The Top 200 Moments That Shaped MLB's History
In 1994, PBS aired the documentary Baseball by Ken Burns. Right at the start, it offered one of the best introductions that anyone could give about the sport. It opened by saying the following:
It is played everywhere: in parks and playgrounds, prison yards, in back alleys and farmers’ fields; by small boys and old men, raw amateurs and millionaire professionals. It is a leisurely game that demands blinding speed; the only game in which the defense has the ball. It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime and ending with the hard facts of autumn.
Major League Baseball dates almost as far back as the Civil War and has had so many incredible moments and characters that it's nearly impossible to keep track of them all.
Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of games have been played over the years, you can still go to the ballpark and expect to see something that has never been accomplished before.
This slideshow attempts to rank the 200 events that shaped the game into what it is today. It's topics include on-field events, immortal players, baseball in popular culture, legendary managers, umpires, announcers and events that transcended the sport and impacted society.
Events range from the tragic to the absurd, from the historically significant to the sublime.
Perhaps the best thing about this list is that there are hundreds of other players and incidents that were left off and are open for debate. That's another thing great about this sport.
Here's the list of the 200 events that defined, shaped and changed Major League Baseball, starting right at the top.
1. Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier (1947)
When looking for the one event that changed the face of Major League Baseball more than any other, look no further than Jackie Robinson.
Integration in baseball was one of the rare instances in which the game not only transcended sports, but had a huge impact on society itself.
Robinson's debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers came in 1947, a full eight years before the recognized beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
The class displayed by Robinson while facing horrendous racism by many in and out of the game went a long way in helping to shape public perception of blacks in America.
When Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, 26,623 fans showed up to Ebbets Field, an estimated 14,000 of which were black baseball fans.
Robinson faced some doubts about the situation on his own team at first, but manager Leo Durocher put an end to that. Teammate Pee Wee Reese also stood up for Robinson as he became accepted by his own club.
Other teams around the Major Leagues were a different story.
In fact, it was said that the Phillies were so over-the-top with their racial slurs that it actually united the Dodgers' roster even more, as every player on the team now accepted Robinson as one of their own.
Not long after Robinson's debut, other black players like Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe broke into the majors, and racial tensions began to ease.
Robinson was a key cog in the Brooklyn Dodgers' World Series championship team of 1955, and he went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
Robinson's impact on the game and on American society as a whole was so profound that it is hard to quantify.
While the other events on this list all shaped the game of baseball, Jackie Robinson's debut in the Major Leagues helped change society in America.
2. Red Sox Sell Babe Ruth to Yankees (1920)
Of all the events that changed the course of baseball, the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees has to rank at or near the top.
Imagine a world in which Babe Ruth was the face of the Red Sox franchise instead of the Yankees?
Without the sale, the Yankees don't have Murderer's Row, the "called shot," four World Series titles between 1923 to 1932, the Lou Gehrig-Babe Ruth combination and so many other historical events.
Sure, Ruth would have had his accomplishments in Boston, and who knows what he could have done there. But baseball wouldn't be the same if Ruth never made it to the Yankees.
From 1914-1919 Ruth was one of the top pitchers in the game for the Red Sox. He led the league with a 1.75 ERA in 1916 and won 20 games in 1916 and 1917. However, he was also emerging as a valuable power hitter.
Ruth led the league with 11 home runs in 1918, and with an increased role in 1919, he hit a Major-League record 29. It was after that season that the infamous sale took place.
While there were many stories surrounding the reasons behind the sale of Ruth, it basically came down to money. Ruth wanted to double his salary to $20,000 but Red Sox owner Harry Frazee refused.
Frazee saw no solution except to part ways with Ruth, but because so few teams could afford a player like that, he was limited in his trade partners.
The White Sox made an offer of Shoeless Joe Jackson plus $60,000 for Ruth, but the Yankees topped it with a $125,000 straight cash offer. Frazee, who was known to have financial problems, went for the higher cash amount, and the rest was history.
3. Hank Aaron's 715 (1974)
Hank Aaron's pursuit of Babe Ruth's career home run record ran in stark contrast to Barry Bonds' pursuit of Aaron's 33 years later.
While Aaron and Bonds were each chasing legendary figures and revered magic numbers, Aaron was celebrated for the class in which he pursued the mark while Bonds was vilified for his alleged cheating and surly personality.
