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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.