By Date and By Slate: When History Meets the Baseball Schedule

On the day the Titanic was sunk, there were some great pitching performances in baseball. (via Public Domain)

On June 30, 1908, a meteoroid measuring as much as 620 feet, or, precisely twice the distance from home plate to the Green Monster at Fenway Park, exploded above Eastern Siberia and flattened 80 million trees across a forested area some 800 square miles in size. On that same calendar day, though at a far different decibel, Red Sox ace Cy Young toed the rubber at New York City’s Hilltop Park and issued a leadoff walk to the Highlanders’ Harry Niles, who, a day earlier, when those 80 million trees were still standing tall, had homered in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the second game of a four-game series into extra frames before 1,500 fans.

At first, the walk might have seemed as surprising as it was unimportant — surprising because Young had walked just four batters in his previous 62 innings, and unimportant because, at 28-37, the Sox were going nowhere. Moments after Niles reached base, the walk proved more trivial when Boston catcher Lou Criger threw him out on an attempted steal. Roughly an hour and 55 minutes later, however, the walk earned the sort of retroactive importance only history can make real.

It was all that separated Young’s third no-hitter from his second perfect game.

Indeed, on a day when history’s largest impact event had obliterated an area nearly the size of Rhode Island, the 41-year-old right-hander had faced the minimum number of batters in leading the pre-Fenway Red Sox to an 8-0 win. For emphasis, he’d even posted a team-leading four RBI on three hits.

What did the two events, 5,300 miles apart, have in common? Aside from their place on a mutual Tuesday, not much. Today, we could get cute and say each occurred without the accompaniment of the Vienna Philharmonic, but really, notwithstanding the calendar space, the events had no connection. Correlation, in this case, didn’t even imply correlation.

Still, this sort of chronological coincidence should be of interest to even a casual student of history. It reinforces a central truth: We, as widely dispersed Homo sapiens, live in both a shared space and a shared time, but while Eastern Siberia will never overlap with Washington Heights, the moments that align with each region can make history within the same midnight-to-midnight frame. More importantly, it emphasizes the relativity of, well, importance.

And so the question must be asked: If 80 million trees fall in a Russian forest and Cy Young isn’t there to hear them because he’s about to pitch a near-perfect game at Hilltop Park, did they make a sound? O, da. Oh, yeah. The blast registered at 300 decibels, roughly 1,000 times louder than the future bombing of Hiroshima.

Young’s no-hitter registered, too, if more quietly.

In short, it happened, no matter how many people heard.

It happened like all things happen: On This Day In History.

***

It was a midsummer day back home in the States, but, below the equator, in the mountains of central Peru, it was a midwinter day for Hiram Bingham III as he crossed the Urubamba River on a hand-hewn bridge and began an ascent of Huayna Picchu, a mountain crowned with a myth made of stone.

At the top, and with the help of local guides, the Yale lecturer set foot on the ruins of Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca citadel whose existence had been whispered of but never confirmed by the outside world. On that same calendar day — July 24, 1911 — New York Giants ace Rube Marquard made like Cy Young by doing damage with both his arm and his bat. Facing the Reds at Cincinnati’s Palace of the Fans, the 24-year-old righty pitched a complete game for his 10th win while contributing a pair of triples. The triples were among the four the Giants hit that day, a club record.

One feat, in summer, would go down in history.

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The other, in winter, would go down in history.

The irony is that while the Giants surely celebrated their day in the field, Bingham probably didn’t. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d found. Only later, as layers of vegetation were cleared to reveal the extent of Machu Picchu, did the world understand what July 24, 1911, had supplied to its biography. Meanwhile, the layers of time pretty much covered that four-triple game. Who, aside from some nerdy historian, would recall the Giant afternoon?

History is like that; it’s an accumulation of events whose importance is known only through the lenses its hours, days, months and years provide. It’s also an accumulation of events to which no lens can give equivalence. On the day of the Hiroshima bombing, Tigers catcher Paul Richards was ejected for arguing a ball-four call on Chicago’s Johnny Dickshot. And on the day German U-boat U-20 sank British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, the Yankees lost to the rival Red Sox, 5-3.

