Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia
Strange but True Baseball Stories
This page contains some of the weirdest "strange but true" baseball
Here you can discover the answers to trivia questions like: "Why was it
necessary to put a man on the moon in order for a weak-hitting pitcher to
finally hit a home run?" Or how about: "Which first baseman was such a
notoriously terrible fielder that 30,000 fans once gave him a standing ovation
for catching a stray hotdog wrapper?" Or how about this one: "Which
teammate of Babe Ruth was a better pitcher AND
his equal as a hitter, with virtually identical statistics in their mutual breakout season
of 1918?" Did Babe Ruth have an identical twin, a doppelganger? As we are about to see,
baseball is a wonderfully weird game ...
On August 17, 1957, future hall-of-fame centerfielder Richie Ashburn of the Philadelphia Phillies hit spectator
Alice Roth with a foul ball, breaking her nose. As Roth was being carried off
the field on a stretcher, Ashburn hit her with another foul ball, breaking a
bone in her knee. The odds of a fan being hit by a baseball are 300,000 to one.
The odds of the same fan being hit twice during the same at-bat, and breaking
bones both times, are beyond astronomical.
Fowl Play: Why Baseball is for the Birds!
Dave Winfield, a hall-of-fame outfielder playing for the Yankees
in 1983, was arrested for killing a
seagull with a thrown ball. The cop who arrested him and fans
who witnessed the event claimed that
Winfield hit the bird deliberately. But Yankees manager Billy Martin questioned
whether Winfield possessed the necessary accuracy: "Cruelty to animals? That's the first time he hit the cut-off man
On March 24, 2001, during the seventh inning of a spring training game between
the Diamondback and Giants, a wayward dove flew into a Randy Johnson heater and
literally exploded into a shower of white feathers. Unfortunately, the small symbol of
peace did not survive. The event can be viewed on YouTube, and there is a
picture of Jeff Kent holding up the nude corpse like a tiny plucked turkey.
Bob Ferguson had one of baseball's more unusual nicknames: "Death to Flying
Things." But as far as we can tell, it was because of his ability to spear
out of the sky, not for killing our feathered friends.
Another hall-of-fame outfielder with accuracy issues was also "for the birds."
Goose Goslin made playing left field an adventure. When Clark Griffith scouted
Goslin, one fly ball hit him in the head and another barely missed his noggin.
Jose Canseco! But Goslin hit three homers that day and Griffith decided to take a chance
on the young slugger. Goslin was called "Goose" due to the ungainly way he
flapped his arms while pursuing fly balls (when not dodging them). His throwing arm
was powerful but similarly erratic. After bringing up Goose from the minors, the Washington Senators
were forced to trade for a young
Joe Cronin because their starting shortstop was "exhausted" and had "begun to
lose weight rapidly in the summer heat" from running around retrieving Goslin's
Babe Ruth was not the only former pitcher to win an AL batting title. Let's
allow Goose Goslin to explain in his own words: "It was 1920 and I was twenty
years old. Well, it turned out that professional ball [Class C Sally League] was
a little different from sandlot ball. Around here I used to be quite a pitcher.
That's what I thought, anyway. Used to strike 'em out one after the other. But
down there it seemed like the harder I threw the ball the harder they
hit it." Goslin switched to left field, which is where Clark Griffith saw
him playing dodge ball and not always succeeding. But the Goose could hit. In 1928, the
converted pitcher had a chance to win the AL batting title. He and Heinie
Manush were both hitting .378 and happened to be playing against each other in
the final game of the season. (More weirdness, because the Babe won his only AL batting
title with a .378 average!) It all came down to Goslin's last at-bat. He was
ahead by a fraction. If he didn't make an out, the coveted batting title would
be his! His manager gave him the option of not going to the plate. But a
teammate, Joe Judge, judged that people would call Goslin yellow if he took the
easy way out. So the Goose decided to risk hitting. Almost immediately,
the pitcher had two strikes on him. Then Goslin had a brainstorm: he'd get the
umpire to throw him out of the game! No official at-bat and the batting title
was his! So the Goose called umpire Bill Guthrie every name in the book, stepped on
his toes, and pushed him. But his goose was cooked because Guthrie knew what he was up to and refused to
oblige. According to Goslin's retelling of the tale, he got a lucky hit and won the
batting title "fair and square" (sorta).
Joe Medwick was a star outfielder for the Saint Louis Cardinals. He was
nicknamed "Ducky" and "Ducky Wucky" because the muscular
Medwick appeared to waddle when he ran.
Medwick became the only major leaguer ever ejected from a game for his own
safety, after being pelted with fruits and vegetables following a hard slide in
the 1934 World Series. When asked about the flying veggies, Medwick said: "I knew why
they threw them. What I don't understand is why they brought them to the
ballpark in the first place." When he met Pope Pius XII, Medwick introduced
himself as a peer: "Your Holiness, I'm Joe Medwick. I, too, used to be a
Ron Cey was called the "Penguin" because of his odd gait. According to Richard
Shellhorn, the author of Balls and Stripes, Cey had tiny shin
disease, which left his knees just four inches from his ankles. That makes Cey's
accomplishments all the more impressive: six All-Star teams, a World Series MVP
award, 316 homers, and 1,139 RBI. But his 24-29 record on stolen base attempts does suggest
that Cey was handicapped in terms of speed.
More Strange But True Baseball Stories
A young boy named Tim Smith had Tug McGraw's baseball card taped to his bedroom
wall. One day he found his birth certificate and learned that Tug McGraw was his
father. The boy then changed his last name. He grew up to become country music superstar Tim McGraw.
(As a bonus, he got to marry Faith Hill!)
George Brett once hit a game-losing home run!
How is that even possible? Brett's apparent
game-winning home run against the New York Yankees with two on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning
on July 24, 1983 was reversed
during the famous "pine tar" incident. Brett was declared the last
out for having too much resin on his bat, so he managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Dick Stuart, first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, led the league in errors
a record seven years in a row, from 1958 through 1964. Stuart was renowned for his
atrocious fielding and earned the nicknames "Dr. Strangeglove," "Stonefingers,"
and "The Man with the Iron Glove." His license plate was E3. His
29 errors at first base in 1963 remain the major-league record for the position. One night in
Pittsburgh, 30,000 fans gave him a standing ovation for catching a hotdog wrapper
on the fly.
Yogi Berra inspired the name of the famous cartoon character Yogi
Bear. Their names became irretrievably linked, to the extent
that when Yogi Berra died, the Associated Press announced the death
of Yogi Bear to newspapers around the world! (Honest to God, no one can make these things up!)
So how did Lawrence Peter Berra come to be called "Yogi" in the first place? Was
he really a swami? No, but he used to sit cross-legged in the on-deck circle. One of
his friends started calling him "Yogi" and the nickname stuck.
Dizzy Dean was one of baseball's most colorful characters, but he wasn't big on
the Queen's English. As a baseball broadcaster, he would describe players who "slud
into third" and "throwed the ball purty good." When a group of educators drafted
a protest, criticizing his grammar and syntax, Ol' Diz cheerfully replied:
"Syntax? Are they taxing that, too?"
Home Run Baker stood 5-11, weighed 170 pounds, and never hit more than 12 home
runs in a season. He retired with 96 homers, fewer than Pee Wee Reese, Minnie
Minoso, Granny Hamner and Tillie Walker.
The home run king before Babe Ruth was Roger Connor. Have you ever wondered why
the Giants are called the Giants? The team changed its name from the New York
Gothams to the Giants because Connor stood 6-3 and weighed
220 pounds. The average man in the late 1800s stood 5-7 and
weighed 140 pounds. So Connor would have seemed like a giant, towering
over enemy baserunners at first base. Connor hit MLB's first grand slam and also
hit the first ball out of the Polo Grounds (a feat so impressive Wall Street
executives rewarded him with a $500 gold watch). Connor also invented the pop-up
slide, which must have really scared the infield munchkins of his era!
Brooks Koepka won four major golf tournaments in the blink of an eye, but says his true love is baseball.
He told Golf Digest: "If I could do it over again, I'd play
baseball—100 percent, no doubt." And baseball is in his genes. He's the nephew of Dick Groat, an
NL MVP and eight-time all-star shortstop for the Pittsburg Pirates. Groat is the only
athlete to be elected to both the college baseball and basketball halls of fame.
He was a two-time All-American at Duke in both sports. In 1952 he was the UPI
and Helms national basketball player of the
year, after averaging 25.2 points per game. Groat was the third overall pick in
the 1952 NBA draft and played one NBA season, averaging 11.9 points per game, before deciding to concentrate on
baseball. He never played a game in the minors, and finished third in the 1952
NL rookie of the year voting with a .284 batting average.
Wild Bill Donovan got his nickname by walking nine consecutive batters in the
minors, not by partying. (That came later, when he could afford to binge.)
Dirty Jack Doyle lived up to his nickname when he jumped into
the stands, slugged a heckler, and re-broke the hand he had broken just weeks
before (in another fight, perhaps?). Doyle was arrested multiple times for
attacking umpires and fans.
Cap Anson's Chicago White Stocking teams were so packed with "drunks and
rowdies" that team owner Al Spalding hired detectives to monitor their partying!
Anson was called "Pop" and when he left Chicago the team was called the
"Germany" Schaefer modified his moniker to "Liberty" Schaefer after the United
States declared war on Germany in 1917.
Rube Waddell may have been the most eccentric baseball player of
all time. He was famous (or infamous) for leaving the mound during games to chase
fire engines, or to pet dogs and kittens, or because he was distracted by shiny
objects. He once missed a start because he stopped to play marbles with kids
outside the stadium. He would do cartwheels back to the dugout after striking
out the side. Rube spent
money so rashly on women and booze that the Athletics paid him in dollar
bills, hoping they'd last longer. When he ran out of cash,
Rube would bartend to earn more drinking money. He claimed not to be able to
remember how many women he'd married. He wrestled alligators and was once bitten
by a lion! He had a clause in his contract that forbade him to eat Animal
Crackers in bed, because the crumbs kept his roommate
awake. Rube Waddell died, no joke, on April Fool's Day, 1914. But he was a great pitcher. His 349 strikeouts in 1904 remains the
record for an AL lefthander, more than a century later.
JOINED AT THE HIP, PART I: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper may be
the Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays of their generation. And they seem to be
inextricably linked, because the day Harper debuted in the majors, April 29,
2012, was the very day Trout was called up from Triple A, never to return.
In 2012, they
both played 139 games and were Rookie of the Year and all-stars in their
respective leagues. They both became MVP in their age 22 seasons, the two
youngest unanimous MVPs ever. In
their best offensive seasons they shared a stratospheric 198 OPS+ (the best of
their era to date). Was it all written in the "stars"?
Babe Ruth was subjected to racist epithets because of his dark complexion, big
lips and wide nose. During
a 1922 World Series game at the Polo Grounds, a Giants bench warmer shouted
racial slurs "in a voice loud enough to be heard on the other side of the Harlem
River, where construction on Yankee Stadium was under way." The famous "called
shot" home run in the 1932 World Series came after Ruth was jeered mercilessly
about his ancestry by the Cubs bench and crowd. Ruth was called "the big baboon"
behind his back and stories of his prodigious appetites—whether for food, sex,
or fun—smacked of racial stereotyping. To his credit, the Babe defied racist
baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis by participating in barnstorming
exhibition tours with Negro Leaguers who deeply
appreciated the respect he paid them and the extra money he helped them earn
with his box office appeal.
Julia Ruth Stevens is on the record saying her father
was blackballed from managing because he would have lobbied to bring in black
Was there a second curse of the Bambino? The Red Sox had the opportunity to sign
Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays for pennies on the dollar. The mind boggles at
the idea of them playing on the same team with Ted Williams! But owner Tom Yawkey wanted to keep his team lily-white.
(Robinson called Yawkey "one of the most bigoted guys in baseball.") Boston was
the last MLB team to integrate, holding out until getting slapped with
racial discrimination lawsuits in 1959. Robinson and Mays would lead teams with more tolerant
owners to eternal glory,
with the Babe nodding his approval from heaven.
Roberto Clemente finished his career with exactly 3,000 hits. He got his last
hit in his last official at-bat of the 1972 season, under mysterious
circumstances. At the time only ten major
leaguers had reached 3,000 hits, none of them Latinos, so it was "an event of
incomparable magnitude" in baseball-mad Puerto Rico. Clemente was the "idol of
the tropical island" and a Puerto Rican delegation once delivered 300,000
congratulatory signatures to a Roberto Clemente Night event in Pittsburgh. But were there foreshadowings of doom? According to Luis Rodriguez Mayoral, during
1972 spring training Clemente had a premonition and told him: "My
3,000th, I have to get it this season." Clemente died on
the last day of the year, in a plane crash, while delivering
humanitarian aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. (His older brother Luis had also
died on the last day of the year, in 1954.) Will Grimsley reported that Roberto
Jr. told his maternal grandfather:
"Daddy is leaving for Nicaragua, but he's not coming back." Robertito
also warned his grandmother three times, but "nobody was listening to a seven-year-old."
Clemente's father said he saw the plane crash in a dream, with his son
on it. According to Clemente's wife Vera: "In early November, around Election Day,
Roberto woke up and said, 'I just had the strangest dream. I was sitting up in
the clouds, watching my own funeral.'" Mayoral recalls another premonition: "There was a pregame
ceremony on the day after his 3,000th hit ... I remember showing the picture to Pancho Coímbre, a
great player in the Negro leagues and a favorite of Roberto's. Pancho took one
look at the picture and said, 'Este hombre està muerto.' This man is
dead. Three months later Pancho's premonition came true."
Roberto Clemente was first in many important respects. He was the first Hispanic
player to start in and win a World Series, to be named league MVP, to be named
World Series MVP, to get 3,000 hits, and to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The
HOF mandatory five-year waiting period was waived for Clemente and he
was elected posthumously in 1973, the same year he received the Congressional
Gold Medal of Honor.
Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series is the most famous pitching
performance in baseball history. But it wasn't a perfect day for Larsen, because his
wife filed for divorce just before the game started!
Did you know that Babe Ruth once threw a perfect game? Well, sorta.
During a 1917 game against the Washington Senators, Ruth was the starting
pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Ruth walked the first batter on four pitches, argued vehemently with home plate umpire
Brick Owens, slugged him, and got ejected. Ruth's replacement, Ernie Shore,
promptly picked off the runner on first base, then retired the next 26 batters,
finishing baseball's wildest and most improbable
"perfect game." But if the keen-eyed Ruth was correct that the first batter
shouldn't have been awarded first base, it really was a perfect game!
Virgil Trucks had a miserable 1952 season, going 5-19. On the brighter side, two
of his wins were no-hitters!
Bumpus Jones threw a no-hitter in his first major league appearance, on the last
day of the 1892 season. Unfortunately he couldn't recapture the magic and
finished the next season (his last) with a 10.19 ERA.
Stolen Base Strangeness
How on earth did all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson miss three games due to
frostbite, in August? (He fell asleep on an ice pack.)
Speaking of steals ... if Rickey Henderson was the best base-stealer of all time, who was the worst
ever? Ironically, according to stolen base percentage, it
was the greatest baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth! From 1920 to 1935 the
Bambino stole 110 bases and was caught 117 times, for a "success" rate of .485
(the lowest for a player with at least 200 career attempts). But hold your
horses, because there's
another candidate for the worst base-stealer of all time, thanks to a metric
called wSB. There was one player―and one
a worse career wSB than Babe Ruth. So who was it? Well, we don't have to look
very far. It was Lou Gehrig, who hit immediately behind Ruth for
Moon Shots and Spitballs
Gaylord Perry was a notoriously weak hitter. For seven major league seasons and
over 300 plate appearances, he failed to hit a single dinger. San Francisco
Giants manager Alvin Dark joked with reporters, saying: "They'll put a man on
the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run!" Then on July 20, 1969, a matter
of minutes after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Gaylord Perry hit his
first major league home run! Was it written in the stars, perhaps?
Gaylord Perry had nothing on Bartolo Colon, who hit his
first-ever home run at 42 years, 349 days old! No major leaguer had
ever waited until such an advanced age to hit his first four-bagger. "You could tell
it was his first home run," quipped Jimmy Fallon, "because at each base, he
stopped to ask directions to the next one." Unfamiliar territory indeed!
Colon was also the oldest major leaguer to earn his first walk, which he did at
the ripe young age of 43! In 521 major league games, Colon managed to
walk exactly once, raising his career OBP to a scintillating .095! In 316 career
plate appearances, Colon has one walk and one home run ... but he is rapidly
Speaking of "moon shots," Lefty Gomez helped baffled scientists identify one:
"When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and all the space scientists
were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I knew immediately what it was.
