By Slate and By Date: When the Baseball Schedule Meets the Real World

While Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in baseball, Radio Netherlands Worldwide was hitting the Norwegian airwaves. (via James Cridland)

On October 13, 1960, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski stepped to the plate at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and, with one swing of his Louisville Slugger, made history. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, Game Seven, and his leadoff home run off Ralph Terry had just given the underdog Pirates an unlikely 10-9 victory and a World Series title over the powerhouse Yankees.

On that same calendar date, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy stepped to the dais at a television studio in New York and, with one waggle of his Boston Brahmin tongue, made history. It was the opening of the third presidential debate, Kennedy vs. Nixon, and moderator Bill Shadel had just given the Democratic nominee the first word in TV’s inaugural split-screen demonstration, with incumbent Vice President and Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon appearing on the opposite side of the TV screen from a studio in Los Angeles.

Like Mazeroski, Kennedy would ultimately emerge triumphant, surrounded, just as Maz had been surrounded at home plate, by joyous supporters at his victory speech in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. And like Kennedy, Mazeroski would emerge immortal, having made an everlasting impression, courtesy of the black-and-white days of TV, on the public’s collective consciousness.

Each and together, Maz and JFK had made October 13, 1960, a day to remember — unless you were Nixon or the Yanks. Their shared space on the calendar is, however, just one of many instances in which a historic baseball moment has occurred on the same calendar date as a non-baseball moment in history, be it global or local, public or private, far-reaching or destined to fade. On the day Bill Buckner became an everlasting goat by booting Mookie Wilson’s Game Six grounder and giving the Mets a World Series win — October 25, 1986 — California officials ruled that Baskin-Robbins, Inc., famed curator of 31 flavors, had inaccurately (though unintentionally) weighed the pint, quart and gallon packages of ice cream it had sold to California consumers.

Some measures are standard. Others are subjective.

On the day Roberto Clemente notched his 3,000th hit — September 30, 1972 — a passenger train derailed in South Africa, killing 48. On the day Enos Slaughter scored the winning run in Game Seven of the World Series on what history would call The Mad Dash Home — Oct. 15, 1946 — Gestapo founder and convicted Nazi war criminal Hermann Goring committed suicide two hours before his scheduled  execution. And on the day Bobby Thomson connected on the Shot Heard ’Round The World to win the National League pennant for the New York Giants — Oct. 3, 1951 — a German passport was issued to a Konrad Schubert in Offenbach, Germany.

One wonders: Was this even The Shot Heard ’Round Offenbach?

But it mattered, surely. It mattered to Konrad Schubert, whoever he was.

***

On July 13, 2018, a date when Chase Utley announced his retirement, The Hardball Times published a piece about historic events that share calendar dates with baseball events. Today we do the opposite. We examine how baseball events — some famous, some infamous — have shared dates with past events that had no connection to the Pastime.

First, let it be stated: On the scale of genuine importance, upon which balance we gauge what should truly matter to humankind, even the game’s biggest events and greatest milestones have often failed to measure up. On the day Lou Gehrig became the first American Leaguer to homer four times in a game — June 3, 1932 — the first of a two-week series of earthquakes hit Jalisco, Mexico, and neighboring Guatemala. It registered 8.2 on the Richter scale and killed at least 400 people. Hours later, having witnessed the Iron Horse’s quartet of homers and the Yankees’ 20-13 defeat of the Athletics, some 5,000 fans left Shibe Park, most of them probably unhappy.

In the first game of a Father’s Day doubleheader in 1964, Phillies starter Jim Bunning needed just 90 pitches to complete the fifth perfect game of the modern era. On that same day, social workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were abducted and murdered by KKK members near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

On the day Sandy Koufax pitched the modern era’s sixth perfect game while striking out a perfect-game record 14 batters — September 9, 1965 — Hurricane Betsy made landfall near New Orleans with winds of 145 mph, killing 76 people and becoming the first hurricane to cause $1 billion in damage. The loser of the game, Cubs starter Bob Hendley, had given up just one hit (a bloop double), one walk and one run, unearned, in the 1-0 defeat. Afterward, Hendley was understandably dejected.

“This game is the most recognizable thing I’ve ever done in baseball,” he told reporters. “And I came out a loser.”

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Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Betsy had driven the storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The levees were failing. Residents would drown in their attics.

Even baseball’s most crushing defeats have paled in comparison to real-world calamity. On September  28, 1938, at Wrigley Field, umpires gathered at 5:30 p.m. and decided to let the Pirates and the Cubs play one more half inning — specifically, the bottom of the ninth. Sunset, according to the Chicago Tribune, would come at 5:37 p.m. With the scored tied, 5-5, and the sun barely at the horizon, Chicago’s Gabby Hartnett stepped to the plate with two outs and drove a hanging curveball from Pirates reliever Mace Brown deep to left field. In the gathering darkness, Pirates left fielder Johnny Rizzo sprinted toward the wall but watched helplessly as the ball landed in the bleachers for the game-winning homer.