Aaron came close to breaking Ruth's mark at the end of the 1973 season, but he fell just two home runs short.
He belted a home run to tie Ruth on Opening Day of the 1974 season, and when the Braves returned to Atlanta for their home opener against the Dodgers, Aaron was just one homer short of the record.
Aaron faced threats and racism as he chased Ruth's record, but he never wavered in his stoicism.
Aaron wouldn't make his fans wait long as he faced Al Downing in the fourth inning. Aaron blasted a shot to left field and despite the best efforts of Dodgers' left fielder Bill Buckner, Aaron's shot cleared the fence for home run No. 715.
The home run set off a celebration that many never thought would happen. Ruth's 714 was one of the first magic numbers in baseball history and was one of the first "unbreakable" records.
4. The Shot Heard 'Round the World (1951)
Any short list of the greatest home runs in Major League history has to include the "Shot Heard 'Round the World."
The rivalries between the New York Giants, Dodgers and Yankees during the Golden Age of baseball were unlike anything seen in sports today. The clubs weren't just professional baseball teams; they represented the communities and neighborhoods of New York.
It was an era when players mostly stayed with the teams they came up with. They lived in the neighborhoods around the ballparks, and many of them even held second jobs in the surrounding communities.
So when the Dodgers took on the Giants, it was basically a war between the communities. Because there were no divisional playoff games at the time, the biggest games were meaningful regular season games at the end of the year.
However, at the conclusion of the 1951 season, things were ramped up even further.
The Dodgers and Giants ended up with identical 96-58 records, thus forcing a best-of-three series to determine the National League pennant.
The teams split the first two games, necessitating one final game to determine the champion.
The game reached tremendous intensity levels and was tied 1-1 after seven innings. The Dodgers broke through for three runs in the top of the eight inning and with runs hard to come by, that looked like it would be it for the Giants, especially after they didn't score in the bottom of the inning.
However, the Giants mounted a rally in the bottom of the ninth, and they were able to push across a run to make it 4-2.
With two runners on base, Dodgers ace Don Newcombe was pulled as Bobby Thomson was due to bat. Ralph Branca was called on in relief, and from that moment on, he would be tied to Thomson for baseball eternity.
Thomson drilled the second pitch of the at bat down the left field line over the fence, which was a meager 279 feet from home plate.
So to review, Thomson hit three-run homer with his team down two runs in the bottom of the ninth in the deciding game of a mini-playoff to win the National League pennant over the Dodgers in one of the greatest rivalries professional sports has ever seen.
Yeah, that should be near the top of this list.
5. Mazeroski's Home Run Wins World Series (1960)
In the annals of monumental baseball home runs, Bill Mazeroski's shot in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 1960 World Series is firmly entrenched among the best.
The Yankees and the Pirates were in the midst of an epic game seven of a nail-biting series. The Yankees blew out the Pirates in all three of their wins while the Pirates won three close games in their victories.
The Yanks took a commanding 7-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth of game seven, but the Pirates rallied for five runs to take a 9-7 lead. Like a heavyweight fight, the Yanks answered back with two runs in the top of the ninth to tie it.
Mazeroski was the first batter in the bottom of the ninth and didn't wait long for his heroics. He blasted the second pitch he saw off Ralph Terry over the left-center field fence, setting off a wild celebration at Forbes Field.
To this day, Mazeroski's blast remains the only walk-off home run in game seven to win a World Series championship.
6. The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth (1939)
While Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" speech may be the most enduring item from Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, the true spectrum of the entire day is sometimes lost in history.
The New York Times described the day in their paper's late edition:
"In perhaps as colorful and dramatic a pageant as ever was enacted on a baseball field, 61,808 fans thundered a hail and farewell to Henry Lou Gehrig at the Yankee Stadium today."
Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day took place on July 4th, 1939, two months after his final game, between games of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. Members of Gehrig's current team were obviously all on hand, and most of his teammates from the 1927 Murderer's Row Yankees joined in as well.
Gehrig was awarded with numerous plaques and gifts, and it was announced that his number four would be retired immediately. Gehrig became the first baseball player to have his number retired.
After receiving his gifts, Gehrig gave his famous speech. It was short, succinct and highly emotional.