That was a home-run ball hit off me in 1937 by Jimmie Foxx!" In 1937, Foxx hit a
ball into the third deck of the left-field stands at Yankee Stadium, a very rare
feat because of the distance and angle of the stands. Gomez was the pitcher that
day, and when he was asked how far the ball traveled, he said, "I don't know,
but I do know it took somebody 45 minutes to go up there and get it back!" The
big fish tale apparently grew and grew until it reached lunar proportions.
Getting back to Gaylord Perry ... In a roundabout way he helped create the TV show
Cheers. In 1971, Perry was traded for "Sudden" Sam McDowell, a
flame-throwing pitcher who had been the 1970 Sporting News Player of the Year.
After the trade, McDowell's career tanked, while Perry went on to win two Cy
Young awards and make the Hall of Fame.
McDowell later admitted that his "flameout" was due to alcohol and
drug abuse. His life became the model for
Ted Danson's party-boy character Sam Malone. So "cheers" to Gaylord Perry,
but Sam McDowell still insists that he was better with the ladies than Sam
In his very first at-bat, future Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm
hit a home run. His career lasted 21 more years and 493 plate appearances, but
he never hit another homer. Wilhelm is also unusual because he didn't debut as a
rookie until he was 29 years old, but then played to age 49. He retired with 143
wins, 228 saves and a gaudy 2.52 ERA. Oh, and that one freakish homer to go with
his career .088 batting average!
Okay, there is something very fishy about these knuckleballers and their solo
career homers! In 1976, Joe Niekro hit his one and only MLB home run. But it
seems "taterish" because the pitcher who served up the gopher ball was
another knuckleballer ... his brother Phil!
Who were the last brothers to lead a league in
wins? Who was the last pitcher to lead a league in wins and losses in the same
season? It's those weird knuckleballers again! In 1979, Phil Niekro
went 21-20 for the Atlanta Braves, leading the league in both wins and
losses. The same year his brother Joe went 21-11 for the Houston Astros, tying
Phil for the NL wins title!
Who is the best starting pitcher of all time according to the ERA+ statistic?
ERA+ adjusts ERAs to account for differences in eras (please pardon the pun!).
According to ERA+, Clayton Kershaw is the best starting pitcher of all time,
with an astronomical 161. But here come those weird knuckleballers again,
because Hoyt Wilhelm is tied with Walter Johnson for sixth place with an utterly
stellar 147, comfortably ahead of immortals like Roger Clemens, Cy
Young, Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax.
The unlikely-named Toad Ramsey struck out 499 batters in 1886.
(Ramsey has been credited with inventing the knuckleball and knuckle curve, so
we can blame him for all the subsequent weirdness.)
Whatever he was throwing, batters obviously had a hard time hitting it. But in
the ultimate irony, the Unhittable Toad didn't even lead his league because Matt Kilroy set the all-time record with 513 strikeouts
Here's a tricky question with a surprise answer. Walter Johnson is generally considered to
be the greatest starting pitcher of all time. His career ERA was a miniscule 2.17.
Clayton Kershaw's career ERA is currently 2.39. Which two starting pitchers in
the Hall of Fame
will Kershaw have to pass in order to catch the Big Train? Here's a hint: the
first is Eddie Plank, with his brilliant 2.35 ERA. But who's the
other? None other than Babe Ruth, with a glittering 2.28 ERA! And
while Kershaw could conceivably catch the Bambino in the pitching stats, it
seems safe to say that Kershaw won't challenge Ruth's batting stats anytime
soon. Kershaw has a miniscule 6 OPS+ and one homer in ten seasons.
Okay, back to moon shots! Babe Ruth certainly knew how to go out with a bang.
Make that a triple bang, because his last three hits were all home runs!
his last home run was the first ever to leave Pittsburgh’s venerable Forbes
Field and it remains the longest drive ever hit there (for all eternity now, since the park
has since been replaced). It was 1935 and Ruth was playing for the Braves
against the homestanding Pirates. In the first inning, batting against
Red Lucas, Ruth lofted career home run number 712 into the right field stands.
He hit another two-run blast, number 713, in the third inning off Guy Bush. In
the fifth, Ruth hit a RBI single off Bush. With Bush still pitching, Ruth came up with the bases empty in the
seventh. "By now the home crowd was solidly on the Bambino's side and rooted
enthusiastically for more of his old magic." The Babe obliged by slamming home
run number 714. This blast bettered the Babe's earlier efforts by "majestically
clearing Forbes Field's right field roof—for the first time in the ballpark's
26-year history." Once again, Ruth had gone where no man had gone before. Two weeks
later the Babe retired, but we can always remember him by that magnificent
parting shot. (Someone will undoubtedly discover the ball on Venus or Mars one
So who hit the longest "space shot" of all time? In 1953, Mickey Mantle hit a
mammoth blast against Chuck Stobbs of the Senators, in Washington's Griffith
Stadium. The Yankees' Arthur "Red" Patterson estimated its distance at 565 feet. He allegedly used a tape measure to determine the exact
distance of the home run, giving birth to the term "tape-measure shot."
Ironically, the 21-year-old Mantle was almost declared out because he put his
head down to avoid "showing up" the pitcher and nearly passed Billy Martin on
the basepaths (Mantle was very fast in his youth, as we are about to
But wait a minute! Apparently, Mantle was just getting warmed up! He is said to
have also hit home runs of 620, 630, 643, 650 and 656 feet. Beginning with the
blast in Washington, Mantle "went on a tear of longball hitting the likes of
which had never been seen." Long distance homers became a topic of animated
conversation. During one game former Yankees catcher Bill Dickey was
arguing that Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx had both hit balls farther than the Mick.
But after Mantle hit one of his gargantuan blasts in that game, Dickey did a
complete about-face: "Forget what I just said. I've never seen a ball hit that
Mantle said that the hardest ball he ever hit came on May 22,
1963 at Yankee Stadium. He was leading off in the bottom of the 11th, with
the score tied 7-7. A's pitcher Bill Fischer tried to blow a fastball past him.
Bad idea. Mantle stepped into the pitch with perfect timing, met the ball with
the sweet spot of his bat, and hit it with everything he had (which was a lot of
toned muscle.) The sound of the bat colliding with the ball has been likened to
a cannon shot. The players on both benches jumped to their feet. Yogi Berra
shouted, "That's it!" The ball rocketed toward the farthest confines of Yankee Stadium. The question was
not whether it was a home run, but whether this was going
to be the first ball ever hit out of Yankee Stadium.
It had the height and distance. But would it clear the façade of the third deck in
right-field? Even Mantle was mesmerized: "I usually didn't care how far the ball
went so long as it was a home run. But this time I thought, 'This ball could go
out of Yankee Stadium!'" The ball
struck the façade mere inches from the top with such ferocity that it bounced
all the way back to the infield. It was the closest a ball
has ever come to going out of Yankee Stadium. Later, it
was estimated that the ball would have traveled 734 feet if it hadn't hit the
So it seems Mickey Mantle was the strongest of all baseball's power hitters. But
who was the fastest? Incredibly, it may have been the strongman, because
Mantle was allegedly timed going from home to first in 3.1 seconds. According to
The Sporting News, when manager Casey
Stengel saw Mantle work out, he said: "My God, the boy runs faster than
In 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record for hitting the most home runs in
a season, with 61. That's an interesting coincidence, because if we flip over
the 19 in 1961, we have three matching 61's! Now here's a test of your baseball
trivia powers. In 1961, Maris had 61 homers, 141 RBI, 366 total bases and
slugged .620. That's one of the greatest power-hitting seasons in MLB history.
So how many times was Maris walked intentionally that year? Hey, no cheating! If
you scroll down past the
REVENGE OF BASEBALL'S BEAN COUNTERS, you can find the answer. But please take an honest guess first! Here's
are two clues: When Mark McGwire broke Maris's record in 1998, he had 28 intentional
walks. When Barry Bonds broke McGwire's record in 2001, he
had 35 intentional walks. If you come within 5 of the correct answer, you can
declare yourself a winner!
THE REVENGE OF BASEBALL'S BEAN COUNTERS: We've been told that
Pete Rose is a "special case" who can never enter the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But it's no hall of
angels! Ty Cobb beat his son with a whip,
got into bloody fights with umpires, honed his spikes to intimidate opponents,
jumped into the stands to attack a disabled heckler, and told Al Stump: "In
1912—and you can write this down—I killed a man in Detroit." Is gambling
baseball's unforgiveable sin? If so, Cobb was accused of conspiring with Tris
Speaker to fix a game in order to get his Tigers performance bonuses. Cobb and
Speaker only avoided being banned for life by baseball commissioner Judge
Kennesaw Mountain Landis after Cobb threatened to expose how prevalent such
"fixes" were at the time. Rogers Hornsby was
sued by his bookie for not paying
nearly $100,000 in losses, and was traded several times because of his
out-of-control gambling. Dizzy Dean, another heavy
gambler, was an unindicted co-conspirator in a mob
case involving the notorious game-fixer Donald "Dice" Dawson. John McGraw was
arrested for public gambling in 1904; his bookie was Arnold Rothstein of Black
Sox infamy. The perpetually broke Rube Waddell was accused of taking a $17,000
bribe to sit out the 1905 World Series. (That was more than his annual salary.) Mickey
Mantle was banned from baseball in 1983 for his association with gambling, but
remains in the Hall of Fame. Leo Durocher was accused of "slimy underhand
transactions" with gamblers. Bookies roamed Durocher's clubhouse; it was
described as an "open sewer." Durocher's shady friends included Meyer Boston,
Memphis Engelberg, Sleepout Louie, Cigar Charlie and the Dancer.
And there are worse things than gambling. Cap Anson refused to play with blacks and helped perpetuate the color barrier.
Anson, Cobb and Hornsby were accused of belonging to the KKK. Juan Marichal clubbed John Roseboro over the head with a bat, opening a
gash that required 14 stitches. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Paul Waner and Hack
Wilson were notorious drinkers accused of playing under the influence of
alcohol. (Casey Stengel called Waner "graceful" because he could slide without
breaking the liquor bottle in his hip pocket.) Tim "Rock" Raines lived up to his
nickname by stashing a cocaine rock in his uniform. (He would slide headfirst to
avoid breaking it.) Ferguson Jenkins was arrested with cocaine in his luggage.
Orlando Cepeda did time for smuggling 150 pounds of pot. Kirby Puckett, Roberto
Alomar and Hornsby were accused of domestic abuse. How many steroid users will
end up in the Hall of Fame? How many amphetamine users already belong, since
Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt
and others have been linked to "greenies"? What did Pete Rose do to warrant
eternal damnation, really? He bet on his own team, is that so terrible? Why not let him be where he belongs, with other
stars who were judged strictly by their
performance on the field!
TRIVIA ANSWER: In 1961, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's
record for hitting the most home runs in a season, he had ZERO
intentional walks. How is that possible? Well, he had Mickey Mantle hitting
behind him, and that year Mantle hit 54 homers and slugged .687 with an
astronomical 206 OPS+. The numbers don't lie ... as great as Maris was in 1961,
Mantle was even better! And opposing pitchers confirmed it by never
intentionally walking Maris to get to Mantle.
Here's another baseball trivia question: Name the pitcher with the best-ever
winning percentage against the New York Yankees (minimum 15 wins). Hint: the
lefthander in question was a 20-game winner twice,
with a lifetime .671 winning percentage and an utterly stellar career ERA that
remains the 16th-best of all-time. So who was this superstar of the pitching
mound? Give up? The superstar pitcher was Babe
Ruth, who dominated the Yankees with a 17-5 record and .773 winning percentage
while pitching for the Boston Red Sox! No wonder the Yankees wanted to get the
Babe in pinstripes! They couldn't win otherwise! As the Baseball Roundtable put
it: "Iconic and ironic!"
More Amazing Pitchers
Was Sandy Koufax the greatest postseason starting pitcher of all time? He had a
miniscule .95 ERA in the playoffs and World Series. But Koufax went 4-3 in the
postseason, and there's another famous starting pitcher with a better ERA and record.
was 3-0 in the World Series, with an even-more-microscopic .87 ERA. The Babe had a World Series record 29 2/3
scoreless inning streak that stood for 43 years, and he still holds the record
for the longest World Series complete game with 14 innings in 1916. Ruth drove in
the winning run in that 2-1 victory. If Koufax had been able to hit
like the Babe, he might have been undefeated too!
Ruth's success in the World Series was no fluke. He still ranks 15th for
"unhittable-ness" in the regular season, based on hits given up per nine
innings, ahead of legendary pitchers like Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Tom
Seaver, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and that weird Rube Waddell dude who was so
very strange and so very good.
But here's where things get really crazy. There is actually a
who ranks above Babe Ruth in the "unhittable-ness" category as a pitcher. Smoky
Joe Wood was one of the best pitchers in baseball history, one notch above Babe
Ruth in hits allowed per nine innings. He's also one notch above Ruth in
all-time win percentage, where they rank 11th and 12th. In 1911 at age 21, Wood won 23 games, had
a 2.02 ERA and led the AL with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. The
following season Wood went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA and
ten shutouts, while tying Walter
Johnson's record for consecutive wins with 16. Wood won three more games in
the 1912 World Series, striking out 21 batters in 22 innings. In 1915 at age 25,
he was 15-5
with a magnificent 1.49 ERA, but a series of injuries ended his career as a pitcher.
Wood took a year off, came back as a hitter, and was a damn good one. His
best years came at age 31, when he hit .366, and age 32, when he drove in 92 runs,
So the two best-hitting pitchers of all time are right next to each other in the
top 15 most unhittable rankings and the top 12 win-loss percentage rankings! But that's only the beginning of the craziness,
Babe Ruth and Smoky Joe Wood were teammates on the 1915 Boston Red Sox! Both had
their contracts sold to other teams by the owner, Harry Frazee. And they
both had their "coming out" years as hitters in 1918, when Ruth played
for the Red Sox and Wood played for the Cleveland Indians. That year
batting averages (.300/.296), total bases (176/170) and RBI (61/66) were nearly identical. As the Cheshire Cat said, "Curious and curiouser!"
Were they identical twins, doppelgangers?
In an interview Smoky Joe Wood was asked which part of baseball gave him
more enjoyment. "Hitting is very nice," he said, "but it's much nicer to be like
I was — practically among the best of them, pitching." Yup, when you start ahead
of Walter Johnson, as Wood did in the very first all-star game in 1911, you are
among the best of all time. The 1911 all-star game was organized as a
benefit for the family of pitcher Adie Joss, who had died unexpectedly at age
31. The game featured a dozen baseball immortals: Ty
Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wager, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Shoeless Joe
Jackson, Home Run Baker, Sam Crawford, Bobby Wallace, Cy Young, Walter Johnson
and Smoky Joe Wood. Never before had so much baseball talent taken the field for
a game, and perhaps never again. And Smoky Joe was picked to start.
Smoky Joe described his pitching style thusly: "I threw so hard I thought my arm
would fly right off my body." Harry Hooper told Lawrence S. Ritter, the author
of The Glory of Their Times, "I've seen a lot of great pitching in my
lifetime, but never anything to compare with him in 1912." Smoky
Joe got his nickname
because his fastball hissed like it was on fire.
While it's true that as a hitter Smoky Joe didn't have Ruth's
power, it's also true that as a pitcher Ruth didn't rack up K's the way Wood did. Perhaps we can simply leave it like this: they were two unhittable
pitchers who just happened to be the two best hitting pitcher of modern times. Some
people who saw them both pitch said Smoky Joe was faster than Walter Johnson.
Hell, the Big Train said so himself!
So who was the third best hitting pitcher of modern times? Probably the Big Train!
Walter Johnson hit more homers than he allowed in four seasons (1910, 1915,
1916, 1919). In four other seasons he hit as many homers as opposing batters
(1908, 1909, 1912, 1914). While his batting average, slugging percentage and OPS
fall short of Smoky Joe, and of course Ruth, the Big Train leads full-time
modern era pitchers in hits (547), total bases
(795), extra base hits (159),
and runs (234). And he had
considerable power with 94 doubles, a rather amazing
41 triples, 24 homers, 255 RBI and 12.8 oWAR. Other good-hitting pitchers include Wes Ferrell (.280 batting average,
.446 slugging percentage,
38 homers, 100 OPS+, 11.7 oWAR),
Doc Crandall (.285, 120 OPS+),
George Uhle (.289), Red Lucas
(.281), Al Orth (.273), Don Newcombe (.271), Red Ruffing (.269, 36 homers,
13.6 oWAR), Carl Mays (.268), George Mullin (.264), Ken
Brett (.262), Mike Hampton (.246, the highest for a pitcher since 1960), Rick Ankiel (.240), and Bob Lemon (.232, 37 homers).
