The 20 Most Obscure 'Firsts' in Baseball
1911 World Series Program
In his book, Is This a Great Game or What?, ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian wrote, “Baseball is the only major sport in which some of the standard-bearers have been dead for fifty years, and a team that hasn’t played in eighty years, the 1927 Yankees, are still mentioned in casual conversation.”
Indeed the game seems to transcend time and has created an entire culture of those who use statistics from the past to compare statistics with the present. In the endless desire to extract even more perspective from the history of the game, I have taken a collection of perhaps the most unique set of ‘’first’s’’ to occur in baseball.
Some of these may be familiar to you, while others are bound to be tidbits of lore that even the most ardent fans will find new and hopefully fascinating. So without further delay, here is a list of 20 of baseball’s most obscure "first’s!"
Honorable Mention: The First Baseball Games to Be Played in Egypt (1889)
The 1889 Chicago White Sox find a Quarry
In 1888-89, a team of baseball’s first All-Stars went around the world promoting the game of baseball and Albert Spalding sporting equipment. The teams played very competitive baseball while touring some rather remote places. There were games played in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), New Zealand and Australia, as well as Italy, France and England.
While in Egypt, the ballplayers had a contest to see who could hit the eye of the famous Sphinx. So popular was this excursion, that baseball would return in 1914-15 and this time, perhaps due to a request from the Ambassador, the players had a contest to see who could throw a baseball over the Sphinx instead of trying to bean the statue.
The teams themselves were split between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Americans, but the names were somewhat interchangeable given the fact that no one knew the difference anyway! By all accounts, the games played in Egypt were very competitive affairs. Featuring Cap Anson, the first player to get 3,000 hits, and John Montgomery Ward among others, the two sides seemed to treat these games as regular season affairs much to the delight of fans who knew little about the game itself.
Courtesy: James E. Elfers, The Tour to End All Tours: The Story of Major League Baseball's 1913-1914 World Tour
The First World Series Ever Canceled (1904)
The 'Inferior' Defending World Champion Red Sox
The 1904 World Series was canceled due to the stubbornness of John T. Brush, President of the National League champion New York Giants. He simply refused to play the returning American League champion Boston Americans, otherwise known as the Red Sox.
One must remember that the National League owners still held the American League in great disdain. Rumors of player raiding and dirty practices were rampant. In early September, the Highlanders (Yankees) were actually in first place.
Since the teams were both located in New York, Brush considered the novelty of a true World Series to be anticlimactic in an otherwise dominating year for the Giants. In addition, there were no rules set forth as to how to split the proceeds between the owners.
In the American League, the great rivalry that makes Boston and New York such an explosive affair was just beginning. Brush couldn’t have predicted that the Sox would finish the season strong and knock the Yankees out of first place.
Nevertheless, he considered the Red Sox inferior despite the fact that they had won the 1903 Series . He was quoted as stating that he refused to compete with a "representative of the inferior American League.”
Perhaps an early indication of the influence of gambling, Brush created the idea that the gate proceeds would be split for the first four games only. This would prevent the ‘fixing’ of early games in the Series and thus prolong the contest in order to make more money with each subsequent game.
It turned out to be an awful public relations move and caused Brush to reconsider and suggest changes for the 1905 season. In an about-face, Brush announced that he regretted his decision. Later that year he proposed to continue with the series as originally conceived. Realizing the need to repair his reputation, Brush took the initiative and took a different approach with regards to the World Series. His surprising change-of-mind spawned the "Brush Rules," a set of guidelines relating to the on-field play and off-field finances of the World Series, which exists to this day.
John McGraw was no less condescending to the Red Sox. The Giants dominated the season from beginning to end, winning by 13 games over the Cubs. In September, manager John 'Mugsy' McGraw was asked about a postseason series with the winner of the American League pennant and he replied, "When we clinch the National League pennant, we'll be champions of the only real Major League." Unfortunately, the cancellation of the World Series meant that Cy Young would never have a chance to pitch in the post-season again.
