds shortstop Barry Larkin stood helplessly on the field the day McSherry died, “It’s often thought that baseball players and umpires have an antagonistic relationship. If any one person could prove that theory wrong, it was John McSherry.” McSherry had one of the lowest ejection rates of any umpire.

Like many umpires, McSherry wanted to be a ballplayer. Born and raised in New York City, he got a scholarship to St. John’s University for academics, not sports. He left St. John’s before getting a degree. If he was going to be in a classroom, he wanted it to be in an umpire’s school in Florida. After umpire’s school, McSherry worked in the Florida Instructional League and then the Carolina and International Leagues. He broke into the majors in 1971.

McSherry battled weight issues in his adult life, in fact had a physical scheduled for the day after he died. His death spurred a movement to require fitness of umpires.

Contributing sources:
The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 2, 1996
The New York Times, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 2, 1996

 

March 31st in baseball history-EARLIEST REFERENCE TO “BASE BALL”

1755 | SHERE, ENGLAND – The earliest known reference to “base ball” was made on this date in 1755.

That was not a misprint – 1755.

And it was made in England, not America. The entry was made by William Bray, a successful lawyer and meticulous recorder of daily life in County Shere outside London. Here’s what he wrote some 260 years ago :

“Went to stoke church this morn. After dinner went to Miss Jeal’s to play at base ball with her, the three Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr, Chandler, Mr. Ford, Mr. Parsons. Drank tea and stayed til 8.”

It was a startling discovery considering, while influenced by British games like “Rounders,” “Town Ball,” and “Cricket,” baseball was thought to be a purely American invention. If that was the case, what’s it doing in the diary of a Brit in the 18th Century?

Contributing sources:
John Thorn is the Official Biographer for Major League Baseball
David Block, baseball historian, author of “Baseball Before We Knew it: A Search For the Roots of the Game”
Origins of Baseball

March 30th in baseball history-SOSA FOR BELL

1992 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – The Chicago White Sox traded Sammy Sosa and reliever Ken Patterson to the cross-town Cubs for George Bell on this date in 1992. It was one proven star at the end of his career for an unproven star at the beginning of his.

The big name in the trade was Bell, whom the Sox hoped would be the final piece of the puzzle to get to them to the World Series. He had averaged 27 home runs and 102 runs batted for the six previous seasons. Sosa was a 23-year old outfielder who showed promise as the regular right fielder in 1991 hitting 15 home runs and driving 70 for the White Sox, but he also struck out 150 times in 153 games.

It took a couple years after Sosa joined the Cubs for him to blossom into the RBI and home run hitting machine he became. His break out year was 1993 when he hit 33 home runs and drove in 93. He would hit at least 25 home runs for the next 13 seasons, three times hitting more than 60.

George Bell had a good year for the Sox in ’92 with 25 home runs and 112 RBI, but tailed off considerably in 1993, which turned out to be his final year in the majors. The White Sox found a right-field star of their own a few years later in Magglio Ordonez. He was not the home run/RBI producer Sosa was, but he was probably a better all-around player.

Contributing sources:
Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, March 31, 1992.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/b/bellge02.shtml
http://www.baseball-reference.com/s/sosasa01.shtml

March 29th in baseball history-THE CYCLONE

1867 | GILMORE, OHIODenton Young was born on an Ohio farm on this date in 1867. Better known as Cy Young, he won more games, 511, than any other pitcher in baseball history. The pitcher in second place, Walter Johnson, had 94 fewer wins than Young.

Cy Young’s nickname was coined by a catcher who, after warming him up, compared his fastball to a cyclone. He played for four teams during a 22 year career lasting from 1890 to 1911. Besides 511 career wins and 316 losses, below are other records of his that stand out:

• 15 seasons of at least 20 wins
• 5 seasons of at least 30 wins
• 19 double digit winning seasons
• A 2.63 lifetime Earned Run Average

And of course, today the best pitcher in each league is recognized with the “Cy Young” award.

Here’s a list of the fifteen winningest pitchers of all time:

Cy Young – 511
Walter Johnson – 417
Pete Alexander – 373
Christy Mathewson – 373
Pud Galvin – 365
Warren Spahn – 363
Kid Nichols – 361
Greg Maddux – 355
Roger Clemens – 354
Tim Keefe – 342
Steve Carlton – 329
John Clarkson – 328
Eddie Plank – 326
Nolan Ryan – 326
Don Sutton – 324

Contributing sources:
More on Cy Young
300 win Club
Most wins career

March 28th in baseball history-BASEBALL OR THE FRENCH HORN

1985 | EVERYWHERE, USA – The April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated hit the news stands and mailboxes on this date (the issues always come out a few days early) with the story of Sidd Finch, a New York Mets pitching prospect scouts said could throw 168 MPH with pinpoint accuracy. The article also said Finch never played ball before mastering the art of pitching in a Tibetan monastery. As the story written by George Plimpton unfolded at the Mets spring training camp, anticipation was building as to whether Finch would decide between a baseball career and a career playing the French horn.

