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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 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