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MLB: The 20 Greatest Baseball Moments

Nick StewartContributor IMarch 23, 2011

MLB: The 20 Greatest Baseball Moments

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    I realize ahead of time that my top twenty baseball moments are my personal opinion.  I do not believe this list is the definitive list for all of baseball history, yet I set sail on this suicide mission, all the same. Please feel free to post any moments I may have unintentionally left out.

     I am going to stress that these are in no particular order because it would be as impossible to rank these as it was to pick my top 20.  Agonizing.

    Some of the following moments are benchmarks in the beloved history of baseball: warm, touching moments, that no doubt left many tears in their wake.

    Others are moments that make us all love America's pastime.  The quirky moments.  The moments that could only happen once...

Number 1: Pete Rose Hits His 4192nd

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    September 11, 1985

    This was the day Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's 57 year old hit record. A record Cobb eclipsed in 1928 by 676 hits.

    Marty Brennaman said it best.

    "Hit number forty-one, ninety-two! A line drive single into left-center field! A clean base hit!

    It is pandemonium here at Riverfront Stadium! The fireworks exploding overhead... The Cincinnati dugout has emptied... The applause continues unabated!  Rose completely encircled by his teammates at first base... Bobby Brown of the San Diego Padres coming all the way from the third-base dugout to personally congratulate Pete Rose.

    The kind of outpouring of adulation that I don't think you'll ever see an athlete receive any more of! Little Pete fighting his way through the crowd!

    And Pete being hoisted on the shoulders of a couple of his teammates, Tony Perez and Dave Concepcion. The last two of the old guard from the Big Red Machine days of the `70s. And now, as his teammates go back to the dugout, Reds owner Marge Schott comes out to give Pete a great big hug and kiss.

    Still quite an emotional scene here at the ballpark."

    Makes you wish you were there.

Number 2: Randy Johnson Vs. a Rogue Bird

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    March 25, 2001

    This play gave new meaning to the Prince song, "When Doves Cry".

    As Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson let go of his famous 95 mph fastball, a white dove flew into the baseball's flight trajectory.  Then, feathers flew.  Everywhere.

    Apparently a bird can't just "shake it off".

    Randy Johnson felt terrible about the incident and it was unfortunate for the bird, but this still ranks as a  greatest moment, because it will probably never happen again.

     

     

Number 3: Hank Aaron's 715th

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    April 8, 1974

     Hank Aaron slugs his 715th Home Run, eclipsing the previous record set by Babe Ruth.

    On a 1-0 pitch from Dodgers pitcher Al Downing, Hank Aaron swung at a fastball and lined it over the 385 mark in left field for his 715th career Home Run.

    Aaron then commenced to jog around second base with his head down, before two fans actually ran up and patted him on the back as he headed toward third base.

    It was just one of many records that Hank Aaron would hold in his lifetime, including the most RBIs (2297), most total bases (6856) and most extra-base hits (1477). But it was his 715th home run that knocked Hammering Hank into baseball legend.

Number 4: Babe Ruth Calls His Shot

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    October 1, 1932

    In the fifth inning of game three of the 1932 World Series, with a count of two balls and two strikes and  Babe Ruth pointed toward center in Chicago’s Wrigley Field and followed up by hitting a soaring home run high above the very spot to which he had just gestured. 

    Here's where it gets fun.  Ruth was a notorious trash-talker and had been in an ongoing argument that afternoon with what seemed like the entire Cubs bench. There are many who claim that Ruth was actually pointing the bat at opposing pitcher, Charlie Root, including Charlie Root, himself.  Said Root, "If he’d made a gesture like that (calling a home run), I’d have put one in his ear and knocked him on his ass.”  However, Ruth fastidiously claimed he actually called one of the longest homers in Wrigley Field History.

    All of that aside, this moment still brings a smile to almost any baseball fan and has since become the stuff of legend.

Number 5: Dock Ellis Throws No-Hitter

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    April 8, 1984

    Dock Ellis throws a no-no.  This happens fairly regularly in baseball, but they don't often happen like this.

    Ellis claims to have been under the influence of LSD the entire game.  He stated that he didn't know it was his day to pitch until after he had taken the hallucinogen. 

