120th anniversary: the NL goes to hell

120 years ago, the battle between morals and profit reached one of its periodic climaxes, and—as often is the case—profitability won.

On April 17, 1892, the National League did something it had steadfastly refused to do for its first 16 years of existence: It had a game take place on Sunday, a.k.a., the Lord’s Day, or the Sabbath.

Yeah, it took long enough, but the NL finally violated that commandment. Or, if you’d rather, 120 years ago the NL went to hell. If you’re interested, the initial Sunday game featured Cincinnati topping St. Louis, 5-1.

While it was the NL’s first Sunday game, it wasn’t the first one in all of major league baseball. In 1882, the NL had its first rival claimant, the American Association. That league would play on Sundays and beer gardens in some of their park. They were openly catering to people’s desires—the lowest common denominator, if you will.

Well, the NL teams would have none of it and held up their noses at their crasser opponent. Sure enough, they outlasted the AA. Their success and the AA’s failure weren’t due to Sunday ball, though, but to the NL having better players and sounder financial backing.

The AA collapsed after 1891 and sure enough, as soon as it was gone, the NL went into the Sunday ball business. After all, there was no more AA to differentiate itself from. What’s more, if the NL left Sunday open, that meant another rival league could come along in the future and have that same edge on the established league.

It wasn’t the entire league that adopted Sunday ball in 1892. Many states and cities had their own ordinances barring it. Pennsylvania and Boston wouldn’t let theirs go until the Great Depression. But the National League itself did, and by the 1930s it went so far as to make Sunday its doubleheader day, the day when more games were scheduled than any other.

That lay in the future, though. But 120 years ago, observing the Sabbath was a thing of the past for the National League.

Aside from that, many other baseball items today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to skim.


1,000 days since Todd Helton collects his 500th career double.

1,000 days since Manny Ramirez belts his first pinch-hit homer. It’s a grand slam in the sixth inning of a game tied 2-2. It’s Ramirez’s home run No. 538 overall.

4,000 days since Alex Rodriguez gets his 1,000th hit.

5,000 days since Dennis Martinez picks up his 244th win, surpassing Juan Marichal for the most by a Latin American pitcher.

5,000 days since Montreal draws 757 dogs to the park on a Dog Day promotion. The Expos top the Devil Rays, 8-2.

8,000 days since former Yankee slugger Charlie Keller dies. He could’ve been a Hall of Famer if it hadn’t been for back problems.

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9,000 days since the Royals fire manager Billy Gardner and replace him with John Wathan.

25,000 days since the White Sox purchase first baseman Hal Trosky from the Indians. Like Keller, back problems cost Trosky a chance at Cooperstown.


1820 Alexander Cartwright, in Cooperstown as the inventor of baseball, is born.

1864 Jersey Bakely, 19th century pitcher with horrible run support, is born.

1869 It’s the first openly professional baseball game in history. The Cincinnati Redlegs beat the Cincinnati Amateurs (that’s really their name), 24-15. As the team name of the loser implies, only one team consisted of professionals.

1884 Jake Daubert, first baseman, is born.

1886 Two notable players make their debut today: Lou Bierbauer, a second baseman from whom the Pittsburgh Pirates got their nickname (they pirated Bierbauer from another team), and Matt Kilroy, a pitcher who still technically owns the record for most strikeouts in a year. He fanned 513 in 583 innings in 1886, before the four-ball, three-strike count had been set up.

1889 Herman Long, one of the best-fielding shortstops of his generation, plays in his first game.

1897 Baltimore releases former ace pitcher Sadie McMahon.

1898 Bobby Mathews, pitcher who won 297 games (including in the sorta big league National Association), dies.

1902 Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Tinker makes his big league debut.

1904 The Brooklyn Dodgers find a loophole in local Sunday laws. They let fans in for free but make them buy a program to enter the grandstand or box seats. This loophole soon will be closed.

1909 The Cubs sell catcher Jimmy Slagle to the Braves.

1913 Seattle Bill James, later a star pitcher for the 1914 Miracle Braves, makes his big league debut.

1913 The Yankees play their first game at the Polo Grounds and lose 9-3 to the Washington Senators.

1914 Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber makes his debut. So does another pitcher of considerably less renown, Dave Davenport.

1923 The Cardinals wear uniform numbers for the first time in a regular-season game.

1923 The Phillies tie the Dodgers, 5-5, in a 14-inning contest that sets a record as the longest Opening Day game in NL history.

