Old News in Baseball, No. 21

Newsboy logoThis week’s dose of old news is chock full of near misses, from Dave Stieb in 1988 to the Phils of 1964 to Fred Merkle in 1908. Heroes and goats, goats and heroes, they all swirl in the memory of older baseball fans—and for young fans with a sense of the game’s glorious past. Fame and infamy may be opposites, but away from the heat of the moment both may claim a place of fame and, indeed honor. Because just like life, baseball is more about dashed hopes than it is about exultation. 

September 18

1899: After losing 24 games in a row‚ Cleveland defeats Washington 5-4. The Spiders will go on to lose their next 16 games (for a stretch of 1-40!), on their way to a final mark of 20 wins and 134 losses. When measured against the Spiders, the 1962 Mets were a powerhouse. For more, see: http://www.si.com/vault/1999/04/19/259642/hard-to-believe-how-bad-they-were-the-1899-cleveland-spiders-make-the-1962-mets-seem-like-world-beaters

1903: In the absence of official league sanction‚ the presidents of the pennant-winning clubs sign an agreement to meet in a best-of-nine series for the championship. The National Commission, baseball’s ruling body before the advent of the commissioner system, did not mandate a World Series until 1905, after owner John Brush and manager John McGraw declined to pit their victorious Giants against the American League champs in 1904. The Pirates—the only National League team not devastated by defections to the upstart American League—clinch the pennant tomorrow. Some say the Pirates lost few of their stars to the rival circuit because Buc owner Barney Dreyfuss was such an honest and fair fellow that his players were exceptionally loyal (the story goes that Honus Wagner turned down $10,000 in cash to jump); others say that Ban Johnson and the American League owners figured that a strong team in Pittsburgh meant weaker opposition in the five cities where the leagues met head-to-head (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago).

Eddie Gaedel

Eddie Gaedel

1905: Nearly fifty years before Eddie Gaedel will make his appearance with the St. Louis Browns, little person Jerry Sullivan pinch hits in an Eastern League game for Buffalo. Bison manager George Stallings, who had met Sullivan, a vaudeville performer, in the Bisons’ Baltimore hotel the night before, invites him out to the game against the Orioles. He even provides a small uniform. As Baltimore takes a 10–2 lead into the final frame, Sullivan goes in as a Buffalo pinch hitter. Fred Burchell’s first pitch is high and his second is a lob that the diminutive fellow loops for a single. In James Thurber’s 1941 story “You Could Look It Up,” a midget named Pearl du Monville was sent up to walk but, enticed by a fat pitch, grounded out. Thurber could not have based his tale on Gaedel … but he might have known of Sullivan.


September 19

1920: In New York‚ Babe Ruth’s movie Headin’ Home opens at Madison Square Garden. It has been financed in part by Abe Attell with his winnings from the Black Sox Scandal of the year before.

Headin' Home Lobby Card

Headin’ Home Lobby Card

1954: Before a sparse crowd of 1‚715‚ the A’s play their final game at Shibe Park‚ losing to the Yankees‚ 4-2. The A’s are off to Kansas City for the 1955 season.

1964: The Dodger-Phils matchup in Los Angeles goes fifteen innings‚ when with 2 outs in the bottom of the 16th‚ Willie Davis singles‚ steals second‚ and takes third on a wild pitch. With lefty reliever Morrie Steevens making one of his four big-league appearances this year‚ Davis swipes home to give the Dodgers the 4-3 win. The Phils, on their way to an epic slide from first place, now lead by 5-1/2. For more, see: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/870583-the-top-10-biggest-and-worst-collapses-in-baseball-history

Lee Gum Hong, Oakland 1932

Lee Gum Hong, Oakland 1932

September 20

1903: A bad day for the Poughkeepsie Giants (Class D Hudson River League) as they drop a quadruple header to Hudson by the scores of 2-1‚ 6-4‚ 3-1‚ and 4-2. This is the only quadrupleheader of the 20th century. For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/1903-hudson-river-league

1932: Hoping to boast attendance‚ the Sacramento Senators and Oakland Oaks open their final Coast League series here by starting two Asian American pitchers: for the Senators, Kenso Nushida‚ a Japanese-American; for the Oaks, Lee Gum Hong‚ a Chinese-American. For more, see: http://goo.gl/exnZNp

1958: Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm‚ in a rare start, pitches a 1-0 no-hitter‚ the first in O’s history‚ against Don Larsen of the Yankees‚ fanning eight. The Orioles had acquired Wilhelm on waivers in August. (Thought to be washed up at age 35, Wilhelm pitched another 14 years.) The win‚ his first complete game‚ improves his season record to 3-10.

September 21

1934: The Deans shut out the Dodgers in a doubleheader. After Dizzy gives up just three hits in a 13-0 victory‚ allowing no hits until the eighth‚ Paul tosses a no-hitter‚ 3-0. Diz says: “If’n Paul had told me he was gonna pitch a no-hitter‚ I’d of throwed one‚ too.”

