With spring comes Major League Baseball’s opening day. Once again the long season promises to deliver many entertaining moments for fans. Over MLB’s long history there have been many unforgettable moments including Carlton Fisk’s walk-off home run in the 1975 World Series, pitcher Randy Johnson’s unfortunate and unlikely encounter with a bird and Lou Gehrig’s touching retirement speech. Many baseball highlights are part of the pile of numbers the league uses to carefully measure a player’s performance. Home runs, strike outs, hits and a list of other statistics are compared and celebrated by players, media and fans. However, some of the most interesting baseball stories are just human interest stories such as the signing of 3’7″ Eddie Gaedal to a major league contract. With a long season ahead of us we can expect a lot of good games and some more unforgettable moments in baseball.
10. Little Big Man
St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck was looking for a publicity stunt to put more fans in the seats. He found 3’7″ Eddie Gaedal. Gaedal became famous for his one at bat on August 19, 1951 against the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a double header. The diminutive batter was walked on 4 straight pitches, but he almost never made it to the plate at all because the umpire thought it was a joke. Mr. Veeck had likely anticipated the umpire’s reaction and was able to show the skeptical official a copy of Gaedal’s contract to settle the controversy. Gaedal was immediately replaced by a pinch runner when he reached first base and so marked the end of number “1/8″‘s brief major league career. His small size and first been an attribute during World War Two when he worked as a riveter in an airplane factory where he could crawl inside the planes’ wings to work. After his unforgettable baseball moment Gaedal was able to use his notoriety to book more appearances.
9. Man of Steal
Rickey Henderson wasn’t quite superhuman, but he certainly earned the nickname “Man of Steal.” Henderson was a solid and durable all around player with over 3,000 hits, and 10 all-star game appearances. However, he will always be most known for his love of base stealing. Henderson holds the all-time stolen base record with 1,406 and it might never be broken. He broke the previous record of 939 held by Lou Brock on May 1, 1991. After his impressive career Henderson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009 with 94 percent of the vote. This was a fitting cap on a career that lasted from 1979 to 2003 despite several injuries and an inevitable decline in performance. During his long career Henderson played for 10 different teams and it included 4 separate stints with his hometown team the Oakland Athletics. His love of baseball led to Ricky Henderson giving us one of baseball’s unforgettable moments.
8. Mr. October
Reggie Jackson played right field for the Oakland Athletics, the New York Yankees and several other teams, but he got the nickname “Mr. October because of his clutch hitting in the post season. Jackson was a controversial player who seemed to relish the limelight. He had several run-ins with fellow players and even managers. Most notably Jackson got into an argument with Yankee manager Billy Martin at Fenway park after Martin removed Jackson from a game for showing a lack of effort in right field. Drama aside, Reggie Jackson is most known for his performance in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Yankee Stadium. Jackson’s performance played out like a Hollywood script in which he knocked 3 home runs in 3 successive at bats. This unforgettable performance drove in 5 runs and led the Yankees to a World Series victory in Game 6. Jackson went on to be inducted into the the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993.
7. Watch the Birdie
At 6’10” Major League baseball Player Randy Johnson was an intimidating figure on the pitcher’s mound. “The Big Unit” played in the the majors for twenty years, earned 5 Cy Young Awards and recorded more than 4,800 strikeouts. Unfortunately, his unforgettable moment came during a spring training game March 24, 2001 against the San Fransisco Giants. Johnson threw a pitch that struck and completely annihilated a mourning dove that happened to fly right into the ball’s path. Feathers were scattered in all directions and the umpire ruled the play a no-pitch. A grounds keeper plucked the bird from the field and play resumed. This accidental execution only furthered Johnson’s reputation as a formidable pitcher that players did not want to mess with. This exploding bird incident is considered one of the most unlikely events to have ever happened during a baseball game. It was certainly an unlikely event, but it was also an unforgettable moment that will live forever on youtube.
