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