Baseball, like every sport has a number of incredible moments, sometimes the climax of a career, such as breaking a long-standing record, or even just one great play. Such a record or great moment can instantly propel the player who did it into greatness, and more often than not, into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
1932 - Babe Ruth's 'Called Shot'
It was the top of the fifth inning, and the legendary slugger Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate to hit against the Chicago Cubs'1 pitcher Charlie Root. Cubs fans booed Ruth because he had hit a three-run homer in the first inning. He took two pitches for strikes, apparently waiting for a good pitch. Before the third pitch was thrown, Ruth yelled something at the fans, but no one is quite sure what, from all of the booing. He pointed somewhere with his index finger, possibly to Root or the Chicago bench or the home run fence. Popular legend says that he pointed to the center field wall, signifying that he was planning to hit a home run. No one is quite sure.
What happened next is the stuff of legend. With Root's next pitch, Ruth swung mightily and hit the ball, leading to an easy home run over the centre field wall. It was at the time the longest ball ever hit in Wrigley Field. Many people now think that he pointed his bat to exactly where he would hit the home run, to signal that he was going to hit a home run. It was certainly possible- because Ruth had good control of the ball and hit home runs easily. The Yankees, led by Lou Gehrig and Ruth would easily defeat Chicago for the World Series title.
After the famous home run, Ruth was questioned as to whether he called his shot or not. He never really delivered a definite answer, saying things like 'Why don't you read the papers? It's all right there.' The Press also questioned Charlie Root, as he had one of the best views of Ruth's hit. Root denied it to his death. For many years there was no real evidence to tell whether it was called or not except Root's word and several eye witness accounts.
Debate raged as to whether he called his shot, with everyone assuming that there was no hard evidence. Some people thought that if Ruth had pointed to the fences, Root would have beaned him so that he wouldn't hit a home run. Even Ruth admitted that it was only myth, once saying:
Aw, every body knows that game, the day I hit the homer off ol' Charlie Root there in Wrigley Field, but right now I want to settle all agreements. I didn't exactly point to any spot, like the flagpole. Anyway, I didn't mean to, I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give that thing a ride out the park anywhere.
However, some film footage surfaced years after Ruth died that concluded that Ruth did not point to field wall, but probably pointed to the Chicago fans who were yelling at him. Matt Miller Kandle, a Chicago fan, captured the moment on a 16mm camera. It was shown to the public for the first time on 4 February, 1994. Today, there is little doubt that Ruth did not call his shot, but it still lives in legend.
1939 - Lou Gehrig's 'Luckiest Man' Speech
On July 4, 1939 Yankee Stadium celebrated Lou Gehrig Day, which was organized by sportwriter Paul Gallico. 62,000 people attended the event, seeing Gehrig who was too emotional to comment. Just when it looked like he wouldn't be able to say anything, Gehrig delivered a now famous speech announcing his retirement from baseball. He had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - an invariably fatal disease afflicting about one in 100,000 people.
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men2.
Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?
Sure I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure I'm lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.
He then turned to the solemn people standing behind him, and shared the first words that he had said to his old team-mate and friend Babe Ruth in years. He died less than two years later on 2 June, 1941. The black and white film of the event is legendary, and almost any American who has heard of baseball can identify this film as his speech.
Today, because he is so well known for being diagnosed with ALS, it is associated with him and is often called 'Lou Gehrig's Disease'.
1941 - Joe DiMaggio's 56 Game Hitting Streak
Joe DiMaggio, nicknamed 'The Yankee Clipper' had a great season in 1941, but oddly, he had started the season in a large slump. He pulled himself out of it though, and began the longest hitting streak in Major League baseball history. From 15 May - July 16, 1941, Joe DiMaggio safely hit in 56 games. In it, he oddly made exactly 56 runs, giving him an one run per game average throughout the streak. He had 223 at bats, 91 hits, 16 doubles, 4 triples, 15 homers and 55 RBI3.
People began to notice a bit around the 19th straight game with a hit. Either the Major League record of 44 games set by Willie Keeler or the American League record of 41 games, set by George Sisler were barely considered as possible, but there was a small buzz about the impressive 19 games. The buzz built as DiMaggio kept the streak going though, and the American public was very interested around 20 straight games. The Media interrupted radio programmes to report on how the Yankee Clipper was doing. Soon, DiMaggio's streak became as important as news on World War II, which was raging at the same time.
