Baseball: Past, Present, And Past
Friday at 9:40 pm
In today’s baseball update, well, you know the drill by now. There is talk of a theoretical season to be played in unknown locations consisting of an unknowable amount of games to determine something, something, as long as the powers that be can make it profitable. If not, us fans are on our own. On the bright side, maybe, it’s actually looking more likely that something will happen, although I’m not sure I’ll approve of the product they are about to feed us.
“Into the Great Wide Open.”
I have not been on the front lines as I usually am, so I don’t claim privileged information, or even the latest for that matter. I’ve heard rumors of a three-division re-alignment, focused on geographic configurations to reduce travel. These imaginary divisions would eliminate leagues, and I assume adopt the DH and all the other evils that threaten to destroy the game as we know it. I’ve heard suggestions that, hey, while we’re here playing psuedo baseball, we may as well institute the pitch clocks, robo-umps, runners on 2B to begin extra innings, and every other idea that’s been floated to market this boring game to the new generation with the attention span of a tweet.
Heck, we’ve missed the cold spring months, break out the cheerleaders dancing on the dugouts. Anything to distract from the mundane product on the field. And, I almost forgot, play ball!
I’ve seen a lot of this thinking recently, and like I’ve always done in times of anxiety and depression, I turn to real baseball. The future may be uncertain, but unlike any other sport, we have a past. A long and storied and cherished history, something we can hold on to. It’s my comfort zone, my childhood blankie.
I was up this morning and clicked on one of my favorite “This Day In Baseball History” sites, and what is normally a 5-minute browse became a 3-hour tour (a 3-hour tour…). May 1 in baseball history astounded me, and I ate it up and took notes. If you don’t mind me completely nerding out and exposing my utter weakness and star-struckedness when ogling the legends and legendary moments of the game we hold so dear, I’d like to share my morning interwebs rabbit-hole. May I?
A WHOLE LOTTA OF “FIRSTS”
What first caught my attention was the amount of “firsts” that either involved an iconic name or an influential moment that helped shape the game we all love. Some of the greatest players of all time had debuts in one form or another, and there were other moments that shaped the game in ways that diminished its true value and robbed us of the clean competitiveness it should have become.
- On this day in 1901, Herm McFarland of the White Sox hit the 1st grand slam in American League history, in a 19-9 blowout of (at least that day) hapless Detroit. The Tigers committed 12 errors on the day, 10 of which occurred on the infield. I hesitated to call them hapless, but they were certainly Javy-less.
- A rotund young man playing RF for the Yankees hit his 50th career HR in the fabled Polo Grounds in 1920. While usually not a moment to be marked in the long history of baseball, it is notable because it is the 1st HR as a Yankee to come off the bat of newly-acquired Babe Ruth. The opponents that day? His old teammates, the Boston Red Sox.
- (Authors note: One of my personal favorites.) A 17 year-old boy named Jimmie Foxx is summoned from the Philadelphia A’s bench to pinch-hit in his MLB debut in 1925. “The Beast” delivers a single in his 1st AB, on his way to a career .325 average with enough power and production to put him in the conversation of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time.
- (Author’s note: Another one of my personal favorites) The legendary Satchel Paige took the mound for his 1st professional game in 1926. He tossed a complete-game shutout for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts of the Negro Southern League. Oh my, what could have been…
- (Author’s note: I should just quit doing these at this point) In 1951, a young Mickey Mantle stepped into the batter’s box at Comiskey Park and blasted the 1st of 536 HR’s in his HOF career. As I’ve stated before, I love Ruth and Williams, Aaron and Mays, but I believe The Mick is the greatest pure talent baseball has ever seen. If not for alcoholism and an unfortunately-placed sprinkler-head divot, he would have proven it.
To finish the “firsts”, as much as I fancy myself fairly well-versed in baseball doings, I’ll admit I didn’t know this, and it’s significant. There’s some tickle of familiarity in the back of my brain, but I couldn’t have told you this before I read it this morning:
- On this day in 1884, a Toledo Blue Stockings C by the name of Moses Fleetwood Walker became the 1st “openly” black player to appear in a MLB game. William Edward White is credited as being the first player with African heritage to play in MLB, when he played one game for the Providence Grays in 1879, but he passed himself off as a white man. Moses, whose brother Weldy was briefly his teammate on that same squad, played only that 1884 season at the MLB level, and was the last black player before Jackie Robinson historically and heroically re-integrated baseball in 1947.
AND THE REST…
Beyond the “firsts”, there were many other baseball moments that struck me on this May 1st. Some I watched live (on TV), one I have securely indexed in the baseball encyclopedia in my brain, and one that gave me goose bumps that had absolutely nothing to do with baseball.
- May 1, 1991 was a busy day for baseball historians. Rickey Henderson surpassed Lou Brock (pardon me while I grab a beer to dampen my memories) on the all-time SB list, swiping 3B for the 939th theft of his career. Ever humble, Rickey launched into one on the great(est) on-field speeches of all-time, and I’m still quite surprised the monologue wasn’t “Rickey is the…”
- Also in 1991, the ageless Nolan Ryan (another of the author’s, ah, forget it!) tossed his 7th(!) career no-no while striking out 16 Blue Jays. I’ll never forget watching that game while studying for my Commercial Appraisal final exam the next day in my run-down trailer, and getting a dang “B” on that exam. I was crushed, but I rationalized that the “Ryan Express” did distract me from my studies.
- Way-back history: On this date in 1920 (the same day The Babe hit his 1st HR as a Yankee) the longest game in MLB history, by innings, took place at Braves Field in Boston. The 26-inning marathon between the Brooklyn Robins and the Boston Braves ended in a 1-1 tie, called due to darkness, and as some suggest, umpire fatigue. Amazingly, both Brooklyn P Leon Cadore and Boston P Joe Oeschger went the distance, 26 IP apiece. Legend has it that Dusty Baker actually managed both teams, but in my quarantined state, I have not been able to confirm this information. Also in this game, Braves 3B Charlie Pick sets a MLB record by going 0-11 in a single game. I’ve heard of golden, even platinum, sombreros, but this is so unbelievable and other-worldly I have to call this the “tin-foil” sombrero.
- And finally, on nationally-broadcast Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN in 2011, Phillies and Mets players became confused on the field as the sold-out crowd spontaneously began chanting “USA! USA!”. Players began taking time, checking coach’s signs, and generally not knowing the news that was spreading throughout the fans in the stadium and America. I also recall watching this game, and the live announcement from the POTUS that soon followed. One thing I didn’t recall, until watching the video, was that these chants began in inning number 9, with the score tied 1-1.
That was my morning. How was yours?