April Fools!

There was no Sid Finch. There was no French horn. There was no monastery doubling as a pitching school. It was entirely the imagination of George Plimpton. The pictures of Sidd were actually those of a junior high school science teacher from Oak Park, Illinois named Joe Berton who was a friend of Plimpton’s.

Sports Illustrated finally admitted it was a hoax on April 15. Some saw through the absurdity of the tale. Thousands did not.

Contributing sources:
More on Sidd Finch

March 27 in baseball history-HOW THE “CUBS” BECAME THE “CUBS”

1902 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – The identity of Chicago‘s National League team is so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine the franchise not being called the Cubs, but for the first quarter century of the team’s existence it wasn’t. They were known at various times as White Stockings, Colts, even Orphans – more on that in a moment.

The Cubs moniker can be traced to the Chicago Daily News newspaper of this date in 1902. The term for young bears was used by a sportswriter at spring training to describe a team with a bunch of young but promising players. The story’s headline read:

Manager of the Cubs is in Doubt Only on Two Positions

A search of newspaper archives at Chicago’s Newberry Library shows that that March 27, 1902 story is the earliest known use of the term “Cubs” to describe the team. The article mentioned it once more in describing the intentions of the manager:

“Frank Selee will devote his strongest efforts on the team work of the new Cubs this year.”

The name caught on, which wasn’t surprising considering the club was known as Orphans at the time.

Here’s how that came about, as a charter member of the National League in 1876 the team was known as the Chicago White Stockings. A few years later star Cap Anson became player/manager, and sportswriters began referring to the team as Anson’s Colts, and eventually just Colts.

Anson was also known as “Pop.” When he left the team in 1897 the team became known as Orphans. Get it? You knew “Cubs” would stick when rival papers such as the Chicago Tribune (which later owned the team) began to use it.

Interestingly, when the Cubs relinquished the name White Stockings, the new American League franchise grabbed it, shortened it, and have been known as the White Sox ever since.

When the National Football League came to town in the 1920’s, the team chose Bears because they played in the home of Cubs.

More info:
The Chicago Daily News, Thursday, March 27, 1902 (Thanks to Newberry Library, Chicago)
The New York Times, “Nicknames of Baseball Clubs,” by Joseph Curtin Gephart,
Retrosheet has a treasure of information
MLB team histories
More info on team names, wikipedia

 

March 26th in baseball history-APARICIO’S CAREER ENDS

1974 | WINTER HAVEN, FLORIDA – All good things must come to an end, and on this date in 1974 it was the 18-year Hall of Fame career of shortstop Luis Aparicio. “Little Louie” – 5’9″, 160 lb. – was given his walking papers by Boston Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson right after they beat the Montreal Expos in an exhibition game. Aparicio was still in uniform.

Aparicio would be 40 in a few weeks and be able to spend his birthday at home in Maracaibo, Venezuela for the first time in 21 years.

Being let go was a disappointment, but Aparicio took it in stride, “The first thing I thought about when I walked out of the office was about my five kids.” Aparicio would be 40 in a few weeks and be able to spend his birthday at home in Maracaibo, Venezuela for the first time in 21 years.

Aparicio had been with the Boston Red Sox for three years, but played mostly for the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. He was an 11 time all-star with 9 Gold Gloves and a prototype lead-off man with 506 career stolen bases. Aparicio was on two World Series teams. He put the “go” in the 1959 “go-go” White Sox, which lost the Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he got some revenge while playing for the Orioles in 1966 when they swept the Dodgers in 4 games.

Contributing sources:
United Press International (UPI), by Milton Richman, March 27, 1974
More on Aparicio

March 25th in baseball history-JUDGE BALKS AT LIGHTS

1985 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – A Cook County, Illinois Judge ruled on this date in 1985 that the Chicago Cubs had gone without lights their entire history, there was no need to change now. The Cubs had held out decades longer than any other team in playing all their games during the day, but then they made it to the postseason in 1984, something they hadn’t done since 1945. Major League Baseball had been scheduling night games in the post-season for years. Since Wrigley Field didn’t have lights the Cubs had to give up a home game in the National League Championship Series in ‘84.

The shoe was now on the other foot. The Cubs wanted lights. Former general manager Dallas Green first proposed them in 1982. The neighborhood and the city (the mayor at the time, Richard J. Daley, was lifelong White Sox fan) didn’t, so the Cubs sued.

A judge ruled on March 25, 1985 that the ban on lights at Wrigley was constitutional – no night games at Wrigley.