The strike of 1994 also canceled the Series. Had it been played by the two teams with the highest winning percentage, the New York Yankees and Montreal Expos would have played for the Championship. Many feel that the strike of 1994 put the final nail in the coffin for baseball in Montreal and shortly thereafter they were planning their move. Consequently, had they played, the Expos statistically had the better team. In fact, Montreal was a full four games better than the Yankees.
Courtesy: The Baseball Vault http://www.baseball-vault.com/1904-world-series.html
The First Regular Season Game Played West of St. Louis
Roger Maris playing for the Minor League Team of the Yankees
Most people think that the first game played west of St. Louis was in California. In reality, the Kansas City A’s opened their inaugural 1955 season by winning against the Detroit Tigers on April 12th.
The A’s were a mediocre team whose owner was an eccentric businessman named Arnie Johnson. As a former associate of Yankees GM Dan Topping and Larry McPhail, he would deal away player after player to the Yankees, prompting other owners to refer to Kansas City as the Yankees ‘’AAA-Team.’’ Roger Maris, Ralph Terry, and Clete Boyer were among the players the A’s traded away to the Yankees.
Baseball's First (and Last) Triple-Header
Tommy Lasorda reacts when I told him that the Old-Timers Game was going to be a Triple-Header
Although there were tripleheaders in the late 1800’s, the practice was a rare one. Baseball had such a different set of rules prior to 1903 that many of the statistics are not factored into Baseball's modern era.
The Reds and Pirates played in the first (and last) tripleheader. The year was 1920. The Reds took two of the three games. Now prohibited due to baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, this Triple-Header is likely the last one we will see.
A team who has a double-header at the end of the season and a suspended game from earlier in the season may be asked to play the two full games as well as the suspended game. However, this is extremely rare and requires that the game has bearing on the standings and that there is no way to make the game up later.
Since this is such a rare compendium of events which have to come together at once, it is more than likely that the term ''tripleheader'' will never be used again.
Baseball's First Designated Hitter
Ron Blomberg--- Self Proclaimed ''Glorified Pinch-Hitter''
When Ron Blomberg stepped into the batters box on April 6th, 1973, he became the first designated hitter in baseball history.
Originally designed as an experiment to help bolster run production, the DH was never removed from the American League and still exists today. For several years, the DH was occupied by the slowest, most lethargic, most out-of-shape former hero who was hanging on and drawing a few extra fans to the ballpark out of curiosity.
Thankfully the DH spot is now more likely to be occupied with the slowest, most lethargic and out-of-shape player making $1 million. With new ballparks, shorter fences and shorter distances between the bench and the clubhouse, it can be argued that baseball doesn’t need a DH any more. Of all the DHs who played up to now, only Orlando Cepeda is in the Hall of Fame.
Baseball's First National League Designated Hitter
Rickey Henderson - Baseball's Last Great Character
With the advent of interleague play, the National League had to use designated hitters when playing in American League Ballparks.
The first ones to get an at-bat (within minutes of one another) were Rickey Henderson (SD) and Glenallen Hill (SF). Later that evening, Mike Piazza also stepped up to the plate as DH.
Henderson became the first National League designated hitter to hit a home run.
Check out the interview in this video and listen to Rickey simply being Rickey!
Baseball's First Modern Era No-Hitter
Chick Frasier and a snappy Phillies Uniform
Chick Fraser of the Philadelphia Phillies threw the first no-hitter in the modern era against the Chicago Cubs. The final score was 10-0 and it happened in the second game of a double-header. St. Paul Globe called it a ‘’Remarkable Game.”
A rowdy crowd of 1,200 people were in attendance that day and one has to imagine that a ticket to that game would be worth quite a bit of cash! For more information you can click on this link and it will take you to the box-scores of all the games action that September day in 1903. You can also take a coupon to Allen's Hat Store and get a 'Zippy New Straw Hat," a $5 value for just $3.50.