Speaking of good-hitting pitchers, if we consider players of yore, Albert Goodwill Spalding has the highest
winning percentage among baseball pitchers (.795) and the highest batting
average among players who were predominately pitchers (.313). How did
Spalding win 80% of the games he pitched? Well, in addition to his 2.13 ERA, he
averaged 164 runs and 133 RBI per 162 games! He was pretty much matching the
other teams' offensive output by himself!
Al Spalding retired at age 27 to found the A. G. Spalding sporting goods
company. He was the first prominent baseball player to wear a glove: did he
start the trend in order to sell gloves and reap the
profits? He wrote the first set of official baseball rules; one of the official
rules was that only Spalding baseballs could be used!
But the best-hitting pitcher of all time may have been baseball's first
superstar: Jim Creighton. In 1862, he batted 1.000, getting hits in all 65
at-bats. He also threw baseball's first shutout. Creighton was paid "under the
table" and was one of the very first professional baseball players. He died at
age 21, after a game in which he hit four doubles and a home run. According to
reports of hid day, Creighton ruptured his bladder on the home run swing and
died later of internal bleeding. For some time after his death other players
were measured against his accomplishments, only to be dismissed with "he warn't
There is another candidate for best-hitting pitcher, although he converted in
the low minors. Let's allow Goose Goslin to explain himself: "That was 1920 and
I was twenty years old. Well, it turned out that professional ball [Class C
Sally League] was a little different from sandlot ball. Around here I used to be
quite a pitcher. That's what I thought, anyway. Used to strike 'em out one after
the other. But down there it seemed like the harder I threw the ball the harder they
hit it." Goslin switched to left field, where he had a hall-of-fame career,
hitting .316 and slugging .500 while averaging 114 RBI per 162 games.
In 1928, the former pitcher had a chance to win the AL batting title. The Goose
and Heinie Manush were both hitting .378 and happened to be playing against each
other in the final game of the season. (Ironically, another former pitcher, Babe
Ruth, won his only AL batting title with a .378 batting average.) It came down
to the Goose's last at-bat. He was ahead by a fraction. If he didn't make an
out, the coveted batting title would be his! Goose's manager, Bucky Harris, gave
him the option of benching himself. But a teammate, Joe Judge, judged that
people would call him yellow if he took the easy way out. So Goose decided to
risk going to the plate. Immediately, the pitcher had two strikes on him. Then
Goose had a brainstorm: he'd get the umpire to throw him out of the game! Goose
called umpire Bill Guthrie every name in the book, stepped on his toes, and
pushed him. But Guthrie knew what he was up to and refused to oblige him.
According to Goose's telling of the tale, he got a very lucky hit and won the
And while he didn't have enough major league innings to qualify, George Sisler
did go 5-6 as a pitcher, with a glittering 2.35 ERA in 111 innings. But Sisler
was a great hitter who rarely pitched after age 23. He hit .400 twice and
finished with a .340 career batting average and 2,812 hits.
We all know that Nolan Ryan is the all-time strikeout king, but would be the
hardest batter for him to strike out? Joe Sewell holds the all-time record for
striking out least, on a percentage basis. He struck out only 114 times in 8,333
plate appearances, for a miniscule .014 strikeout ration. And he got better as
he aged, striking out fewer than ten times his last nine years.
Babe Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher of his era, and Red Sox manager Ed
Barrow was understandably reluctant to tamper with success by letting him play
in the field. But in 1918 when Barrow finally agreed to let the Bambino play on
his non-pitching days, Ruth hit home runs in four consecutive games and the rest―as
they say―is history.
So what's the big deal with Shohei Ohtani? Why is he being compared to the immortal
Babe Ruth? Well, as a pitcher Ohtani has thrown a fastball clocked at 102.6 mph.
That's Nolan Ryan and Noah Syndergaard territory. As a batter, Ohtani has produced a maximum exit
velocity of 112 mph, and he once smashed a drive through the Tokyo Dome. Thus
he also has rare power, comparable to Aaron Judge. And despite being 6-4 and weighing over 200 pounds,
been clocked reaching first base in 3.8 seconds, which is Dee Gordon territory. Does this mean he'll be the next Babe Ruth? Of course not. But Ruth didn't
throw 100-mph fastballs and he certainly didn't have that kind of speed. On
paper, at least, Ohtani is an outlier, something we haven't seen
before. According to Anthony Bass, who played with Ohtani for the oddly-named
Nippon Ham Fighters, he compares with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as a hitter,
while as a pitcher he compares with Max Scherzer! In 2018 Ohtani did something the Babe did
exactly 100 years before, by playing regularly
as a pitcher and hitter in the same season.
How's the experiment going? So far, so good. Two days after recording his first
MLB win as a pitcher, Ohtani went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBI. He became
the first player since Babe Ruth to win a game, then homer in a start as a
non-pitcher. Ohtani then hit dingers in his next two games, for three
consecutive. Move over, Babe, there's a new Sultan of Swat! Only 711 more to go!
BTW, Ohtani also became the first pitcher since Babe Ruth to start a game hitting
cleanup. Toward the end his rookie season, he was regularly hitting cleanup and
had 20 homers in only 280 at-bats. At the time I wrote this Ohtani had a higher
slugging percentage than Aaron Judge, Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Nelson
Cruz, Bryce Harper ... and every MLB player not named Mike Trout, Mookie Betts
or J. D. Martinez!
Jacob deGrom's lack of run support became historic in 2018. Toward the end of
the season, he was about to become just the first qualified pitcher since 1937
to have more WAR than wins. While deGrom had a dazzling 1.71 ERA, his punchless
New York Mets had an abysmal 12-17 record in games he started. Things got so bad
that deGrom had to take matters into his own hands, driving in the only runs in
two 2-1 losses to the Braves and Cubs. Shades of the Babe!
In 1972, the Philadelphia Phillies won only 59 games. But where would they have
been without Steve Carlton, who won nearly half of them? Carlton won 27 games
with a 1.97 ERA, 310 strikeouts and 30 complete games.
Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction is now called Tommy John surgery,
after its first famous recipient. How successful was the surgery? Well, Tommy
John pitched in the majors for 26 years, with three 20-win seasons after the
surgery (versus none before). With his 26th season, he tied the major league
record for longevity.
So who later broke Tommy John's record? Nolan Ryan, who at age 40 was
recommended to have Tommy John surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe, the surgeon who
invented the procedure and performed it on its namesake. Ryan decided to pitch
through the pain, continued to throw extreme heat, led the league in strikeouts
for four consecutive years, and ended up playing 27 years. Ryan had more
strikeouts in his forties than a number of Hall-of-Fame pitchers had in their
entire careers, including Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, Bob Lemmon and Dizzy
Gaylord Perry was widely known for doctoring baseballs throughout his career,
which led former manager Gene Mauch to say: "He should be in the Hall of Fame
with a tube of K-Y Jelly attached to his plaque." Despite his checkered
reputation (or perhaps because of it), Perry finished his career with 314 wins, 3,534 strikeouts and a 3.11
ERA. Other famous (or infamous) spitballers include Preacher Roe (the Beech-Nut
slider), Joe Niekro (caught red-handed on the mound with an emery board and
sandpaper), Tommy John ("the elegant Rhett Butler of outlaws"), Jay Howell (pine
tar) and Kenny Rogers (dirt). Perhaps the two "baddest" pitchers were Whitey
Ford (who "cheated" by scuffing balls with his wedding ring) and squeaky-clean
choirboy Orel Hershiser (who, true to his pristine image, used water!).
The spitball was outlawed in 1920, but it was "grandfathered" in for known
spitballers who were active at the time. So who threw baseball's last legal
spitball? Burleigh Grimes (slippery elm) on September 10, 1934. Ol' Stubblebeard,
as Grimes was called, won 270 games and was pretty fair hitter (for a pitcher)
with a career .248 average and 168 RBI.
DUBIOUS RECORDS, PART I: Steve Carlton is the undisputed King
of the Balkers, with 90, which is double that of the second-place finisher, Bob
JOINED AT THE HIP, PART II: "Brothers in Arms"
In the 1934 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers. Jerome "Dizzy" Dean and his kid brother Paul "Daffy" Dean won two
games each, accounting for all four Cardinal wins.
Giancarlo Stanton was once hit by his own home run ball! Are we living in the
Twilight Zone? It happened when Stanton
crushed a homer high over Fenway's fabled Green Monster. A disgruntled fan threw the ball back into the field and it hit
Stanton as he rounded second. BTW, the fan has been credited with having a much stronger, more accurate
arm than Red Sox outfielders Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jim Rice, Hanley
Ramirez, Manny Ramirez and Jose Tartabull.
Conversely, Glen Gorbous may have had the strongest throwing arm in baseball
history. Gorbus played parts of three seasons for Reds and Phillies, recording
10 assists in only 70 games. While playing for the Omaha Redbirds of the
American Association, Gorbous made two ridiculous throws. First, standing at
home plate, he threw a ball over the center field wall, 410 feet away. Gorbous
then launched a ball 445 feet, setting a world record that stands to this
In 1905 doctors wanted to amputate Tris Speaker's arm because it had been
injured so badly in a football game. Speaker refused, worked out like a madman,
then went on to set a still-standing MLB record for outfield assists with 449.
But the best outfield arm of all time probably belonged to Roberto Clemente, who
was nicknamed "El Howitzer." As the immortal Vin Scully put it: "Clemente could
field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania."
A trio of brothers made history on September 15, 1963 by playing together in the outfield for the San
Francisco Giants. They were Felipe, Jesus and Matty Alou.
C - Johnny Bench has been called the greatest offensive and defensive catcher of
all time. But he was a pretty good base stealer too, going 24-2 from 1975 to
1B - Joey Votto's .426 OBP is the third highest of all time at his position;
Ferris Fain at fourth with .424 is a much bigger surprise.
2B - Cupid Childs' .416 OBP is higher than that of Eddie Stanky, Jackie
Robinson, Charlie Gehringer, Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.
SS - Mark Belanger's defense was almost as good as Ozzie Smith's, according to
Fangraphs' DEF stat.
3B - Brooks Robinson had twice the Fangraphs DEF of Graig Nettles, Scott Rolen
and Mike Schmidt.
RF - Larry Walker's .565 slugging percentage is higher than that of Stan Musial,
Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott and Vladimir Guerrero.
CF - Andruw Jones' 278.8 DEF is more than 100 points higher than Willie Mays'
170.1, according to Fangraphs.
LF - Albert Belle's .564 slugging percentage is is higher than that of Ralph
Kiner, Al Simmons, Willie Stargell and Shoeless Joe Jackson.
P - According to Fangraphs, the two best fielding pitchers of all time were
teammates: Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
There are some questionable members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, perhaps none
more questionable than catcher Rick Ferrell, who was not even the best player in
his immediate family! Rick Ferrell finished his career with only 29.8 WAR, a .363
slugging percentage and a less-than-stellar OPS+ of 95. Wes Ferrell was a pitcher whose 61.6 WAR
vastly eclipsed his brother's. And according to baseball metrics, despite being
a pitcher, Wes was the better hitter as well, with a .446 slugging percentage
and OPS+ of 100!
Only two players in the history of major league baseball have made the exclusive
30-30 Club five times. The first to do it was Bobby Bonds. Who was the second?
His son, Barry Bonds! The power-speed genes obviously run in that family!
But now things get a bit eerie. Only two major league baseball players have made
the 20-20 Club ten times. The first to do was Bobby Bonds, and the second was
Barry Bonds. They both had their last 20-20 season at age 33. The next season
they both dropped to 15 steals. Were they father and son, or doppelgangers?
DUBIOUS RECORDS, PART II:
Caleb Joseph set a major league record for futility, by going 132
at-bats without an RBI in 2016.
Tony Mullane had the most wild pitches in MLB history, with 343.
But Mullane has a rival in the wildness category, since Gus Wehing holds the
record for the most hit batters, with 277.
Nolan Ryan was either one of the wildest pitchers, or the most generous, since
he served up a record 2,795 walks.
Jamie Moyer was generous in an even more charitable way, serving a record 522
MULTI-SPORT MADNESS: Kyler Murray is the first athlete to be a
top ten pick in the MLB draft (#9) and NFL draft (#1). "Bullet" Bob Hayes is the
only man with an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. Bob Gibson won two Cy
Young awards, nine Gold Gloves, and played with the Harlem Globetrotters. Wilt
Chamberlain was the NBA's most dominant force, but he also starred in track &
field, played for the Harlem Globetrotters, was a professional volleyball
player, and co-starred in the movie Conan the Destroyer. Deion Sanders
is the only player to hit a major league home run and score an NFL touchdown in
the same week. He is also the only person to play in a World Series and a Super
Bowl. Jackie Robinson lettered in baseball, basketball, football and track. He
won the NCAA long jump crown and also broke baseball's color barrier! Jim Brown
may have been the best football player of all time and the best lacrosse player
of all time. He also lettered in basketball and track. Bo Jackson is the only
player to be named to the NFL Pro Bowl and MLB All-Star game in the same year,
and he also set two state high school records in track & field. Danny Ainge is
the only athlete to be a high school All-American in baseball, basketball and
football. Charlie Ward won the Heisman trophy, was a first-round NBA pick, and
was also drafted by the Yankees. Cap Anson is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and
was also a champion balkline billiards player and bowler. Dave Winfield was
drafted by MLB, the NFL, the NBA, the ABA, and was invited to join the Harlem
Globetrotters. Chuck Connors played for the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Dodgers
and Chicago Cubs, and also starred in TV's The Rifleman! But who can
top Jim Thorpe? He excelled in football, baseball, basketball and track & field,
won Olympic gold medals in the Pentathlon and Decathlon, and even waltzed to an
intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship! Well, perhaps Babe Didrikson
Zaharias, who may have been the best female baseball player, softball player,
basketball player, golfer and track athlete of her day. She won won two Olympic
gold medals and one silver, to go with ten major LPGA titles. She was also an
expert diver, roller-skater, billiardist and bowler. Hell, she won the 1932 AAU
Track & Field Championships despite being the only member of her team,
five out of eight events on her lonesome!
Frank Robinson won the AL triple crown in 1966. The following year Carl
Yastrzemski won the AL triple crown. So it's not all that rare, right? Guess
again, because it would be 45 years before Miguel Cabrera would win the next one, in 2012.
And it's been 80 years and still counting
since Joe Medwick won the last NL triple crown, in 1937!
Frank Robinson did more than "just" win the triple crown. He had his uniform,
number 20, retired by three big league clubs: the Reds, Orioles and Indians.
Robinson was the first player to win MVP awards in both leagues, and he remains
the only one to do so. He
became the first black manager in 1975
with the Cleveland Indians. He later broke the managerial color barrier in the
NL as well. Robinson remains tenth on the all-time homer list, ahead of
legendary sluggers like Mark McGwire, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, Mike
Schmidt, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Lou Gehrig. And
team known for slugging, the fabled Big Red Machine, Robinson remains the all-time
leader in slugging percentage (.554).
Only five players have won the "Holy Grail" of triple crowns, which is also
known as the "Major League Triple Crown." That's when a player leads both
leagues in batting average, home runs and RBI. The only players to win the Holy
Grail were Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.
It's been over half a century since Mantle last accomplished the feat, in 1956.
Bob Uecker was facetiously called "Mr. Baseball" by Johnny Carson. Uecker's
eventual claims to fame were comedy and sportscasting, not athletics. In 1967 he
hit .146, slugged .215 and led the NL in passed balls despite playing in only 59
games! Needless to say, he did not return for an encore. Uecker later quipped
that baseball suppliers paid him NOT
to endorse their products!
But was Bob Uecker the worst major league baseball player of all time?
We've all heard the debates about the best player: Babe Ruth,
Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams,
Rogers Hornsby, Mike Trout, et al. But what about the
worst player ever? Is there a clear-cut loser? Here are some possible
candidates: Mario Mendoza established the "Mendoza Line" (a benchmark of failure
for legions of weak-hitting infielders). Tommy Lasorda
posted a 6.48 career ERA. "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry was the worst player on
the worst MLB team of all time. Playing for the 1962 Mets, who lost 120 games,
Throneberry set a record for lowest fielding percentage by a first baseman. He
also blew his only career triple by missing both first and second base! Mike
Potter somehow managed to bat .000 for his career (he did manage one
walk for a career OBP of .042). Bill Bergen has been called the worst hitter in
MLB history, batting .170 in more than 3,000 at-bats, with
career WAR. Charlie Comiskey has been called the worst manager, the worst owner
and the worst player of all time. Comiskey was his own manager, so he would
insert himself into the lineup even though "he couldn't swing the bat to save
his life." Somehow Comiskey ended up in the Hall of Fame and has a ballpark
named after him, despite his anemic 82 OPS+ and .293 OBP. But the worst major
league player of all time is crystal-clear. He couldn't hit,
field or throw a lick. In fact, he was such a terrible hitter that his manager
forbade him to ever swing his bat under any circumstances! But ironically no pitcher could get him
out and he retired with a perfect on-base percentage of 1.000, far better than
the all-time OBP leaders. His name was Eddie Gaedel, and he was the
Jackie Robinson of the height-challenged, standing just 3'-7". The diminutive Gaedel's autograph now sells for more
than Babe Ruth's.