    Despite walking eight batters and striking out six, Dock somehow found himself in baseball history.

    If pitching a no-hitter in a Major League Baseball game while high on acid doesn't make the list of all-time greatest moments, I don't know what would.

     

Number 6: Bill Wambsganss' Unassisted Triple-Play

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    Wombsganss and the Three Unlucky Robins

    October 10, 1920

    Game Five of the 1920 World Series.  History had already been made, because Cleveland Indians outfielder Elmer Smith had just hit the first grand slam in World Series history in the first inning.

    Enter the fifth inning.  The Brooklyn Robins were at bat.  There were no outs. Brooklyn had Pete Kilduff on second and Otto Miller on first, when Clarence Mitchell came to the plate.

    Mitchell hit a screaming line drive to Cleveland's Bill Wambsganss, who fields it cleanly, tags second base and then proceeds to tag a confused Otto Miller, who was running to second from first.  It was the first unassisted triple-play in World Series history.

Number 7: Robin Ventura Charges Nolan Ryan's Mound

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    August 4, 1993

    In this corner, at 26 years old, standing 6'1" and weighing in at 185 pounds, former 3 time All-American at Oklahoma State and California-raised hothead... Robin Ventura!!

    In the opposite corner, at 46 years old, standing 6'2" and weighing in at 170 pounds, eight-time MLB All-Star pitcher and genuine Texas cowboy...Nolan Ryan!!

    After being hit by a pitch from the about-to-retire Ryan, Ventura took exception and charged the mound.  Probably in the expectations that he would show Ryan who the real boss was.

    What happened next was baseball legend.  Ryan grabbed Ventura like a man tackling a calf and began pummelling him with uppercuts.

    Believe it or not, President George W. Bush (Texas Rangers owner, at the time) actually said it best, "I'll bet you Robin Ventura wishes he never took a step to the mound. I was sitting right there on the front row. Ventura took about two steps toward first base and then headed to the mound. So, I had the (same) view he had. When Nolan Ryan turned around, he looked like a bull. Ventura lost his senses and it was a fantastic experience for the Texas Rangers. It elevated the Nolan Ryan legend a little more."

    Young whipper-snappers beware.  Age and treachery outdoes youth and energy any day.

     

Number 8: Carlton Waves the Ball Fair

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    October 21, 1975

    The World Series. Fenway Park.  Game 6.  Tie score between the Boston Red Sox and the Cinncinnatti Reds, who led the series 3-2.  The game was in the 12th inning and it was past midnight.

    Leading off the home half of the inning was Red Sox catcher, Carlton Fisk.  Fisk took the second pitch of the inning high and deep down the left field line.  And made Red Sox history.

    As Fisk was frantically waving and willing the ball to stay fair, the ball seemed to suspend itself in the air.  Seconds later to the delight of BoSox fans everywhere, the ball careened off the foul pole in left field (renamed the Fisk Foul Pole in 2005).

    This moment changed Fenway Park and it changed television, as well.  Prior to this instance, cameramen routinely just followed the ball's path on a hard hit pop-fly.  After Fisk's raw show of emotions, TV networks began to focus more on the emotions of the players.

Number 9: The Catch

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    September 29, 1954

     

    In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants, Willie Mays mad a defensive play known to the world afterwards as just "The Catch".  Millions, perhaps billions of catches have been made in MLB since and prior to that date, many of which were outstanding feats of athletic ability, but to this date, there has only been one catch ever that could be called emphatically, "The Catch".

    The score was 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning.  Cleveland had runners on first and second, when Vic Wertz crushed a ball to center field. Mays, playing shallow center field, had to make a running over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track to make the out.

    Larry Doby, the Cleveland runner on second,  ran as soon as the ball was hit, and then had to scramble back to tag up and could only make it to third base after the most memorable catch in the illustrious Mays' career.  This saved the game for the Giants, who eventually won the Series in a sweep.