It took a few more years of political cajoling and maneuvering for an ordinance to finally be passed allowing night games at Wrigley, but no more than 18 per season. The first night game at Wrigley was played on August 8, 1988 – 8/8/88, but it was called due to rain before it became official (maybe they shouldn’t have put lights in Wrigley).

Contributing sources:
MLB.com: 20 years of night baseball at Wrigley Field
Chicago Tribune, “The Cubs get lights at Wrigley,” August 8, 1988

 

March 24th in baseball history-BIRD WAS GUESSING CURVE

2001 | TUCSON, ARIZONA – Many hitters thought Randy Johnson‘s fastballs were deadly. On this date in 2001 one of them truly was, and the dove it struck never knew what hit it.

During an exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitcher wound up and threw a fastball to a Giants hitter at precisely the moment a dove flew in front of home plate. The ball hit the bird. The result was a cloud of feathers and an ex-bird

According to the Associated Press (AP), Diamondbacks catcher Rod Barajas said, “I’m sitting there waiting for it, and I’m expecting to catch the thing and all you see is an explosion.” The home plate umpire called it a “no pitch.”

Sportswriters and columnists had a field day with the unfortunate demise of the bird, which ended up in “fowl” territory. Johnson said he didn’t think it was all that funny.

When wildlife wasn’t getting in the way of Randy Johnson pitches he was pretty good, and as of this writing, still is. He’s won five Cy Young awards. Entering the 2009 season, has a record of 295 wins and 160 losses. He’s been on 10 all-star teams, and was a member of the 2001 World Series Champion Diamondbacks. And as far as we know, no more of his fastballs have collided with any birds.

Contributing sources:
The Associated Press (AP), Tucson, Arizona, March 25, 2001
More on Randy Johnson

March 23rd in baseball history-GEORGE, HOWIE & DAVE

1990 | BRONX, NEW YORK – A messy soap opera involving New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Dave Winfield, one of his players, hit the headlines again today with the arrest of Howard Spira. Spira, a small-time gambler and former sports radio station stringer, was arrested and charged with extortion. 

Spira was convicted a year later for trying to extort $110,000 from Steinbrenner. The mess ended up getting the Yankee owner banned from baseball when it was revealed that he had given Spira $40,000 to find out some dirt about Winfield. Steinbrenner insisted the money was to help “Howie” get back on his feet.

Steinbrenner and Winfield had been feuding for a number of reasons since Winfield signed a 10-year, $23 million contract with the Yankees that Steinbrenner didn’t feel he quite lived up to. Winfield was upset with Steinbrenner for, among other things, claiming he reneged on a promise to donate $300,000 to Winfield’s foundation. That’s where Howard Spira came in. Spira once worked as a publicist for the Foundation. Steinbrenner paid Spira to find out some stuff on Winfield that Steinbrenner could use against him.

Steinbrenner was reinstated as Yankees owner in 1993. Howard Spira served 26 months in a federal prison for extortion. What’s never been clear is why someone with the resources of George Steinbrenner would seek out someone like Howie Spira rather than, say, an ex-FBI agent.

Contributing sources:
ESPN.com
DeadSpin 

March 22nd in baseball history-TRAGIC OFF-DAY

1993 | CLERMONT, FLORIDA On the one off-day the Cleveland Indians had the entire 1993 spring training an afternoon of relaxation turned into tragedy. Pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed and Bobby Ojeda was seriously injured when the fishing boat they were in rammed into a pier on Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Florida. The lake is about 25 miles north of their spring training site at Winter Haven, Florida.

The three Indians pitchers brought their families to the lake to enjoy the day off. Olin, Crews and Ojeda had been fishing and were returning to shore when the accident happened. Crews was piloting the boat. An autopsy showed Crews was legally drunk when the boat slammed into the pier. He was killed instantly. Olin was pronounced dead the next morning. Ojeda had serious head lacerations but survived and made a complete recovery.

Twenty-seven year old Steve Olin had come into his own as the Indians closer the previous season. He appeared 72 games and had 29 saves.

Thirty-one year old Tim Crews had just signed with Cleveland as a free agent after spending six seasons with the Dodgers. He had an off year in ’92 when his ERA ballooned to 5.19, but he was just two years removed from an ERA of 2.77 in 66 games.

Thirty-five year old Bob Ojeda was a 13-year veteran when the accident happened. He won 115 games in his career, and was a major part of the New York Mets World Championship season in 1986 going 18-5. He recovered enough to appear in 9 games in ’93. He signed with the Yankees in ’94 but was released after appearing in two games.