Several of the hits were nothing more than luck. Several errors were recorded in his hits, such as outfielder Pete Fox losing the ball in the sun, or a ball popping up to hit Luke Appling. Nevertheless, he kept the streak going, and the record of 41 games soon seemed in reach. On July 1, he hit safely in his 42nd consecutive game in a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox, setting a new American League record. By this time, DiMaggio had become the most famous American athelete of his time, a position he would hold for many years after, largely because of the streak.
On 17 July, 1941, when he was in a taxi, the driver supposedly mentioned of that day's game with Cleveland, 'I've got a feeling that if you don't get a hit your first time up tonight. They're going to stop you.' Later, the taxi driver apologised for jinxing him, but DiMaggio refused to admit it was a jinx, saying 'My number was up.'. He got a hit, but was out largely due to a great defensive play. He hit another ball, and it was again tossed to first. In the eighth inning, Joltin' Joe hit again, but a double play tossed him out again. The streak was dead. Despite this, he began another 16 game hitting streak the next day, meaning that he hit safely in 72 out of 73 games in a row.
1947 - Jackie Robinson Breaking the Race Barrier
It's universally considered one of baseball's defining moments, but it was not one of baseball's proudest moments. 25,623, mostly African Americans sat in the 32,000 seat Ebbets Field to witness one of the most important moments in baseball, and one of the most famous moments to Americans.
As rookie Jackie Robinson walked onto the field on 15 April, there were several threats and yells shouted at him. He ignored them and answered back by hitting and playing incredibly.
This was an early point for civil rights in America, so few people showed up to support the civil rights movement. It was the year before US President Harry S Truman desegregated the military and the civil rights movement started. It also opened up many of the other Major League teams to integrate and have more competitive players.
1951 - Bobby Thompson's 'Shot Heard 'Round the World'
In 1951, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers were once again fighting one of the fiercest rivalries known to baseball. Brooklyn started out strong, leading strongly by August. After years of embarrassment, manager Branch Rickey collected great players for one of the best teams in Dodger history. The Giants through the 1940s had an unimpressive roster, and longtime manager Mel Ott was replaced by former Dodger manager Leo Durocher4. Durocher gradually began building a strong team through a series of smart trades and a bit of luck.
Finally in 1951, the Giants had a good team including the great Willie Mays. They originally lagged behind, but quickly progressed, and tied the Dodgers for the top position of the National League. The two teams played a three game series to determine who would win the National League Pennant.
The Giants won the first game 3-1 and the Dodgers won the second 10-1. Predictably, the Pennant rested on one game on 3 October, 1951. At the very end of the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Dodger manager chose to change pitchers from Don Newcombe to Ralph Branca. With one man on base, Rookie Bobby Thompson stepped up to the plate, which was a bit worrying and he didn't exactly have a great deal of confidence behind him. Leo Durocher spoke with Thompson, saying 'If you ever hit one, hit one now'.
Many thought he would be walked, but he was pitched to and took a strike on the first pitch- a fastball. The second pitch was an inside fastball. What happened next at 3:57 PM was one of the most famous home runs ever. Broadcaster Russ Hodges, who was announcing the game said very emotionally:
There's a long drive... It's gonna be it, I believe! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the leftfield stands. The Giants win the pennant! And they're going crazy! They're going crazy! Waaa-hoooo!
When Thompson stepped on home plate, he was mobbed by fans and team mates. The Dodgers simply slumped away, feeling thoroughly defeated. Ralph Branca sat down and cried, apparently. If you were a true Giants fan at the time, or even if you were a Dodgers fan at the time, you remember exactly where you were when baseball had its greatest comeback (or perhaps if you were a Dodgers fan, its greatest disappointment).
Unfortunately, the Giants didn't win the World Series against their other New York rivals, the Yankees. Their momentum carried them to win the first and second games, but the fourth was delayed due to rain. Interestingly, Bobby Thomas went up with two men on base and a tied score when it could have counted for another championship (As Yogi Berra might say, 'It's like déjà vu all over again'). He hit another line drive, but it was caught and the Yankees went on to win another World Series title.
