Watching the Major League Baseball playoffs this year, I thought about how we arrived at the point in baseball where we now stand. I decided to look further into it, do some research, and put together a list of the top five moments, in my mind, that have changed baseball forever.
I looked at moments that changed a team, a style, a tradition, and the game itself. So here it is:
5. Roberto Clemente dies in plane crash while going to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua
Roberto Clemente is known as an all-time great on the baseball diamond. He was a fantastic player on the field, and a fantastic person off it. His off-seasons were filled with charity work, and for him to die doing such work was the most unexpected tragedy baseball has ever seen. His death was so heartbreaking that his best friend and teammate Manny Sanguillen did not attend his funeral. Sanguillen chose to dive into the waters near Clemente's death to try to find his friend.
Just a few months after Clemente's death, the Baseball Hall of Fame decided to waive Clemente's waiting period to get voted in and put him on the ballot. He received 92% of the vote, easily making him a hall of famer.
Ever since, many awards have been named for and honored after Clemente, and his death is still mourned by many. He has widened the door for charity in baseball and has forever left his mark on the game.
4. BALCO is investigated, many well-known MLB players found on customer lists
The day that Barry Bonds was found on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) customers list was the day paranoia began in Major League Baseball.
Barry Bonds was on pace to break all kinds of records, and was being mentioned as already possibly the best player to ever play the game. In most discussions among conscientious baseball fans, that quickly went away.
On September 5th, 2003 after a search of the BALCO facilities, a list of notable customers was released. Barry Bonds headed the list.
Most of us know the rest of this story. Mark McGwire was also accused of using steroids, along with Rafael Palmeiro and many others. All three have never been thought of in the same light since.
Then the MLB went deeper into this. George Mitchell was picked to research and compile a detailed report on the situation. When the report was finally released, names like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite and Eric Gagne headlined this list of accused steroid users.
Ever since, people are wondering who is taking steroids and who isn't. Whenever someone looks at a "big" baseball player, they instinctively think of whether they are all-natural or not. It's a shame because we will never be able to look at baseball players the same way again.
3. Hank Aaron hits home run number 715, passing Babe Ruth for first on the all-time home run list
To me, there's no doubt that the most historic home run in baseball history was Hank Aaron's 715th home run.
After a long winter filled death threats, Aaron did not give up. He did not give in. All he did was go out and do what he did best.
He started the season with 713 home runs, and tied Ruth's 714 in his first at-bat of the season. When the Braves played their first game in Atlanta, a record crowd of 53,775 attended what would end up being one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
The home run occurred in the fourth inning, and the rest was magic. As Aaron trotted around the bases, two white men ran onto the field and congratulated Aaron; something that nobody at the time would imagine actually happened, even in their wildest dreams.
Even though Barry Bonds has since broken Aaron's record, Aaron is still considered the home run king. He was the one who dethroned Babe Ruth, and he had to battle through years of threats and controversy.
2. Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier
Jackie Robinson ended about eighty years of segregation in baseball in 1947, and has opened the gate for many African American players after him.
Ever since Jackie Robinson's first major league game, the number of African Americans in baseball has increased (except lately, when the percentage has decreased). He dealt with more threats, hate notes, criticism, and racism than almost anyone in the history of the United States. Day in and day out, Robinson would be verbally attacked, on the field and off.
Also, for a period of time, he was not allowed to stay in the same hotel or eat in the same restaurant as his teammates. But he battled through all of the controversies to break the color barrier and show people that an African American could be just as good as a white player.
Not only was Robinson a leader for African Americans all over, he was a great player as well. He is known as one of the most explosive and talented players to ever play.
All of his achievements led to his enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and the retirement of his number 42 jersey throughout the entire league.
To this day, the anniversary of Robinson's first game is celebrated league-wide every year.
1. The Boston Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees
George Herman Ruth is considered by many the greatest player to ever play the game of baseball; and when the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, the game of baseball was changed forever.
Ruth put up amazing numbers even before his departure for New York, but when he was sold to the Yankees, it was like nothing baseball had ever seen before.
Let's look at all of the events that happened soon after Ruth's arrival in New York:
- The Yankees begin their string of World Series Championships
- The Yankees build a stadium for Ruth
- The Red Sox magically end their string of World Series Championships
- A fierce rivalry between the two takes shape
- Babe Ruth "saves" the game of baseball and becomes one of the most influential people of all time and is considered as the best player of all time.
Wow. All of that to finance a Broadway play. I kind of think Harry Frazee quickly regretted his sale of The Babe.