Baseball's First Ever Home Run Indoors
The drive to the Astrodome is still wonderfully scenic - Photography by Robert Bluestein
Mickey Mantle hit the first home run inside the Astrodome in front of 47,876 fans. The exhibition game ended with a 2-1 victory in 11 innings. It was also the first game to be played in the Dome.
As for the Astrodome, it also holds another unusual ‘’First.’’ In 1973, Mike Schmidt hit a bomb to right center that continued to rise and rise and rise. Suddenly, it smacked into the side of a speaker hanging from the Dome’s ceiling.
According to the ground rules, the ball was in play. Schmidt hit the ball so hard that he was barely to first base as the puzzled Cesar Cedeno retrieved the ball. Schmidt therefore holds the unusual distinction of being the first player to hit a fair ball that was obstructed by an object while in the field of play.
Baseball's Number One Place to Be Buried
Lou Gehrig - Dead for 25,184 consecutive days and still counting
Okay, I know this is a bit more obscure than most baseball facts, but I wondered where I should go to see the most burial sites of former (and dead) pro Baseball players. Little did I suspect that I should bypass the northeast United States and look right at St. Louis to find the most dead ballplayers.
An astounding 180 Baseball Players are laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. While there are no hall-of-famers, there are plenty of good ballplayers just waiting to get the chance to play one more heavenly game. On your next trip to the Gateway City, make sure that after you take the little elevator to the top of the 530-foot tall arch that overlooks this beautiful landscape.
As you take your stroll down memory lane, you can imagine talking pitching to 13-year veteran Urban Shocker. The St. Louis Browns are certainly not as well known as the Cardinals, so most people don’t realize that for most of his 13 year career, Jack Tobin manned the outfield. He put up a respectable .309 lifetime average and even once led the league with 18 triples.
Of course there were a wealth of players who played before the turn of the century and we shouldn’t forget them now. Although he played mostly in the late 1800s, Mighty Joe Quinn made 7,352 plate appearances in his career and saw the rules of the game change slightly. During his tenure it was still considered an out if a ball was caught by an outfielder on one hop.
Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn New York has an amazing collection of dead ball players. To date, 38 players are buried in this cemetery. Most of them were players in the pre-modern era and are largely unknown, but there are a few more memorable names there. Tommy Clarke was a catcher for nine years with the Reds from 1909-1917 and finished out his career with the Cubs in 1918. Despite his longevity at that position, he had a very pedestrian .265 lifetime average.
Calvary Cemetery in Woodside New York also has 38 former Major Leaguers buried there. If you ever wondered where diminutive hall-of-famer Wee Willie Keeler is laid to rest, look no further.
Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn is the eternal home for 39 players. Included in this group is Hall-of-Famer Joe Collins and Dodger slugger Gil Hodges. I list it here for the simple reason that this funeral home was just down the street from where my mother grew up.
On the West Coast, the best bet to see a lot of dead ballplayers is in Culver City California, where 21 former major leaguers are buried. They aren’t particularly well known, but the list includes Sloppy Thurston, Rip Russell, and Peanuts Lowrey.
Inglewood Cemetery hosts 36 former ball players at its eternal home. Wahoo Sam Crawford whose Hall-of-Fame plaque hangs in Cooperstown is here. So is another hall-of-famer, Browns shortstop Bobby Wallace. In case you didn’t know, Wallace had 2,309 hits and a sizzling .268 lifetime batting average. He was voted into the Hall-of-Fame by the Veterans committee in 1953 and is arguably a serviceable ballplayer with a reputation for great defense.
But the record for number of baseball players buried in on the west coast belongs to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma California. No fewer than 55 former major leaguers are laid to rest. The names here are notable to say the least.
Joe DiMaggio leads the way, along with teammate Frank Crosetti. The otherwise forgettable Cy Falkenberg is buried here, and I wouldn’t even mention him among the others except for the fact he was the pitcher to give up Ty Cobb’s very first hit.