1923 Jimmie Wilson, catcher, makes his big league debut.

1924 Senators star outfielder Baby Doll Jacobson hits for the cycle.

1925 Babe Ruth undergoes surgery for intestinal abscess in St. Vincent’s Hospital in NYC for the “belly ache heard around the world.”

1926 Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt has his worst ever day at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three whiffs.

1927 Hall of Fame outfielder Al Simmons legs out his only inside-the-park home run.

1929 Babe Ruth marries actress/model Claire Merritt Hodgson.

1932 Giants first baseman Bill Terry sets an NL record with 21 putouts as they beat the Braves, 5-0, behind pitcher Hal Schumacher.

1932 Hall of Famer Heinie Manush fans four times in a game for the only time in his career. He only fans 345 times in 8,416 plate appearances, but today he has four in five hitless at-bats.

1932 Arky Vaughan, Hall of Fame shortstop and one of the most underrated players in history, makes his big league debut. Also making their debuts today are pitcher Tex Carleton and Paul Richards, a catcher who will later be a great manager.

1934 Casey Stengel manages his first big league game. So does Jimmie Wilson, but his career won’t have the success of Stengel’s.

1934 Lon Warneke carries an Opening Day no-hitter into the ninth versus the Reds. Adam Comorosky singles with one out, earning the boos of the 30,427 fans in attendance.

1934 Hard hitting third baseman Harlond Clift debuts today. So does poor fielding first baseman Zeke Bonura, outfielder Cookie Lavagetto, and Frenchy Bordagaray.

1934 A rebuilt Fenway Park opens, but the Red Sox lose, 6-5 in 11 innings, to Washington.

1936 Brooklyn releases long-lasting starting pitcher Tom Zachary.

1945 Future Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst makes his debut. That’s not the debut that gets people’s attention at the time, though. That honor goes to one-armed outfielder Pete Gray, who plays his first game for the Browns.

1945 The Pirates lose their Opening Day game weirdly. A three-run homer is nullified because Frankie Zak, their runner on first, called time to tie his shoes just before the gopherball pitch. That proves to be the difference in the contest.

1946 Jack Quinn, 200-game winner who pitched until he was nearly 50 years old, dies.

1947 Jackie Robinson gets his first big league hit, a bunt single. In that same game, Duke Snider makes his big league debut.

1951 One of the game’s most storied players makes his debut on this day: Mickey Mantle. Also debuting around the league: Johnny Logan and Roy McMillan.

1951 It’s a first in major league baseball, an Opening Day night game. The Senators top the A’s, 6-1.

1951 Al Lopez manages his first big league game. In it, Lopez’s starting pitcher, Hall of Famer Bob Lemon, has his worst day at the plate. Normally one of the game’s best hitting pitchers, Lemon today is 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. It’s his only four-K game. Lopez is not the only prominent manager debuting today; so does Paul Richards with the White Sox.

1951 Just before the home opener at Wrigley Field, golfer Sam Snead tees off from home plate and hits the centerfield scoreboard, something no batter has ever done.

1953 The Cubs top the Cardinals, 23-13, setting a record for the longest nine-inning game then played: three hours and 43 minutes. Yeah, that’s been broken a ton over the years.

1953 Mickey Mantle hits maybe his most famous home run, a towering shot off Chuck Stobbs at Griffith Stadium estimated to have traveled 565 feet. The Yankees win that game, pushing Casey Stengel’s career record to 972-971. It will always be over .500 from here on out.

1953 Former Negro Leaguer Connie Johnson makes his debut. So does Bob Buhl, who will be one of the worst-hitting pitchers of all time. In one doubleheader, pitchers Johnny Podres and Ruben Gomez also debut.

1954 Don Mossi, maybe the ugliest pitcher in baseball history, debuts.

1954 Charlie Grimm manages his 2,000th game. His record: 1,085-901.

1954 The Reds finally integrate, as first Nino Escalera and then Chuck Harmon play for them in one game. They are either the ninth or tenth team to integrate (the A’s also integrate around this time).

1955 Roberto Clemente, iconic rightfielder, makes his big league debut. Also debuting is terrific pitcher Larry Jackson.

1956 Bill Rigney manages his first game. He’ll last over 2,500 games.

1956 Billy Pierce walks the first batter of the game, something he last did 112 starts ago.

1956 Ed Rommel becomes the first umpire to wear glasses on the field when he works today’s Senators-Yankees game. In that game, Mickey Mantle hit a pair of homers that are each estimated over 500 feet long.

