Category Archives: May

MAY 27 – Size matters

*1960 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK –  It’s been said, ‘catching a knuckle-ball is like trying to catch a butterfly with a fly swatter.’  It’s one of the biggest challenges a catcher faces. The Baltimore Orioles tried to do something about it on this date in 1960.

One of their starters was premier knuckler Hoyt Wilhelm. Oriole catchers had an especially difficult time catching him. The Orioles set a record in 1959 for the most passed ball with 49, 38 while Wilhelm was on the mound.

On this date in 1960, Baltimore manager Paul Richards. had an idea. He came up with an oversized catcher’s mitt for catcher Clint Courtney.

It worked. Courtney had no passed balls on this date – there had been 11 in Wilhelm’s previous 28 innings – and Wilhelm pitched his first complete game of the season beating the New York Yankees 3-2.

The oversized mitt led to a rule change a few years later. Beginning with the 1965 season catcher’s mitts were limited to 38 inches in circumference and 15 ½ inches from top to bottom.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated, David Nemec,  2006
The knuckle-ball

MAY 26 – The greatest pitching performance

*1959 | MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – What a shame! Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates took a perfect game against the Milwaukee Braves into the 13th inning on this date in 1959 – no runs, no hits, no walks, no hit-by-pitch, no nothin’.

Up until the 13th, Haddix retired every single batter, but before the inning was over he would lose the game, the perfect game and the no-hitter, 1-0.

Talk about records that may never be broken, Haddix pitched a perfect game for 12 innings! No one had ever done more than 9.

The Pirates had 12 hits that night, including one by Haddix himself, but they couldn’t muster a single run for the guy on the mound.

Haddix lost the perfect game when his 3rd baseman Don Hoak committed an error. He lost the no-hitter when Braves’ first baseman Joe Adcock doubled. He lost the game when Felix Mantilla scored from second on Adcock’s double, and the run wasn’t even earned. The game went 13 innings, but only took 2 hours and 54 minutes. Of course, there wasn’t much scoring and no pitching changes.

Did you know that the Pirates had 12 hits that night, including one by Haddix himself, but they couldn’t muster a single run for the guy on the mound?


There was another interesting thing that happened that night, Braves slugger Eddie Matthews laid down a sacrifice bunt in the 13th inning to get Mantilla to second. When’s the last time you saw a slugger (he hit over 500 home runs) lay down a sacrifice bunt – successfully at that!

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 26, 1959 Box score
The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 27, 1959

MAY 25 – 9 home runs in a week

cropped-nigiht-game-5.jpg*2002 | PHOENIX, ARIZONA – The Los Angles DodgersShawn Green hit his 8th and 9th home run in a week on this date in 2002 – at the time, a new National League record.

Green hit 4 home runs two days earlier (May 23rd).

Two days before that he hit a pair of home runs.

He hit one on May 24th.

The two he hit against the Arizona Diamondbacks on this date added up to nine for the week.

Shawn Green was born in Des Plaines, Illinois on November 10, 1972. His family later moved to California where he attended Tustin High School in Tustin, California. He received a scholarship to Stanford University in 1991, but was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays the same year.

He broke into the major leagues with Toronto in 1993 at age 20. At the end of the 2007 season Green had 328 career home runs.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 25, 2002 box score/stats
The Associated Press, Phoenix, AZ, May 26, 2002
Shawn Green background

MAY 24 – Let there be lights

*1935 | CINCINNATI, OHIO – The first night game took place on this date in 1935. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt flipped a switch from Washington, D.C. creating that now familiar glow emanating from night baseball. The first game under the lights took place at Crosley Field in Cincinnati where the Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 before 20,422 fans.

Night baseball is commonplace today, but it took a while to catch on. A number of charter major league teams were still without lights well into the 1940’s (well into the 1980’s for the Cubs).

It’s a wonder night baseball didn’t arrive sooner because it brought out the fans. Attendance went up just about everywhere lights went up.

According to The Sporting News, September, 1940 issue, the New York Yankees led the majors in total attendance that year with a little over a million fans. That’s about 17,000 per game at Yankee Stadium which did not have lights. Cleveland had lights, and averaged 33,000 fans when it played at night, which was only during the week.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Attendance throughout the years
Retrosheet
Night baseball

MAY 23 – Senators start poorly & go downhill from there

*1901 | The Washington Senators were one of eight charter members of the American League when it began play in 1901. The Senators were also the image of futility during most of their 60 years in the nation’s capital (the franchise moved to Minneapolis in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins). They spent 60 years in the Washington, D.C., winning one World Series**.

A game on this date in 1901 gave their fans a glimpse of how difficult it would be to love the Senators. Washington had a 13-5 lead over the Cleveland Blues (today’s Cleveland Indians) in the bottom of the 9th with two outs.

The Senators needed one more out. They couldn’t get it. Cleveland scored 9 runs after two outs with nobody on-base and beat the Senators 14 to 13.

Contributing Sources:
retrosheet for May 23, 1901
Chicago Daily Tribune, May 22, 2017,

 

 

 

May 22 – 620-foot home run?

*1963 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK  –  Mickey Mantle himself thought he hit the longest home run of his career on this date in 1963. This from a man who was quite modest about his accomplishments. It was a walk-off home run in the 11th to break a 7-7 tie against the Kansas City A’s (today’s Oakland A’s).

The Baltimore Sun reported the next day that those who saw the mammoth blast are certain that the ball was rising when it hit the façade of Yankee Stadium’s roof in right field. That would be about 115 feet above the ground, 370 feet, at ground level, from home plate.