History would call it the Homer In The Gloamin’, and days afterward, having raced from fourth place to overcome the first-place Pirates, the Cubs would win the pennant. Following the game, Mace Brown sobbed for hours. Teammate Paul Waner stayed by his side, afraid, he would later say, that Brown would commit suicide.

On that same date, in Munich, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler invited Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, French Premier Edouard Daladier, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to a final conference to discuss the Third Reich’s planned annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Two days hence, in an address to British citizens, Chamberlain would famously predict “peace for our time.”

Seven years later, on the day German officials signed the Instrument of Surrender to end a global war that had killed as many as 85 million people, hundreds of German citizens, including entire families, committed suicide.

***

On the day Giants rookie Fred Merkle committed what posterity would call Merkle’s Boner, a dozen cars of a loaded coal train broke through a bridge in northern Maryland and plunged 100 feet into the Susquehanna River. “The excitement in Havre de Grace and Perryville was intense,” the Baltimore Sun later reported, “for in the fog it was difficult to tell just what had happened.”

In the chaos of the Polo Grounds, it was equally difficult to tell just what had happened. After Giants shortstop Al Bridwell’s two-out single pushed Moose McCormick across home plate with the apparent winning run, Giants fans stormed the field in the belief that New York had just defeated Chicago to claim the NL pennant. In the mayhem, Merkle, who had been on first base following a single, failed to touch second base. The rest is history. The game would be declared a tie, and the Giants would lose the replayed game and the pennant to the Cubs.

Merkle, unlike the train plunge, would not be forgotten.

Likewise, many of baseball’s biggest events have shared calendrical space with episodes that were, and remain, far less global than local in impact. On the day 3-foot-7-inch Eddie Gaedel received his one major league at-bat — August 19, 1951 — the Museum of Modern Art’s month-long exhibition Modern Bible Illustration, which included Picasso’s Bathsheba 1 and Bathsheba II, came to an end.

And on the day Fernando Tatis made baseball history by hitting two grand slams in one inning — April 23, 1999 — the notorious New York City nightclub The Tunnel reopened after the city had yanked its liquor license.

You could make this stuff up, but why would you?

The date: October 25, 1889. In the ninth inning of World Series Game Six, Giants shortstop John Ward stroked a two-out, full-count single off Bridegrooms pitcher Adonis Terry and then proceeded to steal second and third, before scoring the tying run. In the 11th, he hit a walk-off single to even the series at three games apiece. The Giants would go on to claim the crown, six games to three.

On that same day, an underwater cable created the first permanent telephone link between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

Maybe they talked about Ward.

***

In other instances, major baseball events coincide with historic events that affect only a few people, or even just one person. On the day Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive-games streak ended, Dear Abby published a letter from “Furious Wife and Stepmother,” who complained that, despite her efforts to do all the “shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry,” in addition to her efforts to host a pair of picnics and buy tickets to fun events, her stepchildren went home to their mother and complained about the visit.

There’s more where that came from — sometimes trivial, sometimes not.

On June 14, 1870, the amateur Brooklyn Atlantics staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the 11th inning to defeat baseball’s first all-professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, 8-7, to end an epic 84-game winning streak. Meanwhile, in the same metropolis, the New York Tribune reported that William A. Gray, a temporary clerk in Boston Custom House, had been arrested for dealing cancelled revenue stamps.

Temporary clerk, indeed.

On the day Piggy Ward’s streak of reaching base in 17 consecutive plate appearances came to an end — June 20, 1882— the trial of Lizzie Borden also ended, with a jury in New Bedford, Massachusetts finding the 33-year-old Fall River woman not guilty of the ax murder of her parents. And on the day Boston Beaneaters second baseman Bobby Lowe became the first major leaguer to hit four home runs in one game, a man named Frank P. Reap died suddenly at the family home in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

***

By contrast, some days are a big deal for one player and no one else, at least with regard to baseball. Still, given the passage of time, those dates go down in Pastime history. Example: On August 29, 1977, Indians second baseman Duane Kuiper stepped to the plate against White Sox starter Steve Stone and connected for the first and, in the end, only home run of his major league career. On that same day, Iggy Pop released his album “Lust for Life.”

Other days are a big deal for one player and non-players alike. On the day Willie Mays ended a slump by hitting four home runs in one game — April 30, 1961 — Lee Harvey Oswald married Marina Prusakova in Minsk, future basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas was born in Chicago, and Grand Prix motorcycle racer Dickie Dale died following a crash in Nurburgring, Germany.