1956 Four Hall of Famers debut in one day, a record. They are: Frank Robinson, Don Drysdale, Luis Aparicio, and Whitey Herzog. OK, so Herzog is in as a manager, but April 17, 1956, is still the greatest one-day debut haul in baseball history. (Not that it matters too much, but Tito Francona and Jerry Lumpe also debut on this day.)

1958 Eddie Mathews is off to a terrific start. He’d already homered twice on Opening Day and today, in the second game on the season, he does it again.

1958 Mudcat Grant, future 20-game winner, makes his big league debut.

1959 Al Kaline belts his 100th home run.

1960 Eddie Mathews gets his 300th home run.

1960 It’s one of the most famous trades in history, as Detroit sends defending batting champion Harvey Kuenn to Cleveland for defending home run champion Rocky Colavito. Detroit gets the better of this one.

1962 Lou Brock hits an inside-the-park home run to lead off the game for the Cubs against the Pirates.

1964 Dick Allen connects for his first career home run.

1964 Willie Stargell hits the first home run at Shea Stadium.

1965 Jim Palmer makes his big league debut.

1967 Marquis Grissom is born.

1968 Johnny Bench will end his career with only 11 sacrifice hits, but two of them come in this game.

1968 Here’s a weird one: The steel shell of a pitcher’s mound at Oakland’s Alameda County Stadium is exposed and has to be covered between innings. Why make a pitcher’s mound out of steel?

1968 Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda suffers through his worst game, according to WPA. He’s 0-for-5 with a walk and GIDP for a –0.413 WPA as the Reds top his Cardinals, 4-3.

1968 Carl Yastrzemski, fresh off a Triple Crown MVP season in 1967, receives three intentional walks in one game for the only time in his career. Aside from them, he’s 1-for-1 with a solo homer on the day. That’s all Boston needs in it’s 2-0 win over the White Sox.

1969 Bill Stoneman tosses the first no-hitter in Montreal history, defeating the Phillies, 7-0, in Connie Mack Stadium.

1970 Bud Harrelson belts his only home run at Shea Stadium. The longtime Met will hit six homers elsewhere in his 16-year career.

1970 California purchases weak-hitting infielder Ray Oyler from the A’s.

1970 Ron Santo receives his only career walk-off walk, as the Cubs top the Expos, 8-7.

1974 Badly hung over Cubs backup catcher George Mitterwald has the game of his life, hitting three homers and a double while driving in eight.

1974 Cleveland’s Gaylord Perry becomes the last pitcher to toss 15 innings in a game. Unfortunately for him, he gets a no-decision as the Indian bullpen lose it in the 16th, 5-4, to Milwaukee. Perry’s line: 15 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 14 K for a Game Score of 95.

1974 Troubled pitcher Steve Blass plays in his last game. He was a good pitcher, but then he suddenly developed a weird mental block and couldn’t find the plate.

1976 It’s one of the wildest games in the history of Wrigley Field, or any field. The Cubs blow an 11-run lead, and the Phillies come back to win, 18-16, in 10 innings. Mike Schmidt was Philadelphia’s engine, as he hit four homers and a single while driving in eight runs.

1976 The Yankees name Thurman Munson their first team captain since Lou Gehrig.

1977 When the Diamondvision at Atlanta shows a close play at the plate that indicates the umpires blew the call, the officials leave the field in protest of the scoreboard. They return only after Atlanta agrees not to show replays on close plays on the scoreboard again.

1981 Texas signs free agent Bobby Bonds.

1982 Keith Hernandez gets his 1,000th hit.

1982 Rickey Henderson steals his 200th base. He’s been in the majors fewer than three seasons (and one of those was strike-shortened).

1982 Eddie Murray enjoys his only five-hit game. All his hits are singles.

1983 Former knuckleballer Dutch Leonard dies.

1983 Nolan Ryan fans his 3,500th batter.

1984 Dennis Eckersley records his 100th loss. His record: 120-100.

1984 The Yankees sign free agent Oscar Gamble, who in his prime had the game’s greatest afro.

1986 Jerry Reuss suffers through his worst start ever: 4 IP, 13 H (including three doubles and three homers), 11 R, 9 ER, 1 BB, and 2 K for a Game Score of –3. As it happens, his previous record for worst Game Score (-2) came exactly 12 years earlier, in 1974.