They say records are made to be broken, but probably not these records,
which are listed in order of ascending unlikelihood:
Joe DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941. But Pete Rose came close, at
44 games, so the most famous record may be the most breakable.
The Chicago Cubs went 108 years without winning a World Series. But the Indians
are working hard on this one!
Johnny Vander Meer threw back-to-back no-hitters in 1938. It could be done
again, but who is going to throw a third consecutive no-hitter?
Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs in 1930. But Manny Ramirez did have 165 in 1999.
Pete Rose had a record 4,256 hits; to break it someone would have to average 213
hits for 20 years!
Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters and had 5,714 career strikeouts.
Chief Wilson hit 36 triples in 1912.
Barry Bonds (*) walked 232 times with 120 intentional walks in 1994. (The
asterisk is for cheating with PEDs.)
Rickey Henderson stole 130 bases in 1982 and had 1,406 steals for his career.
Cal Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games.
Hugh Duffy hit .440 in 1894.
Kid Nichols was the youngest pitcher
to join the 300 wins club at age 30, by averaging 30 wins per year for a decade.
Walter Johnson threw 110 shutouts. Modern comparisons: Clayton Kershaw (15), Justin
Verlander (8), Max Scherzer (5).
Cy Young finished his career with 511 wins and 749 complete games.
Jack Taylor pitched 202 consecutive games without being relieved once.
Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn won 59 games in 1884. No modern pitcher will ever
start 59 games!
In 1968 Bob Gibson had an insane ERA of 1.12 and limited opposing batters to a
miniscule .233 on-base percentage. In an interesting
synchronicity, Gibson had a .233 OBP as a batter that year, so he turned the
entire NL into weak-hitting pitchers.
Rick Wise threw a no-hitter against the fabled Big Red Machine on June 23, 1971. In the
same game Wise
also hit two homers, a feat no other MLB pitcher has ever achieved while
throwing a no-no.
Was the greatest pitching duel in World Series history between two pitchers with
oddly effeminate names? In the 1916 World Series, Sherry Smith gave up only one
run in 13 innings. The opposing pitcher was Babe Ruth, who gave up a run in the
first, but redeemed himself by driving in the tying run and pitching a shutout
the rest of the way. The Red Sox made Ruth the winning pitcher by scratching out
a second run in the bottom of the 14th inning.
Or was the greatest pitching duel in World Series history between two studly
behemoths? As his nickname suggests, Hippo Vaughn was a monster for his era,
standing 6-4 and weighing well over 200 pounds. He won the pitching triple crown
in 1918, leading the NL in wins, ERA and strikeouts. But he was outdueled in the
World Series by another behemoth: Babe Ruth, who stood 6-2 and weighed ... well,
a lot, depending on how many hot dogs and alcoholic beverages he'd
consumed that day. Ruth's weight has been estimated to have ranged from 215-255
pounds. Hall of Famer Harry Hooper, who played with Ruth on the Red Sox, said
that two things set Ruth apart: he could hit a baseball farther than anyone
else, and he could eat more than anyone else. But that Ruth fella was a helluva
pitcher too, perhaps the best in World Series history. He shut out the Cubs and
the Red Sox won 1-0.
By 1925, Babe Ruth had become so overweight and ill that he experienced "the
bellyache heard 'round the world." At age 30, he didn't just seem to be washed
up; he seemed to be dying. In fact, The London Evening News reported
his death in an obituary which said that due to his portliness Ruth wore braces
(suspenders) rather than a belt and this had "started the fashion for braces in
the U.S." Canadian papers also announced the Babe's death. While Ruth wasn't
dead, he seemed to be well on his way. The Bambino collapsed on a train and
because he was so large, a hole had to be cut into the car before medics could
extract him. He had three convulsive attacks while on the stretcher and
it took six men to hold him down. Ruth did eventually recover, after missing
much of the 1925 season. The day he returned to the lineup, a young teammate
broke into the Yankee lineup. His name was Lou Gehrig and he started his streak
of 2,130 consecutive games played that very same day. Ruth would go on to play
at an ultra-high level till age 39, defying all the rules of "proper nutrition"
and―seemingly―physics. He and Gehrig would become the most
"offensive" duo in the history of major league baseball.
Babe Ruth was the greatest power hitter in World Series history, with 15 homers
in 167 plate appearances (Mickey Mantle had 18, but it took him more than 100
additional plate appearances). But Ruth may have also been the best pitcher in
World Series history, with a 3-0 record and a miniscule .87 ERA. He pitched 29
2/3 scoreless innings, a World Series record that would stand for 42 years.
Billy Herman had a real "knockout" introduction to major league baseball.
It was kinda like the old Tony Orlando and Dawn song: "Knock Three Times." In his
first big league at-bat, Herman knocked the ball into home plate. The plate knocked the
ball back. The boomeranging ball then knocked Herman out, cold! But Herman
recovered and went on to become a star second baseman and a member of the Hall of
Fame. He still holds the NL record for put-outs by a second baseman and his .433
batting average in ten all-star games remains the NL's highest ever.
Hank Aaron spent 23 years chasing Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, breaking
it in his forties. But how old was Ruth when he broke the home run record?
Incredibly, Ruth broke the all-time home run record in just his third full
season as a hitter, at age 26! Roger Connor held the previous record, with 138
home runs in 18 seasons, for an average of 7.7 homers per season. When Ruth
started hitting 50+ home runs per season, it didn't take him long to make
mincemeat of Connor's record. Ruth ended up with 576 more homers than Connor,
the previous home run king.
When Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak ended in 1941, he immediately went on
another 16-game spree. So Joltin' Joe had at least one hit in 72 of 73 games!
Pete Rose had the second-longest hitting streak of the modern era, 44 games, in
1978. Since Rose's streak, no one has really come that close. Is the Yankee
Clipper's record untouchable? Right now it certainly seems that way. But
ironically the player who came closest to matching DiMaggio happened to also do
it in 1941, and in the same league, no less! In 1941, Ted Williams had a streak
of reaching base in 69 consecutive games. He hit .406 and that's the last time
anyone crossed the magical .400 barrier for a complete season.
How on earth did Harvey Haddix manage to lose the best-pitched game in the
history of major league baseball? And how did a perfect game turn into an utter
farce? Pitching for the Pirates against a loaded Braves lineup in 1959, Haddix
threw 12 innings of perfect baseball: 36 batters up, 36 batters out. But then in
the unlucky 13th an error, sacrifice and intentional walk to Hank Aaron brought
Joe Adcock to the plate with a runner in scoring position. Adcock hit a
Kafkaesque out-of-the-park "double" and the perfect game was lost 1-0, with the
strangest of all possible endings when Adcock passed Aaron celebrating on the
basepaths and their runs were negated.
Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and
Willie Mays were considered to be the three greatest outfielders of their day.
They finished with virtually the same career slugging percentages: .555, .557
and .558 respectively. That's a difference of three thousandths of a whole
Twins: Double the Madness
The All-Time Home Run Rankings had some interesting joined-at-the-hip "twins"
the last time I checked in August 2017 ...
Cecil Fielder and Prince Fielder (319) ... Father and son, they are also the
only such duo to both hit 50 home runs in the big leagues!
Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez (379) ... Cepeda and Perez were two of the first
Hispanic players to become all-stars and make the Hall of Fame.
Frank Howard and Ryan Howard (382) ... They not only shared the same last name,
but were very BIG for baseball players, in the 250 pound range.
Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews (512) ... They finished 1-2 in the 1959 MVP
voting, with Banks hitting 45 homers and Mathews hitting 46!
Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas (521) ... They were both around 6-5 with similar
nicknames: Big Mac and Big Hurt.
Reds leftfielder George "the Destroyer" Foster was the last major league
baseball player to hit 50 home runs prior to the steroid era. Foster hit 52
1977, and many of them were tape measure shots, with two estimated at over 500
feet. From 1966 to 1990, or for a quarter century, Foster was the only
player in either league to hit 50 or more home runs. Foster did it with natural
muscle and bat speed. Does he remain the last baseball player to hit 50 homers honestly?
Foster's physique was so impressive that teammate "Little Joe" Morgan said he was surpassed
in baseball only by Willie Mays. (Interestingly, Mays had been the last
MLB player to hit 50 home runs, when he also hit exactly 52, in 1965!) But Foster
was taller and heavier than Mays. Pete Rose
opined that Foster was "too strong to be playing baseball. He should be hunting
bears with switches!" In fact, "The Destroyer" was so intimidating that his
menacing ebony bat had its own nickname: "The Black Death"!
A struggling young rookie, with only 35 games at the Triple A level and none at
Single A or Double A, went hitless in his first twelve major league at-bats and
was probably on his way back to the minors, when in his thirteenth try, he hit a
home run off hall-of-fame pitcher Warren Spahn. The great pitcher later ruefully
observed, "I'll never forgive myself! We might have gotten rid of Willie forever
if I'd only struck him out!" The struggling rookie was Willie Mays, who would go
on to terrorize National League pitchers for the next 20 years!
Ironically, Willie Mays almost ended up playing on the same team as Warren
Spahn, along with Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews. What a great foursome that
would have been! Mays had been scouted by the Braves when he was 15 years old,
but the Giants scooped him up first. With the Say Hey Kid, the Braves might have
absolutely dominated MLB with a lineup of (C) Del Crandall, (1B) Joe Adcock,
(2B) Red Schoendienst, (SS) Johnny Logan, (3B) Eddie Matthews, (RF) Hank Aaron,
(CF) Willie Mays, (LF) Wes Covington (P) Warren Spahn, (P) Lou Burdette, (P) Bob
Buhl, and (P) Gene Conley. Opposing pitchers would have faced a truly fearsome
series of slugging percentages with Mays (.557), Aaron (.555), Matthews (.509),
Adcock (.485) and Covington (.466) in the same lineup.
How good is Albert Pujols, really? Now that he's slowed down a bit, it's easy to
forget how radically excellent he was for so many years. But if we look at the
top ten players of all time for homers, RBI and total bases, nearly all the
players played for 22 or more years. Pujols cracked all three top tens in 17
years. If he keeps having "terrible" years (for him) with 25-30 homers and 100
RBI, he's going to end up close to the top in all three categories. That ain't
good, that's effin' GREAT! But here's the crazy thing ... his teammate Mike
Trout may obliterate all his records!
The top ten list of walks by batters in a season is dominated by the great
sluggers: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, et al. But there is one very
strange anomaly ... Eddie Yost. In 1956, Yost drew an amazing 151 walks while
hitting a paltry .231 and slugging a measly .336. Pitchers obviously didn't fear
Yost, who had only 11 homers and 53 RBI. But it was no fluke, as Yost is
eleventh all-time with 1,614 walks, ahead of legendary sluggers like Stan
Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Harmon Killebrew, Lou Gehrig and
Mike Schmidt. Yost was so proficient at drawing walks that he was nicknamed the
"Walking Man." The Yankees tried to add Yost to their roster without success.
Why? "Every time I look up, that feller is on base!" Casey Stengel explained. So
how did he do it? Yost studied pitchers, knew the strike zone intimately, had a
keen eye and great plate discipline, and would foul off pitches to keep at-bats
alive. He once fouled off 20 pitches in two consecutive plate appearances. Yost
worked hard to earn all those walks and retired with a higher on-base percentage
than "get on base" artists like Rod Carew, Honus Wagner, Tony Gwynn and Wee
For a decade, from 1949 to 1958, Yogi Berra hit 257 home runs and struck out 250
times. Just in case that didn't sink in, let me repeat it a different way: Yogi
Berra had more home runs than strikeouts for a freakin' decade! And to make
matters worse (or better), he was a notorious bad-ball hitter! How the hell did
he do it? In 1950, Berra hit 28 homers and had an insanely low 12 strikeouts.
Most modern sluggers could strike out 12 times in a doubleheader!
But amazingly, Berra was not even the best player on his own team in this
category. From 1937 to 1941, his teammate Joe DiMaggio averaged 34 home runs per
season, but only 24 strikeouts.
In the early 1930's, someone protested that Babe Ruth was demanding more money
than President Hoover made, for playing a game! The quick-witted Babe had
the perfect retort for those Great Depression days: "I had a better year than he
The Bambino was the first baseball star to "go global." During World War II, Japanese
soldiers would shout "To hell with Babe Ruth!" to annoy their American foes.
But for awhile the Japanese people embraced the Bambino. After the 1934 season, the
Sultan of Swat went on a barnstorming tour of Japan led by Connie Mack. Babe
Ruth hit 14 home runs in 17 games against the Japanese all-stars, as Mack's team
went undefeated. A bust of Ruth erected during that trip still stands outside
Osaka's Koshien Stadium. (One wonders what they did with the statue during
WWII!) Later the "Babe Ruth League" and the "Connie Mack
League" would be named in the barnstormers' honor.
During WWII, American sentries would ferret out unwanted guests by asking
baseball questions. Heaven help the infiltrator who didn't know that the proper
response to "three" was "strikes" or that "Brooklyn" required "Dodgers"!
Some of the greatest baseball players sacrificed
their prime years to serve in the American military: Joe DiMaggio, Stan
Musial and Willie Mays, just to name a few. Ted Williams was John Glenn's
wingman during the Korean War (there is an account later on this page of how the
future astronaut saved Williams' life after his fighter was hit by enemy fire
and burst into flames).
When Mark McGwire became the first MLB player to hit 70 home runs in a single
season in 1998, he set another record by also being the first player with enough
plate appearances to qualify for the batting title to hit more home runs than
singles. McGwire repeated the feat in 1999, when he hit 65 home runs and only 58
singles. When Barry Bonds set the new single-season home run mark of 73 in 2001,
he became the second player in this category with only
49 singles. Apparently hitting 65 or more homers doesn't leave much time for
Mike Trout likes to celebrate his birthdays with home runs. In four of his six
full seasons, Trout has hit a home run on his birthday. On his 26th birthday,
Trout celebrated with yet another home run and his 1,000th hit. "Every time Mike
does something, you just shake your head," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
"For us to experience a player of his magnitude, doing so many things at such a
young age, it's exciting. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see it for a long
time." How good is Mike Trout, really? Well, he is one of just four players to
record six seasons of at least 160 OPS+ before their age 26 season. The others
in this ultra-elite group are Jimmie Foxx, Ty Cobb
and Babe Ruth! And Trout's career OPS+ is sixth of all time, smack dab
between Rogers Hornsby and Mickey Mantle. That is "crazy good" and Trout is
apparently still getting better in 2017.
Here are ten things you may not know about Babe Ruth: (1) He was apparently born
for baseball: as a boy in Baltimore, he lived on the site of what later became
Oriole Stadium in Camden Yards. (2) He was apparently also born to drink, as he
lived above a saloon his father owned! (3) Ruth was drinking before he turned
eight, and was sent to a reform school as incorrigible. (4) Ruth was destined to
be a shirtmaker, before he signed with his hometown Orioles (then a
minor league team) at age nineteen. (5) The Orioles were struggling financially
and quickly sold Ruth's contract to the Red Sox. On his first day in Boston,
Ruth allegedly met the girl he would marry and won the first game he pitched.
(6) Ruth quickly became a star pitcher with the lowest ERA (2.19) and highest
winning percentage (.659) among AL lefties. (7) Ruth posted a 0.87 ERA in three
World Series starts and his record of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in
the Fall Classic stood from 1918 until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961. (8) Ruth
hit his first major league home run against his future team, the Yankees.
When Ruth demanded a raise in 1919, his contract was sold to the Yankees for
$100,000 and a $300,000 loan secured by Fenway Park. This sale apparently
ushered in the "Curse of the Bambino," as the Red Sox would fail to win a single
World Series while the Yankees were winning twenty from 1920-1964. (9) Babe
Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium, the "house that Ruth built" and
which was built to favor his bat. How many home runs would Mickey Mantle, Willie
Mays and Hank Aaron have hit, if someone had built stadiums to suit them, one
wonders? (10) Babe Ruth played himself in four movies, including Pride of
the Yankees (for which he lost 40 pounds to play his younger self).
The most earthshaking trade in baseball history didn't happen and may have
prevented fans in two major cities from going insane! In 1947 the Red Sox and
Yankees had a verbal agreement to trade Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio. What a
conundrum it would have been, for Yankee fans to cheer "Mr. Boston Red Sox"
while Bostonians were cheering for the "Yankee Clipper" ... the mind boggles!