6. Doing The Wave
Game 6 of the 1975 World Series was tied 6-6 when Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk came to bat in the bottom of the 12th inning. Fisk was a good hitter, especially for a catcher. He was about to hit one of the most memorable home runs in Fenway Park history. After making contact the ball sailed in a high arc over the left field line. Fisk didn’t want to leave anything to chance so he started hoping along the base path and waiving the ball back to the right. Red Sox fans held their collective breath for a few seconds before the ball hit the left field foul pole. Fisk had just hit a walk-off home run against the Cincinnati Reds. This home run meant there would be a game 7. However, the Reds went on to win the final game to capture the championship. Even with this disappointing loss Red Sox fans are proud of this unforgettable baseball moment. Carlton Fisk played with the Red Sox for five more years then played for the Chicago White Sox until he retired in 1993. he was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
5. The Chase
Major League Baseball’s 1998 season was all about the home runs. This was the year that not one, but two players beat the record held by Yankee Roger Maris since 1961 when he hit 61 home runs that season. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs whipped up a lot of excitement among the sports media and the fans with their season – long chase. The opening months of the season saw McGwire on the record pace with Sosa well behind in the tally until he got hot in June. At the end of August the pair of sluggers were tied at 55. Excitement continued to grow as the two players continued “The Chase” into September McGwire eclipsed Maris’s record on September 8 in a game against the Cubs with his shortest home run of the season at 341 feet. The St. Louis slugger went on to finish the season with 70 home runs. Sosa couldn’t quite match McGwire and ended the season with 66. In the aftermath of these records both players came under suspicion of using steroids and in 2010 McGwire admitted he had used them help him win “The Chase.” Major League Baseball came under pressure to get serious about its drug testing policies, but this home run battle is still one of the unforgettable moments in baseball.
4. The Catch
Willie Mays was a great all around player, equally impressive in the outfield and in the batter’s box. The San Fransisco Giant center fielder is probably best known for a play he made in the outfield that is known simply as “The Catch.” In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series a Cleveland Indian named Vic Wertz smacked a fly ball into deep center field. Mays had been playing shallow so he was forced to turn and give chase. He reached the warning track before he managed to catch the ball over his shoulder. The game was tied 2-2 when Wertz came up to bat and if the ball had dropped near outfield fence several Indians would have scored to give them the lead. The next Cleveland batter hit a fly-out to end the inning with the score still tied so the Indians missed their chance to take the lead. The Giants held on and eventually won the game and went on to sweep the Indians in the championship series. Willie Mays was not as impressed with the play as most other people were and insisted he had made a number of more difficult defensive plays in his career. Regardless of what Mays might have thought about it “The Catch” was immortalized in a book called And the Fans Roared.
3. The Speech
Lou Gehrig earned the nickname “The Iron Horse” playing his whole 17 year career with the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939. He played in 2,130 games – a record that was considered by many to be unbreakable. Gehrig’s record stood until 1995 when it was surpassed by Baltimore Orioles infielder Cal Ripken Jr. he was a great player who earned many honors, including being voted the best first baseman of all time, but his unforgettable moment came when he had to retire from the game he loved. During the 1938 season Gehrig’s physical condition started to deteriorate. By the start of the 1939 season his performance on the field started to decline noticeably. He went to his manager and told him he was benching himself because it was best for the team. With his health continuing to worsen he visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota and underwent a wide range of tests. On his 36th birthday the Yankee star was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS.) On July 4, 1939 Gehrig gave a heartfelt retirement speech to a sold out crowd at Yankee Stadium. With the moving words, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” he became an immortal part of sports history.
2. Calling The Shots
Babe Ruth was the face of the New York Yankees for years, but a single at bat helped to the man into legend. Ruth stepped into the batter’s box in the 5th inning of the 3rd game of 1932 World Series. He encountered a hostile crowd at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The slugger was not intimidated and he seemed to point in the direction of the center field seats. He hit the next pitch out into the center field seats. This homer helped propel them to victory in game 3 and the next day the Yankees won game 4 to wrap up the championship. Although there is film footage and eyewitness accounts of him pointing in the general direction of center field it has never been confirmed that this was actually Ruth’s intent. Some people believe he was pointing at the Cub’s pitcher or their dugout. The event began take hold in the public’s imagination after articles appeared in several newspapers with a photograph of Ruth appearing to point to center field in between pitches. Ruth added to the mystery by giving more than one account of his intentions during the at bat. Whatever the truth is this unforgettable moment has gone down as the greatest home run in baseball history.
In 1945 Jackie Robinson signed a contract to play professional baseball for a Negro league team the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson was unhappy with the rampant unprofessionalism he found in the league so he began to pursue Major League Baseball teams. The league was still racially segregated at this time, but some owners were looking to change this longstanding injustice. President and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, was actively scouting the Negro Leagues when he was introduced to Jackie Robinson. Rickey was convinced Robinson was strong enough to stand up to the racial animosity he would encounter around the league and offered Robinson a contract to play for the Dodgers’ farm team the Montreal Royals. Robinson finally broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 at Ebbets Field. This was an unforgettable moment in baseball history and an important step forward for civil rights in America. To help recognize Robinson’s contributions to baseball and the civil rights movement all major league teams retired his 42 jersey number in 1997.