1954 - Willie Mays - 'The Catch'
On 29 September, 1954, Willie Mays made what is possibly the most famous baseball catch ever while only having been a Major Leaguer for a few years. After it, it became a legend, simply known as 'The Catch'. The 1954 World Series pitted the New York Giants (the team Mays was on) against the Cleveland Indians. The Indians were expected to sweep the World Series.
It was the top of the eighth inning in the first game of the Series with the score tied. Mays was standing in the centerfield of the Polo Grounds in New York. Runners were on first and second base. Vic Wertz hit a long, hard line drive just feet away from the fence and Mays took off, as did the baserunners, thinking it couldn't be caught. He did catch it, over his shoulder. Immediately, he whipped around and sent the ball off to the infield, kept the runners from scoring and one runner off the diamond.
The eighth inning went without Indians scoring, though they easily could have if not for the catch. The game went tied after the ninth inning and into extra innings. If Mays hadn't made the catch, the Indians would have won the game. The Giants, propelled by the momentum of Game One, went on to win the World Series in four games, despite being against the favourite Indians. It's entirely possible that the Indians would have won the World Series if Mays had not made the catch.
This is still talked about, and months after the catch, Mays was still a subject of great interest. Importantly, it helped attract interest to Willie Mays, who would become one of the best baseball players ever. Immediately after the catch, Mays was declared to be as good as such sacred cows as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
1975 - Carlton Fisk's Home Run Wave
On 21 October, 1975, in Fenway Park, Boston, what many consider to be the best game ever was played. It was Game Six of the 1975 World Series. The underdog Boston team had rallied in the ninth inning, then tying the game with a homer from Bernie Carbo. Around 12:30 AM, future Hall of Fame Boston catcher Carlton Fisk stepped up to bat. It was the 12th inning and Cincinatti's Big Red Machine had pitcher Pat Darcy on the mound.
The first pitch was high and inside- a ball. The second pitch was low, and Fisk swung. He made contact with the ball- hard. It was a line drive, going long enough for a homer, but it hovered over the left field foul line. It went towards the famous Fenway 'Green Monster' and as Fisk knew the ball was going long and high enough for a home run, the only issue was whether it would be fair or foul. He then famously urged the ball into fair territory with all of his body. He seemed to dance as he went into first base, following the ball and hopping up and down, knowing it would either be a homer or a foul. He thrusted his arms into the air, waving it into fair territory. It was in foul territory, but just hung there, and unexpectedly moved. Everyone in the ballpark seemed to hold their breath.
It bounced off of the foul pole and was caught by George Foster, and the crowd at Fenway went crazy. It was a home run, meaning that Fisk had singlehandedly forced a seventh game on the Reds. People piled out into the field, congratulating Fisk. This incredible play is personified by his waves and jumps. It is one of the most rebroadcasted scenes in all of American Sports.
However, Boston didn't win the Series, succumbing 4-3 to the powerful Reds in Game Seven. It continued a disappointing slump from World Series titles for Boston that has now lasted over 80 years.
The wave is so famous, that Fisk suffers one of the biggest downsides of a ballplayer- annoying fans. He explained in a 2000 Boston Globe article:
People are always coming to me, whether it's in the airport, at the grocery store, or on the street, and waving their arms the way I did when I hit the home run. Usually I just smile and say, 'Hey, that's really cool.'
Today, his plaque in the Hall of Fame says:
Carlton Ernest Fisk
Boston, A.L., 1969, 1971-80
Chicago, A.L., 1981-93
A commanding figure behind the plate for a record 24 seasons, he caught more games (2,229) and hit more home runs (351) than any catcher before him. His gritty resolve and competitive fire earned him the respect of his teammates and opposing players alike. A staunch training regimen extended his durability and enhanced his productivity-as evidenced by a record 72 home runs after age 40. His dramatic home run to win Game Six of the 1975 World Series is one of baseball's unforgettable moments. Was the 1972 American League Rookie of the Year and an 11-time All-Star.
1983 - The Pine Tar Incident
On 24 July, 1983, the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals were playing in the Bronx with the Yanks leading 4-3 in the top of the ninth.