So how far did the ball travel? Or how far would it have traveled had the façade of the roof not been in the way? Many record books say the ball traveled over 600 feet. That’s more than double the distance from home plate to the right field corner. It’s the length of two football fields.

Is there a little hyperbole here? Could Mickey have been given the benefit of the exaggeration because he was likable, handsome and hit a lot of tape measure home runs?

What cannot be denied are the statistics of a guy who was a speed demon when he broke in at age 19. Look at his on-base percentage. And while Mantle was a great RBI guy, he had more runs scored.

Mickey Mantle Career Stats
Batting average: .298
On base percentage: .421
Home runs: 536
RBI: 1,509
Runs scored: 1,677

Contributing Source:
The Baltimore Sun, May 23, 1963

MAY 21 – Don’t Blink

*1943 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – The Chicago White Sox beat the Washington Senators (today’s Minnesota Twins) 1-0, on this date in baseball history. The game took 1 HOUR and 29 MINUTES – the quickest night game in American League history. Sox starter Johnny Humphries beat Senator starter Dutch Leonard.

The National League has the American League beat in the quickest night game category, however. About a year after the above referenced Senators/Sox game, the Boston Braves (today’s Atlanta Braves) beat the Cincinnati Reds 2 to 0 in an hour and fifteen minutes in Cincinnati. And these are just night games.

The times for the quickest day games are startling: 51 minutes in the National League (NY Giants-Philadelphia Phillies September 26, 1919) and 55 minutes in the American (St. Louis Browns-NY Yankees, September 26, 1926).

It’s remarkable that a game could be played in less than an hour and a half. What’s even more amazing is that 13 of the first 26 games the St. Louis Browns (today’s Baltimore Orioles) played in 1943 took less than 2 hours. Only one took more than 3.

The same was pretty much true for the White Sox. By their 26th game, 13 had been under 2 hours. None took more than 3 hours.

There are probably several reasons games are longer now, one is relief pitchers – there are more of them, and complete games by starters – there are fewer of them. In 1943 Chicago White Sox starters completed 70 games. In 2005, Sox starters completed 9, and that was the year they won the World Series.

Commercial breaks add to the length of games. And you can’t ignore the fact that pitchers and hitters do a whole lot of nothin’ between pitches.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 21, 1943
BASEBALL ALMANAC

See my Opinion piece, “Why Baseball Needs a Pitch Clock.”

MAY 20 – One-armed outfielder

*1945 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURIPete Gray may have had his best day on this date in 1945. He helped the St. Louis Browns sweep a doubleheader from the New York Yankees 10-1 and 5-2. Gray had three hits and two RBI in the opener. He scored the winning run in the second game, and hauled in three great catches in the outfield. Maybe not the stuff of legend, except Pete Gray had one arm.

He was born Peter J. Wyshner in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1915. He lost his right arm in a farm accident at age six. He played two solid seasons for the Class A Memphis Chicks in 1943 and ’44. The St. Louis Browns purchased his contract and brought him up to the big leagues in 1945. Gray’s major league career was just 77 games. He hit just .218 but had a .959 fielding percentage playing mostly left or center.

If not for World War II, which was still going on when the season started, when many regular players were in the military, it’s quite certain Gray would never have stepped between the lines during a major league baseball game. Still, Peter Gray made it to “The Show,” something millions can only dream about.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream, by William C. Kashatus, McFarland & Company, 2001

MAY 19 – Almost perfect

*1981 | PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – The first batter Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Jim Bibby faced on this date in 1981 got a hit. Terry Harper would be the only Atlanta Brave batter not to go right back to the dugout. Bibby was perfect after Harper’s hit. He retired 27 hitters in a row for a one-hitter as he and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves and Phil Niekro 5-0.

Bibby was not unfamiliar with low hit games, especially in 1973. He threw a no-hitter, a one-hitter and a two-hitter his second year in the majors.

Except for going 19-6 in 1980 and 12-4 in 1979 Jim Bibby’s won-lost record was unremarkable. He finished his twelve-year career just over .500 at 111-101, but his career earned run average was a solid 3.76. The year of his almost perfect game he was 6-3 but a very stingy 2.50 ERA.

Bibby was not unfamiliar with low hit games, especially in 1973. His record was 9-10, but he threw a no-hitter, a one-hitter and a two-hitter that year, his second year in the majors.

Jim Bibby came from a family of athletes. His brother, Henry Bibby, was a professional basketball player in the NBA, also coached the University of Southern California basketball team. Jim’s nephew, Mike Bibby (Henry’s son) played for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
May 19, 1981 box score

 

MAY 18-Get me to the station on time

*1957 | BALTIMORE, MARYLANDDick Williams of the Baltimore Orioles hit a ninth-inning, game-tying solo home run against Chicago White Sox pitcher Paul LaPalme seconds before 10:20 p.m. on this date in 1957. If Williams had done anything else – taken a pitch, hit a foul ball, gotten a single, double or triple, struck out – any of those things, the game would have ended with the White Sox a winner because the Sox led and a curfew was about to put an end to the contest.

Curfews were fairly common in the major leagues into the 1950’s and 60’s. The initial impetus was World War II

The curfew was an agreement by the two teams ahead of time so the White Sox could catch the last train out of Baltimore. With the game now tied, it was suspended and replayed from the beginning at a later date. Baltimore ended up winning the next time.

Curfews were fairly common in the major leagues into the 1950’s and 60’s. The initial impetus was World War II, during which there were curfews to accommodate dim-outs (as in “dim” the lights) to save energy. Games all over the country had curfews putting a limit on how long a night game could last. By the 1970’s curfews were gone, and night games could last as long as it took.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 1998