This Week in Baseball History: Lightning Strikes & Ankle-Biting Dogs (Aug 20-26)
Credit: Skyline Images
Baseball is a beautiful sport. It is resilient. It sparks emotion and the human imagination. And at times it is a brilliantly scripted play, full of colorful characters and memorable scenes.
Baseball also boasts a history that brims with comedic—some might say childish moments that have made fans of all generations shake their heads or chuckle from a far.
Here at Bleacher Report, our goal is to capture these moments in vivid detail. Thus, in this the first installment of This Week in Baseball History, we have chosen one event from each day this week that are—shall we say, interesting?
Events include epic lighting strikes, stray dogs with agendas, angrily thrown phones and an eye-popping hitting streak by a player not named Joe DiMaggio.
That said, appreciate it if you kick back, relax and enjoy what will be the first of what will hopefully be several future trips down memory lane.
‘Joltin’ Joe Wilhoit (August 20, 1919)
Photo courtesy joewilhoit.com
When the phrase “record hitting streak” comes to mind, baseball fans often point to New York Yankees legend "Joltin'" Joe DiMaggio’s famous 56-game hitting streak.
But on this date in 1919, another ‘Joltin’ Joe named Joe Wilhoit had a great hitting streak of his own going.
A minor league outfielder for the Wichita Jobbers, Wilhoit took the field vs. the Tulsa Oilers with a 69-game hitting streak intact.
Talk about a guy in a zone, Wilhoit—who had small cups of coffee in the big leagues with four different teams—entered this game hitting over .500, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Unfortunately for “The Wichita Wonder,” as Wilhoit was nicknamed, his streak came to an end this day, nearly a century ago.
While DiMaggio holds the longest hitting streak in MLB history, Wilhoit still holds the longest streak in professional baseball.
According to Bob Rives of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Wilhoit died of lung cancer, just 11 years after playing his final game in 1919. He was 44.
Hall of Fame Spitter (August 21, 1902)
Photo courtesy fanbase.com
Remember the now infamous incident in 1996 when Baltimore Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar spat in the face of MLB umpire John Hirschbeck?
Well, it must be an Oriole tradition.
According to SABR’s Michael wells, popular Baltimore hurler “Iron Man" Joe McGinnity was tossed from a ballgame on August 21, 1902 for—like Alomar—spitting in an umpire’s face.
Now, if there were a scale pointing to whose spitting incident was nastier, McGinnity takes the cake over Alomar.
This was because McGinnity not only spat tobacco juice on Tom Connolly, but he also landed a punch.
Nearly banned from baseball over the incident, McGinnity was reinstated after serving a suspension.
In the end, McGinnity went on to a solid big league career. In 10 years McGinnity was 246-142 with a 2.66 ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
McGinnity was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. Alomar was inducted in 2011.
Damn Dog! (August 22, 1886)
Photo courtesy greatnamesinbaseball.com
Pretty much every warm blooded American has heard of Chicken Little—the story about a paranoid chicken who thought the sky was falling and Armageddon was set to arrive any second.
Not exactly the most inspirational story, I know.
But have you heard of Chicken Wolf?
Rest assured, neither did I until performing research for this feature.
According to SABR’s Ira L. Smith, Wolf entered the history books on August 22, 1886 in comedic fashion.
Wolf was perhaps the first baseball player to be the beneficiary of an inside the park home run, thanks to an almost Hollywood like act by a stray dog with an ax to grind.
Chicken slammed a liner to right for a base hit in the eleventh inning. Powell, the Cincinnati right fielder, chased the ball. A dog which had been snoozing near the fence woke up and chased Powell. Ab had picked up the ball and was getting set for the long throw when the dog caught up with him and grabbed his left foot with his teeth.
Powell, unable to throw, devoted his energies to loosening the dog's grip. Wolf, seeing Ab was so strangely preoccupied, circled his bases. Wolf made three home runs that year. He would have had only two if it weren't for a dog.
The Good Feller (August 23, 1936)
Photo courtesy bobfellermuseum.org
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and now Manny Machado have all garnered acclaim for making their big league debuts at super-young ages.
But on August 23, 1936 a 17-year-old fireballer named Bob Feller made his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians.
According to Baseball Almanac, Feller immediately made his presence felt, striking out the first eight Cleveland Brown’s batters he faced.
There was no need for the bullpen this day. For Feller pitched a complete game, surrendering one earned run on six hits while striking out 15.
A sign of great things to come, Feller finished his Hall of Fame career with a 266-162 record and a 3.25 ERA. A World War II vet, Feller struck out 2,581 batters in a career that began this day nearly 80 years ago.
Lightning Strikes (August 24, 1919)
Photo courtesy Detroit Public Library
Many times throughout baseball history, we have seen big league players go on the disabled list. Injuries have ranged from bumps, bruises and pitching hand blisters; to major injuries that knock players out for the season.
But on August 24, 1919 Cleveland Indians hurler Ray Caldwell became the victim of one of the most unforeseen injuries in baseball history.
A notorious party boy, Caldwell’s love for the nightlife was crippling his ability to live up to his wealth of potential.
Perhaps higher powers were trying to tell Caldwell to get his act together; this now infamous spitballer was struck by lightning at League Park. This while pitching with two outs in the top of the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Athletics.
But give Caldwell props for toughness.
Though still stunned by having just been throttled by a lightning bolt, Caldwell refused to leave the game. A testament to Caldwell’s mental toughness, he went on to record the final out to earn the win for Cleveland that day.
Caldwell went on to win 20 games in 1920 before fizzling. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Caldwell pitched his last major league game in 1921.
Wrong Way Robin (August 25, 1979)
Photo courtesy popgoesfashion.com
60 years and a day after lighting struck Caldwell, superstars fell on Dodger Stadium for a fun baseball game between the Hollywood Stars and the Media.
On this day, one star named Robin Williams thwacked the ball and then darted from the box—in the wrong direction.
Around the bases Williams went, much to the sheer amazement of everyone in the stadium.
Williams justified his antics, saying, “circling the bags clockwise is very common on Planet Ork,” according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Planet Ork was of course the fictional planet (on Mork and Mindy) Williams was sent from to research human behavior on earth.
Flying Phones (August 26, 1966)
Photo courtesy NSNN.com
It is no surprise Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher was a very controversial figure during his long and storied career.
A fiery, outspoken leader, Durocher had 2,008 wins as an MLB manager. This is 10th all-time per Baseball Almanac.
The downside was that Durocher was also ejected from 95 games.
Only Bobby Cox (Atlanta Braves) and Earl Weaver (Baltimore Orioles) were tossed more, also per Baseball Almanac.
But one of Durocher's ejections, which took place at the Astrodome on this day in 1966 is about as funny as they come.
SI Vault tells it best:
After seeing a caricature of himself on the scoreboard, an angry Leo Duroucher calls the Astrodome's press box to have it removed. When nothing is done, the enraged Cubs manager rips the phone out of the dugout wall and tosses it onto the infield.