Category Archives: March

March 21st in baseball history-THE BIRD MAN

1977 | LAKELAND, FLORIDA – When Detroit Tiger pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych twisted his knee shagging fly balls on this date in 1977 it seemed like a minor bump in the road for the 1976 rookie of the year. He was expected to miss his next start. Unfortunately, the injury was more serious than first thought. Fidrych had torn cartilage in his knee and would need surgery. He was never the same, and was out of baseball three years later.

But 1976 was magical.

Twenty-one year old Mark Fidrych wasn’t even expected to make the team out of spring training. He made his first start in May only because the scheduled starter had the flu. But Fidrych went on to win 19 games while losing 9. He led the league with a 2.34 ERA and completed 24 games, also the league leader. He won Rookie of the Year honors and was second in voting for the Cy Young award.

Fidrych created a national sensation not only because he pitched well, but also because of his personality and antics. He was “a little out of left field,” but seemed to really have fun playing the game.

Fidrych was called “The Bird” because he resembled Big Bird from the Sesame Street children’s TV show. When he pitched he’d talk to the baseball. He’d stoop down and carefully manicure the mound. He’d throw balls back to the umpire because he said they still had hits in them. Detroit drew huge crowds every time he pitched even though the team was never in the pennant race. Opposing teams tried to get the Tigers to change their pitching rotation so he’d pitch in their park.

Fidrych took it all in stride. The name of his autobiography was “No Big Deal.”

He returned to his native Massachusetts after baseball. Tragically, on April 13, 2009 Fidrych was found dead under the truck he was apparently working on. He was 54.

Contributing sources:
Mark Fidrych Baseball-Reference
The Associated Press, Lakeland, Florida, March 22, 1977
More Mark Fidrych
BaseballRace.com

March 20th in baseball history-MINOR UPS & DOWNS

1953 | WASHINGTON, D.C. – There was a time when Major League Baseball (MLB) teams were prevented from broadcasting games within 50 miles of a Minor-League Baseball (MiLB) ball park. The thinking was the major-league broadcasts hurt minor league attendance.

That appeared to be the case in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but in 1949 the U-S Justice Department said the rule violated anti-trust laws. The broadcasts had to be allowed.

The 12th year in a row that minor league affiliated baseball drew over 41-million fans.

As U-S Senator Edwin Johnson put it, “Then the heavens caved in.” Senator Johnson’s reaction may have been a little melodramatic, but on this date in 1953 the Colorado democrat introduced a bill that would leave it up to each individual team whether to allow major league broadcasts in minor league towns. Johnson said the broadcasts, many now television, were destroying minor league baseball in small cities and towns, but is that still the case?

At its zenith in 1949, there were 59 minor leagues and 448 teams. Attendance nationwide was 39.6 million. When Senator Johnson introduced his bill in 1953 the number of leagues had dropped from 59 to 39 and many of them on shaky ground. Johnson’s bill did not pass, and minor league teams continued to shrink in number.

But broadcasting and other factors eventually breathed life into minor league baseball. According to Street & Smith’s SportsBusinessDaily, in 2016, total paid attendance of minor league teams affiliated with major league teams was **41.4 million. That’s down slightly from 2015, but the 9th largest attendance in MiLB history. And the 12th year in a row that minor league affiliated baseball drew over 41-million fans.

Contributing sources:
The Associated Press, Washington, D.C., March 21, 1953
Official site of Minor League Baseball  
MiLB teams

**These numbers do not count independent professional baseball leagues such as The Northern League and The Frontier League.

March 17th in baseball history-“MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL” IS BORN

1871 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – “Major league baseball” didn’t just happen, it evolved in fits and starts. One of those starts took place on this date in 1871. Representatives of ten clubs; some professional, some amateur, some amateur only in name, met at Collier’s Café on Broadway in New York City to form The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.

Up until this time, baseball had been considered an amateur sport, but the Cincinnati Red Stockings led by former cricket player Harry Wright were an exception. They showed people would pay to see good baseball.

According to Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, the Red Stockings drew an estimated 200,000 fans playing about 60 games around the country in 1869. In 1870 the Red Stockings played a memorable extra inning game before 20,000 paying customers in New York. The commercial viability of professional baseball was no longer in question.

The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players only lasted 5 years – and is not considered a “major league” by MLB – but several of its teams became the foundation of the National League, established in 1876 and going strong to this day.

Contributing sources:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 2004
National Association of Professional Base-Ball Players
The National League

 

March 16th in baseball history-GETTING BEAT AT YOUR OWN GAME

2006 | ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – In a shocker, Mexico eliminated the United States from the first World Baseball Classic on this date in 2006. With the likes of Alex Rodriquez, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon and Vernon Wells on the U-S team Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 in Anaheim.

Clemens took the loss for the USA. The winning pitcher was Culiacan, Mexico native Oliver Perez, at the time a 5-year major league veteran, but certainly no Roger Clemens.

The United States’ mediocre record was 3 wins and 3 losses. The team had an impressive .337 team batting average and 3.13 ERA in the first round, but slipped in both categories in round two – .242 batting average and 4.32 ERA.

Japan ended up beating Cuba to win the Classic in 2006.

Contributing sources:
The New York Times, March 17, 2006, Anaheim, CA
The New York Times, March 15, 2006, Anaheim, CA
WBC Statistics

March 15th in baseball history-FRENCH LICK?

1945 | FRENCH LICK, INDIANA • More spring training camps opened on this date to prepare for the 1945 season, but not in the hot-spots you’d expect. The country was still in the midst of World War II. Travel restrictions forced teams to train close to home. Indiana turned out to be a popular place.

Here where spring training was for a number of teams:
The New York Yankees – Atlantic City, New Jersey
The Cleveland Indians – LaFayette, Indiana
The Chicago White Sox – Terre Haute, Indiana
The Boston Red Sox – Pleasantville, New Jersey
The Philadelphia Athletics – Frederick, Maryland
The Detroit Tigers in – Evansville, Indiana
The St. Louis Cardinals – Cairo, Illinois
The Chicago Cubs – French Lick, Indiana
The Pittsburgh Pirates – Muncie, Indiana

… Just to name a few.

Major League Baseball also drastically limited exhibition games at the urging of The United States Office of Defense Transportation. Teams could only play games with other teams if they were on a direct route to their home city. Side trips were not allowed. Some teams played very few exhibition games against other teams that spring.

Contributing sources:
Spring Training Notes, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1945
United Press, March 16, 1945
The Baseball Guru