Category Archives: April

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

April 8-AARON PASSES RUTH

1974 | ATLANTA, GEORGIA Henry Aaron saved the best for the home town crowd. Four days after tying Babe Ruth‘s career home run record of 714 on the road in Cincinnati, Hammerin Hank broke the record before hysterical Atlanta Braves‘ fans at Fulton County Coliseum. He hit the 715th of his career off Los Angeles Dodger hurler Al Downing. Aaron would go on the hit 755 home runs for his career.

Henry Aaron ended his career back in the city where he made his major league debut. He played the 1975 and 1976 seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The term “home run” was originally a descriptive one. In the early days of baseball, fences were generally farther out than they are today. The batter had to literally run home before being tagged out to hit a “home run.”

Babe Ruth held the career home run record for 53 years, the longest of any player. Here’s a list of the career home run record breakers and total home runs the new record-holder finished that year with.

Year Player HRs
2007 Barry Bonds 762
1974 Henry Aaron 733
1921 Babe Ruth 162
1895 Roger Connor 124
1889 Harry Stovey 89
1887 Dan Brouthers 74
1885 Harry Stovey 50
1883 Charley Jones 33
1882 Jim O’Rourke 24
1881 Charley Jones 23
1879 Lip Pike 20

Here are the current top-10 career home run hitters:

Barry Bonds     762
Henry Aaron     755
Babe Ruth          714
Alex Rodriguez 696
Willie Mays       660
Ken Griffey Jr,   630
Jim Thome         612
Sammy Sosa      609
Albert Pujols      591 (active)
Frank Robinson 586

The term “home run” was originally a descriptive one. In the early days of baseball, fences were generally farther out than they are today, so hitting a ball over the fence was rare. Inside-the-park home runs were more common because outfielders had more ground to cover. The batter had to literally run home before being tagged out to hit a “home run.”

Contributing source:
Henry Aaron in the Hall of Fame
Career home run record holders

April 7-THE SCREEN MONSTER

1958 | LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – It used to be common for football games to be played in baseball ballparks like Wrigley Field, which was the home of the Chicago Bears from 1921 to 1970, but you didn’t see baseball games played in football stadiums like Chicago’s Soldier Field. What the Dodgers had to do to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on this date in 1958 is why.

Before the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers could play the first official major league game west of St. Louis they had to erect a 42-foot screen in left field because the foul pole was only 201 feet away – about the distance normally seen in slow pitch softball.

Straight away left was only about 250 feet.

On the other hand, because the Coliseum is rectangular straight away right was 440 feet from home. 

There was a distinct advantage playing in the mammoth coliseum however, it held a lot of people. Game 5 of the 1959 World Series between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox still holds the record for the biggest crowd to watch a major league baseball game – 92,706.

The Dodgers spent four seasons (1958-1961) in, at the time, the home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams waiting for Dodger Stadium to be completed. As much as Dodger fans poured into the Coliseum they liked the new Dodger Stadium more when it opened in ‘62. A major league attendance record (at the time) was set with 2,755,184 fans.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE: 
The Coliseum revisited

April 6-THE DH IS BORN

1973 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The designated hitter was born on this date in 1973. The New York Yankees’ Ron Blomberg became the first major league baseball player to be in the starting lineup without playing in the field. He also became the first DH to reach base and drive in a run as Luis Tiant of the Boston Red Sox walked him with the bases loaded in the top of the first. Blomberg later singled.

The game changed significantly that day, many believe, for the worse. Hundreds of American League pitchers would go through entire careers without picking up a bat. Hundreds of designated hitters would seldom pick up a glove. The DH has since trickled down to amateur baseball. Many high school and college pitchers don’t bat.

Purists were, and remain, appalled for several reasons, the least of which being, baseball used to be one of the few sports that required every participant be able to do everything with some professional proficiency; run, hit, throw and catch.

Take the National Football League, an offensive tackle can make it to the NFL Hall of Fame without ever throwing a football in a game, or catching one for that matter. Dennis Rodman probably went whole NBA seasons without attempting a 3-pointer, let alone making one.

But supporters of the Designated Hitter say it initiated a re-birth of baseball. Attendance boomed until the players’ strike of 1994, and is on the rise again. Interestingly however, average attendance is higher in the National League, which has never had the DH, than the American League.