But the trade didn't happen because Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Red Sox, wanted
Yogi Berra to be included, but Larry MacPhail, the general manager of the
Yankees, refused. Thus the tenuous sanity of Red Sox and Yankee fans was preserved!
Todd Helton had a hall-of-fame baseball career, but did you know that he once
started at quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers? Unfortunately for Helton,
his understudy was a freshman named Peyton Manning, and Helton soon retired his
football cleats. Ironically, the two ended up playing in Denver at the end of
their careers: Helton for the Colorado Rockies and Manning for the Denver
Broncos. But Helton was not the only Tennessee quarterback to do double duty.
Alan Cockrell was the first true freshman quarterback to start for the Vols, but
he was even better at baseball and skipped his senior year after being drafted
in the first round (#9 overall) by the San Francisco Giants. Are we in the
Twilight Zone, because Cockerall also ended his career in Denver, with the
Colorado Rockies! But we're not done yet. Condredge Holloway was an even higher
draft pick (#4 overall) by the Montreal Expos as a 16-year-old shorstop. But his
mother wanted him to go to college and refused to sign the contract. So Holloway
went to Tennessee and became the first African-American to start at quarterback
in the SEC. He was also Tennessee's first black baseball player. Holloway hit
.353 for his college career, was an All-American in 1975, and still owns UT's
longest hitting streak at 27 games. Perhaps UT's best quarterback before
Manning, Holloway ended his career with the best interception-to-attempt ratio
in school history and was even better as a scrambler. Alabama's immortal coach
Paul “Bear” Bryant said Holloway “has more moves and is harder to get hold of
than any back I ever saw.” Holloway was All-SEC at quarterback in 1973 and is
the only UT student-athlete named to all-century squads in both baseball and
football. And despite his mother's efforts, he ended up in Canada ... as star
quarterback in the Canadian Football League, where he was MVP in 1982. He is now
a member of the CFL Hall of Fame. But perhaps the most unusual story belongs to
Mike Smithson, a 6-8 basketball star who only played one year of high school
baseball. He was a member of the famous "Ernie & Bernie Show" teams that
featured All-Americans Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King. One day UT baseball
coach Bill Wright saw Smithson playing catch, asked him to try out for the
freshman baseball team, and he went on to have an eight-year career as a pitcher
in the majors, twice winning 15 games.
No, the Cardinals were not named after birds or exalted priests. In 1899 a woman in
the stands gushed about the players' uniforms containing a "lovely shade of
cardinal." St. Louis Republic reporter Willie McHale overheard her and
included her remark in his column the next day. The rest, as they say, is
history. But then shouldn't it be "cardinal" singular?
Cap Anson was (and probably still is) the greatest player in Chicago Cubs
history. Anson was so good and so popular that the team was called Cap's Colts
during his tenure. But of course he couldn't play forever. After Anson retired,
a feeling of dread descended, and the team was being called the Chicago Orphans and
even the Remnants. A more positive name was needed, fast! Fortunately someone came
up with the name Chicago Cubs, although no one is sure exactly who thought it
up first. Was it because it was time for the younger players to learn to fend
for themselves, apart from their elders? If so, Anson probably inspired the new
team name. To show how few home runs were being hit in baseball's early days,
Anson had 18 seasons with two or fewer homers, and yet he is fourth on the
all-time RBI list, one spot ahead of the all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds.
Did you know that the Pittsburg team claimed to be "Innocents" before they
admitted to being "Pirates"? The franchise began its operations in Allegheny
City. Thus from 1882-1889 the team was called the Pittsburg Alleghenys. Then in
1892, a new ownership group signed second baseman Lou Bierbauer away from the
Philadelphia Athletics (a legal move, since the A's hadn't put Bierbauer on
their reserved list). Still, Philly was irate and filed an official complaint,
calling their rivals "piratical." The Alleghenys strongly maintained that they
had done nothing wrong, and for the 1890 season the team adopted the nickname
"Innocents." But after the league ruled in Pittsburgh's favor, the new owners were
so pleased that they decided to rename the team the Pirates for the 1891 season
(although the name wouldn't appear on Pittsburgh jerseys until 1911).
Have you ever wondered why the Atlanta franchise is
called the Braves? The team started as the Boston Beaneaters in 1897. In 1907
the Dove brothers bought the team and changed its name to the Boston Doves! (No
egos involved there, were're sure!) In
1911 there was another change of ownership and the team became the Boston
Rustlers (perhaps referring to the famous "tea party"). In 1912, the team was
renamed the Boston Braves for a very odd reason. One
of the partners in the Braves was James Gaffney. He had political ties with the
Tammany Hall regime. Politicians affiliated with Tammany Hall were often
referred to as "braves" because Tammany was named after a Delaware Indian chief.
But Tammany Hall was in New York, not Boston!
When did the New York Yankees get that name, and why? When the Baltimore Orioles
moved to New York in 1903, they were seen as invaders: the New York Evening
Journal actually picked Invaders as the nickname for the Big Apple's new
team. But the most common nickname among fans was the Highlanders, because the
team's stadium was built on a hill. The press sometimes referred to the team as
the Americans, since they were in the American league and the Giants were in the
National League. But then New York Press editor Jim Price called the
team the Yanks in 1904, simply trying to make a headline fit. The name Yankees
was pretty much official by 1913.
Have you ever wondered why the Los Angeles team is called the Dodgers? Here's
the long, very strange trip the franchise took ... The team starts off as the Brooklyn Grays in 1883. Almost
immediately, in 1884, the team changes its name to the Brooklyn Atlantics, which sorta
makes sense (but for the first and only time!). On that team the star pitcher, Adonis Terry, lost 35 games.
Just as quickly, in 1885 the team changes its name back to the Grays. Adonis
is now an outfielder, hitting a not-so-robust .170. A new pitcher,
Phenomenal Smith is less than phenomenal with a 12.38 ERA. But at least their
names are entertaining! In 1888 several players get married around the same
time, and the team changes its name to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Do they realize
that getting married is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing? Apparently
not when they tie the knot! Adonis is now pitching again. In 1889 the Bridegrooms win the American Association, led by
Oyster Burns and Pop Corkhill, but they lose the World Series to their
cross-town foes, the New York Giants. Drat! Curses! Foiled again! (And a pattern
of futility may be emerging.) In 1890 the Bridegrooms join the National League
and immediately win the pennant, led by 128 RBI from the Oyster. But alas the
World Series is a 3-3-1 sister-kissing tie with the Louisville Colonels. There are,
however, more entertaining names: Lady Baldwin and Patsy Donovan. Adonis
is nowplaying the outfield and pitching! In 1891 the team
shortens its name to the Grooms. More entertaining names appear on the bench:
Con Daily, Bones Ely, Dude Esterbrook. But perhaps Adonis should stick to the
outfield; he's 6-16 with a 4.22 ERA. In 1896 it's back to the Bridegrooms, with
Candy LaChance. But by 1899 the franchise is again knee-deep in mediocrity,
and it's time to change the team's name again. Someone very optimistic chooses
the name Brooklyn Superbas! And it works, sorta. Led by Wee Willie Keeler, who
sounds like a character from Rumpelstiltskin, the Superbas win the NL!
But alas there is no World Series that year. Foiled again! By 1911, there have
been a number of dismal seasons, and it's time for another name change. This
time it's the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers (now we finally understand the source of
the term "dodgers"). By 1913 it's simply the Dodgers. But never count on this
franchise to leave things well enough alone! In 1914, Wilbert Robinson takes
over as manager, and everyone is so awed they change the team's name to the
Brooklyn Robins! Once again the name change works wonderfully well, sorta. In
1916 the Robins win the NL pennant, but lose to Babe Ruth (then a pitcher) and
the Boston Red Sox. Foiled again! But at least there are more entertaining
names: Sherry Smith and Bunny Fabrique (my personal favorite).
After Robinson retires, it's back to the Dodgers in 1932. In 1941, the Dodgers again
win the pennant only to again lose the World Series. Pee Wee Reese sounds like the second coming of Wee Willie
Keeler. In 1947, Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier and the Dodgers win
the pennant, but the team's record of futility
remains intact as they lose to their crosstown foes the Yankees in the World
Series. But at least they have Spider Jorgensen playing third! In 1949, the
Dodgers lose to the Yankees again. Ditto in 1952 and 1953. The Dodgers are now
0-7 in the World Series. By now they're not just thinking about changing their name; they're thinking about changing ends of the continent! Then in 1955,
the Brooklyn Dodgers finally win the World Series, defeating the hated Yankees.
And it only took them 72 years to do it! But in 1956, it's back to normal as
they lose to the Yankees in the World Series, with Don Larsen throwing the only
perfect game in World Series history. Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley decides that
enough is enough, and he moves the franchise far away to Los Angeles, where the
Dodgers have lived up to their now-permanent name by dodging both the Yankees and the city of
New York ever since!
The oddest baseball franchise names include the Cleveland Spiders, the Chicago
Orphans, the Columbus Solons, the Kansas City Cowboys, the Brooklyn Superbas,
and the Saint Louis Perfectos.
Babe Ruth wore a chilled cabbage leaf under his cap to stay cool! He would
change it every two innings. Did he get hungry and eat some bad cabbage, with
terrible repercussions? Ruth missed much of the 1925 season with "the bellyache
heard 'round the world." That year he was very un-Ruthian, with only 25 home
runs and 67 RBI. But he did recover, and two years later he hit 60 home runs,
setting the most famous record until ...
In 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record for hitting the most home runs in
a season (61, with the famous asterisk). But did you know that Maris's teammate,
pitcher Whitey Ford broke the Babe's record for pitching 29 2/3 consecutive
scoreless innings in a World Series the same year? When asked how it felt to
have thrown 33 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, beating the Babe's other
record, Ford responded, "It was a bad year for the
Yogi Berra was the Yoda of baseball. Here's an example of his yogi-ish wisdom:
"Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off
the streets." Unfortunately, far too many Little League parents surrender to the
Dark Side of the Force!
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia made an error for the first time in 114
games, on July 19, 2017. Pedroia's errorless streak was the longest by a second
baseman in Red Sox history, and the longest by any second baseman since Darwin
Barney went 141 games between errors back in 2012. So who hit the ball that led
to Pedroia's error? Yep, we're in the Twilight Zone. It was Darwin
Tim "Rock" Raines allegedly lived up to his nickname by sliding head-first to
avoid breaking the cocaine vials he carried in his back pocket.
Dock Ellis says that he threw his no-hitter on June 12, 1970 while under the
influence of LSD. What a long, strange trip his career must have been! Here's an
account of Ellis's not-so-perfect game: "In his drugged-out stupor, he took some
more [LSD] on the day of the game and had to be reminded by his friend's
girlfriend he had to be in San Diego to pitch that night. Ellis, who said he
couldn't even feel the ball or see the catcher clearly, got some great fielding
and walked eight batters en route to the unlikely no-no. Here is an excerpt of
his take on that wild night: 'I remember hitting a couple of batters, and the
bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was
large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes, I
tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my
gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth
inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was
pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging
it over the plate."
On the other hand, Sandy Koufax, the "Left Arm of God," made hitters see things.
Koufax led the NL in ERA for five consecutive years and finished with a
glittering career ERA of 2.76. So how was he in the postseason? Even more
godlike! Koufax's World Series ERA was a ridiculously low 0.95. He was named the
World Series MVP twice: in 1963 and 1965 (when his ERA was an even more
When Nolan Ryan was a young, flame-throwing pitcher, he could only throw around
five innings before developing painful blisters on the fingers of his pitching
hand. The cure? Although he didn't eat the pickles, Ryan would soak his fingers
in pickle brine! Teammates joked that Ryan used so much pickle juice that he
would be named MVP by the Pickle Packers of America! Does Ryan owe his strikeout
record and all those no-hitters to lowly cucumbers and vinegar?
Bob Lemon was the opening day center fielder for the Cleveland Indians in 1946.
On April 30th of that year, Lemon's "daring catch" and strong throw "doubling a
man off second base" were key in preserving a Bob Feller
no-hitter. But two future hall-of-famers, catcher Bill Dickey and
shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau, took note of that strong arm and persuaded Lemon
to become a pitcher. It proved to be a very wise decision, as Lemon hit only
.232 for his career. Two years later, in 1948, it was Lemon throwing the
no-hitter. He went on to win 207 games and join Dickey and Boudreau in the Hall
of Fame! (And that .232 average, which would have been woeful for an outfielder,
was pretty sporty for a pitcher!)
Larry Doby was Major League Baseball's second black player and the first in the
American League. Doby entered the majors in July of 1947 — just three months
after Jackie Robinson. He faced the same hostile racist climate that Robinson
faced, and he also managed to excel. (Doby made seven straight all-star games
from 1949 to 1955 and finished second in the 1954 MVP voting with 32 homers and
126 RBI.) But Robinson received all the eternal glory, while Doby has been
largely forgotten. On the brighter side, Doby was elected to the Baseball Hall
Tony Lazzeri was a member of the "Murderers' Row" Yankees teams that included
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Lazzeri was an epileptic who managed to hide his
condition from the public for his entire career. Lazzeri participated in five
world championships with the Yankees and finished his career with an .846 OPS
that ranks ninth all-time among second basemen.
In 1936, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio set a New York Yankees record for home runs by a
rookie, with 29. Eighty-one years later, Aaron Judge broke the Yankee Clipper's
record, hitting his 30th home run before the All-Star break!
Joe DiMaggio still holds two major league records, however. One is the longest
hitting streak of all time, 56 games. His other big "record" is having the most
famous marriage in baseball history, to Marilyn Monroe, of course.
Dom DiMaggio was more than just Joe DiMaggio's kid brother. He was a seven-time
all-star who scored 110 or more runs six times. Of course it didn't hurt to have
Ted Williams hitting behind him!
Bert Campaneris was a skinny little shortstop, and a damn good one. A six-time
all-star, he still holds the Athletics' franchise
records for at-bats and hits, and he led the AL in steals six times. But at 160
pounds he was definitely not a
power hitter ... except for three completely inexplicable power surges. In his
first MLB game, Campaneris hit two home runs (only one five players in baseball
history to accomplish that remarkable feat!). Then in 1970 he―again
inexplicably―went on a rampage (at least for him)
hitting 22 homers. If we subtract that one very odd game and that one very odd
season, Campaneris averaged fewer than three home runs per year for his 19
seasons. Then in 1973, after returning to his normal non-powerful ways and
hitting just four homers in 671 at-bats, Campaneris went on a postseason power
tear and hit three homers, outslugging his teammate and World Series MVP, "Mr.
October" Reggie Jackson! What was the source of that mysterious power? If
Campaneris could bottle and sell it, he'd be richer than Bill Gates!
Besides his inexplicable home run sprees, "Campy" Campaneris will be remembered
for two other oddities. He was the first ballplayer (to our knowledge) to be
introduced to fans on the back of a donkey (one of the weirder brainstorms of
A's owner Charles O. Finley). And Campaneris was the first major league player
to play all nine positions in a single game, which he did on September 8, 1965,
as part of a special promotion. Campaneris even threw ambidextrously when he
took the mound!
Speaking of Reggie Jackson, was he really "Mr. October"? Well, yes and no. Yes,
he did rise to the occasion a number of times and his postseason stats are
impressive. But there are other "Mr. Octobers" whose stats are even more
impressive. Sluggers like Jackson are supposed to drive in runs, so I did a
quick check on RBI per plate appearance. Reggie Jackson averaged .151 RBI per
plate appearance in the postseason, which would work out to 98 RBI for a season
with 650 plate appearances. Jackson's career RBI percentage was .149, and he
probably averaged around 98 RBI per season in his prime, so really he was pretty
much doing what he normally did. In any case, here are eleven players who out-Octobered
the much-lauded Mr. October: Lou Gehrig (.233), Charlie Keller (.228), Hank
Aaron (.216), Babe Ruth (.198), Home Run Baker (.186), Paul Molitor (.167),
David Ortiz (.165), Albert Pujols (.162), Shane Victorino (.162), Jim Edmonds
(.160), David Freese (.153). If we're going to give props to players for raising
their games, perhaps they should go to Victorino, Edmonds and Freese. The others
are all Hall-of-Famers, with one possible exception. "King Kong" Keller was well
on his way to the Hall of Fame, but lost time due to military service during
WWII, then suffered a severely ruptured disk at age 30 and was never the same
again. But his career OPS+ of 152 ranks ahead of legends like Honus Wagner, Nap
Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Cap Anson, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell,
Jim Thome, Albert Belle, David Ortiz, Alex Rogriguez and, yes, Reggie Jackson.
Even so, Keller did raise his postseason game from around a 100-RBI pace to a
150-RBI pace. And who knows ... perhaps the veterans committee will do the right
thing and induct him into the HOF.