After the speech, Babe Ruth ambled over to Gehrig and joined him in an embrace as the fans gave Gehrig a standing ovation.
Two years later, Gehrig died from the effects of the disease that now bears his name.
7. Joe DiMaggio Hits in 56 Straight Games (1941)
In 1973 Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick composed a list of ten records that would never be broken.
It's been nearly four decades since Frick wrote it, but his list already isn't doing so well. Four records have been broken and one other (100 RBIs for 13 straight seasons) has been matched.
One record on the list that hasn't been and may never be seriously challenged is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
From May 15 to June 16 in 1941, DiMaggio was nearly flawless. He batted .408 during the streak, and he didn't do it by simply slapping singles into the outfield. DiMaggio slugged .717 and hit 15 homers and 16 doubles during that span.
DiMaggio averaged one run and one RBI per game during the streak, and he struck out only 13 times all season.
Since 1941, no player has gotten to within single digits of his streak. Pete Rose came the closest in 1978 when he broke the modern National League record by hitting in 44 games in the row, but even then, he was still two weeks away from DiMaggio.
One of the incredible stats about DiMaggio's 1941 season is that after his 56-game streak was snapped (thanks to two great plays by third baseman Ken Keltner), DiMaggio went on to hit in 17 more games safely, meaning that he hit safely in 73 of 74 games played.
8. Marvin Miller Becomes Head of the Players Union (1966)
Hall of Fame broadcaster Red Barber, who was in baseball from 1934-1966 and remained active after his retirement, once called Marvin Miller one of the three most important people in baseball history along with Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth.
Miller was a labor economist who worked his way to the top of the United Steelworkers Union, United Auto Workers Union and the Machinist Union before taking his power to the Major League Baseball Players' Union.
You can just imagine how powerful Miller was.
It's hard to believe based on the riches thrown around MLB these days, but there was a time when players were seriously taken advantage of by owners.
When Miller negotiated baseball's first collective bargaining agreement in 1968, MLB increased the minimum salary from $6,000 a year to $10,000. It was the first increase in the minimum salary in two decades.
Miller brought arbitration to the game of baseball and successfully challenged the reserve clause, ushering in the era of free agency.
He led the union through three work stoppages and completely restructured the way the game operated financially.
Baseball's average salary is a good measuring stick to use when trying to understand the impact Miller had on the game. During his 16-year tenure, the average salary increased from $19,000 to $241,000.
9. Roger Maris Beats the Babe (1961)
The number 61 stood for nearly four decades along side other mythical numbers like 714, 56 and 511.
Even though that number has been passed six times since 1998, Roger Maris' 61 home runs in 1961 still stands as one of the sport's most-revered accomplishments.
The race to top Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs was an epic battle between Maris and Mickey Mantle that captivated the baseball world in the summer of '61.
They went back and forth like heavyweight fighters, and even though they played for the same team, they had a decidedly different experience.
Mantle was the home-grown Yankee, the next superstar in line with Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.
Maris was a young slugger already on his third team in five years.
Because of this, the press and fans were all squarely in Mantle's corner as they both pursued Ruth's record.
Also adding pressure to Maris was that midway through the season, Commissioner Ford Frick announced that because Ruth played a 154 game schedule compared to Maris' 162, Maris would have to break the record in 154 games in order to be the single-season home run champion.
With both in hot pursuit of Ruth late in the season, Mantle went down with an infection in his hip, leaving Maris to chase Ruth on his own.
After the 154th game of the season, Maris stood at 59 home runs, two short of passing Ruth in the time frame put forth by the commissioner.
He went into the last game of the season with 60 homers and the idea that if he hit one more, he at least would be listed in the record book as the 162-game home run champion.
Maris belted a fourth-inning home run off Red Sox starter Tracy Stallard to reach number 61 and reserve a place in Major League Baseball history.
Maris' record stood for 37 years until the steroid-enhanced exploits of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds of the late-90's.
Ruth's record had stood for 34 years before being bested by Maris'.
10. Tommy John Has His Surgery (1974)
In 1974 Tommy John was an above-average pitcher who was enjoying a fine run with the Dodgers after being traded from the White Sox in 1971 for Dick Allen.