Since this is a story about all the famous ‘’first’s’’ in baseball, I thought it necessary to point this out. While making your tour around the flowers and the serenity of the trees, make sure to visit the gravestone of George ‘’High-Pockets’’ Kelly, a slick fielding first baseman and hall-of-famer. There are many more headstones to admire while on your tour through the very distant past.
The highest percentage of hall-of-famers buried in one cemetery is New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore. It certainly seems to be the hall-of-fame of cemeteries. Here you can find 18 former players and an amazing total of four happen to be in Cooperstown. Ned Hanlon, Joe Kelley, ‘’Uncle’’ Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw are all talking baseball on the clouds. All but Joe Kelley played with McGraw in Baltimore. I guess there’s nothing closer to being a teammate for forever.
Speaking of hall-of-famers, one can make a unique summer travel itinerary by seeing the graves of the following players: Ty Cobb, Rosehill Cemetery in Royston Georgia; Both Leo Durocher and Don Drysdale are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Los Angeles; Willie Wells, Evergreen Cemetery, Austin Texas; Pee Wee Reese, Rosehill Cemetery in Louisville Kentucky; Willie Stargell, Oleander Memorial Gardens, North Carolina; Pie Traynor, Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh; Satchel Paige, Forest Hills, Kansas City; Buck Leonard, Gardens of Gethsemane, North Carolina; Rogers Hornsby, Hornsby-Bend Funeral Home in Austin Texas.
In case you were wondering, there are just 16 former ballplayers who made it all the way to Arlington National Cemetery. Lu Blue played for Detroit, St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox and finally in Brooklyn. Blue grew up in the Washington D.C. area and enjoyed skipping school in order to watch his beloved Senators play baseball. His idol however was Ty Cobb, whom he would end up playing for in the 1921 season. In the spring of 1918, he signed up for service in World War I.
If you are ever interested in finding out which of the baseball alumni are buried in your state, check out this link: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/graves/baseball_graves.shtml
Hall-of-Famers Who Have Been the First to Hit Home Runs for Expansion Teams
Reggie hits a Memorable Homerun in Detroit
Of 41 possible franchises, I looked up the first home run hit for these teams. Believe it or not, only two have been hit by hall-of-famers. Wade Boggs of the expansion Devil Rays hit the first home run on March 31, 1998.
The only other hall-of-famer to connect for the franchise's first home run is Reggie Jackson for the Oakland A's in 1968.
Courtesy of http://www.baseball-almanac.com/
First President to Attend a Baseball Game (1892)
Benjamin Harrison didn't let the Presidency get in the way of a good baseball game
President Benjamin Harrison became the first U.S. President to attend a Major League baseball game, and the first sitting President to see an extra inning game as the contest remains undecided until the eleventh inning. He became such a fan that he became the first president to actually attend two games in one season.
The frivolity and roaring fun that the tea-totler President had at these games were a certain nice diversion from the endless scandals and military misconduct during his presidency.
First Pitcher to Defeat Every Major League Team
Al Leiter, Very Determined with his Fastball - Courtesy of Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Al Leiter defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 10-1 and thus became the first pitcher to record a win against all 30 teams. In order to do this, the pitcher must pitch for at least four different teams. Leiter pitched for New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Florida, and the New York Mets over a productive 19 year career. Leiter’s career shows that he won 30 more games than he lost and had a respectable ERA of 3.80.
In the 1970s, Rick Wise defeated every team in both leagues while pitching for the Phillies, Cardinals, Red Sox and Indians. Wise is a fascinating part of more trivia than perhaps an above-average pitcher should be. He threw a no-hitter and became the first and only pitcher to hit two home runs in the process.
Secondly, Wise was involved in trades for two hall-of-famers. The first one was the often talked about Steve Carlton trade that sent Wise to the Cardinals. The second one was the trade that sent him and several others to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for hall-of-famer Dennis Eckersley.
