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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

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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