He was 13-3 when he came out of a game against the Expos on July 17th after pitching just two innings. The pain he felt in his elbow turned out to be a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and many thought John's career would end right there.
However, Dr. Frank Jobe performed a radical surgery in which he replaced the ligament in the elbow of John's pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm.
While John wasn't expected to pitch again, he would most likely be able to lead a relatively normal and pain free life.
Tommy John had different plans, though.
He worked with former All-Star pitcher Mike Marshall and rehabbed with an eye on returning to the majors.
Incredibly, John not only returned, but pitched effectively in 1976, going 10-10 with a 3.09 ERA. Even more miraculously, John went on to pitch until he was 46, and he won a total of 288 games as a Major Leaguer.
At this point, "Tommy John Surgery" has close to a 90 percent success rate, and over 150 Major League players have had the surgery.
11. Cal Ripken Passes Lou Gehrig (1995)
Among the top arguments fans like to have are discussing which records in sports are truly unbreakable. For a better part of the 20th century, Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games was often at the top of the list.
Even as Cal Ripken was playing every day throughout the 1980s, he was still hundreds of games away from Gehrig. On top of that, Ripken was playing one of the more physically-demanding positions on the field and started to approach the wrong side of 30.
As the 1990s moved on, however, Ripken reported for work everyday, and it began to appear that passing Gehrig was a real possibility. As the 1995 season progressed, the Orioles draped large numbers on the B&O Warehouse in right field to keep track of Ripken's streak.
He finally surpassed Gehrig on September 6 in a game against the California Angels. The game remains one of the most-watched baseball games of all time and the celebration will remain etched in the lore of the national pastime.
When the game became official, the stadium erupted in a standing ovation, calling for Ripken to come out of the dugout to be recognized. The reluctant Ripken was pushed out of the dugout by Bobby Bonilla and Rafael Palmeiro to embark on a celebratory lap around Oriole Park.
The ovation lasted 22 minutes and is considered one of the longest standing ovations ever given to an athlete.
Amazingly, Ripken continued his streak for another 501 games to bring his record to 2,632 consecutive games. The streak ended when he voluntarily removed himself from the lineup during the Orioles' last home game of the 1998 season.
12. Dodgers and Giants Move to California (1958)
If you had told fans in New York in 1950 that by the end of the decade, the Dodgers and the Giants would be playing their home games in California, you'd have been committed.
Not only were the teams entering the throes of the Golden Age of baseball in New York, but there were no teams further west than the St Louis Cardinals.
As far-fetched as it may have seemed, by 1958, the Dodgers and Giants were indeed playing in California.
The move got its traction when the Giants and Dodgers had simultaneous problems with their ballparks. The Dodgers wanted a new stadium to be built in Brooklyn while the Giants were debating what to do about the dilapidated condition of the Polo Grounds.
The Giants were exploring a move to Minneapolis, which was the home of their top farm team, while the Dodgers were more focused on trying to make a solution work in New York.
Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley threatened to move the Dodgers, but City Planner Robert Moses and fellow New York politicians refused to believe that would happen.
During the 1956 World Series, scouts from Los Angeles were vying for a Major League Baseball team to move to their city. They figured their best target was the Washington Senators.
They hadn't even considered the Dodgers, who were fresh off a 1955 World Series title and were a team stacked with Hall of Famers. In addition, they were such a part of New York that nobody could conceive that they would ever leave.
However, when O'Malley heard that Los Angeles was offering enough land for a team to build their own stadium, maintain ownership of the stadium and rake in all the profits, he had to explore his options.
The deal was too good to turn down, and O'Malley agreed to move to Los Angeles and helped convince the Giants to move to San Francisco to keep their rivalry going.
Fans in New York were devastated. Unlike today's game where players bounce from team to team every year, during the 1950s players and teams became parts of the fabric of their neighborhoods.
Players lived and even worked in the offseason in the vicinity of the stadium, and they were a part of everyday life.
Even for a city as big as New York, to have two teams taken away from them in the same year left scars that still haven't healed for some people.
13. Don Larsen's World Series Perfect Game (1956)
When talking about major accomplishments in the World Series, Don Larsen's 1956 perfect game has to be near the top of the list.
Larsen was a journeyman righty who pitched for seven different teams over a 14-year career. To be honest, he wouldn't have been the top candidate to throw a perfect game, let alone in a World Series game.