In case you were wondering, Pud ''Little Steam Engine'' Galvin played almost his entire career in the 1800s and so far as records go, he technically is the first pitcher to lose to each team in the league. He lost over 300 games in his career, but he was also the first to record 300 wins. With a name like "Pud" you better be a good pitcher.
Baseball's First On-Field Fatality (But Not Only One)
Massachusetts Newspaper - August 1920
Ray Chapman of the Naps (Indians) became the first player to die on a baseball field. Carl Mays, the Highlanders (Yankees) pitcher was known to throw high-and-tight, and because he threw from a side-armed position, right-handers were particularly vulnerable.
He maintained throughout his life that his pitch was unintentional, but Mays was among the most disliked of all the players in the game. Consequently, the press was merciless and relentless in going after Mays. The facts support Mays account of the event. He claimed that he threw the ball high and a bit tight but that Chapman squared to bunt and froze for a split second. Chapman stumbled toward first before collapsing and losing consciousness.
There were other factors in this tragedy. For starters, Mays not only threw hard but he was known to throw the spit ball. Chapman's reaction indicates that Mays may have thrown the spitter, perhaps waiting for the ball to break to the outside. Mays denied throwing a spitter on the ball that killed Chapman but conceded that he threw one earlier in the game.
Secondly, it was apparently getting darker (perhaps due to cloud cover) and the teams used the same baseball throughout the game. Chapman’s death would bring changes to the game, including the outlawing of the spitter and the use of a clean ball when the one in play gets smudged or scuffed.
One of the more unfortunate tragedies in recent memory was the death of Umpire John McSherry. He collapsed on the turf at Riverfront Stadium just behind home plate on opening day in 1996. McSherry was dead before he hit the ground of a massive heart attack.
The well liked and respected umpire was grossly overweight—a fact that fellow umpire Eric Gregg was forced to deal with in the wake of McSherry’s death. Gregg went on to lose 100 lbs because he was diabetic, overweight and feared the same fate would happen to him. Perhaps indicative of her temperament, Marge Schott insisted the game go forward, despite the shock and grief of the umpires and the players on both teams.
First Pitcher Whose Career Ended One Month After Starting an All-Star Game
James Rodney Richard- What Might Have Been....
James Rodney Richard was one of the truly awesome pitchers to grace the Astros for several record breaking years. Throughout the 1980 season, Richard complained of vision problems and a dull steady ache in his arm and neck.
He still managed to be 1980's best pitcher after being the first National League right-hander to strike out 300 batters in two consecutive seasons. The dominating flamethrower pitched well as the National League starter for manager Chuck Tanner, but came out after two innings due to pain in his back and shoulder.
One start later, on July 14th, Richard was having vision issues and was dizzy when pitching against the Braves and left after the fourth inning.
On July 30th, Richard collapsed with in the outfield and lost consciousness. This was a major stroke and it was close to taking his life. With his stroke, Richard’s career was in jeopardy. He tried a comeback in 1981 but he was not the same pitcher that he was before the stroke occurred.
One can only imagine how great JR Richard would have been had he been properly assessed and treated for his blood clot. Instead he goes from being the starting pitcher in the All-Star game to the hospital and never again to return to the majors—making him an unfortunate first in baseball history.
The Astros were found negligent in treating Richard and he won a $1.2 Million settlement from the team. Sadly he would be broke soon thereafter and from 1993-1995, he was homeless and living under a bridge in southwest Houston.
The saga is a painful lesson about trust and it took JR Richard losing it all before he would get it all back. Jimmy Wynn, former Astro, reached out to the team and fellow alumni players and got the aging pitcher on his feet again. Today he runs a school for pitching and is an associate pastor in Houston.
On a personal note, JR Richard was very friendly to the clubhouse boys. He tipped exceptionally well and taught that just because he was on track to being the greatest pitcher in the game, he still said please' and thank you. In that way, he was far different from the entitled behavior we saw from some of the other players. He would always be one of the first to the ballpark and when we walked in after school to get the clubhouse prepped for the game, Richard would actually help us out and talk to us about the game.