  • The DH was first suggested by the National League in 1928, but the American League rejected it [see Dec 12 story].

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
First Designated Hitters
A different way to look at the DH

April 5-MLB EXPANDS SOUTH & WEST

1993 | DENVER, COLORADO (and) MIAMI, FLORIDA – Two new National League franchises began play on this date in 1993. The Colorado Rockies played their first game on the road at Shea Stadium in New York. They were shut out by the Mets 3-0. The Miami Marlins‘ first game was at home in Miami. They beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6 to 3 at Joe Robbie Stadium. The 1993 expansion of the Rockies and Marlins was the first in the National League since 1969.

Since entering the league 24 years ago the Marlins have done remarkably well on the field, but the Rockies have done considerably better at the turnstile. The Rockies set a major league record drawing 4,483,350 fans in their inaugural year, but the Marlins have already won two World Series-1997 and 2003.

The Rockies were the second team in major league history to draw more than 4 million fans (the Toronto Blue Jays were the first). The Rockies probably would have drawn 4 million more often, but the franchise moved in 1995 from 80,000 seat Mile High Stadium where the Denver Broncos NFL teamed played at the time, to Coors Field, which seats 50,227. The Rockies drew more than 3 million fans 9 of their first 13 years. The Marlins have only surpassed the 3 million mark once – their first year.

Here’s a comparison of attendance for the two franchises:

              Rockies     Marlins
1993   4,483,350   3,064,847
1994   3,281,511     1,937,467
1995   3,390,037   1,700,466
1996   3,891,014    1,746,767
1997   3,888,453   2,364,387
1998   3,792,683   1,750,395
1999   3,235,833    1,369,421
2000   3,149,117     1,173,389
2001   3,168,579    1,261,226
2002   2,737,918       813,111
2003   2,334,085    1,303,215
2004   2,338,069   1,723,105
2005   1,915,586    1,823,388

2010   2,875,245     1,532,526
2011    2,909,777     1,520,562
2012    2,630,458    2,219,444
2013    2,793,828     1,586,322
2014    2,680,239    1,732,283
2015    2,506,789    1,752,239
2016    2,602,524    1,712,417

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Baseball-Almanac – Expansion Era
ESPN – Attendance

April 4-MOVE OVER, BABE

1974 | CINCINNATI, OHIOHank Aaron didn’t waste time. In the first inning of the first game of the 1974 season the Atlanta Braves outfielder hit a 3-run homer off Cincinnati Reds starter Jack Billingham to tie Babe Ruth with 714 career home runs.

It was only a matter of time before Aaron broke the record. Despite Aaron’s heroics, the Reds beat the Braves 7-6.

There’s an interesting side-light to this story. Atlanta Braves management wanted Aaron to break the record at home. They planned to sit him for the first three games of the season in Cincinnati. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wouldn’t have it, and ruled that Aaron had to play two out of three.

The rest is history. Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s record in his very first at bat and, fortunately for the Braves, didn’t hit another home run in the series. So, the Braves returned home with the anticipation of Aaron breaking the record in front of the home crowd, which he did four days later.

Henry Aaron retired in 1976. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982. He is the only player in major league history to hit at least 20 home runs in 20 seasons.

Piece of trivia: Who was Sandy Koufax’s first strike out? Hank Aaron.

April 3rd in baseball history-SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME

1987 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – After two and a half mediocre seasons the Chicago Cubs got veteran right-handed starting pitcher Dennis Eckersley off their hands. He was traded to the Oakland A’s for three minor leaguers.

Eckersley won 165 games in 12 seasons, but was 27-26 for the Cubs over 3. The team thought Eckersley’s best days were behind him. He lost more games than he won in ’86, and personal demons caught up with him. Eckersley checked himself into an alcoholism treatment center after the season.

“Eck” didn’t turn a corner, he made a complete about-face. A sober Dennis Eckersley was just getting started-on a second career as a reliever. He would go on to become one of the most dominant closers in history.

The trade to Oakland hit as hard as a hangover. “I’m in shock,” said Eckersley, but he realized a change of scenery can’t hurt, “It’s always nice to get into a new atmosphere. You get pumped up and you’ve got something to prove to other people.” And prove something he did.