After Paul Dean No-Hitter

After Paul Dean No-Hitter

1940: Against the Reds‚ Pittsburgh’s Debs Garms laces five hits in a doubleheader to sew up the National League batting title with a .355 average. Garms has only 358 at bats but has appeared in 103 games‚ thus qualifying him for the crown. Bubbles Hargrave had won a batting title in 1926 under similar guidelines (with 326 at bats in 105 games, 12 of these as a pinch hitter). It was not until 1951 that the requirement was changed to 400 at-bats (and even later to 502 plate appearances).

1970: In his second major-league start, the A’s Vida Blue no-hits the Twins 6-0‚ becoming the youngest pitcher to perform the feat since Paul Dean‚ 36 years ago to the day (see above). The only base runner against Blue is Harmon Killebrew‚ who walks in the fourth inning.

Cy Young 1911

Cy Young 1911

September 22

1911: The Boston Rustlers’ Cy Young, returning to the National League for his last big-league campaign, shuts out Pittsburgh and Babe Adams 1-0 for his final career victory‚ number 511.

1953: The Brooklyn Dodgers tie the NL record for the most wins in a home park‚ beating Pittsburgh 5-4. They go an incredible 60-17 at Ebbets Field‚ equaling the mark of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942. The top five home records since 1900 are all from the American League.

1932 Yankees      62-15       .805

1961 Yankees      65-16       .802

1931 Athletics    60-15       .800

1949 Red Sox      61-16       .792

1946 Red Sox      61-16       .792

1963: For the first time‚ all three Alou brothers share the outfield. In the seventh inning‚ Matty is in left‚ Felipe replaces Willie Mays in center‚ and Jesus is in right. In the eighth inning‚ the three are retired in order.

September 23

1845: The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York is formally organized after season-long recruitment efforts encouraged by Alexander J. Cartwright. Charles A. Peverelly credited him thus in his Book of American Pastimes (1866): “In the spring of 1845 Mr. Alex. J. Cartwright, who had become an enthusiast in the game, one day upon the field proposed a regular organization, promising to obtain several recruits. His proposal was acceded to, and Messrs. W. R. Wheaton, Cartwright, D. F. Curry, E. R. Dupignac Jr., and W. H. Tucker, formed themselves into a board of recruiting officers, and soon obtained names enough to make a respectable show.” Strangely, Cartwright is not elected as one of the KBBC’s first officers.

Merkle Ball, Sept 23, 1908

Merkle Ball, September 23, 1908

1908: The Giants’ Christy Mathewson and the Cubs’ Three Finger Brown battle in the most controversial game ever played. The score is 1-1‚ with two outs in the last of the ninth. The Giants’ Harry McCormick is on third base‚ and Fred Merkle (19‚ subbing for the sore-legged regular Fred Tenney)‚ is on first. Al Bridwell singles‚ scoring McCormick and winning the game … except that halfway to second‚ Merkle turns toward the outfield and runs to the clubhouse. Cubs second sacker Johnny Evers secures a ball (perhaps not the ball that Bridwell hit) and touches the bag as the crowd overruns the field. Umpire Hank O’Day claims he didn’t see the play‚ but that evening he rules the run does not count‚ and the game thus ended with a tie score. When the two clubs ended the season in a deadlock, they met in a one-game playoff. The Cubs prevailed, and went on to win what is today their World Series title.

1957: The Milwaukee Braves clinch the pennant by beating the Cardinals 4-2 on Hank Aaron’s 11th-inning home run. Billy Muffett serves up the pitch‚ his only gopher ball all season. The homer‚ Aaron’s 43rd‚ comes with two outs and Johnny Logan on base. For more, see: http://mlb.mlb.com/memorylab/memories/selig.jsp

September 24

1929: The Yankees celebrate Babe Ruth Day at Fenway by winning‚ 5-3 over Boston. Ruth is 2-for-3 with a double. Lefty Tom Zachary wins his 12th without a loss: his 12-0 season record remains the record for most wins without a loss. Two years earlier Zachary, then with the Senators, had thrown the pitch that the Babe walloped for his 60th home run.

1988: Toronto’s Dave Stieb is one strike away from a no-hitter when Julio Franco’s apparent game-ending grounder takes a bad hop over second baseman Manny Lee’s head and Stieb is forced to settle for a 1-0 one-hitter. Six days later, in his next home start, Stieb again will lose a no-hitter in the ninth with only one strike remaining.

1998: The Yanks win‚ 5-2‚ over the Devil Rays and post their 111th win of the year‚ surpassing the club record of 110‚ set by the 1927 team (these Yanks play eight more games of course). Shane Spencer, precursor of Yoenis Cespedes, pounds a grand slam‚ his eighth homer in 57 at bats.


It’s hard to grasp the idea that only 1,715 fans would come out to see a franchise with such a rich history(despite the last two decades). You would think more people would at least want to be a part of history being made.

Hi John,   This is magnificent stuff. I live for Fridays to see what you’ve come up with. I am in awe.   cheers,   Hal     

You are too kind, Hal.

I love this Friday stuff too! Great stuff. I can impress my friends with knowledge of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.

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