I was watching The Sandlot a few days ago, and realized that Smalls never finished his “Baseball Stuff to Remember” list. In the movie, he has one thing on the list – and that’s all we see. So I’ve taken it on myself to add on to Scotty Smalls’ list.
The Great Bambino
Since this list is inspired by The Sandlot, we naturally have to start out with “The Great Bambino.” George Herman “Babe” Ruth was a major league baseball player from 1914 to 1935. Nicknamed “The Bambino” and “The Sultan of Swat,” he began his MLB career as a star left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. However, he achieved his fame as a slugging outfielder for the New York Yankees. He is regarded as one of the greatest sports heroes in American history, and is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time. In 1936, Ruth was elected in the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of it’s “first five” inaugural players.
Ruth set numerous MLB batting (and some pitching) records:
1. career home runs: 714
2. runs batted in: 2,213
3. bases on balls: 2,062
4. slugging percentage: 0.690
5. on-base plus slugging: 1.164
The Called Shot
One of the most known things around Ruth is his “called shot” in the 1932 World Series, when the Yankees played the Chicago Cubs. It was Game 3, and it was a roller coaster of a game. Ruth hit a three-run home run off Charlie Root in the the first inning, but the Cubs tied the score 4-4 in the fourth inning – partly due to a fielding error by Ruth in the outfield. When Ruth stepped to the plate in the fifth inning, he was heckled by many crowd members, as well as players. Ruth’s count came to two balls and one strike. Ruth gestured in the general area of center field, and after the next pitch (which was a strike), may have pointed there with one hand. Ruth hit the fifth pitch of his at-bat over the center field fence. Whether Ruth meant to show where he planned to (and did) hit the ball, this went down in the history books as Babe Ruth’s called shot.
I don’t think a baseball list would be complete without Jackie Robinson. Robinson was an American professional baseball player who became the first African American to play in the MLB in the modern era. He broke baseball’s color barrier when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Robinson was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
During his 10-year MLB career, Robinson won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, was an All-Star for six consecutive season from 1949 to 1954, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 – the first black player to do so. Robinson played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series championship.
In 1997, MLB retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first professional athlete in any sport to be honored in this way. MLB also adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day,” for the first time on April 15, 2004 – on which every player on every team wears No. 42.
Henry Louis Gehrig was a first baseman who played 17 seasons with the New York Yankees (1923 – 1939). Gehrig is best known for his power as a hitter and for his durability, which earned him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” He was an All-Star seven consecutive times, a Triple Crown winner, an American League MVP twice, and a member of six World Series champion teams. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, and was the first MLB player to have his uniform number (4) retired by a team.
Gehrig had a career .340 BA, .632 slugging average, and a .446 on base average. He hit 493 home runs and had 1,995 RBI. He set several major-league records during his career, including the most career grand slams (23) (since broken by Alex Rodriguez) and most consecutive games played (2,130) – a record that stood for 56 years and was long considered unbreakable.
Gehrig’s consecutive game streak ended on May 2, 1939, when he voluntarily took himself out of the lineup, after his on-field performance became affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable neuromuscular illness. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
The Cubs and The Curse of the Billy Goat
Okay. This is one that hits close to home. The Cubs and the Billy Goat Curse. It’s a curse that was (supposedly) placed on the Chicago Cubs in 1945, by Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis. The curse lasted 71 years, from 1945 to 2016.
Because the odor of his pet goat, Murphy, was bothering other fans, Sianis was asked to leave Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series. Outraged, Sianis allegedly declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” It was interpreted as the Cubs would never win another NL pennant, at least for the remainder of Sianis’s life.
The Cubs went on to lose the 1945 World Series to the Detroit Tigers, and did not win a World Series again until 2016. The Cubs had last won the World Series in 1908. After the incident with Sianis in 1945, the Cubs didn’t play in the World Series for 71 years until, on the 46th anniversary of William Sianis’s death, the curse was broken. The Cubs had defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the 2016 National League Championship Series to win the NL pennant. The Cubs would then go to defeat the AL champion Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings in Game 7 to win the 2016 World Series, 108 years after their last win.
The Black Sox of 1919
One of the biggest scandals in Major League Baseball was the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. It was a game-fixing scandal in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money. Despite acquittals in a public trial in 1921, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis permanently banned all eight players from professional baseball. Landis was appointed as the first Commissioner of Baseball, with absolute control over the sport to restore its integrity.
On October 1, the day of Game One, there were rumors amongst gamblers that the series was fixed, and a sudden influx of money being bet on Cincinnati caused the odds against them to fall rapidly. These rumors also reached the press box where a number of correspondents, including Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Herald and Examiner and ex-player and manager Christy Mathewson, resolved to compare notes on any plays and players that they felt were questionable. However, most fans and observers were taking the series at face value.