The Red Sox were one of the most successful baseball franchises, winning the
first-ever World Series and quickly racking up five world championships. But
then in the 1919-1920 offseason, the Red Sox sold the greatest baseball player
of all time, Babe Ruth, to the rival New York Yankees. Why? The most common
explanation is that Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needed the money to finance the
Broadway musical No, No Nanette. In any case, the baseball gods were
apparently not amused, and it would be 86 years before the Red Sox finally
escaped "the curse of the Bambino" and won another World Series.
Jimmie Foxx hit 60 home runs in 1932 and would have tied Babe Ruth's
longstanding record, except that two of his home runs were "called back"
by rainouts. Foxx was called "The Beast" and Lefty Gomez opined that
Foxx had "muscles in his hair." Foxx, who resembled Ruth in appearance, out-did
him in versatility. Like Ruth, Foxx pitched (1.52 career ERA) and played
outfield. But Foxx was also an All-Star at catcher, first and third. He even
played one game at short! Hall-of-Fame catcher Rick Ferrell said of Foxx's
ability behind the plate: "If it wasn't for [Mickey] Cochrane, Foxx would have
developed into a great catcher. He was the greatest all-around athlete I ever
saw play Major League Baseball." But with one of the all-time-great catchers on
his team, Foxx had to change positions in order to play full-time.
When we think of runs, we think of speed. But the
catchers who scored the most career runs, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodriguez, were both
nicknamed Pudge! The catcher who ranks third in runs, Yogi Berra, was no speed
demon either. He stole 30 bases in 19 seasons, and was thrown out nearly half
the time. So who was the fastest catcher ever? Probably
Craig Biggio, who broke in as a catcher and played the position for four years
before switching to second base. Biggio stole 414 bases during his career, led
the NL in steals in 1994, and had a high mark of 50 steals in 1998. Even at age
39, Biggio was still an above-average base stealer, going 11-1. But if we include part-time catchers, in 1887 Arlie Latham played catcher in two
games and stole 129 bases! Latham had 742 steals for his career, but only
played catcher in a handful of games over six seasons. So we should probably
give the laurel to Biggio. He and Jason Kendall are the only catchers in MLB
history to lead off more than ten games in a single season. But if we're talking
about players who were almost exclusively catchers, Kendall is our man. He stole
20 or more bases three times, 10 or more bases nine times, and even stole 12
bases in his last season at age 36, shades of Biggio!
Johnny Bench was one of the most powerful catchers of all time, clubbing 45
home runs at age 22, then 40 more at age 24, and winning two MVP awards before
he turned 25. Bench finished his career with the
record for home runs by a catcher and still holds the Reds franchise record for
homers and RBI regardless of position. But Bench was also a remarkably good
base-stealer in his prime, going a perfect 11-0 in 1975 and 13-2 in 1976, for a two year
success rate of 92.3%. Oh, and he also won ten consecutive Gold Gloves!
Furthermore, Bench was one of the first catchers to adopt the hinged catcher's
glove and catch one-handed, so he was something of a baseball pioneer too. As
Reds manager Sparky Anderson once put it, "I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by
comparing him to Johnny Bench!" Nor should we.
So who was the worst basestealing catcher of all time? "Feet of Stone" Russ
Nixon played 12 seasons and 2,504 games. He was thrown out trying to steal 7
times without a single success.
Ty Cobb won the triple crown in 1909 by leading the American League in batting
average, home runs and RBI. But he never hit a ball out of the park. All nine
home runs he hit that year were inside the park. Cobb remains the only home run champion who
failed to hit at least one home run over the fence. What are baseball's records
that will probably never be broken? (1) Cobb's all-inside-the-park home run crown
is an absolute lock, of
course, as are his 12 batting titles in 13 years. (2) Rickey Henderson leading the NL in steals at age 39. (3) Shoeless Joe Jackson
hitting .400 as a rookie.
(4) Jackson also holds the record for the highest batting average in his last
season, with .382! (5) Rogers Hornsby averaged .402 for a five-year stretch from
1921-1925, while also averaging 29 homers per year.
Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's all-time hits record, then played Cobb in a 1991 movie
about Babe Ruth. (No, Rose did not win an Oscar for his cameo!) For a player to
break Rose's hit record, he would have to average 213 hits for 20 years. The
closest modern player to Rose in hits is Hank Aaron. In his last season at age
42, Aaron had 62 hits. To catch Rose at that pace, he would have had to play
nine more seasons, to age 50. So it seems unlikely that anyone will break Rose's
record anytime soon.
Robinson Cano's game-winning home run at the 2017 All-Star game was the event's
first extra-inning blast in exactly 50 years. Ironically, Tony Perez, who threw
the game's opening pitch, was the last All-Star participant to hit an
extra-inning homer, in 1967. The score of both games was 2-1. Five teammates on
the celebrated Big Red Machine became All-Star MVPs: Tony Perez (1967), Joe
Morgan (1972), George Foster (1976), Ken Griffey Sr. (1980) and Dave Concepcion
(1982). Ironically, the two Reds with the most All-Star appearances, Pete Rose
(17) and Johnny Bench (14), failed to become All-Star MVPs. However, they both
were World Series and National League MVPs. So seven of the Reds' "Great Eight"
were MVPs during their careers. And in 1976, all seven made the NL All-Star
team; talk about a star-studded lineup! Who was the odd Red
out? Center fielder Cesar Geronimo, who in 1976 won one of his four consecutive
Gold Gloves and slashed .307/.382/.414/.795 with 201 total bases and 22 steals;
he finished 25th in the MVP voting despite hitting eighth in an outrageously
Were the 1976 Reds the best baseball team of all time? If the question
intrigues you, please click the hyperlink to enter the debate.
George Brett won AL batting titles in three different decades: the first in
1976, the second in 1980, the third in 1990 (at age 37). Pete Rose led the NL
in hits in three different decades: twice in the 1960s, four times in the
1970s, and once in the 1980s (at the tender age of 40!). Jimmy Connors has
been called "the Pete Rose of tennis" (a comparison he welcomes) because they
were both "bad boys" and fiery competitors who, while lacking size and pure
athleticism, continued to will themselves to victory over younger, more athletic
players well into their forties. Connors holds the pro tennis "endurance"
records for games, matches, sets and wins. Rose holds the pro baseball
"endurance" records for games, plate appearances, at-bats, hits and games won.
Connors was number one from 1974-1978, a period of time in which Rose led all
MLB in games, hits and runs. Connors retired at age 44 and Rose played his last
full season at age 44.
Was Bob Gibson baseball's biggest badass? This was Hank Aaron's advice to Dusty
Baker: “Don't dig in against Bob Gibson, he'll knock you down. He'd knock down
his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. Don't stare at him, don't
smile at him, don't talk to him. He doesn't like it. If you happen to hit a home
run, don't run too slow, don't run too fast. If you happen to want to celebrate,
get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you, don't charge the mound, because
he's a Gold Glove boxer!” Or as Dick Allen put it, “Gibson was so mean, he'd
knock you down and then meet you at home plate to see if you wanted to make
something of it.” Here's what Jim Ray Hart learned the hard way: “Between games,
(Willie) Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you're going
up against Bob Gibson.' I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it
didn't make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and
started digging a little hole with my back foot. No sooner did I start digging
that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!' Well, the
first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing
I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have
listened to Willie.” Now we know how Gibson managed that incredible 1.12 ERA ...
batters were afraid of him, with good reason!
Is it possible to be too competitive? Bob Gibson may have gone
over some sort of line: “I've played a couple of hundred games of tic-tac-toe
with my little daughter and she hasn't beaten me yet. I've always had to win.
I've got to win.”
So was Bob Gibson the most hated and feared baseball player of all time?
Probably not. Ty Cobb has been called the most hated figure in the history of
sports. He once said of himself: "In legend I am a sadistic, slashing,
swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport." Cobb's mother shot
his father to death; three weeks later he debuted in center field for the
Detroit Tigers. Cobb has been accused of murder himself, of beating his son with
a whip, of racism to the extent of choking a black woman until he was knocked
out by a teammate, of battery against a black worker who complained when he
stepped in wet cement, of going into the stands to beat a heckler who had lost
his hands in an industrial accident, of beating and choking an umpire after a
game, of honing his spikes to razor sharpness in order to terrorize opposing
infielders, and other nefarious deeds. Other fear-inspiring candidates,
primarily because of their size, include Frank Howard (6'8", 275 pounds), Aaron
Judge (6'7", 280 pounds of chiseled muscle), Adam Dunn (6'6", 285), Dave
Winfield (6'6", 220), Giancarlo Stanton (6'6", 245), Dave "King Kong" Kingman
(6'6", 210), Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Barry "Steroid Monster" Bonds,
Reggie Jackson, Dick Allen, Frank "the Big Hurt" Thomas, Albert Belle (called a
"surly jerk" by one journalist), Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco (known
collectively as the "Bash Brothers" before they started cheating) and George
"the Destroyer" Foster. But surely the most fear-inspiring players were pitchers
with blazing fastballs and bad temperaments ...
Ty Cobb, the sadistic despot himself, said that Walter Johnson's fastball
"hissed with danger." Johnson's fastball has been estimated to have clocked
around 100 mph.
Two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy called Nolan Ryan "the only pitcher you
start thinking about two days before you face him." Reggie Jackson said, "Ryan
is the only guy who puts fear in me. Not because he can get you out, but because
he can kill you." Ryan threw a fastball in 1974 that was reportedly clocked by a
laser gun at 108.1 mph, and he is the all-time strikeout king.
Bob Feller was known as "Rapid Robert" because he threw a scorching fast
ball (reportedly once clocked at 107.6 mph). Feller also had a
facial tic that made batters very nervous while they were awaiting his next
pitch. The way he was blinking on the mound, could he see them clearly?
According to Yogi Berra, his teammate Ryne Duren "had several pairs of glasses
but it didn't seem like he saw good in any of them." Those Coke-bottle lenses,
coupled with a 100-mph fastball and "tactical" wildness, made Duren one of the
most intimidating relievers of the late 1950s. His manager, Casey Stengel, once
said of him, "Hitters don't like to see that fella. Especially family men."
Duren would often enter a game by first squinting through his thick glasses,
then throwing the ball well over the catcher's head to the backstop. There are
even stories (possibly embellished) of Duren hitting not only hitters in the
batter's box, but also those waiting in the on-deck circle! The most
intimidating aspect of Duren's game was the fact that batters truly believed
that Duren could not see, that he was just throwing into "an undifferentiated
void." No wonder their knees were knocking together in fear!
Goose Gossage was intimidating because as teammate Rudy May explained: "Hitters
always have the fear that one pitch might get away from him and they'll wind up
DOA with a tag on their toe." Bob Watson ventured that it was his delivery that
made the Goose such an intimidating figure: "He's
all arms and legs and he's not looking at you. That doesn't make you feel good
when he's throwing 100 miles an hour. I don't mind a guy throwing 100 miles an
hour if he's looking at you!"
Randy Johnson, the "Big Unit," was named the most intimidating baseball player
of all time by the MLB Network. Johnson stood 6'10" and threw a fastball clocked
at up to 102 mph with a sidearm, whipping motion. He had left-handed hitters
understandably "trembling" with fear, especially when he threw over their heads
to warn them to back off. Adam Dunn explained the left-handed hitters'
conundrum: It was a "hopeless feeling" to face pitches that seemed to be aimed
at the back of the neck, only to drop in for unhittable strikes. One
anxiety-ridden hitter admitted to suffering from Randy-Johnson-itis. The day he
pitched would be a good day to recover from a hastily-concocted "injury." The Big
Unit retired with 303 wins, five Cy Young awards, nine strikeout titles and the
highest strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate of all time (10.6).
Sal Maglie was called "the Barber" because he gave close shaves to batters who
crowded the plate. Drysdale credited "Sal the Barber" with teaching him the art
of the brushback.
Dick Radatz was given the nickname "the Monster" by Mickey Mantle, who struck
out 44 of the 63 times he faced relief pitching's Frankenstein. Radatz stood 6'6" and
weighed 230-260 pounds. Stir in a 95-mph heater delivered sidearm, and you had a
real monster on the mound. Radatz was another pupil of Sal Maglie. When someone
opined that Radatz had only one pitch, columnist Jim Murray opined in return that
that was like
saying a nation was going to war with "only an atomic bomb." Radatz with his one
pitch "left devastation in his wake." As one sportswriter observed: "The
supernova of relievers, he lit up the sky at Fenway Park for three years before
flaring out." But during those three years he was damn near unhittable. Radatz
still holds the major league record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher
with 181 in 1964. He averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings for his career,
higher than Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, or any pitcher of his era or prior. Radatz
was, it seems in retrospect, the coming of the new wave of strikeout artists.
Early Wynn was a fierce intimidator who one said, "I'd knock down my own
grandmother if she dug in on me." Wynn called hitters his "mortal enemies" and
claimed to "hate" them. Hatred seemed to work for
him, as he won 300 games and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Ted Williams,
perhaps the greatest pure hitter of all time, called Wynn "the
toughest pitcher I ever faced."
In 1967 a young all-star second baseman named Pete Rose moved to left field to
make room for Tommy Helms. Two decades later, in 1988, Tommy Helms again
replaced Rose ... this time as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. In the meantime,
Rose had broken and set the all-time records for games, wins, plate appearances, at-bats, hits
and times on base.
Pete Rose did not believe in "rest days." Toward the end of the 1975 season,
with the Reds on their way to 108 wins and up by 20 games, manager Sparky
Anderson would repeatedly tell the 34-year-old Rose that he was going to give
him a day off. "Like hell you are!" Rose would shout back. Seven years later, at
age 41, Rose was still playing 162 games. At age 44, like a superannuated
Energizer bunny, Rose was on base nearly 200 times. He ended up playing more
games than any player in major league baseball history. How
did he do it? Baseball's Mr. Indestructible had a
record 17 seasons with 600 or more at-bats, and a record 23 consecutive seasons
with 100 or more games played. Lou Gehrig played his last full season at age 35,
Cal Ripken at age 37. They are considered to be baseball's iron men.
But Pete Rose played a remarkable 1,702 games from age 34 to 45, amassing 2,026
hits during his sunset years. That's more hits than the following baseball legends had in their entire careers: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Home
Run Baker, Hack Wilson, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Bill Dickey, Tony Oliva, Earle
Combs, Bob Meusel, Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane and Hank Greenberg. Hell,
Rose almost out-hit the celebrated hall-of-fame double play combination of
Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance by himself!
Pete Rose was major league baseball's last playing manager, for the Cincinnati
Reds from 1984-1986.
Barry Larkin played on teams with Pete Rose Sr. and Pete Rose Jr. (The elder
Rose bested his son by a mere 4,254 hits!)
Yogi Berra was a great catcher, but not so great at math. For instance, he explained
that "baseball is ninety percent mental, and the
other half is physical." And he once instructed players to "pair up in threes."
Geometry wasn't his strong suit either: "You better cut the pizza in four pieces
because I'm not hungry enough to eat six." Yogi wasn't much better at history,
observing that "Napoleon had his Watergate." Nor was Yogi good at biology,
claiming that he didn't know if streakers were male or female because they wore
bags on their heads!
Casey Stengel rivaled Yogi Berra's talent for malapropisms. For
once told his players: "Everybody line up alphabetically according to your
The Chicago Cubs went 108 years between World Series appearances. There are 108
stitches in a baseball, which was designed by A. G. Spalding, the Cubs pitcher
who was also their first manager. The movie Taking Care of Business, which
shows the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, is 108 minutes long. The Cubs
similarly won the World Series in the movie Back To The Future II, which is also
108 minutes long. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist wears No. 18 = 10 + 8. The last
time the Cubs won a World Series game was on 10/8 in 1945. The final game went
10 innings and the Cubs scored 8 runs. There is
a long list of such "strange but true" coincidences.
The 1953 McClymonds High School baseball team surely had the best outfield in
the history of high school baseball. Hell, it may have rivaled the best
outfields in the history of major league baseball! Frank Robinson was a
fourteen-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, a triple crown winner, and the
first player to be named MVP in both leagues. He finished with 586 home runs,
1,829 runs and 1,812 RBI. Vada Pinson was a four-time All-Star and Gold Glove
winner who finished with 2,757 hits, 1,365 runs and 305 steals. Curt Flood was a
three-time All-Star who won seven consecutive Gold Gloves and hit .300 or higher
Curt Flood was aptly named. He could be "curt" with foolish owners, and he
helped "flood" other players with money when he sued baseball commissioner Bowie
Kuhn over the reserve clause in 1970, an action that eventually led to the "Curt
Flood rule," free agency and multi-million-dollar contracts.