They must have been bummed. Of course, things would get better for the Bombers. A day earlier, Boston pitcher Babe Ruth, batting ninth, had slugged his first career homer en route to his 12.1-inning complete-game loss to the Pinstripes. Four years later, on December 26, 1919, Boston sold the slugging ace to New York. It made history.

On that same day, per the Swine Record Association, another sale took place: that of a pig named Bobby’s Pet to Louis Weber of Dane, Wisconsin. You heard it here first.

***

Some 37 months before the May 7, 1915, sinking of the Lusitania, a different ship went down. The tragedy of the RMS Titanic, on April 15, 1912, hit New York especially hard. Eighty of its passengers had listed New York City as their hometown. Of those, 25 would perish, along with approximately 1,500 other victims, after the ocean liner struck an iceberg and sank nearly three hours later, in the early morning hours of April 15. Its destination, of course, had been New York City.

No matter which lens is looked through, Gotham had a bad day. At Hilltop Park, the Highlanders lost to Walter Johnson and the Senators, 1-0, after Washington scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Meanwhile, in Boston, Giants ace Christy Mathewson lost his season debut by dropping a 3-0 decision to starter Hub Perdue and the Braves. Mathewson would go on to win 23 games that season. Perdue would win 51 in his career. But on this day, a dark day, Perdue hurled a seven-hit shutout.

Today, one might wonder: Among Titanic passengers, had any planned to attend a game after reaching the appointed shore? On the day of its scheduled arrival, April 17, only one game took place. In Boston, the Highlanders beat the Braves, 4-1, as Hooks Wiltse went the distance against the complete-game loser, Buster Brown.

Hooks had gone the distance before. On July 4, 1908, just five days after Cy Young retired the final 26 batters, Wiltse achieved the inverse feat: Against the Phillies, he retired the first 26 batters before facing opposing pitcher George McQuillan, who, to this point, had also thrown a shutout. On a 1-2 offering, Wiltse threw what looked to be strike three, but umpire Cy Rigler — who would later admit he’d blown the call — called it a ball. With the next pitch, Wiltse hit McQuillan. The perfect game was gone.

Like Young, Wiltse would settle for a no-hitter. On that same day — July 4, 1908 — America raised a new flag, with 46 stars, to honor Oklahoma’s new statehood.

Four years later, on April 21, 1912, Wiltse and his Highlanders squared off against the crosstown Yankees. The score didn’t matter. What mattered was that the benefit raised $9,425 — equivalent to $230,000 today — for Titanic survivors.

Meanwhile, tornadoes pounded Illinois, Indiana, Texas and Oklahoma, killing 105.

***

Disasters, whether natural or manmade, are hardly selective in time and place.

On the day of China’s Tangshan earthquake, which, in killing 655,000, is believed to have been the deadliest quake of the 20th century, White Sox pitchers Blue Moon Odom and Francisco Barrios combined to throw a no-hitter in Chicago’s 2-1 defeat of Odom’s former team, the A’s. It would be the final win of Odom’s career. On the day of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, Padres reliever Craig Lefferts hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 12th to give San Diego a 12-11 victory over San Francisco. It was the first, last and only homer of Lefferts’ 12-season career.

There’s more, of course, where that came from.

On the day of Bangladesh’s Daulatpur-Saturia tornado, which, in killing an estimated 1,300, is the deadliest tornado ever recorded, Giants left fielder Kevin Mitchell made his famous bare-handed catch.

And on the day Hitler invaded Poland — September 1, 1939 — 20-year-old rookie Ted Williams went 3-for-3 with two walks in five at-bats in Boston’s 14-10 loss to Detroit. Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, Olivia Carty gave birth to a boy named Ricardo. Three decades later, in Game Three of the 1969 NLCS, Atlanta’s Rico Carty struck out against Mets fireballer Nolan Ryan, who had just entered in relief, with runners on second and third base and no outs. The Amazin’ Mets would go on to win the clinching game, 7-4, before shocking the dominant Orioles in the World Series.

On that title-clinching day — October 16, 1969 — Soyuz 6 returned to the home planet, the Soviet spacecraft having completed 80 orbits. One of its two cosmonauts, Georgy Shonin, had come a long way. Three decades earlier, following the Axis invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union, he had grown up under Nazi occupation.