Larsen started game two of the 1956 World Series, and he was anything but perfect. In 1 2/3 innings he walked four batters, gave up a hit and played a major role in blowing a 6-0 Yankee lead.
However, Larsen would bounce back in game five to say the least.
Facing a Brooklyn Dodger lineup that featured Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider, Larsen needed only 97 pitches to negotiate his historic game.
The perfect game was the sixth in Major League history at the time and to this day remains the only postseason perfecto.
14. Reds vs Red Sox World Series Game 6 (1975)
Game six of the 1975 World Series is not just one of the greatest games in baseball history, but also provided one of the most iconic images ever captured in the game.
The Red Sox were trying to break a 57-year World Series drought when they took on the Big Red Machine in the 1975 World Series. The Reds held a 3-2 series lead as the teams went back to Fenway Park for the final two games.
Fred Lynn, the Red Sox dynamic rookie who was fresh off a season in which he won the Rookie of the Year and AL MVP, blasted a three-run homer in the first inning to give the Red Sox a lead.
Luis Tiant made it stand until the fifth when the Reds rallied to tie the game at three.
George Foster would put the Reds ahead with a two-run double in the seventh and a Cesar Geronimo home run extended the Reds lead to 6-3 in the top of the eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth, Reds manager Sparky Anderson called on ace reliever Rawley Eastwick to pitch out of a two-on, no-out jam. He retired Dwight Evans and Rick Burleson and the only person standing between Eastwick and an amazing escape was Bernie Carbo.
Carbo worked the count to 2-2 and was nearly retired on one of the ugliest swings you could see a Major Leaguer take. However, Carbo somehow got a piece of the pitch to foul it off and live to see one more pitch.
He made the most of that opportunity, blasting it over the center field fence to tie the game at six.
The Sox almost won the game in the bottom of the ninth, but Foster threw Denny Doyle out at home trying to tag up on a short fly ball to left.
The game stayed tied at six going into the 12th, thanks largely in part to an improbable catch by Evans in the top of the 11th.
In the bottom of the 12th, Carlton Fisk would end the madness. On the second pitch he saw from reliever Pat Darcy, Fisk lifted a long fly ball down the left field line.
Fisk jumped wildly immediately after contact, doing his best to wave the ball fair. The ball caromed off the foul pole, sending the Sox and Reds to game seven.
15. Reggie Blasts Three Homers in One World Series Game (1977)
Reggie Jackson was brought to New York in 1977 to end a 15-year drought between World Series titles. Even though the road was bumpy, Jackson delivered in grand fashion.
Jackson got off to a rough start with his infamous "straw that stirs the drink" comment in SPORT Magazine during spring training and thus started a season of insanity.
Call it the "Bronx Zoo" or the "Bronx is Burning" season or whatever you come up with, but between Jackson, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Mickey Rivers and Graig Nettles, it was one wild ride.
The Yankees went 100-62 in 1977 and found themselves in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Yankees were up three games to two on October 18th when the teams returned to Yankee Stadium for game six.
Jackson had already been enjoying a great series, but what he did in game six was truly epic. So much so that it earned him one of the most recognizable nicknames in baseball history: Mr. October.
Jackson had three official at bats (he also had a four-pitch walk in the second inning) and took just one swing in each at bat, blasting a home run on each swing.
Jackson also homered on his final at bat of game five, making that four straight home runs, on four straight swings, off of four different pitchers.
The Yankees went on to win the game 8-4 to win the World Series. Jackson was named MVP and the legend of Mr. October was born.
16. Pete Rose Passes Ty Cobb (1985)
There's a reason that people should never label a specific record as "unbreakable" and if Lou Gehrig or Ty Cobb were alive today they'd certainly agree.
Cobb's career hit record of 4,192 stood for 57 years and was never seriously challenged during that time. While the game Cobb played during his career had basically the same rules of today, playing in the Deadball Era was completely different than playing in the Modern Era.
Because of the fundamental change in the game and the fact that nobody even sniffed Cobb's record for decades, many deemed his record unbreakable.
That is, until Pete Rose came along.
Rose was a throwback player who scratched and clawed for every single hit he got. He played the game at top speed for every second he was out there and seemed like a player plucked out of the 1910's.