After throwing a strike with his first pitch of the Series, pitcher Eddie Cicotte’s second pitch struck Cincinnati leadoff hitter Morrie Rath in the back, delivering a pre-arranged signal confirming the players’ willingness to go through with the fix. In the fourth inning, Cicotte made a bad throw to Swede Risberg at second base. Sportswriters found the unsuccessful double play to be suspicious.
The Field of Dreams
The movie Field of Dreams is based on the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Field of Dreams may be one of the most quotable sports movies, along with The Sandlot or Rookie of the Year. While tending to his corn fields, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) hears a mysterious voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” After that moment, the movie follows Kinsella as he builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield. He is visited by the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (played by Ray Liotta), one of the “Black Sox” players of the 1919 World Series.
The story isn’t so much about baseball as it is about dreams, magic, and life.
The Field of Dreams site, just outside of Dyersville, Iowa, is still intact and you can visit it. We all know the “People Will Come” speech, so eloquently delivered by James Earl Jones. Jones took the role after his wife read the script and was mesmerized by the powerful speech. At the time, they both joked that the scene would end up getting cut. There are also versions of legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully and different MLB players reciting the speech.
You can read the book that inspired the movie, Shoeless Joe. Kinsella wrote many other fiction works, including The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and eleven collections of short stories, including Go the Distance.
The Creation of the American League
In 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, best known as the National League (NL), is formed. The American League (AL) was established in 1901, and in 1903, the first World Series was held.
The first official game of baseball in the United States was played in June 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became America’s first professional baseball club. In 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was established as the sport’s first “major league.” In 1876, Chicago businessman William Hulbert formed the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs to replace the National Association, believing it was mismanaged and corrupt.
The National League had eight original members: the Boston Red Stockings (now the Atlanta Braves), Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs), Cincinnati Red Stockings, Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Grays, Mutual of New York, Philadelphia Athletics, and the St. Louis Brown Stockings.
When the NL reduced its teams, a minor league called the Western League saw an opportunity. In 1899, Bancroft Johnson, commissioner of the Western League, renamed his league the American League. In 1901 – the year after the NL contracted four teams – the American League removed itself from the National Agreement and declared itself to be a Major League, alongside the National League.
The American League also expanded, placing teams into three of the four cities that had lost their NL team – Baltimore, Cleveland, and Washington – as well as placing teams into cities that already had a NL team – Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The original American League had eight teams: the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Americans, Chicago White Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Athletics, and Washington Senators.
Naturally, the National League was outraged. They tried to push aside the AL and regain control. It soon became evident that the AL wasn’t going anywhere. In true American fashion, the NL realized that if they couldn’t beat the AL, then they should join them. In 1903, the two leagues signed a new version of the National agreement, under which they agreed that they would each be a major league and their champions would play each other in the World Series.
AAGPBL and “A League of Their Own”
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was a professional women’s baseball league founded by Phillip K. Wrigley, and existed from 1943 to 1954. The AAGPBL is the front-runner of women’s professional league sports in the United States. Over 600 women played in the league, which eventually consisted of 10 teams located in the American Midwest. The most successful team, the Rockford Peaches, won a league-best four championships.
The 1992 movie A League of Their Own is a mostly fictionalized account of the early days of the league.
With the United States entering World War II, several major league baseball executives started a new professional league with women players in order to maintain baseball play while a majority of able men were away. The founders included Wrigley, Branch Rickey, and Paul V. Harper. They feared that MLB might even temporarily cease due to the war because of the loss of talent (many players served in the military), as well as restrictions on team travel due to gasoline rationing.
The women’s initial tryouts were held at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Scouted from amateur softball games across the country, over 200 women were invited to try-out, and about 60 were selected for the league roster. Women were selected for their skilled play, but the player also needed to fit what was seen by marketers as a wholesome feminine ideal. The first league game was played on May 30, 1943.
The teams generally played in Midwestern cities. The South Bend Blue Sox and the Rockford Peaches were the only two teams that stayed in their home cities for the full period of the AAGPBL’s existence.
The four original teams included The Rockford Peaches, South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets, and the Racine Belles. The league eventually expanded to 12 teams, all still within the American Midwest.
Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey
The Disco Demolition Night was a MLB promotion on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago that ended in a riot. At the height of the event, a crate filled with disco records was blown up on the field between games of a doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Many attendees came to see the explosion rather that the games and rushed onto the field.
The field was so damaged by the explosion and the fans that the White Sox had to forfeit the second game to the Tigers.
These are just SOME important people/events that happened throughout baseball’s history. What are some things you think should be added to the list?