On the day Nolan Ryan hurled his seventh no-hitter, actor Robert Duvall got married, Jailhouse Rock director Richard Thorpe died, and the Angolan Civil War ended. And on the day Ted Williams homered in his final big league at-bat —September 28, 1960 — onetime ballplayer Fidel Castro, the Cuban prime minister, created the Comites para la Defensa de la Revolucion, with volunteers reporting to the Castro government any counter-revolutionary activities by their neighbors.

Relativity has never taken a day off.

September 16, 1975, was a big day for Rennie Stennett. It became a big day for nearly everyone born afterward. In Pittsburgh’s 22-0 rout of the Cubs, Stennett became the only 20th century player to post seven hits in seven at-bats in a nine-inning game. On that same day, Motorola’s Martin Cooper was granted U.S. Patent No. 3,906,166 for the first hand-held cell phone.

Other days are equally famed in baseball history but less so in techno history. On July 10, 1934, Carl Hubbell whiffed five future Hall of Famers in succession at the All-Star Game: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. On that same day, Nikola Tesla announced the invention of his “peace ray,” a “beam of destructive energy” that would provide an impenetrable wall of security for a country in time of war.

As opposed to the cell phone, the peace ray never became a viable product.

And war is still a thing.

On October 15, 1969, the histories of the Vietnam War and the American Pastime nearly merged in a demonstrable way. On that day, at Shea, Mets right fielder Ron Swoboda made a heroic ninth-inning catch to stop an Orioles rally and preserve a 1-1 tie in Game Four of the World Series. Meanwhile, throughout the U.S., hundreds of thousands of people were participating in the Moratorium to End The War in Vietnam demonstrations. In acknowledgment, New York Mayor John Lindsay had requested that the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff at the stadium. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had said no. The following day, after the Mets had won Games Four and Five to claim the crown, celebration replaced demonstration and ticker tape eclipsed the flag.

***

Sometimes, an on-field tragedy can turn other news into minutiae. On the day Boston’s Tony Conigliaro took a fastball to the face — an injury that ultimately ended his career — Pope Paul VI announced a major overhaul of the governance of the Roman Catholic Church. Forgive them, but in the moment Boston’s most faithful Catholics might’ve cared more about Tony C.

On the day Cleveland’s Ray Chapman took a fastball to the left temple — an injury that quickly ended his life — Polish forces staged a counterattack against Soviet troops and forced them out of Warsaw in a victory that secured Poland’s independence. It’s hard for us to remember that key battle. It’s impossible to forget Ray Chapman.

And on the day Cleveland ace Herb Score took a line drive to the face — an injury that cost Score his stardom and career — The Times of London reported that the highlight of a men’s fashion show was the Monmouthshire Hunt dress suit, adding that, lamentably, “there was no place for the popular new trend of summer yachting wear.”

Londoners would learn to survive.

***

Baseball has had its share of infamous dates. June 4, 1974, is known to posterity as 10-Cent Beer Night, when Indians fans, drunk on many dimes’ worth of brew, stormed the field at Cleveland Stadium and attacked the visiting Rangers with fists, knives, rocks, chains, bottles, batteries and stadium seats. On that same day, the NFL awarded Seattle a franchise.

July 12, 1979, is known now, as it was then, as Disco Demolition Night, when Chicago DJ Steve Dahl sparked an on-field riot by exploding hundreds of disco albums in the Comiskey Park outfield grass between games of a White Sox doubleheader. Some time later, Chicago Police in full riot gear at last contained the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people on the field, arresting 39. On that same day, perhaps poetically, drummer Ian Paice kept the rock rollin’ by joining Whitesnake.

September 30, 1971, is slightly less notorious. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning and the hometown Senators leading the Yankees, 7-5, fans at RFK Stadium stormed the field in protest of the team’s impending move to Texas, where the Senators would become the Rangers. Unable to contain the melee, umpires forfeited the game to the Yankees. Dharma and Greg fans, rejoice! Actress Jenna Elfman was born that day.

Network TV has another link to a forfeited game. On September 15, 1977, Orioles manager Buck Weaver pulled his team from the field after claiming that a tarp near the Blue Jays bullpen endangered his players. In short order, umps awarded the win to Toronto. That night, CHiPs premiered on NBC.

Umpires played a key role on May 21, 1927, as well. At Ebbets Field, umpire Frank Wilson needed a police escort after the Robins dropped the second game of a doubleheader to the Cubs. Why? Trailing, 6-2, in the top of the ninth inning, the Cubs had scored nine runs with the help of six walks. On that same calendar date, an American aviator received a different response from the 150,000 fans at Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris. They stormed the field, embraced Charles Lindbergh, and hoisted him aloft.