***

Many of history’s tragic events are less widespread, more focused, than a catastrophic quake or mile-wide tornado. On the day anarchist Leon Czolgosz mortally wounded President William McKinley during a shooting in Buffalo, the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Empire State another blow, if trivial by comparison, by drubbing the Giants in both ends of a doubleheader, 15-2 and 13-4. In one of the games, 26-year-old pitcher Jake Livingstone made his big league debut.

Surely, the news of the day overshadowed his feat.

Three days later, on September 9, 1901, Livingstone made his big league denouement, having pitched 12 innings across two games and yielded 12 runs on 26 hits. Born in the Russian Federation on March 22, 1875, he died on his birthday in 1949 and is buried in an unknown cemetery in New York.

Somehow, across all this time, the world creates its own connections.

On the night of August 8, 1969, members of the Manson Family murdered five people, including actress Sharon Tate, whose husband, Poland-born director Roman Polanski, had fled the Nazis after the 1939 invasion. On the night of the murders, three Hall of Fame pitchers — Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins and Catfish Hunter — yielded three earned runs apiece in losses.

Hunter would die 30 years later, on September 9, 1969, of ALS, known otherwise as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Some 40 years before that, on July 4, 1939, the Iron Horse had famously made his “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium.

Meanwhile, in Carbondale, Illinois, Delbert Spain of Chicago returned to the Windy City after visiting his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ira Spain, for the Fourth of July.

***

The deaths of Hunter and Gehrig are tragic. Other deaths, in the eyes of history, are less so. On the day Pat Garrett gunned down Billy the Kid — July 14, 1881 — the Boston Red Stockings beat the Detroit Wolverines, 3-2, at Recreation Park.

On the day a six-man posse gunned down Bonnie and Clyde — May 23, 1934 — four creatively named pitchers stepped to major league mounds. Heinie Meine, Red Ruffing and Lefty Stewart all lost their starts, while Boston’s Lefty Grove beat Cleveland’s Mel Harder to move to 2-0 on the season as Harder dropped to 0-4.

Seasons are long. By year’s end, Harder would notch the first of his two 20-win seasons. Grove, with arm trouble, would finish a career-worst 8-8 with a 6.50 ERA.

Still, he had a better year than Bonnie and Clyde.

Just two months after their deaths, FBI agents gunned down outlaw John Dillinger in Chicago. Earlier that day, July 22, Mel Harder won his 10th game in his past 11 starts to run his record to 10-5 on the season. His victim: Boston.

At the time, Grove was still out with an injury. Sometimes, careers are long. He’d return to full strength in 1935, earning his sixth ERA title before claiming three more. No season can stop time. Still, you can always turn it back. On the day a French firing squad executed German spy Mata Hari — October 15, 1917 — the White Sox defeated the Giants, 4-2, in Game Six of the World Series to capture their second title. It would be their last until 2005, in large part because Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, on August 3, 1921, banned eight White Sox for being Black Sox.

Born on that day — August 3, 1921 — was Richard Adler, who, in the 1950s, would write the music and lyrics for the musical Damn Yankees. It made its Broadway debut on May 5, 1955. The Yankees, alas, did not play that day. Still, the show would go on.

History always sees to it.

On October 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona, nine men engaged in the Old West’s most famous shootout: the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Born on that day was Gerry Shea. In his two major league games, in 1905, Shea would notch two hits in six at-bats. His story is longer than that. The 23-year-old had been sitting in the stands on Oct. 1, watching the Cardinals play the Superbas, when the St. Louis catcher went down with injury. In the last such instance known in big league history, Shea stepped from the stands, donned a uniform and played ball.

Kurt Russell also played ball, batting .292 across three minor league seasons before a torn rotator cuff ended his career. On May 17, 1973, the Portland Mavericks gave Russell his release. He moved to Hollywood and went on to appear in more than 40 movies, including Tombstone. It depicted the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

The show, like the Show, always goes on.

