Category Archives: April

April 18-A HOUSE FOR RUTH

1923 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK  ‘The house that Ruth built’ opened on this date in 1923. That’s what Yankee Stadium quickly became known as.

Babe Ruth  came to the Yankees in 1920, the result of an infamous purchase from the Boston Red Sox. He went on to become the biggest drawing card in all of sports.

Yankee Stadium, in effect, disappeared in the mid-1970’s when it was completely overhauled.

Yankee Stadium was baseball’s first triple deck structure. It was also the first baseball venue to be called a “stadium.” Others were usually called “Parks” or “Fields.”

It had some interesting dimensions that changed from time to time. For most of the original stadium’s history the fences down the foul lines were quite inviting: 301 down the left and 296 down the right. Left quickly ballooned out to over 400 feet. Straight-away center-field was 461 feet from home plate. Yankee Stadium, in effect, disappeared in the mid-1970’s when it was completely overhauled.

Before Yankee Stadium, beginning in 1913, the Bronx Bombers were tenants of the New York Giants, but tenant and landlord had a falling out in 1920. The Yankees were told to leave as soon as possible. The discord was partly due to the Yankees Bronx Bombers doubling their attendance that season to almost 1.3 million fans, 100,000 more than the Giants. Babe Ruth, with his prodigious home runs, was the main attraction. So Yankee Stadium was built a quarter mile from the Polo Grounds.

The Yankees won the first of many World Championships in that inaugural year of 1923. The victim – their former landlord, the New York Giants.

April 17-A YOUNG MICKEY MANTLE DISPLAYS HIS POWER

1953 | WASHINGTON, D.C. – Imagine someone hitting a ball the length of almost two football fields! Sportswriters, and others who claim to know, believe 21-year old Mickey Mantle did just that on this date in 1953. The prevailing belief is that the blast traveled an estimated 565 feet out of old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. where the old Washington Senators (today’s Minnesota Twins) were hosting the New York Yankees.

Mantle wasn’t a super star yet. At this stage of his career, he was a young, inconsistent ‘can miss’ switch-hitter from Commerce, Oklahoma.

On this day, Mantle was batting right-handed. On a 1 and 0 pitch, he crushed the ball. According to those present, it not only cleared the regular fence, it sailed over a 55 foot wall 70 feet behind the left center field fence! No one had ever done that before. A ten-year old boy reportedly found the ball in a backyard 105 feet further back.

Why Baseball Needs a Pitch-Clock

Almost overlooked in the same game were some of the talents speed helped Mantle bring to his game early in his career. He dragged a bunt for a single and stole a base.

Before a series of nagging injuries, and the toll of many nights on the town, Mantle was clocked at 3.1 seconds from the left-handed batter’s box to first. One of the fastest times ever recorded.

 

April 16-FIRST AT-BAT HR NOT ALWAYS AN OMEN

1929 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – What a way to start a career. On this date in 1929 Cleveland Indians outfielder Earl Averill hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He hit an 0-2 pitch off Detroit’s Earl Whitehill to help the Indians beat the Detroit Tigers 5 to 4 in 11 innings.

That first at-bat turned out to be an indicator of a stellar career for Averill. He had 18 home runs and 96 RBIs that first year, ended up with 238 career home runs, was elected to the all-star games six times, and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

As spectacular as it is to hit a home run in your first major league at-bat, it has not been a great omen for everyone who’s done it.

As spectacular as it is to hit a home run in your first major league at-bat, it has not been a great omen for everyone who’s done it. According to Baseball-Almanac, 91 rookies got the ultimate hit in their first at bat (21 of them on the first pitch), but 17 never hit another major league home run. For example, the first American League player to hit a home run in his first at bat, Luke Stuart of the St. Louis Browns, not only never hit another, he only had two more major league at bats.

The first at-bat home run hitter with the most career home runs is Gary Gaetti who finished with 360. Second is Jermaine Dye who has 300 and, as of this writing (April 16, 2009), is still active.

Contributing Source:
First at-bat HRs

 

April 15-A BLACK MAN IN THE LINEUP. WHAT A CONCEPT

1947 | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK Jackie Robinson became the first African American major league baseball player of the modern era on this date in 1947. He went hitless, but handled 11 chances at first base to help the Brooklyn Dodgers (today’s Los Angeles Dodgers) beat the Boston Braves (today’s Atlanta Braves) 5-3.