***

That’s entertainment!

So they say, and baseball has shared the stage.

On the day Pete Rose notched hit No. 4,192 to break Ty Cobb’s all-time record, The Grateful Dead played at Oakland’s Hendry J. Kaiser Convention Center, opening with Mississippi Half Step and finishing with U.S. Blues.

On the day Harvey Haddix pitched 12 spotless innings against the Milwaukee Braves only to lose the perfect game, and the contest, in the 13th frame, Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, was born in Peanuts.

At times, baseball turns to comedy.

On May 26, 1993, the Rangers’ Jose Canseco took a Carlos Martinez fly ball off the scalp and sent it over the right-field wall for a home run. On that same day, The Price is Right contestant Anne Crawford won $6,000 in the Plinko game —and with only two Plinko chips, the fewest in Plinko history!

Baseball can also share the stage with other sports.

Willie Mays announced his retirement on September 20, 1973. That night, in the Astrodome, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes.

On the day Kirk Gibson hit his epic World Series home run, the OU Sooners set an NCAA Division I single-game record of 768 rushing yards. Sorry, Dennis Eckersley. You, too, Kansas State.

On April 9, 1985, Astros starter Nolan Ryan dropped to a knee as Morganna the Kissing Bandit toddled toward him for a kiss. On that day, the 76ers and Celtics squared off for a late-season clash. Among the starting 10 players, eight — Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish of Boston; and Charles Barkley, Maurice Cheeks, Julius Erving and Moses Malone of Philly — would become members of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

***

Sometimes, on-field drama has no equal in the real-world archives.

On the day Boston Beaneater left fielder Hugh Duffy made a stunning bare-handed catch and then gunned out Baltimore base runner Joe Quinn at home plate — August 6, 1897 — Smithsonian Institution librarian Cyrus B. Adler published The International Catalogue of Scientific Literature.

Snore.

On the day Babe Ruth made his famous Called Shot, in Game Three of the 1932 World Series, four members of British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s cabinet resigned in protest of the government’s tariff policy.

Snooze.

On the day Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, Radio Netherlands Worldwide had its first broadcast.

Sigh.

And on the day Bucky Bleepin’ Dent homered over the Green Monster to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead against Boston in their one-game playoff in 1978, TV game show Jeopardy returned to the air after a three-year hiatus.

Uh, who is Bucky Bleepin’ Dent?

***

At other times, the calendars of baseball and history perfectly coincide.

On May 13, 1874, the Chicago White Stockings played their first game since the Great Chicago Fire. On that tragic day three years earlier, the Rockford Forest Citys, en route to Chicago for a game against the White Stockings, had seen the city in flames and turned around to go home. The fire had destroyed the White Stockings’ stadium and equipment. The show was over.

Now, three years later, the White Stockings had taken the field at Chicago’s 23rd Street Park for a game against the Philadelphia Athletics in front of 4,000 fans, with righty George Zettlein on the mound for the home team.

On that same day, in Paris, another group of eager young professionals enjoyed a refreshing debut. Led by lefty Claude Monet, in addition to righties Paul Cezanne and Edgar Degas, artists calling themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc., had gotten their first show.

Cost of admission: 1 franc. And oui, madame, the paintings are for sale!

It should be noted that fans of the artists group, known to history as the Impressionists, need not have attended the exhibition on that specific date. The show went on for a month, from mid-April to mid-May. Likewise, fans of the White Stockings need not have gone to that May 13 game. Sure, the White Stockings won that day, 4-0, but the show would go on all season.


John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
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Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard
Wow! Can’t resist hitting this one out of the park. Now I know how Mickey Mantle felt when Denny McClain served him up a fastball he knew was coming for home run number 535( https://youtu.be/qdl6ABq6E3w). You mention Ralph Terry and JFK. But this is not the only time their names have intersected in world history. On May 19, 1962, Terry pitched a 3 hitter against Minnesota and won 2-1. Complete game, no walks, 1 earned run (Killebrew HR). A great performance. However, his was not the only memorable performance that day in New York. Later on in the evening in… Read more »
scottrat
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scottrat

Alvin Dark: “Mark my words, a man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.” On July 20, 1969, man landed on the moon. Minutes later, Gaylord hit his first major league home run.

hysdavid
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hysdavid

John: Orioles manager Buck Weaver had me questioning my childhood for a moment. Here’s how I prefer to remember that Earl of Baltimore
https://www.fangraphs.com/not/damn-earl-weaver/
Thank you for this and many other articles I’ve enjoyed. scottrat knocked it out of the park with his comment too.