1986 Ryne Sandberg legs out his only inside-the-park home run.

1988 Atlanta finally wins a game, after starting the year 0-10.

1988 Barry Larkin hits the only inside-the-park home run that Nolan Ryan ever surrenders.

1988 Tony Gwynn is ejected—after asking for it. Sort of. After a call at the plate he disagrees with, he says, “It’s not a strike, and if you don’t like it, you can throw me out.” Yeah, that’s not a smart statement to make.

1993 For the second time this week, Detroit scores 20 runs in a game. In that game, Alan Trammell plays third base. It’s his first time on defense not at short.

1993 Baltimore somehow ends up with three runners on third base. With the bases load, there’s a fly out. The runner on third stays put, but the runner on second advances, and somehow the runner on first makes it all the way there, too.

1993 Mike Hampton makes his big league debut.

1994 Cory Snyder belts three homers in a game. It’s the second time he’s done that.

1995 Cincinnati signs free agent Benito Santiago.

1995 Kirby Puckett goes to the hospital for an eye problem he suddenly developed on March 28. It turns out his career is suddenly over.

1998 Chuck Finley wins his 14th straight game. His line in that span: 124 IP, 98 H, 30 R, 30 ER, 48 BB, and 116 K for a 2.18 ERA.

2000 MLB owners approve the sale of the Royals to David Glass for $96 million.

2001 22 days before his 40th birthday, Tony Gwynn gets his last triple. It’s his first one since 1997.

2001 Barry Bonds belts his 500th career home run.

2001 Ichiro Suzuki, still in his first month in North America, is caught stealing twice in one game. It hasn’t happened to him since then.

2002 Orioles starting pitcher Erik Bedard makes his debut. So does Cincinnati batter Austin Kearns.

2003 Toronto outfielder Reed Johnson makes his major league debut.

2004 After Cleveland’s starting pitcher is rocked—he allows all six batters he faces to reach base—the team brings in Jake Westbrook in relief. He retires all 21 batters he faces, tying for the longest perfect relief outing since 1920.

2006 Pedro Martinez becomes only the fourth pitcher since 1920 to record 200 wins before losing 100 games when he earns the victory today. Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, and Juan Marichal also did it. Martinez’s record at the moment: 200-84.

2007 Jorge Posada hits his 200th home run.

2008 Colorado tops the Padres, 2-1, in 22 innings in what’s the only known game where both teams toss over 320 pitches (337 for San Diego, 321 for Colorado).

2008 Florida’s Ricky Nolasco allows nine hits, all for extra bases. It’s the most hits allowed without surrendering a single any pitcher has had since at least 1920, and probably ever. He allows four doubles, a triple, and four homers.

2009 Gary Sheffield has an interesting way to join the 500 home run club—he belts a pinch-hit homer. It’s the second pinch-hit shot of his career. The first one happened 15 years earlier.

2009 Jason Kubel hits for the cycle, the third one baseball has witnessed in the last five days.

2009 Catcher Michael Barrett plays in his last game.

2010 Albert Pujols sets a new personal best by reaching base six times in one game. He’s 2-for-5 with four walks as the Cardinals lose, 2-1, in 20 innings to the Mets. The score was 0-0 after 18 frames.

2010 Ubaldo Jimenez tosses the first no-hitter in Rockies history.

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3 Comments on "120th anniversary: the NL goes to hell"

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How much of the NL’s no games on Sunday was a league policy vs state/local law?  Did they have written rules banning Sabbath games?

Hal Trosky’s problem was migraine headaches, not a bad back.

1954, Reds integrate.  Meaning in 7 years only half the ML teams could find black ballplayers good enough to play for them.  How many teams skipped over not just Jackie but also Campy, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, …..


“1909 The Cubs sell catcher Jimmy Slagle to the Braves.”

You of course meant “CENTER FIELDER Jimmy Slagle”….

Chris J.
Chris J.

Thanks for the corrections on Trosky and Slagle.  My mistakes.

The NL thing wasn’t just due to state/local laws.  They had team in St. Louis, for example, at the same time the AA team had a team in St. Louis.  The AA played on Sunday.  The NL didn’t.  There are other overlaps.  The NL just didn’t play on Sundays.