Andy Messersmith was one of the first major beneficiaries of Curt Flood opening
pro baseball's money floodgates. Messersmith had perhaps the most unusual
nickname and number to appear together on a baseball uniform. Ted Turner, the
owner of the Atlanta Braves, also owned the first TV superstation: WTBS (which
aired on channel 17). When the Braves signed Messersmith as one of baseball's
first millionaire free agents in 1976, Turner gave him the nickname "Channel"
and assigned him uniform number 17. Thus his new ace pitcher became a walking,
talking, strike-out-throwing human billboard!
Here is an example of the "Curt Flood Effect":
Babe Ruth's highest annual salary was $80,000. That works out to around $150 per
at-bat. In his final year, Derek Jeter made $269,841.27 per at-bat. Talk about
Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. became the first father and son to play in
the same major league baseball game when they took the field together for the
Seattle Mariners on August 31, 1990. In their first game together, with Sr.
hitting second and Jr. hitting third, they both got singles, so they ended up on
the basepaths together as well! Later that season, they would hit back-to-back
Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader with 762, had excellent baseball
bloodlines. His father was Bobby Bonds, a three-time gold glove winner for the
San Francisco Giants who was a member of the 30/30 club a record five times.
Reggie Jackson was his
cousin and Willie Mays was his godfather! Together Bobby and Barry Bonds own
the MLB records for combined "family" home runs, RBIs, and stolen bases.
"Home Run" Baker never hit more than 12 home runs in a season, failed to hit 100
home runs for his career, and averaged fewer than 8 home runs per year.
Modern pitchers are pampered sissies, compared to Hoss Radbourn, who really was
a Hoss despite standing only 5' 9" and weighing 168 pounds. In 1884 he started
73 games and completed all of them, accumulating a staggering
Before you tell a young hitter not to "bail out" or "step in the bucket," please
consider the case of "Bucketfoot" Al Simmons, who won two batting titles, hit
.338 for his career, and drove in an amazing 1,828 runs while consistently
violating baseball's cardinal hitting rule!
Mel Ott was another great hitter with an unorthodox batting style. Ott, who
stood only 5'9" and weighed a mere 170 pounds, would lift his forward (right)
foot high into the air, prior to making contact. Ott became the first NL hitter
to surpass 500 home runs, and he led the Giants in home runs for 18
Ed Delahanty "bailed out" in a different way, when he got drunk and was kicked
off a train into the Niagara Falls, where he drowned
in 1903. Delahanty's .346 lifetime batting average was exceeded only by Ty Cobb
(.366), Rogers Hornsby (.358) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (.356).
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson earned his nickname when he removed his shoes during a
game because he had blisters on his feet. Jackson was accused of "fixing" the
1919 World Series, despite setting a record that stood till 1964 by compiling 12
hits and hitting .375. He did not commit an error, and threw out a runner at the
plate. So it is very hard to understand how he "threw" anything. "Shoeless Joe"
spent the last 30 years of his life denying that he had "fixed" the series.
Name the first switch hitter to win an AL batting title and the first
switch hitter to win the NL title. Hint: One of them said of the other: “If
I'd had to hit all those singles, I would have worn a dress.” Answer: Mickey
Mantle (1956-AL) was dissing Pete Rose
(1968-NL). But ironically Rose finished with 1,241 more total bases than Mantle!
All those singles and doubles really did add up. Mantle had 10 seasons with 270
or more total bases, but Rose had 11 such seasons. And while Rose is not generally regarded as a
slugger, he had only 41 fewer career total bases than the Sultan of Swat
himself, Babe Ruth. Rose had
more total bases than Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx and Reggie
Jackson. Furthermore, Rose had more than a thousand total bases more
than Rogers Hornsby, Sammy Sosa, Ernie Banks and Mike Schmidt. And he had more
than two thousand total bases more than Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Johnny Mize,
Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra. Yes, all those singles and doubles really did add
up, over time.
Known as "Charlie Hustle," Pete Rose once said, "I'd walk through hell in a
gasoline suit to play baseball."
Pete Rose was famous for his no-holds-barred style of play: for instance, his
violent collision with Ray Fosse when Fosse blocked the plate at the 1970
all-star game. But did you know that Rose had invited Fosse over for dinner the
In 1968, Bob Gibson went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA that included a 95-inning stretch
in which he allowed only two runs. Catcher Tim McCarver called Gibson the
luckiest man in baseball because "he is always pitching when the other team
doesn't score any runs."
Pud Galvin was baseball's first 300 game winner and he ranks second only to Cy
Young in complete games and innings pitched. His physique gave him the nickname
Pudding, which was shortened to the slightly more dignified Pud. Galvin may have been
baseball's first-ever PED user because he admitted to drinking an elixir that
contained monkey testosterone, way back in 1889!
Ted Williams has been called the "greatest hitter in the history of baseball"
and the "greatest fly fisherman in the world." He was also John Glenn's wingman during the Korean War. Talk about star
power (not to mention starman power). “John Glenn? Oh, could he fly an
airplane!” Williams once said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
“Absolutely fearless. The best I ever saw. It was an honor to fly with him.” And
Glenn may have saved his wingman's life. After getting hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire,
Williams's F9F Panther jet was ablaze. Glenn flew next to his wing and pointed
up. Flying higher into thinner air, the fire was extinguished, allowing Williams
to make it back home safely.
Ted Williams was the best pure hitter to ever play the game. He has
the highest OBP (on base percentage) of all-time, at .4817. Basically, he ended
up safely on base nearly every other at-bat. If the totals for the five seasons
he missed while fighting for his country were similar to what he produced in the
closest years that he actually played, it has been estimated that the Splendid
Splinter would have finished with something like 3,500 hits, 700 doubles, 100
triples, 700 home runs, 6,500 total bases, 2,700 walks, 2,400 runs and 2,500
RBI. That would make him the all-time leader in walks, runs and RBI, and in the top ten
for every major offensive category other than stolen bases. He remains the only
player to hit .400 in the modern era, and he once reached base a record 16
William "Dummy" Hoy was the first deaf player ever to play Major League
Baseball, but he was no slouch. Hoy finished his career with a .288 batting
average, 2,044 total hits and 596 stolen bases.
It's easy as pie to guess the best-hitting pitcher of all time: Babe Ruth, duh!
But who was the worst-hitting pitcher of all time? Bob Buhl had the worst
season. In 1962 he went 0-for-70; including the end of the 1961 season and the
start of 1963, he had an 0-for-87 streak. That's amazingly bad! For a
career, Dean Chance had a truly abysmal 406 strikeouts in 662 at-bats, and
a career batting average of .066. If we drop down to a minimum 200 at-bats, Ron Herbel somehow managed to hit .029 for his career.
Who was the best-hitting
pitcher of modern times? Ken Brett, the brother of George Brett. For his career,
Ken Brett hit .262 and slugged an impressive .406, with 10 homers and 44 RBI. He set a
record for pitchers by hitting home runs in four consecutive starts when he
played for Philadelphia in 1973, and he once hit a pinch-hit triple and drove in
two runs. He was also the youngest pitcher to pitch in a World Series, at age
nineteen. Going back in time, Wes Ferrell had a career batting average of .280.
Which pitcher hit for the most power? The great Walter Johnson had several years
in which he hit as many or more home runs than the teams he faced! The Big Train
slammed 94 doubles, an astonishing 41 triples, and an impressive 24 career home
runs. He drove in 255 runs and his 795 total bases are, by far, the greatest
number of total bases by a pitcher. Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale were other great
pitchers who hit with power, at times, with more than 20 career homers, but they
fall far short of the Big Train's total bases and RBI.
Jim Deshaies holds the record for the most at-bats without an extra-base hit,
with 373 (he hit .088 for his career).
Okay, we expect pitchers to be pitiful hitters! But who was the worst-hitting
MLB position player of all time? In modern times, Mario Mendoza was such a bad
hitter that his name became a synecdoche for offensive ineptitude. That is,
batting below "the Mendoza line" means hitting below
.200. In nine big league seasons, Mendoza failed to reach the .200 mark five
times, with a career best of just .245. In 1,456 plate appearances, he
compiled a batting average of .215. Still, Mendoza was far from the worst
hitter of all time! Catcher Bill Bergen (1901-11) came to bat more than 3,000
times and somehow managed to slash .170/.194/.201. Yes, that's a .201 slugging
percentage! His career OPS+ was a microscopic 21. In
1909, Bergen hit .139, the lowest-ever average for a player who qualified for
the batting title. That season, he set another record for futility by going 46
at-bats in a row without a base hit, the longest streak ever by a position
player! While there may be a debate about the greatest hitter ever to play the
game―Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, et al―there seems to
be no debate whatsoever about the worst hitter ever to grab a bat!
At just 15 years of age, Joe Nuxhall of the Cincinnati Reds was the youngest
player to ever appear in a Major League Baseball game.
Satchel Paige was the oldest rookie in major league baseball history, at age 42
in 1948. He made all-star teams in 1952 and 1953, at ages 46-47, but was
released after the 1953 season. Paige played one more major
league game in 1965 at age 59, in a publicity stunt engineered by
controversial Kansas City Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. Paige sat in a bullpen
rocking chair before the game and had a "nurse" who brought him coffee. But
he threw three scoreless innings, then left the game with the crowd singing "The
Old Gray Mare."
Paige was the oldest MLB all-star, at age 47. Pete Rose was the oldest position
player to appear in an all-star game, at age 44, plus three months.
Julio Franco retired as the oldest position player in modern baseball history,
at age 49 in 2007. A few years later in 2012, Jamie Moyer retired at the age of
49 as the oldest pitcher in MLB history to record a win in his final season.
Home run champions
Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth both scored exactly the same number of runs in their
careers: 2,174. What are the odds?
Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Cesar Gerónimo was the 3000th strikeout victim of
both Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson.
Young holds the major league baseball record of 7,356 innings pitched. To break
that record, a pitcher would have to
throw 300 innings per year for 24.5 years, or 200 innings for 36.7
years! It seems safe to say that this is one record that will not only never be
Ralph Kiner is the only player ever to lead a league in home runs for seven
years in a row — and he did it his first seven years as a major league player!
Kiner evidently never heard of rookie jitters, or a sophomore slump.
Rick Ankiel was an "uber-prospect" with "amazing movement on his pitches." But
after a decent rookie year, he started to uncork wild pitch after wild
pitch. Eventually, he had to give up pitching. However, he made a comeback as an
outfielder with one of the strongest and most accurate outfield throwing arms
in the majors. Ironically, the player who lost his accuracy as a pitcher from 60
feet 6 inches away was able to unleash some of the strongest, most accurate
throws from the outfield distance that we'll ever
C. C. Sabathia once led both leagues in shutouts, in the same season! In
2008, he threw two shutouts for the Cleveland Indians, tying for the AL lead
with seven other pitchers. He was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he
threw three shutouts, tying his teammate Ben Sheets for the NL lead.
Baseball players played barehanded, sans gloves, until the 1870s. But gloves did
not help some of the more "challenged" defenders ...
Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax became unable to make routine
throws to first base, committing 30 errors in 1983. The phenomena was called the
"Steve Sax Syndrome." Fans who sat behind first base at Dodger Stadium would don
batting helmets, professing to have no idea where Sax's errant throws might
land. But Sax did eventually recover, going on to lead AL second basemen in
fielding percentage and double plays in 1989.
Jose Canseco was a notoriously poor defensive outfielder. But in 1993 he exceeded all
negative expectations when he turned a long fly ball by Cleveland's
Carlos Martinez into a home run by "heading" it into the stands.
Pete Incaviglia was such a notoriously poor defensive outfielder that his
nickname was "Oops."
Curt Blefary was given the nickname "Clank" by teammate Frank Robinson, who
claimed it was the sound the ball made when it banged against Blefary's glove.
Outfielder Smead Jolley was one of the most challenged defensive players in the
history of the game. Jolley once
made three errors on a single play, having the ball somehow go through his legs
twice. But the official scorer took pity on poor Jolley,
giving him only two errors.
Glenn Liebman quoted a teammate of Babe Herman as saying:
"Babe wore a glove for only one reason. It was a league custom. The glove
would last him a minimum of six years because it rarely made contact with the
ball." Liebman quoted another source as saying that Herman did get a bit
better later in his career: "Herman improved greatly in his ninth season. He
still hadn't caught a ball yet, but he was getting a lot closer." Herman led NL
first basemen in errors in 1927, then changed positions ... only to lead NL
outfielders in errors the next two years, playing right field. And Herman was
not much better as a base runner. He was
one thrown out by 48-year-old Cardinals manager Gabby Street, who had been
forced into emergency duty as a catcher. Twice he turned home runs into
singles by standing and gawking while teammates passed him on the basepaths. For
such snafus, Herman was dubbed "The Headless Horseman of Ebbets Field."
Pete Browning was one of the worst fielders in major league baseball history. One of Browning's managers
claimed the team would be better off with a wooden statue of an Indian in
the outfield, since there was at least a chance a batted ball might
strike the statue and bounce back in the direction of the field! Browning's
baserunning was also considered sub-par, exacerbated by his refusal to slide.
On defense he would stand on one leg to avoid
collisions with baserunners. According to some accounts, he was drunk! If
so, he could apparently hit drunk, as his career batting average of .341 is one
of the highest on record. He was reported to have
said: "I can't hit the ball until I hit the bottle!"
Pete Browning was the inspiration for the
"Louisville Slugger" line of baseball bats. Browning was known as the
"Louisville Slugger" for his impressive power. He was the first player to
purchase a bat from the company and they adopted the name a few years later to
capitalize on his fame.
Browning was also known as "The Gladiator," although sources differ as to
whether the nickname applied to his struggles with ownership, the press, his
drinking problem, or those elusive fly balls!
When Browning signed with the Pittsburg franchise, he helped give it the
nickname "Pirates." Other teams claimed that it was an act of "piracy" for
Pittsburg to sign free agents (a revolutionary idea at the time).
Nolan Ryan was the greatest strikeout artist of all time, but he struck out as a
glove man with a career fielding
percentage of .895!
Bill Dahlen holds the all-time record for most errors 1,080. He committed 86
errors in a single season while playing for the Chicago Colts in 1895.
Adam Dunn almost holds the distinction of leading the league in errors at two
different positions! In 2006, Dunn led all NL outfielders in errors with 12. In
2010, he finished second in errors at first base, to Ryan Howard, with 13.
But who was the absolute worst defender in the history of major league baseball?
Maybe Herman Long, a shortstop who made 1,096 errors
in 1,882 games, or more than an error every other game! His career fielding
percentage was .908.
Going from the ridiculous to the sublime: Brooks Robinson is the
greatest defensive third baseman ever with 16 straight Gold Gloves and 11 seasons
leading the AL in fielding percentage. After Robinson's tour de force in the
1970 World Series, Sparky Anderson said, "He can throw his glove out there and
it will start 10 double plays by itself."
Pete Gray was right-handed, until he lost his right arm at age seven or eight.
Gray played 77 games in the outfield for the St. Louis Browns in 1945,
hitting .218 with six doubles and two triples. He was a competent fielder, even
playing center field, but struggled to hit breaking balls in the majors. Because
he had only one hand, once he started his swing, he was unable to check it or
adjust his timing. He did not play in the majors after 1945.
In 1884, Hugh "One Arm" Daily had a season for the ages, throwing four
one-hitters, striking out a then-record 19 batters in a game, and finishing with
a record 483 strikeouts for the season. But the competition was watered down,
his career was soon over, and he retired with a record of 73-87.
Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown was the victim of a farming accident with a food
chopper. However, his loss of two fingers led to a grip that gave him a
devastating curveball, which both curved and sank. His career ERA of 2.06 is the
best in MLB history for pitchers with 200 or more wins.
"Slug" was an appropriate label for the hard-hitting Harry Heilmann.
He was a slugger, and the
contrast between the thunder in his lumber and his slow feet made the nickname
doubly appropriate. Heilmann won four batting titles, and his .403 average in
1923 made him the last AL right-hander to hit over .400 in a full season. What
would he have hit if he had possessed Ty Cobb's speed?
Luke Appling, the man called "Old Aches and Pains," was famous for complaining,
but that rarely kept him off the field. He finished his career as baseball's
all-time leader in games and double plays at shortstop.
Dick Sharon once said of Nolan Ryan, baseball's all-time strikeout leader
nicknamed the Ryan Express, "He's baseball's exorcist; he scares the devil out of
Jim Palmer won three Cy Young awards, and four Gold Gloves, and won 20 or more
games eight times, but he may be most famous for modeling underwear.