Number 10: Enos Slaughter's Mad Dash

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    October 16, 1946

     

    In Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox were tied up at 3-3 in the home half of the eighth inning. St. Louis outfielder Enos Slaughter hit a single and was kept on first after the next two batters were unable to get on base.. With one out left in the inning, Harry Walker stepped to the plate.  After working the count to 2 and 1, the Cardinals called for the hit and run.

    Walker lined the next pitch into left-center field and Slaughter began the run that would forever enshrine him in baseball lore. Red Sox center fielder Leon Culberson fielded the ball and relayed it to the shortstop, Johnny Pesky. Slaughter then rounded third, running right through the stop sign being given by the third base coach.  The throw from Pesky to home came a little too late, as Slaughter slid home scoring what proved to be the winning run for the Cardinals and adding "The Mad Dash" to every baseball fan's vocabulary.

Number 11: Bo Knows and Bo Throws, Too

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    June 5, 1989,

    Kansas City Royals Vs Seattle Mariners. It was the 10th inning and the score was tied 3-3 The Mariners' Harold Reynolds was on first base when teammate Scott Bradley hit a double to left field to a young athlete named Bo Jackson. The Mariners were executing a hit-and-run, so that the runner on first would score the winning run on a hit. Reynolds rounded third and headed for home.  His teammates began yelling and waving their arms frantically for him to slide. 

    Reynolds was confused.  There is no way he should have had to slide on such a simple play, but resigned himself to performing a customary "courtesy slide".  At that point, he saw Kansas City catcher Bob Boone had the ball and was tagging him

    Bo Jackson had made a 300 foot throw from deep left to hit his catcher right in the chest. Even the umpires were caught off guard.  It took a few seconds for the plate umpire to transform from spectator and fan to umpire and call Reynolds out. 

    Jackson, as usual, played it off.

    Said Bo, "I just caught the ball, turned and threw. End of story... Don't try to make a big issue out of it."

    Yeah, right.

Number 12: Mr. October Earns His Moniker

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    October 18, 1977

     

    Reggie Jackson becomes Mr. October by bashing in three home runs in a World Series.  In one game.  Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

    His first at bat against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers in Yankee Stadium resulted in Jackson walking on four  straight pitches.

    Jackson came to bat again in the fourth and on the first pitch he saw from Burt Hooten, smashed it over the fence for a two run shot.

    When Jackson came up again in the fifth, he connected on an Elias Sosa pitch, sending it into the stands as well.

    In the eighth inning, Jackson was due again.  He walked to the batter's box with a straight face as Yankee Stadium erupted with the cheers of, "REG-GIE, REG-GIE!"  Charlie Hough threw a knuckle-ball, which Mr. October hit 475 feet away, for his third home run in a single World series game and propelling the Yankees to a World Championship.

    By the way, Reggie Jackson hit a home run on his last at bat in game 5, as well. Four swings, four home runs.  Not bad, Mr. October.  Not bad at all.

Number 13: E-3

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    October 6, 1986

     

    Few words will make a Boston Red Sox fan cringe.  Few things can upset them so severely that words can't really express the levels of discontent and animosity the fans felt after the 1986 World Series.

    The words that are Kryptonite to a Sox fans' ears are the following: "Bill Buckner".

    The one thing Buckner is remembered for is an error that cost the Red Sox the World Series in game 6 of the 1986 Series. 

    With two outs in the 10th inning and the Mets trailing 5-4, Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson stepped up to bat. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Wilson hit a routine ground ball toward Buckner, the Red Sox first baseman. Buckner missed it, and the ball continued down the first-base line, allowing Ray Knight to score and the Mets to win the World Series.

Number 14: 4-3 for the ALCS

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    October 20, 2004

     

    A simple 4-3 play to win a game.  Doesn't seem like much.

    Unless you came from 3 games down to beat the hated New York Yankees for the right to go to the World Series.

    Unless you've battled for decades to get into a spot to break a hundred year old "curse".

    Unless you've toughed out injuries, errors, fluke plays, and inconsistencies for years to prove you know you're the best team in the world and want to prove it to everyone else.

    Unless you have the hopes and dreams of an entire city on your shoulders, because you might finally be the team to "finally do it".

    Unless you're the 2004 Boston Red Sox. 