He got to know my mother and my sister and he had such a way making you feel as if you were the only one that mattered when he spoke with you. Sensitive to the criticism of the local press, Richard felt that us clubhouse boys were among the few he could trust. In that world, you get to know the local sports anchors and they were roasting JR Richard. In fact, he had never been on the Disabled List and never begged for a day off. When he was in pain and hurting, James Rodney Richard was still dominating.
In many ways his pride prevented him from insisting on getting treatment and trying to pitch through the suffering. If you're out there in Bleacher-Report land and have a personal JR Richard story, I would love to hear it. To this day, he remains one of the most influential people I have known.
On a closing note, when doing research for this I looked for players that may have gotten hurt in an All-Star Game. It should be noted that Dizzy Dean fractured a toe in the 1937 All-Star game that greatly effectively shortened his career, but the hall-of-famer would give it several more seasons before retiring. In 1947 he attempted a one-game comeback and went four innings and gave up just three hits.
Baseball's First Black Coach (1962)
Buck O'Neil and Me at the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame in Kansas City
Buck O’Neil was made the first black coach of a Major League team a full 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. O’Neil, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions, was the heart and soul of Ken Burns documentary on baseball, specifically with his knowledge of Satchel Paige.
The tall former Negro-League first baseman was a special man who carried dignity and grace to a new level. He was never bitter or sad that he missed his chance to play in the majors. When the issue of Ty Cobb came up, he said of Cobb, “…I never hated Ty Cobb. I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry that he never took the time to get to know me and the other fellas…”
A great judge of talent and a gentleman of profound patience, O’Neil was instrumental in seeing to it that the Cubs signed a young Lou Brock to a contract.
I am proud to say that Buck O'Neil was a friend of mine. He was a friend to everyone. I met him first at the funeral for former Negro-League legend Willie Wells. I didn't know who he was at the time and it was well before the Ken Burns documentary. He was so congenial and friendly.
At this time, I developed a fascination with the few living players who played in the Negro Leagues. I was quite surprised to find how many lived right here in Austin and San Antonio. Being able to speak with these guys about a part of baseball history which is largely unknown was a real honor for me.
In 2002, I was invited to shoot a very special event at the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame in Kansas City. Willie Mays was donating several uniforms and a collection of some of the greatest players were supposed to be there.
A snowstorm prevented many of them from making it, but it also prevented many of the fans. When it was over, all that was left were Billy Williams, Buck O'Neil, myself and several others. Getting to speak to these men about their life experiences was riveting and rewarding.
Because I had started a baseball program here in Austin that was designed for inner-city kids to share the baseball experience, I had the attention of some of the legendary players of all time. It resulted in the great support that my academy received from the Negro Hall-of-Fame and many of its members.
By this time, O'Neil would actually call me from time-to-time, usually just to discuss baseball and my kids. We ran into one another at a baseball game in Kansas City and our friendship was cemented once we began laughing with the antics of Jose Lima. Buck thought that Lima was a 'throwback to another era.'
When the All-Star Game came to Houston in 2004, I was lucky enough to be invited to have breakfast with him at a special Pre All Star game event. Also at the table that morning was a cantankerous Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda and Lou Brock. The table behind me had Bob Feller and Robin Roberts. I had never been too star struck at these things, but that morning I had chills just taking it all in.
Several other guests got to enjoy the privilege - and we all seemed to agree that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Buck O'Neil is no longer with us but his memory and legacy live forever.
Courtesy: Robert Bluestein's First Hand Account with Buck O'Neil
Pitchers Who Gave Up First Home Run to Future Hall-of-Fame Hitter
Roger Clemens gave up a homer to Sammy Sosa. That's just ONE of the things they have in common.- Photography by Robert Bluestein
Here is a very interesting fact that took some looking into before I could quite believe it. Take the Top-25 home run hitters of all time and look at their first ever home runs. Then let’s see who the pitcher who was on the mound that very day.
