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