Indeed, on May 17, 1973, the television broadcast of the Watergate hearings began. That same night, in Anaheim, Angels outfielder Bobby Valentine suffered multiple compound leg fractures when his spikes caught in the fence as he leapt for Dick Green’s second-inning homer. Ken Berry replaced Valentine. The A’s went on to win, 4-0. Earning the victory, in a complete-game five-hitter, was Catfish Hunter.

***

The Watergate scandal began on the night of June 17, 1972, when five burglars were caught sneaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. That same night, against Baltimore, Minnesota’s Dan Monzon was caught sneaking off third base when catcher Johnny Oates threw to Brooks Robinson for the pickoff.

Per WPA — Win Probability Added — it became the game’s most pivotal play, improving Baltimore’s chances of winning by 17 percent.

The Orioles did win, 4-1. Providing the margin was shortstop Mark Belanger, who, having notched two hits and a walk versus ace Bert Blyleven, scored three runs. The light-hitting Belanger had enjoyed a similarly uncharacteristic game on August 18, 1969, going 4-for-5 — including a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double off reliever Jim Bouton — and notching five RBI in Baltimore’s 12-3 defeat of the Seattle Pilots.

The Orioles, of course, would lose that season’s World Series to the Amazin’ Mets. Just as famously, Bouton would chronicle that same campaign in his notorious tell-all, Ball Four. Not only would Bouton also go on to become a teammate of Russell’s on the Portland Mavericks, he would also appear on The Dick Cavett Show on June 8, 1971.

Appearing that day, too, was psychedelic-soul group Sly and the Family Stone, who, in 1969, had appeared at Woodstock. On the final day of that event, Jimi Hendrix punctuated one of music’s most powerful performances when, with his famous Fender-Strat, he played the period-defining version of The Star-Spangled Banner. Hours later, on the other side of the country, Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer drove an offering from Bouton into left field to score Belanger from second base.

***

History, when seen in a certain light, is just a big old series of events. Nothing occurs in isolation, of course, but at times, separate episodes could not seem farther apart. It’s odd to reckon that a gunfight in the Old West is on the same planet, let alone on the same day, as a game in the old East.

History knows June 26, 1876, as the second and final day of the Battle of Little Bighorn, i.e. Custer’s Last Stand, when 5,000 Lakota, Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho wiped out General George Custer’s 7th Cavalry Regiment in Montana. History forgets — and why not? — that on that same Monday afternoon, the Hartford Dark Blues blanked the Louisville Grays, 3-0. Records are sketchy, but either Tommy Bond or Candy Cummings started the game for the Blues, while Jim Devlin likely started the game for the Grays— very likely. Of the Grays’ 69 games that season, Devlin, who, 15 months later, would be banished from baseball for gambling, started 68.

Today it’s worth noting that, on Day One of Custer’s Last Stand, not a single pitcher stepped to a major league mound. Back then, in honor of the Sabbath, they didn’t play on Sundays. They did fight on Sundays, though.

On Sunday, June 28, 1914, Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, initiating events that precipitated the First World War. That same day, the Chicago Chi-Feds’ shortstop initiated a double play that went Tinker to Farrell to Beck. Indeed, Joe Tinker had already made his name with former Cubs teammates Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. The double-play trio had played their final game together on October 1, 1910, when, against the Reds, Evers suffered a broken leg. Born on that day— October 1, 1910 — was Bonnie Parker, of Clyde infamy.

On Sunday, April 21, 1918, Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Roy Brown shot down German flying ace Capt. Manfred von Richthofen, known otherwise as the Red Baron, during a dogfight above northern France. In Cincinnati that day, Cubs pitching ace Pete Alexander earned his first victory of the year by hurling a complete-game eight-hitter to down the Reds, 9-1. Alexander would make one more start that season, beating the Cardinals, 3-2, before Uncle Sam yanked him into the Army’s 342nd Field Artillery Regiment. By July, the three-time 30-game winner was on the front lines. His seven weeks in intense fighting would leave him deaf in one ear, damaged in the other, and with an injured pitching arm. Worse, he suffered shell shock. Though still an ace upon his 1919 return, Alexander would never be the same.