Of all the great sluggers, only one has ever smacked one off of a future Hall-of-Famer. Willie Mays – on May 28st, 1951, hit a ball over the left field wall for his first ever home run off of Warren Spahn. Sammy Sosa’s first home run came off of Roger Clemens. But neither Sammy or Rocket appear poised to have a plaque in the Hall of Fame.
On the same topic, I looked at all the players in the 3,000 hit club and looked for their first career home run as well. How many members of the 3,000 hit club got that first home run off a future Hall-of-Famer?
Answer: Only 3 players with 3,000 hits got their first career home runs off of future hall-of-famers. Of the 27 members in the 3,000 hit club, Craig Biggio hit a home run off of Goose Gossage for his first career dinger. George Brett took Ferguson Jenkins deep on May 8th, 1974. Willie Mays, as previously mentioned, took Warren Spahn to the yard for his first career home run.
Of all the members in the 3,000 hit club – believe it or not, only one player got their 3,000th hit off a future hall-of-famer: Dave Winfield stroked a base hit off of Dennis Eckersley in 1993 while a member of the Minnesota Twins.
Batting First: Baseball's Worst Leadoff Hitter
Raphael Furcal demonstrates his tremendous power to second base
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
After watching both Rickey Henderson and Craig Biggio excel in the leadoff spot throughout the 80s and 90s, I began to wonder which baseball team employed the worst leadoff hitter.
In 2011, Luis Montanez of the Orioles somehow hit leadoff for a few games compiling a lofty .189 batting average. In 2011, Raphael Furcal managed to lead off for the Dodgers and Cardinals and did neither particularly well.
Furcal's inability to draw a walk or even to get hit by a pitch only drove his ops down to barely over the .300 mark, which is not good for a leadoff hitter. So looking back over the years I found some real humdingers, but perhaps the one that stands out to me is the nicest guy to maybe ever play the game not named Jim Thome or Cal Ripken.
Here is how I assessed the leadoff futility question. In order to do this, I qualified this stat by looking for teams that would have used a given position player at a given batting order position in its starting lineup for at least one-half of its games—in other words, players that qualified would have been "regulars" at a given spot in the order.
For instance, Reggie Jackson hit in the clean-up spot with the Yankees in well over 130 games a season. Some of these players were simply on bad teams and thus the entire lineup was weak. Others were surprisingly part of decent teams. It was almost impossible to include the dead-ball era because if you didn't hit, you didn't stick around much. Joe Tinker was a rare exception and that's because he probably saved more games with his glove than lost games because he barely hit his weight.
The distinction of the worst leadoff hitter in recent history is Horace Clarke. It pains me to say that because I like Horace Clarke. I had his 1972-Topps baseball card and my friends and I argued incessantly about who the better player was, Tito Fuentes of San Francisco or the aforementioned and most pleasant Horace Clarke. (We were quite passionate baseball fans)
The worst leadoff hitter of the past 50 years was the second baseman with the New York Yankees throughout the late 60s and early 1970s. The native Virgin Islander's batting average as a leadoff hitter in 1968 was a meager .229. Although he had 559 at-bats, he only walked 23 times.
But it is important to consider just how nice and special Horace Clarke was as a person. Everyone seemed to like Clarke, who was at least a pesky hitter. Poor Clarke wasn’t even a particularly good base runner when he did get on base, getting thrown out 7 times in 27 stolen base attempts.
By all accounts, Vince Coleman threw a firecracker into a crowd and was not as nice as Horace Clarke. Even the electronic tarp in St. Louis didn't like Vince Coleman and I am sure that had Horace Clarke been out there, the tarp would have behaved. For at least one season at the plate, he was almost as bad as Clarke was.
Despite having 1,425 career hits and a career average of .264 truly had a terrible season in 1994 as the leadoff hitter for the Kansas City Royals. The speedy outfielder hit just .230 and just 29 Walks.