As the description “first African America of the modern era,” implies, Jackie Robinson was not first Black major leaguer. There were a few others, but you had to go back to the late 1800s to find them. An unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” created a color barrier in major league baseball from roughly the late 1880s until 1947.

Many point the finger at Chicago White Stockings (the modern day Cubs) star Cap Anson for leading the charge to exclude Blacks. The story is, Anson refused to take the field in an 1883 exhibition game against the Toledo Blue Stockings because they had an African American catcher. Even if true, Anson was certainly not alone in his bigotry. By the end of the decade the “gentleman’s agreement” was in force barring teams from signing Black players. The color barrier lasted until the Dodgers’ Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1947.

Ironically, the Black player Cap Anson reportedly threatened a boycott over was probably the smartest man on the field. Moses Fleetwood Walker studied Greek, French, German, Latin and math at Oberlin College in Ohio before going to law school at the University of Michigan.

  • Jackie’s brother Mack Robinson was also an exceptional athlete. He came in second behind Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany.

Additional Source:
Spalding’s World Tour, Page 68, by Mark Lamster, 2006

April 14 – FISK IMPRESSES NEW FANS

1993 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS –  Carlton Fisk had little trouble getting acclimated to his new “Sox”. He hit a grand slam home run in the home opener for his new team, the White Sox, after eleven years with the Red Sox. The blast helped the White Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers 9-3.

Fisk ended up signing with the White Sox for which he played the next thirteen years – a longer stint than he had in Boston.

Fisk’s move from Boston to Chicago was the result of a strange turn of events. He became a free agent after the 1980 season when the Red Sox failed to mail his contract to him by the deadline.

Fisk ended up signing with the White Sox for which he played the next thirteen years – a longer stint than he had in Boston.

Carlton Fisk was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000

Contributing Sources:
April 14, 1981 box score/play-by-play
Carlton Fisk Stats

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April 13-FEDERAL LEAGUE DIDN’T LAST BUT IT GAVE US WRIGLEY

1914 | BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – The insurgent Federal League, a third major league, began play on this date in 1914. The Baltimore Terrapins defeated the Buffalo Blues 3 to 2 before 27,140 fans.

The Federal League put teams in eight cities, including four where the National or American leagues already had teams. It lured a handful of players from the established leagues, including marquee names Joe Tinker and Three Finger Brown, by waving wads of cash at them. Shoeless Joe Jackson was reportedly offered four times his salary to jump to the new League. The National and American Leagues reacted by throwing more money at the likes of Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Walter Johnson to keep them where they were.

The Federal League didn’t appear to be a fly-by-night operation. All eight teams had new stadiums. Attendance was comparable to the NL and AL. The FL was also trying to beat the established major leagues in court.

It sued the American and National for being unfair monopolies. The parties eventually settled. As part of the agreement, the owner of the Chicago Whales, Charles Weeghman, was allowed to buy the National League Chicago Cubs. The ballpark he built for the Whales became the Cubs home and would later be known as Wrigley Field.

Other FL players and teams were absorbed into the National or American League, but not all. The owners of the Baltimore franchise weren’t happy with the settlement and sued. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Major League Baseball saying it was exempt from antitrust laws, a ruling which for the most part remains in effect today.

  • The Federal League’s inaugural season had teams in Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Buffalo and Indianapolis
  • The judge who presided over the Federal League’s lawsuit against Major League Baseball was Kenesaw Landis, who later became the first commissioner of baseball.

Contributing Sources:
Chicago Tribune, Baltimore, Maryland, April 14, 1914
More on the Federal League

April 12-GREAT SPOT FOR A BALLPARK… NOT!

1960 | SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – The first major league baseball game to take place in San Francisco was played on this date in 1960. The Giants new home, Candlestick Park, was beautiful, but the location was simply not a suitable place to build a ballpark. Unfortunately, New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham didn’t know that when he toured the site on a beautiful day in 1957.

San Francisco Mayor George Christopher promised that the city would build a ballpark at Candlestick Point if Stoneham would make his New York Giants the first tenants. What Stoneham didn’t know, and presumably Mayor Christopher didn’t volunteer, was that the sun isn’t the only thing that goes down at sunset.

The temperature plummets too, and the fog rolls in. This made for some interesting events at Candlestick. For example, during the 1961 All Star game, Giants pitcher Stu Miller was blown off the mound. In 1963, New York Mets Manager Casey Stengel took his squad out for batting practice, only to watch a gust of wind pick up the entire batting cage and drop it on the pitcher’s mound, 60 feet away. The most memorable phenomenon was an earthquake during the 1989 World Series, but the stadium weathered that event quite well.