    Who did it.

     

Number 15: Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

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    July 4, 1939

     

    Henry Louis Gehrig's retirement speech.

    "Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

    Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

    When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

    So I close in saying that I may have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for.

    Thank You"

Number 16: Perfecto

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    October 8, 1956

     

    There have been 20 perfect games thrown in Major League Baseball.  Ever.  More people have orbited the moon than have thrown perfect games.  To be in this elite fraternity is an amazing feat, to say the least.

    That being said, there has been only one perfect game thrown in the postseason.  One.

    And Don Larson threw it in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Larson sat down 27 batters in a row for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

     

Number 17: Broadcast Gold

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    October 3, 1951

    The Shot Heard Round the World is the term that was given to the home run hit by the New York Giants Bobby Thomson to win the National League pennant in 1951.

    Russ Hodges broadcasted the game for Giants fans.  These were his immortal words that day.

    "Bobby Thomson up there swingin', he's had two out of three, a single and a double and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third-base line.  One out. Last of the ninth.  Branca pitches.  Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner.  Bobby hitting at .292.  He's had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants' first run with a long fly to center. Brooklyn leads it 4-2.  Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances. Lockman with not too big of a lead at second, but he'll be runnin' like the wind if Thomson hits one. Branca throws...

    There's a long drive... it's gonna be, I believe...THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they're goin' crazy, they're goin' crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!''

    I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson hit a line drive into the lower deck of the left field stands and this blame place is goin' crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it by a score of 5 to 4 and they're pickin' Bobby Thomson up and carryin' him off the field!"

Number 18: Kirk Gibson's Walk-off Homer

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    October 15, 1988

     

    Kirk Gibson was the Dodger's best hitter and everyone knew it.  However, due to injuring both legs during the NLCS did not start Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland A's.

    With a one-run lead, Oakland brought in its monster closer Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth. Eckersley quickly got two outs. He then walked the next batter, who was left-handed, so he could pitch to right-handed pinch-hitter Dave Anderson, who was in the on-deck circle.

    However, the ever-crafty Tommy Lasorda, then pulled out Anderson and inserted the injured lefty Kirk Gibson as his pinch hitter. Gibson hobbled up to the plate and Eckersley quickly got him 0-2, however Gibson was able to work the count up to 3-2.

    Eckersley then threw a slider to Kirk Gibson who hit the ball over the right field fence, capturing a victory for the Dodgers. The telecast of this iconic homerun shows the injured Gibson limping around the bases pumping his fists and is one of the most celebrated moments in Dodgers history and in sports television to date.

Number 19: Cal Ripken Breaks Lou Gehrig's Record

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    September 6, 1995

     

    Lou Gehrig was one of the classiest players to ever play the game of baseball.  His humility was only overshadowed by his work-ethic and even Red Sox fans have trouble hating this Yankee.  Gehrig was in a class all to himself for years.

    Enter Cal Ripken, Jr.  The Orioles third-baseman and third baseman began his distinguished career in 1981 (however, his streak actually started on May 30, 1982).  Cal Ripken, Jr. was everything that he should have been for the Orioles.

    He was a mentor, he was a pillar of strength, a role model, and the hardest worker on the team.  Ripken embodied every trait that Gehrig did. 

    Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old consecutive games played record on Sept. 6, 1995 in front of an adoring crowd in Baltimore.

    On a personal note, I am glad that if anyone was going to beat my favorite player of all-time's record, it was Cal Ripken, Jr.

Number 20: Jackie Robinson Takes the Field

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    April 15, 1947

     

    For over 50 years, Major League Baseball was segregated, with black baseball players playing in their own league, called the Negro Baseball League. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, stepped onto Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger, the first black American to join a major league baseball team.

    Robinson was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1947 and MVP in 1949. Robinson did more than just break the color barrier.  He shattered it with his on-the-field atleticism and his off-the-field behavior.  Robinson realized he had the hopes of an entire culture on his shoulders.  He carried it so well, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

    In 1997, every team in Major League Baseball officially retired uniform number 42. 

    I couldn't think of a better tribute to a man who brought so much to the game of baseball. 

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