Contributing sources:
Tragedy still haunts 

March 21st in baseball history-THE BIRD MAN

1977 | LAKELAND, FLORIDA – When Detroit Tiger pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych twisted his knee shagging fly balls on this date in 1977 it seemed like a minor bump in the road for the 1976 rookie of the year. He was expected to miss his next start. Unfortunately, the injury was more serious than first thought. Fidrych had torn cartilage in his knee and would need surgery. He was never the same, and was out of baseball three years later.

But 1976 was magical.

Twenty-one year old Mark Fidrych wasn’t even expected to make the team out of spring training. He made his first start in May only because the scheduled starter had the flu. But Fidrych went on to win 19 games while losing 9. He led the league with a 2.34 ERA and completed 24 games, also the league leader. He won Rookie of the Year honors and was second in voting for the Cy Young award.

Fidrych created a national sensation not only because he pitched well, but also because of his personality and antics. He was “a little out of left field,” but seemed to really have fun playing the game.

Fidrych was called “The Bird” because he resembled Big Bird from the Sesame Street children’s TV show. When he pitched he’d talk to the baseball. He’d stoop down and carefully manicure the mound. He’d throw balls back to the umpire because he said they still had hits in them. Detroit drew huge crowds every time he pitched even though the team was never in the pennant race. Opposing teams tried to get the Tigers to change their pitching rotation so he’d pitch in their park.

Fidrych took it all in stride. The name of his autobiography was “No Big Deal.”

He returned to his native Massachusetts after baseball. Tragically, on April 13, 2009 Fidrych was found dead under the truck he was apparently working on. He was 54.

Contributing sources:
Mark Fidrych Baseball-Reference
The Associated Press, Lakeland, Florida, March 22, 1977
More Mark Fidrych
BaseballRace.com

March 20th in baseball history-MINOR UPS & DOWNS

1953 | WASHINGTON, D.C. – There was a time when Major League Baseball (MLB) teams were prevented from broadcasting games within 50 miles of a Minor-League Baseball (MiLB) ball park. The thinking was the major-league broadcasts hurt minor league attendance.

That appeared to be the case in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but in 1949 the U-S Justice Department said the rule violated anti-trust laws. The broadcasts had to be allowed.

The 12th year in a row that minor league affiliated baseball drew over 41-million fans.

As U-S Senator Edwin Johnson put it, “Then the heavens caved in.” Senator Johnson’s reaction may have been a little melodramatic, but on this date in 1953 the Colorado democrat introduced a bill that would leave it up to each individual team whether to allow major league broadcasts in minor league towns. Johnson said the broadcasts, many now television, were destroying minor league baseball in small cities and towns, but is that still the case?

At its zenith in 1949, there were 59 minor leagues and 448 teams. Attendance nationwide was 39.6 million. When Senator Johnson introduced his bill in 1953 the number of leagues had dropped from 59 to 39 and many of them on shaky ground. Johnson’s bill did not pass, and minor league teams continued to shrink in number.

But broadcasting and other factors eventually breathed life into minor league baseball. According to Street & Smith’s SportsBusinessDaily, in 2016, total paid attendance of minor league teams affiliated with major league teams was **41.4 million. That’s down slightly from 2015, but the 9th largest attendance in MiLB history. And the 12th year in a row that minor league affiliated baseball drew over 41-million fans.

Contributing sources:
The Associated Press, Washington, D.C., March 21, 1953
Official site of Minor League Baseball  
MiLB teams

**These numbers do not count independent professional baseball leagues such as The Northern League and The Frontier League.

March 13th in baseball history-THOMSON OUT, AARON IN

1954 | ST. PETERSBERG, FLORIDA – A nasty break for a veteran opened the door for a future superstar on this date in 1954. It was an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson was trying to beat a throw to second base. The former New York Giant , who hit “the shot heard round the world,” in October of ’51, slid awkwardly and broke his ankle in three places.

Thomson would be out of the lineup until July. Put into the lineup was a skinny, 20-year old kid from Mobile, Alabama by the name of Henry Louis Aaron . He would be a regular in the Braves outfield for the next 21 years (He played 2 more years for the Milwaukee Brewers).

With Thomson’s injury many thought the Braves were out of the 1954 pennant race. Sportswriter Henry McCormick wrote, “With him [Thomson] may go the Braves’ hopes of staying in the thick of the pennant fight.” But the Braves stayed in the ‘54 race almost until the end. They were only four games out on September 15th, finishing 8 games out in third place, 89-65. Aaron played 122 games, hit .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI.

Hammerin Hank would become and remain the home run king (755) until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007. Aaron remains (as of this date) the all-time RBI leader (2,297). He was voted to 25 all-star games (they used to play two each season).

Contributing sources:
Bobby Thomson
Wisconsin State Journal, March 14, 1954, by Henry McCormick,
1954 NL pennant race

a STORY from today in baseball history