April 28-Robinson on par with 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 21-THE CATCHER WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

1934 | PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – Little used catcher Moe Berg of the Washington Senators played in his 117th consecutive error-less game on this day in 1934, a new American League record, but it took him four years. Good thing he had another skill to fall back on.

Moe Berg actually had a long major league career – 16 years – so he must have had something going for him. It was his catching. Hitting was not a skill Berg mastered.

But there was something else about Morris “Moe” Berg. Casey Stengel, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, called Berg, “The strangest man ever to play baseball.” Let’s count the ways; he was a Princeton educated intellectual who studied several languages including Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, the classical language of Southeast Asia. While in the majors he attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and later Columbia Law School, finishing second in his class. It was said of Berg, “he could speak a dozen languages but couldn’t hit in any of them.”

When a major league all-star team was picked to tour Japan in 1934, there was Moe Berg along with the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. It was somewhat strange that Berg would join the ranks of those future Hall of Famers. It wasn’t until years later that it was learned, while on this Japan trip Berg was secretly taking pictures of Japanese shipyards and military installations.

He was a spy, and he did such a good job he went to work for the Office of Strategic Services, which later evolved into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
ESPN Classic
More on Moe Berg
Still more on Moe Berg

 

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