The Giants moved to a much better location in 2000, Pac Bell Park, which is now called AT&T Park. And attendance has been phenomenal. The San Francisco 49ers still call Candlestick Park home, though the weather seems to be more tolerable in the fall and winter.

April 11-ANGELS LOOK LIKE THEY BELONG

1961 | BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – The Los Angeles Angels looked anything but like an expansion team in their first game on this date in 1961. Slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski hit two home runs and Eli Grba threw a complete game as the Angels beat the Baltimore Orioles 7 to 2 in Baltimore.

It wasn’t a fluke. The Angels were the most successful first year expansion team in baseball history. They won 70 games and did not come in last place-no small task. In fact, the Angels not only finished ahead of the expansion Washington Senators (big deal!), they finished ahead of the established Kansas City A’s (bigger deal!).

Remarkably, the Angels contended for the American League pennant in their second season – 1962. They were in first place on July 4th and finished in 3rd (this is before the American and National Leagues were divided into divisions), ten games behind the New York Yankees.

The Angels played their home games that inaugural season at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. Yes, P.K. Wrigley built a replica of the Cubs ballpark in Los Angeles years earlier for a minor league team. The Angels became a tenant of Dodger Stadium in 1962, which they referred to as Chavez Ravine. They built their own stadium in Anaheim in 1966 and became the California Angels.

Answers to yesterday’s stadiums question
1. Huntington Avenue Grounds (1901-1911) Boston Red Sox
2. West Side Park (1893-1915) Chicago Cubs
3. Jarry Park (1969-1976) Montreal Expos
4. Shibe Park (1909-1970) Philadelphia A’s & Phillies
5. Forbes Field (1909-1970) Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Polo Grounds (1911-1964) New York Giants, Yankees, Mets
7. Griffith Stadium (1903-1960) Washington Senators

April 10-THIS BUD’S NOT FOR YOU.

1953 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick was not amused that the St. Louis Cardinals wanted to name their ballpark after a beer. On this date in 1953 the Cardinals got the hint and backed off. The ballpark they bought from the St. Louis Browns the day before was not going to be called Budweiser Stadium. Instead it was called Busch Stadium.

The head of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an anti-alcohol group, wasn’t impressed by Anheuser-Busch‘s decision. “Busch” wasn’t the name of a beer back in ’53, but it was the name of the family that owned the brewery and the team. So, Temperance Union President Leigh Colvin said, “You could toss up the three B’s. Call it Beer Park, Budweiser Park or Busch Park and they all mean the same thing.”

The Cardinals’ ballpark is still known as Busch Stadium, though it’s on its third incarnation since 1953.

*    *    *

How about a little history quiz. Guess which teams played in these old stadiums?
1. Huntington Avenue Grounds
2. West Side Park
3. Jarry Park
4. Shibe Park
5. Forbes Field
6. Polo Grounds
7. Griffith Stadium

(Answers tomorrow)

April 9-BASEBALL GOES INDOORS

1965 | HOUSTON, TEXAS – Baseball went inside for the first time on this date in 1965. The Houston Colt .45s (today’s Houston Astros) played the New York Yankees in an exhibition game at the Harris County Domed Stadium, the first domed baseball stadium in the world.

The Yankees won 2-1 in 12 innings. Mickey Mantle hit the first-ever indoor home run. President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas native, was among the 47,878 fans at the game. The Harris County Domed Stadium name was soon changed to the Astrodome – the so-called eighth wonder of the world.

An architectural marvel, the Dome presented unanticipated challenges. It was built to allow sunlight to come through a series of clear plastic panels in the roof, thus allowing real grass to be planted. It didn’t work. The grass grew okay, but the players couldn’t see fly balls because of the tremendous glare each panel produced. The panels were painted over to block the sun, but of course the grass wouldn’t grow. Necessity being what it is, artificial grass was invented to put down on the field, hence the name Astroturf.

Astroturf became widespread in baseball and football stadiums for indoor and outdoor sports in the 1970s. Thankfully, many teams have gone back to real grass, including the Houston Astros. Today, those who want artificial turf can at least install something that looks and feels like grass, the most popular being FieldTurf.

Contributing Sources:
The Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas, April 10, 1965