“Eck” didn’t turn a corner, he made a complete about-face. A sober Dennis Eckersley was just getting started-on a second career as a reliever. He would go on to become one of the most dominant closers in history.

In his first 12 seasons he started 359 games and saved 3. In his last 12 seasons he saved 387 and started 2. Here’s a good trivia question; Who went ten years without a save but ended up in the Hall of Fame as a closer?

Maybe the Cubs should have taken Eckersley’s checking into alcohol rehab as a good thing.

Top ten Saves leaders in history (as of the start of the 2017season):

  1. Mariano Rivera 652
  2. Trevor Hoffman 601
  3. Lee Smith 478
  4. Francisco Rodriguez 430 (active)
  5. John Franco 424
  6. Billy Wagner 422
  7. Dennis Eckersley 390
  8. Jo Nathan 377 (active)
  9. Jonathan Papelbon 368 (active)
  10. Jeff Reardon 367

Contributing Sources:
MLB Saves leaders
Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1987
More on Dennis Eckersley

April 2nd in baseball history-FAKE NEWS NOT NEW!

1908 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – On this date in 1908 Major League Baseball declared the game was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. A commission came to this conclusion after studying the issue for two years. The evidence was overwhelming. Too bad it wasn’t true. The evidence was overwhelming… to the contrary.

Doubleday, a civil war General, and Cooperstown, named for poet James Fenimore Cooper, had as much to do with inventing baseball as Babe Ruth had with inventing the hot dog. No matter, a man named Spalding was on a mission-he would later go on to build a sporting goods empire. Cooperstown would become a baseball mecca.

Here’s what happened; In 1905 Albert Spalding recommended that former National League President A.G. Mills head up a commission to study the origins of the baseball. Someone uncovered a letter describing Doubleday as being the first to set down “base ball” rules derived from a game called “town ball.” A myth was born, except the rules weren’t new, neither was “base ball” (see September 23, 1845).

This much apparently was true, Abner Doubleday once lived in Cooperstown. And the myth Spalding helped create was strong enough to make this sleepy town in the hills of western New York named after a poet, the site for the Baseball Hall of Fame in the 1930s.

Contributing Sources:
Spaldings World Tour, by Mark Lamster, 2006, Published by Public Affairs
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) www.sabr.org

APRIL 1st in baseball history-A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

1996 | CINCINNATI, OHIO – It was opening day, the unofficial beginning of spring, a sign of rebirth, a starting over. Everybody’s in first place. The Cincinnati Reds are hosting the Montreal Expos.(today’s Washington Nations) Reds pitcher Pete Schrouek fires the first pitch to John Grudzielanek right down the middle. Home plate umpire John McSherry shouts, “Ball.” Schrouek is stunned. Grudzielanek eventually flies out. Mike Lansing strikes out. The count on Rondell White is 1 and 1.

“Hold on,” McSherry says. It’s only the seventh pitch of the game, but the 380-pound man in blue is in trouble. He walks haltingly toward the dugout then staggers and falls face forward. A gasp rises from the crowd. The opening day air is the source of John McSherry’s last breath. He is pronounced dead an hour later. McSherry was 51.

The game is postponed. Players, coaches, managers are in no mood to continue. John McSherry was truly one of the game’s most beloved umpires. Reds shortstop Barry Larkin stood helplessly on the field the day McSherry died, “It’s often thought that baseball players and umpires have an antagonistic relationship. If any one person could prove that theory wrong, it was John McSherry.” McSherry had one of the lowest ejection rates of any umpire.

Like many umpires, McSherry wanted to be a ballplayer. Born and raised in New York City, he got a scholarship to St. John’s University for academics, not sports. He left St. John’s before getting a degree. If he was going to be in a classroom, he wanted it to be in an umpire’s school in Florida. After umpire’s school, McSherry worked in the Florida Instructional League and then the Carolina and International Leagues. He broke into the majors in 1971.

McSherry battled weight issues in his adult life, in fact had a physical scheduled for the day after he died. His death spurred a movement to require fitness of umpires.

Contributing sources:
The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 2, 1996
The New York Times, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 2, 1996