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A STORY FROM FEB 6 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-TED WILLIAMS IMPROVES WITH AGE

TODAY IN BASEBALL TAKES US BACK TO BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS IN 1958. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot today, but 39-year old Ted Williams signed a one year contract with the Boston Red Sox on this date in 1958 for a reported $125,000. It made him the highest paid player in history. Ted Williams seemed to improve with age. Red Sox General Manager Joe Cronin said the raise was much “deserved.” “Teddy Ballgame” hit .388 in 1957.

Williams was in such a good mood he sat down for more than an hour chatting with reporters he often clashed with. The left fielder said, “I feel wonderful and feel I can do anything I could do five years ago.”

He was asked about playing first base, as many aging stars do in the twilight of their careers. “I don’t know about first base, it wouldn’t look good in left field,” Williams deadpanned. Seriously, he didn’t think it would be that easy to switch from outfield to first base as he approaches his 40’s.

Williams played three more seasons and could have played more. He played 113 games in his final season, 1960, and finished with 29 home runs, 72 runs batted in and a .316 batting average.

And, oh what might have been. Williams, like many players of that era, missed three full seasons during World War II when he was in his 20’s. He missed parts of two more seasons during the Korean War. He finished with 521 home runs. If he had played those seasons it’s quite certain he would have hit well over 600 home runs.

Theodore Samuel Williams, who seemed to get better with age, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.

Contributing sources:
Joe Key, Associated Press (AP), Boston, Massachusetts, February 7, 1958
Ted Williams stats 

A STORY FROM FEB 5 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – HOME-RUN KING HENRY AARON IS BORN

TODAY IN BASEBALL HISTORY TAKES US BACK TO  MOBILE, ALABAMA IN 1934.  That was the day Henry Aaron was born. He would become major league baseball’s all-time home-run king in 1974 when he eclipsed Babe Ruth‘s record of 714.

Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs. Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record in 2007, tainted, however, by allegations of steroid use.

Henry Aaron, not unlike his unassuming demeanor, quietly set many major league records and is among the leaders of many more. Here are some as compiled by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR):

Most seasons with at least 20 HRs            20 (1st)
Most career RBI                                                     2,297 (1st)
Most career extra base hits                            1,477 (1st)
Most career total bases                                     6,856 (1st)
Most seasons at least 100 runs scored    15 (1st)
Most career home runs                                      755 (2nd)
Most career hits                                                     3,771 (3rd)
Most career runs                                                   2,174 (4th)
Most career at-bats                                            12,364 (2nd)
Most seasons at least 100 RBI                     11 (4th)
Most career games                                              3,298 (3rd)

It’s also remarkable, considering he was the all-time HR king for almost 40 years, the lists Aaron is not on:
Most seasons with at least 60 HRs                         0
Most seasons with at least 50 HRs                         0

Henry Aaron, the all-time home-run king was born on this date in 1934. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Contributing sources:
MLB batting leaderboards, Baseball-Reference
More on Hank Aaron

A STORY FROM FEB 4 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – THE DAWN OF FREE-AGENCY

LET’S  GO BACK TO 1976 AND FEDERAL COURT IN KANSAS CITY. I’m not sure if Barry Bonds, Matt Holliday and C.C. Sabathia are religious people, but, you wouldn’t blame them for having shrines to Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith in their homes. Bonds, Holliday and Sabathia were recipients of some of the biggest free-agent signings in MLB history largely because of McNally and Messersmith, two pitchers who haven’t played in decades. On this date in 1976 a federal judge in Kansas City upheld a decision allowing McNally and Messersmith to hawk their wares to the highest bitter. They could bargain with which ever team they chose. They were free-agents.

With rare exceptions, players hadn’t been free agents since the late 1800s. When owners started raking in dough they realized that if players could sell their talents to the highest bidder salaries would skyrocket. So they instituted a reserve clause in contracts; even when a contract ended, and just about all of them were for one year only, a player’s fate remained with that team. The only recourse a dissatisfied player had was to hold out, not play. The only way he played for a different team is if he got traded.

Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals) and Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Players’ Union President Marvin Miller directing, decided to challenge the reserve clause. They played the 1975 season, their option years, without contracts, the thinking being when the option year lapsed the reserve clause ceased to exist. The owners’ position was that the reserve clause just kept renewing itself. The parties went to arbitration and arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of the players. Major League Baseball appealed, thus today’s ruling. We’ve had free-agency ever since and salaries have… skyrocketed.

Contributing sources:
Associated Press (AP), February 5, 1976, Kansas City, Missouri
Free-agency signings
More on the reserve clause

A STORY FROM FEB 3 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – ILLINOIS SUSPENDS LOU BOUDREAU

TODAY’S STORY TAKES US BACK TO CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS in 1938. Future Baseball Hall-of-Famer, manager and broadcaster Lou Boudreau was a two-sport star at the University of Illinois before his major league baseball career. The U of I was forced to discipline Lou Boudreau for efforts to turn pro too soon.

The 20-year old forward and captain of the Illinois basketball team was disciplined for taking money from a professional baseball team. The Cleveland Indians was sending his mother monthly checks in exchange for the Harvey, Illinois native’s word that he would give the Indians the right of first refusal when he graduated.

Boudreau missed six basketball games at the end of the 1938 season. The Illini won two and lost four and finished with an uninspired 9-9 record in the Big Ten.

Boudreau ended up not returning to the University of Illinois in the fall for his Senior year because he signed a contract with Cleveland and started his professional baseball career.

He played 13 seasons for the Indians, mostly at shortstop, including nine as player-manager. He started managing at the age of 24. He guided the team to a World Series Championship in 1948, and was he league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).

Boudreau finished his playing career with the Boston Red Sox in 1952. He also managed the Red Sox, Kansas City A’s (today’s Oakland A’s) and Chicago Cubs. Boudreau began broadcasting Cubs games in 1958, and except for managing the Cubs for one season (1960) he remained in the booth until 1987.

Louis Boudreau, the two-sport star the University of Illinois was forced to suspend in 1938, was voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970.

Contributing sources:
Boudreau as manager
Associated Press (AP), February 4, 1938s

A STORY FROM FEB 2 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – THE NATIONAL LEAGUE IS BORN

FOR THIS STORY WE GO BACK TO NEW YORK IN 1876. The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, more commonly known as the National League, was formed on this date in 1876. While the plan for the new league was finalized and agreed upon in New York City, it was organized by Midwesterners William Hulbert of Chicago and Albert G. Spalding of Rockford, Illinois.

Hulbert and Spalding were both involved in the National Association founded in 1871. Both were convinced the east coast dominated National Association was not any way to run major league. They wanted professional baseball to survive. Both loved the game – Spalding was one of the stars of the era – and saw major league baseball as a viable commercial enterprise; especially Spalding who wanted to sell sporting goods.

They saw the National Association as a poor business model. It allowed gambling, alcohol and players to move too freely from team to team. The National Association was also lax in its scheduling. It allowed teams to work out scheduling with each other.

The National League’s constitution was strict about gambling and alcohol, there wouldn’t be any. And every team had to play out its full schedule.

Hulbert and Spalding needed a solid plan before the start of the next season to attract select east coast National Association teams. They got commitments from Midwest teams in Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis to join Chicago. That’s where the February 2, 1876 meeting came in.

The gathering was held at the Central Hotel in New York with representatives from Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Hartford. They all agreed, and the National League was born. Play began that spring with those eight teams. As Koppett wrote, “It established a pattern that became the model for all commercialized spectator team sports from then on.”

Contributing Sources:
Leonard Koppett, Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, 1998
William Hulbert and the birth of the National League     Baseball-Reference