George Brett came up to bat with two outs and a runner on base and hit a homer to take the lead. Then Yankees manager Billy Martin came out and asked the umpires to examine Brett's bat. He contended that the bat had an illegal amount of pine tar on it. The rules say that pine tar can not be higher than 18 inches up the handle of the bat and on Brett's bat it was almost up to the bat's barrel.
The umpires held a conference and decided that Brett was out because he was using an 'illegal bat' and thus hit an 'illegally batted ball' which calls for the batter to be 'out'. So the runs were wiped off the board and the Yankees won. George Brett's reaction to this was described by one researcher:
The image of Brett charging out of the dugout like a berserker with bulging eyes and wild hair is what makes this so classic. I mean he went totally nuts!
He had to be restrained in the dugout and was quickly ejected from the game.
The Royals filed a protest and American League President Lee McPhail over-ruled the umpires, saying that the rules call for an 'illegal bat' to be removed from the game and nothing more. Furthermore, he explained that games should be won on the field, not through technicalities of rules. So Brett's homer counted and the teams replayed the last four outs at the end and the Royals won 5-4. The win didn't affect the season much anyway, and neither teams won the pennant that year, and probably wouldn't have either way.
1986 - The Mets' Game Six Comeback
For many years, the Boston Red Sox had been losing consistently. Finally, in 1986, it looked like the end of their streak since 1918 of losing World Series games. They had led an amazing comeback to get into the championship games. The Sox were against the New York Mets in the World Series. They had won three games to the Mets' two, and entered into the sixth game with a renewed hope. They were incredibly close to breaking the 'Curse of the Bambino', needing only one game to win the Series.
The sixth game was one of the most dramatic, disappointing and exciting games in the history of baseball. The Sox led through the early part of the game, but tied in the eighth inning and went into extra innings. In the 10th inning, the Sox finally broke the tie and ran in two runs to have a 5-3 lead. Then the Mets went up to bat, and they quickly accrued two outs. The Sox, with a comfortable two run lead, were one out away from the title. It looked like not even a cursed team, such as the Red Sox could blow this lead. The fans of the Sox woke up relatives and prematurely celebrated. They felt that this would be the end of the the curse of the Bambino. Champagne was wheeled into the locker room and World Champion T-Shirts were placed in the Red Sox locker room benches. The Series was all but over to fans, and many Mets fans had given up. They only needed one out.
Then a series of things went wrong. The Sox allowed a couple of hits and a run to put the score at 5-4. The Mets were obviously not going down without a fight. There were two men on base, on third and second, and a bad pitch from Bob Stanley let a man on third base steal home with Mookie Wilson at the plate. Suddenly the game was tied. Wilson hit the ball (with two strikes) but not far. It went up the first base line towards first baseman Bill Buckner.
Inexplicably, Buckner's glove missed the ball! He should have easily picked it up and kept Ray Knight (the man on third) from scoring the winning run. It was impossible. The Mets had won a game where the Sox only needed one out with a lead of two. There were four at-bats that inning where the hitter swung two strikes, so one more strike at several different times could have won the Series for the Sox! The champagne was wheeled from the locker room and the Curse of the Bambino seemed to set in again. Boston was devastated, New York was ecstatic. One researcher simply said:
You just wouldn't believe how beloved Bill Buckner is here in New York.
Hundreds of Boston residents went into the streets and just walked. One elderly couple reportedly said 'We just wanted to see them win once in our lifetime...', and another man said 'This is the darkest day in this town since they shot Jack Kennedy'.
Other Great Moments
- 1919 - The Black Sox Scandal
- 1938 - Gabby Hartnett's 'Homer in the Gloamin''
- 1946 - 'Pesky Held the Ball'
- 1956 - Don Larsen's World Series Perfect Game
- 1961 - Ted Williams' Final At-Bat
- 1961 - Roger Maris' 61rst Home Run of the Season
- 1974 - Hank Aaron Breaks Babe Ruth's Career Home Record
- 1978 - Bucky Dent's Tiebreaker and the 'Boston Massacre'
- 1985 - Pete Rose Breaks Ty Cobb's Career Hit Record
- 1995 - Cal Ripken Breaks Lou Gehrig's Consecutive Game Record
- 1998 - The Home Run Race