On Saturday, June 28, 1919 — exactly five years to the day after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand — Germany and the Allied Powers signed the Treaty of Versailles, effectively ending a war that had killed 18 million Homo sapiens and wounded 23 million others. That same day, at the Polo Grounds in New York, Red Sox ace Carl Mays started — and completed — both ends of a doubleheader against the Yankees, winning the first game, 2-0, and losing the second, 4-1. Just two weeks later, after grumbling he wanted out of Boston, Mays got his wish: a trade, to the same Yankees against whom he’d pitched two complete games in one day.

The following year, in the Yankees’ August 20 game against Cleveland, Mays hit Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch. It killed him.

***

History, despite its atmosphere of disconnected events, is also a vast field of contingencies. If Mays hadn’t demanded a trade, and if that trade hadn’t sent him to the Yankees, would Chapman have been killed? Unless you’re a true believer in the inexorable hand of fate, you’d have to say no.

Mays’ trade, on July 30, 1919, was Chapman’s deadly misfortune.

It’s true, however, that the planet is big, and, as its history has shown, events that occur in far-flung regions on the same calendar day often bear no tie beyond timing — unless we really go looking for it. July 21, 1925, marked the end of the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Tennessee jury convicted John Thomas Scopes of the crime of teaching evolution in school. On the day the monkey lost, the Rabbit won. Chicago shortstop Rabbit Maranville went 4-for-6, with two doubles and three RBI, in the Cubs’ 15-3 drubbing of the Braves.

That’s a dubious connection, granted, but a connection nonetheless.

You might have a harder time finding even the weakest links in other events. On the day Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa disappeared — July 30, 1975 — the Rangers offense also disappeared, managing five hits, all singles, in a 1-0 loss to Oakland.

On the day of the first (alleged) sighting of the Loch Ness Monster — May 2, 1933 — Dizzy Dean, in a sense, was also sighted for the first time. After going winless in April, he notched his first victory with a 13-4 complete-game defeat of the Dodgers.

And on the day Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth, Dodgers left fielder Wally Moon — mmm-hmm, Moon — orbited the bases upon hitting a second-inning homer.

At other times, though, world events and baseball events merge more genuinely, more palpably, as Earth turns in space. On the night Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon — mmm-hmm, the Moon —officials halted the Cubs-Phillies game so that the teams could gaze at old Luna.

The Eagle had landed.

So had Ron Santo’s homer.

Moments earlier, his third-inning blast had given Chicago a lead it wouldn’t lose.

Three decades earlier, on May 6, 1937, players and fans at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds had a similar thrill, perhaps more visceral, upon watching the Hindenburg soar overhead. They could not have known, or imagined, it would crash and burn hours later. History is like that. In it, anything can happen and at any time.

***

On April 20, 1910, people across the planet gazed skyward when their daytime turned to night. Overhead, at its perihelion, was Halley’s Comet, a lash of light above a globe in a spin through its calendar.

Just 22 months earlier, a meteoroid had exploded above Eastern Siberia in what history would call the Tunguska Event. Scientists, searching for answers, would theorize that it might have been a comet. Lacking solid evidence, they could only extrapolate from visible effects — among them, those 80 million fallen trees.

Whatever its make-up, it had left a mark.

But what were the odds, one might ask, of such a cosmic event?

On April 20, 1910, in the hours before Chicago’s daylight turned to darkness, Indians ace Addie Joss stepped to the mound at Southside Park for a game against the White Sox. In the bottom of the second inning, Chicago’s Freddy Parent hit a slow hopper to Cleveland third baseman Bill Bradley. Bradley raced for the ball, juggled it, then threw too late to retire Parent. Initially, the scorer ruled it a hit but later changed it to an error. It mattered. At game’s end, Joss had thrown his second no-hitter.


John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
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evilsquirrel13
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evilsquirrel13

Any piece on baseball intertwining with history has to include the fact that Gaylord Perry hit the first of his six career homeruns on July 20, 1969… and the apocryphal quote (usually attributed to his manager when he first debuted, Al Dark) that Perry was such a terrible hitter that “There’ll be a man on the moon before he ever hits a Major League homerun.” I believe the timing of the homer was just hours before Neil Armstrong made that one giant leap for mankind…

pedeysRSox
Member
pedeysRSox

“September 9, 1969” Catfish passed away 30 years afterwards, correct date though