Which two players in the modern era had the highest on-base percentages at age
43 or older? Answer: Reds teammates Pete Rose (.364) and Tony Pérez (.363), in a
virtual tie. Rose also had two of the top ten batting averages of all time for
players age 43 and older. Pérez has the highest slugging percentage (.410) for
such players. Rose and Pérez rank in the top ten in nearly every major batting
category for players age 43 and older. If we expand the category to players age
40 and over, Rose leads all players in the modern era in games, at bats, plate
appearances, hits, walks, times on base, singles, doubles, triples, total bases
and runs created. And he ranks in the top ten in nearly every category other
than homers and slugging. It seems safe to say that Pete Rose was, overall, the
greatest player of the modern era from age 40 to retirement.
Kid Nichols almost always finished what he started, completing 532 of his 562
The argument can be made that Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball
player of all time, because Ruth was one of the best pitchers of his era before
he became its best power hitter. His career ERA of 2.28 is the 17th best of all
time, and half the pitchers who rank above him are mysterious figures from baseball's
distant dead-ball days. Ruth was a winner, ranking
11th in career winning percentage at .671. And he was at his best on the biggest
stage of all. Ruth pitched 29 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series: a
record that stood for 42 years. He was 3-0 in the
World Series with a microscopic ERA of 0.87. According to CBS Sports, Ruth is
one of the ten greatest World Series pitchers of all time. According to Game
Score, Ruth's 14 innings of one-run ball in game two of the 1916 Fall Classic
remains the single greatest start in World Series history by any pitcher, ever.
The New York Yankees are the most successful major league baseball team of all
time. Who is the pitcher with the best won-lost percentage of any hurler with at
least with 15 wins against the Yankees? Babe Ruth, who was 17-5 with a .773
winning percentage against the Yankees, while pitching for the Red Sox!
However, Babe Ruth was not the most versatile baseball superstar. That honor
goes to Pete Rose, who was an all-star at five different positions: 2B, LF, RF,
3B and 1B. Rose also played CF, and was even a player-manager! And he was
all-world at those five positions, making 17 all-star teams, earning two Gold
Gloves, and appearing in the MVP rolls a remarkable 15 times.
Cap Anson is in the baseball hall of fame, and was the first player to tally
3,000 hits. But he was also a champion balkline billiards player and won a
national title as part of a five-man bowling team. He was also an avid golfer.
Speaking of golf, Brooks Koepka, the winner of two consecutive U.S. Open golf
championships, says his true love is baseball. He's the nephew of Dick Groat, an
NL MVP and eight-time all-star for the Pittsburg Pirates. Groat is the only
athlete to be elected to both the college baseball and basketball halls of fame.
He was a two-time All-American at Duke, and the Helms national player of the
year in 1952 after averaging 25.2 points per game. Groat played one season in
the NBA, averaging 11.9 points per game, before deciding to concentrate on
Bo Jackson is the only athlete to be named an all-star in two major American
sports: baseball and football. He also won the Heisman trophy and was named the
greatest athlete of all time by ESPN. He was a two-time Alabama state champion
in the decathlon, setting state high school records for indoor high-jump (6'9")
and triple-jump (48'8"). Jackson's 221 yards on November 30, 1987, just 29 days
after his first NFL carry, is still a Monday Night Football record. His NFL
career rushing average of 5.40 yards per carry is third-best of all time, and
better than Jim Brown's, Walter Payton's and Emmitt Smith's. Jackson was a very
rare athlete: able to throw a football 60 years, run 4.2 in the 40-yard dash,
and bench press over 400 pounds. Was he the greatest dual-sport athlete ever?
Or was Jim Brown the best multi-sport athlete of all time? He was named the best NFL
player of all time by the Sporting News. He was also called the best
lacrosse player in his day. And he averaged 38 points per game as a high school
basketball player (his scoring record was later broken by another great
multi-sport athlete, Carl Yastrzemski).
Or was the best multi-sport athlete Jim Thorpe, who has also been called the
world's greatest athlete? Thorpe excelled in
baseball, football, basketball, track and field, lacrosse ... even ballroom
dancing! A Native American, and a descendent of the legendary Chief Black Hawk,
Thorpe was relegated to his tribe's reservation until he participated in
athletics for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (which competed in NCAA
events). Thorpe led Carlisle to back-to-back National Championships in football,
and was a three-time All-American. In a game against top-ranked
Harvard, Thorpe scored all his team's points in an 18-15 upset, kicking four
field goals! Thorpe also won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing
championship. He won gold medals in the 1928 Olympic games for Pentathlon and
Decathlon, with records that would not be bested for 36 years. Thorpe played professional football, professional baseball, and
barnstormed as a professional basketball player. In his
best major league baseball season, he hit .327 for Boston. He was named to the
first All-NFL team, and even co-founded and served as the first president of the
American Professional Football Association, which became the NFL. In 1950, the
national press selected Jim Thorpe as the most outstanding athlete of the first
half of the 20th Century. He was also named Athlete of the Century by ABC's Wide
World of Sports. Among his amazing athletic accomplishments, he once high-jumped
5'9" in street clothes (heavy overalls), and kicked a wind-assisted 95-yard
Who is the only player to hit a major league home run and score an NFL touchdown
in the same week? "Neon" Deion Sanders hit a home run for the NY Yankees on
September 5, 1989, then followed up four days later
with a 68-yard touchdown return for the Atlanta Falcons. He's also the only person to play in the World Series and the
Jackie Robinson was not just the first African-American to play major league
baseball; he was a dynamic multi-sport athlete. In high school Robinson played
shortstop and catcher on the baseball team, quarterback on the football team,
and guard on the basketball team. With the track and field squad, he dominated
the broad jump. He was also a member of the tennis team. In 1936, Robinson won
the boys' singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis
Tournament. Robinson was
UCLA's first athlete to play four varsity sports:
baseball, basketball, football, and track. Robinson won the 1940 NCAA
long jump title, jumping over 24 feet.
Oddly enough, baseball was Robinson's worst sport at UCLA!
Robinson played football semi-professionally before
serving in WWII. During his
10 major league baseball seasons, Robinson excelled, making 6 all-star games and winning
the 1949 NL MVP award.
Forget what you've been told:
Jackie Robinson wasn't the first black athlete to play major league baseball, or
even the second! On July 15, 1884, Weldy Wilberforce Walker―also
known as Welday Walker and W. W. Walker―became the
second African American to play in the majors. So who was the first? None other
than his brother, Moses Fleetwood Walker! Their father, Moses W. Walker, was a
minister and one of Ohio's first black physicians. "Fleet" Walker became the
first African American to play a varsity sport for the University of Michigan,
where he starred on the baseball team. He then became the first African American
player in the majors on May 1, 1884 (a few months before his younger brother
joined him on the Toledo Blue Stockings, then a major league franchise). But
apparently Cap Anson, then baseball's greatest superstar, refused to take the
field against the Walkers, and they were forced out of the majors and soon
thereafter the minors as well. Major league baseball would have an impregnable
color barrier for more than half a century, until Jackie Robinson broke it for
good on April 15, 1947.
But hold on, because the plot thickens! There is reason to believe that William
Edward White may have predated Jackie Robinson by 68 years, and the Walker
brothers by five. White played one game as substitute for the Providence Grays
of the National League on June 21, 1879. According to research by SABR, he may
have been born a slave in 1860, but having lighter skin was able to pass for white.
If the research is correct, White was not only the first African American to
play major league baseball, but the only former slave as well.
Danny Ainge is the only athlete in the history of the United States to be named
a high school All-American in three sports: football, basketball and baseball.
John Elway starred at baseball and football. He was picked in the first round by the Yankees
and hit .314 with a club-high 24 homers with the Yankees' single-A farm club.
Elway was the first pick in the 1983 NFL draft and went on to a storied NFL
career with two Super Bowl victories in his final two seasons.
Which Hall of Fame pitchers played basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters?
Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson.
Who is the only player to play on championship teams in both MLB and the
NBA? Gene Conley with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves World Series Champs and 1959-61
Boston Celtics NBA Champs.
Chuck Connors, the actor best known as TV's the Rifleman, is one of 12 athletes
play in the NBA (Celtics) and MLB (Dodgers/Cubs). Conneos was also drafted by
the NFL's Chicago Bears and is credited with being the first player to shatter
an NBA backboard, in 1946.
Which major league baseball player scored 33 runs and stole 31 bases without
ever making a plate appearance? Herb Washington, a former Michigan State
All-American sprinter who played exclusively as a pinch runner for the Oakland A's in
Nicknamed the "Mechanical Man," Charlie Gehringer batted .300 or better 13
times, scored 100 runs or more 12 times and collected 200 hits seven times.
Pitcher Lefty Gomez marveled at Gehringer's remarkable consistency, saying:
"Charlie Gehringer is in a rut. He hits .350 on Opening Day and stays there all
A creature of habit, Wade Boggs would eat chicken before every game, take the
exact same number of ground balls and run sprints at exactly the same time. That
discipline served him well at the plate, as Boggs might have had the best
batting eye the game has ever seen. As George Brett said in 1988 about Boggs: "A
woman will be elected president before Wade Boggs is called out on strikes. I
New York Yankee Don Larsen, a mediocre 81-91 lifetime pitcher, pitched the only
perfect game in World Series history on October 8, 1956. Oddly, Larsen's wife
filed for divorce that same day.
From April 30, 1982 to September 19, 1990, Cal Ripken Jr. played 2,632 straight
games, which means he didn't miss a single game in sixteen years.
How many times was Roger Maris intentionally walked the year he hit 61 homers?
Answer: Zero. (Mickey Mantle hit behind him.)
Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs three times. How many of
those years did he lead the league in home runs? Answer: Zero. (Mark McGwire hit
more in 1998 and 1999, while Barry Bonds hit more in 2001.)
Fidel Castro was a star baseball player for the University of Havana.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Americans used their knowledge of baseball to
determine whether soldiers were really Americans, or German infiltrators wearing American
MLB made a rule during WWII, which said that in the event of an enemy bombing,
whoever led after five innings would be declared the winner.
Baseball player Moe Berg (1902-1972) was a linguist. He used Latin rather than
hand signals to communicate on the field. His knowledge of languages made him a
useful spy after his baseball career ended.
On June 11 and 15, 1938, Johnny Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters for
the Cincinnati Reds. The second no-no was pitched at Ebbets Field and was the
first night game ever played there.
Johnny Bench, a Hall of Fame catcher, could hold seven baseballs in one hand.
Pitcher Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, yet had a ten-season baseball
career which included throwing a no-hitter for the New York Yankees vs. Cleveland in
On July 17, 1990, the Twins entered the history books when they turned the
ultimate rally killer twice. Playing the Red Sox, the first triple-dip occurred
in the bottom of the fourth inning, the second in the bottom of the
eighth. Incredibly, the Twins still managed to lose the game. The next day, the
Twins and Red Sox set more history: they combined for the most double plays
ever, a game the Twins also managed to lose.
Babe Ruth wore a wet cabbage leaf under his cap during games, to keep cool. He
would change it for a new one every two innings.
A teenage girl named Jackie Mitchell rocked baseball in the 1930s. Mitchell was
one of the first female baseball players. Her father began teaching
her to play baseball as soon as she could hold a ball. She was
neighbors with Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance, who taught her what became her
signature pitch: a devastating sinker. When she was 17, she began touring with
different teams. At one point she struck out nine
batters in a row. Joe Engle spotted her in 1931 and signed her to a contract to
play for the Chattanooga Lookouts, a AA club. It was with
this team that she faced the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth himself. She struck him out on three swinging strikes. Lou Gehrig came
up next, and
struck out on three consecutive sinkers. But she ruffled too many male feathers,
her contract was voided, and she wasn't allowed to play ball with the boys anymore.
Warren Spahn retired with 363
wins and exactly the same number of hits.
On July 27, 1930 Reds pitcher Ken Ash was brought into a game against the Cubs
with two on and no outs. He delivered one pitch which resulted in a triple play.
Ash was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the inning, and the Reds staged a rally
to win the game 6-5. Thus Ash entered the history books as the only man to win a
MLB game with a single pitch.
Late in the 1957 season, the Dodgers were getting ready to move out west
(unknown to their fans), and the Cubs were going nowhere (as usual). Both teams
decided they needed some new blood down on the farm and traded their
entire 25-man rosters. If it wasn't the strangest trade ever, it was certainly
Joel Youngblood was a center fielder for the Mets; in 1982, they were playing
the Cubs in Chicago, Youngblood struck out his first at-bat but knocked a single
his next. After the Cubbies had retired the Mets in the top of the inning,
Youngblood was informed that he had been traded to the Expos. He arrived in Philadelphia,
where the Expos were playing the Phillies, mid-way through the game. Coming in
as a pinch hitter, Youngblood recorded his second hit of a very long day!
The Yankees, Cubs, Angels and Dodgers are the only four MLB teams that lack a
mascot. The Yankees used to have one, but he quit after being beaten up by fans.
Jason Varitek is the only person to have played in the Little League World
Series, the National Championship of the College World Series, the MLB World
Series, Olympic Baseball, and the World Baseball Classic. He also caught a
record four no-hitters during his career.
MLB umpires are required to wear black underwear, in case they
split their pants.
In 1978, during a match between Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, a fan
suffered a heart attack. His life was saved by a baseball player, George "Doc"
In 1962 the New York Mets traded for Harry Chiti in exchange for a player to be
named later. That player ended up being Harry Chiti. Thus Chiti was traded for
In the third inning of his May 10, 2013 start against the Padres, Alex Cobb
faced four hitters, struck out all four and still gave up a run (WP,
SB, SB, balk).
In 1930 when asked how he felt about holding out for a salary higher than President
Herbert Hoover's, Babe Ruth laconically replied, "Why not, I had a better year
than he did."
On the other hand, the worst professional season of all time undoubtedly
belonged to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who went 20-134 and finished last in the
NL, 84 games behind the pennant winner, Brooklyn. The Spiders averaged 145
paying fans per game, lost 40 of their last 41 games, and folded forever at the
end of the season. Their pitching staff gave up more than eight runs per game.
"Marvelous Marv" Throneberry was the worst player on the worst team of all time.
Playing for the 120-loss Mets in 1962, Throneberry set a record for lowest fielding
percentage by a first baseman (.981). He once hit a triple, but was called out after
missing both first and second base. Like Bob Uecker, Throneberry turned
ineptitude into glory, with the help of Miller Lite commercials. "If I do for
Lite what I did for baseball," he said, "I'm afraid their sales will go down."
Jimmy Breslin agreed. He once wrote that "Having Marv Throneberry play for your
team is like having Willie Sutton work for your bank."
Mets manager Casey Stengel once told Throneberry: "We was going to get you a
birthday cake, but we figured you'd drop it."
Almost as amusing as Marv Throneberry was catcher Choo Choo Coleman, a career
.197 hitter. Stengel didn't think too highly of
Coleman, explaining how he kept his job: "You have to have a catcher or you'll have all passed
Butch Hobson committed a whopping 43 errors at the hot corner in 1978, finishing
the season with an .899 fielding percentage, one of the lowest at any position
for a full-time player in the modern era. But at least he was consistent, as his career
fielding percentage wasn't much better, at .927.
Bob Kammeyer gave up only eight runs pitching for the Yankees in 1979.
Unfortunately, he never recorded an out, and ended the season with an earned run
average of infinity. (Infinity being only slightly worse than his 1978 ERA of 5.82.)
In May of 1912, a man named Claude Lueker, who had no hands, heckled Ty Cobb by
calling the Georgia Peach—an infamous bigot—"half a nigger." Cobb entered
the stands and slugged Lueker repeatedly, ignoring the pleas of fans for him to
stop beating up a man with no hands. When Cobb was suspended for
the assault, his teammates went on strike until Cobb was reinstated. To
avoid paying hefty fines and forfeiting the next game, the Tigers had to find
replacement players. Aloysius Travers was one of those replacements: a violist
and college student, the priest-in-training was assistant manager of the St.
Joseph's College baseball team. In his one major league appearance, Travers
pitched a complete game, allowing 26 hits and 24 runs (but only 14 were earned).
Bill Bergen was an
excellent defensive catcher—perhaps the best of his day. Unfortunately, Bergen has the lowest career batting
average of any player with at least 2,500 at bats. He hit .170 with two career
Tony Suck sucked long before the word "suck" came to mean what it
does today. Suck's offense sucked; he had a career on-base percentage of .205, a slugging percentage of .161, and zero home
runs. Incredibly, his defense was worse. Suck's fielding percentage was .894
behind the plate, .783 in the outfield, and .754 at shortstop.
Rabbit Maranville was famously fast
(hence the nickname Rabbit). But the hall-of-famer was not a
particularly effective hitter or base stealer. His career OPS+ was 82. He stole 291 bases and was caught 112
times, and that's with 14 years of caught-stealing numbers missing!
In 1972, Mike Kekich and his teammate Fritz Peterson traded families. They
swapped wives, children, dogs and houses!
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