Category Archives: April

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

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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