The difference between the two leadoff hitters is that one of them is a truly special individual with unquestionable character who got the most out of his talent. The other one was a player with loads of talent and did as little with it as possible. But other than that, we like Vince Coleman.
First Time One Pitcher with 300K's in a Season Was Relieved by Another
Randy Johnson learning how to scowl properly for a cameraman
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Randy Johnson came in relief for Curt Schilling on July 18th, 2001 in a game against the Padres. Despite pitching just seven innings, Johnson was utterly unhittable and struck out 17.
The Padres only got one hit on the day. It marked the first and thus far the only time a pitcher with 300 strikeouts in a season relieved another pitcher with 300 strikeouts in a season.
Later in his career, Johnson would prove just as adept at punching out cameramen as he was opposing hitters.
Baseball's First Ever Homerun in a World Series
Jimmy Sebring in his snappy Reds uniform. He hit the first ever homerun in a World Series---Courtesy of 'The Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, 2006'
Jimmy Sebring hit a grand total of six home runs over an entire five year career. But none was more important than the first one to ever be hit in a World Series in 1903.
The young Ohio native was a "can’t miss" talent when he first arrived with the Pirates as the ‘Sporting Digest’ John Robinson indicates.
“The real find is in the outfield is Jimmy Sebring, the old Bucknell player,” he wrote, “…Judging from the work displayed by the newcomer, the management will not removed him from play.”
In his second home game, Sebring showed his power by hitting two home runs to the deepest part of centerfield and in doing so won the vocal fans of the Pirates hearts.
In the seventh inning of the first game of the first World Series, Sebring drove a Cy Young pitch to deep center. Assuming the ball would roll into the stands for a ground-rule triple, (an abnormal rule even for the day) Red Sox outfielder Buck Freeman let up while running to retrieve the ball.
As it was, the ground was slightly soft due to early rainfall in the morning and as a result the ball never made it to the stands and this allowed the speedy Sebring to score. So the very first home run in a World Series came off the No. 1 pitcher in terms of all-time wins—Cy Young.
Baseballs's First World Series to End on a Caught Stealing (1926)
Babe Ruth gets the last out in the 1926 World Series- on the bases!
None other than Babe Ruth was caught stealing second down by one run in the bottom of the ninth. It was in this game Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the seventh inning.
Considered one of the great clutch performances of all time, it has long overshadowed the decision that Babe Ruth made in deciding to steal second. Bob Meusel was batting with Lou Gehrig was on-deck.
Ruth reasoned afterwards that Alexander was virtually unhittable and that he thought Alexander wasn’t paying attention to him at first base. Most modern baseball fans regard the play as ill-conceived. Perhaps it was, but this is based on certain myths which must be dispelled.
Babe Ruth was overweight and not a good base-runner
In fact, Ruth had successfully stolen second earlier in the series. It was the only stolen base the Yankees had for the entire series. After training with former boxer Artie McGovern, Ruth was actually in the best shape of his life. The perception however was much different because with the Babe, his legendary appetite was part of the attraction.
Bob Meusel was a solid hitter who was batting between Ruth and Lou Gehrig
Over an eleven year career Meusel hit .309, however, in the series he was hitting a weak .238 and Ruth was probably aware of it. Although 'Long' Bob Meusel was without many friends, Ruth knew that Meusel was a strong hitter and Lou Gehrig was on deck. Despite the promising batters coming up, Ruth acknowledged Alex's pitching and surmised that neither man would have much luck that day.
Babe Ruth was thrown out by a mile
This is not consistent with what contemporary observers had to say. In his own words from The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence Ritter, O’Farrell said he later asked Ruth during a barnstorming trip why he tried to steal second in that situation. Ruth’s reply was that he thought Alexander wasn’t paying attention to him.
“Also [Ruth said] the way Alex was pitching,” O’Farrell recalled, “they’d never get two hits in a row off him, so he better get in position to score if they got one.” Crazy, but true!
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Robert Bluestein-The Greatest Player in MSBL History and the Author
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