Baseball’s postseason is a magical time of year. Of the fortunate teams that make it to the last leg of the season, legends will be made and history written from the intense competition that determines the annual champion in the World Series.
The 2014 League Championship Series are currently being waged and have already created some amazing moments. Accordingly, a number of items in this week’s baseball historian’s notes relate back to postseasons past with teams and players that were once in the same position as the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are this year.
*The October 4th game between the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals lasted a whopping 18 innings before ending in a 2-1 victory for the Giants. Not only was it an exciting contest, it was also the longest game in MLB postseason history, which has stretched for over a century. The game was so long (six hours and 23 minutes) that it spanned across two days and losing pitcher Tanner Roark actually turned another year older before it was over. To see some of the other longest games in postseason history, check out this list by USA Today’s Ted Berg.
*1947 and Jackie Robinson are synonymous for even the most casual fans of baseball in describing the integration of the game. While Robby certainly paved the way for many others who came after him, his early years in the majors were certainly no walk in the park. Joe Distelheim, over at The Hardball Times, has written an interesting article arguing that baseball became truly integrated in 1951, when black players had a better foothold and more teams were willing to utilize them.
*Despite baseball’s integration, black players, coaches and other employees continued to experience discrimination. Tommy Harper, who had an excellent 15-year major league career as an outfielder, experienced that first hand. Playing for the Boston Red Sox from 1972-74, and later working as a coach and front office staff in the early 1980s, he successfully sued the team in 1985 for improper termination and discriminatory practices.
Just recently, Harper sat down with The Boston Globe and provided more details about his experiences. It’s important to note he later returned to work for the team under different ownership and was lauded by them for helping bring to light and fix those issues that cast a long shadow on their organization.
*With the World Series on the horizon, it’s a good reminder that the Black Sox scandal of 1919 is now 95 years distant in our historical rearview mirror. Some players on the Chicago White conspired with gamblers to throw that year’s Fall Classic to the Cincinnati Reds. Although they were acquitted (wink, wink) in a court of law, eight of those players were ultimately banned from baseball for life, sparking nearly a century’s worth of debate over their innocence and punishment. An excellent write-up of the saga recently appeared on History.com.
* William “Bad Bill Eagan had a nondescript playing career during the latter part of the nineteenth century. However, off the field was a different matter altogether. According to a Chicago Tribune article, “stories of his badness are told all over the league.” He became notorious for his erratic behavior, which was inflamed by alcohol. A number of times he was imprisoned for drunkenness, violence, and once for the attempted murder of his wife. Despite his actions, he was continuously given chances by teams because of his ability to play ball. It is an intriguing comparison given the rash of current athletes in trouble with the law, and show that sometimes things elude change. His story is told in two parts (here and here) over at the Baseball History Daily.
*The 58th anniversary of Don Larsen throwing the only perfect game in World Series history was celebrated on October 8th. In Game 5 of that year’s series, the right-hander for the New York Yankees shut down the Brooklyn Dodgers in spectacular fashion. This video, which includes a lot of vintage footage and interviews, captures the magic of that game.
The Dodgers’ lineup, which featured four future Hall-of-Famers, could not muster any offense against Larsen. Backed by a two-run home run by Mickey Mantle off Brooklyn starter Sal Maglie, the Yankees took the game 2-0, and went on to win the series in seven.
*Dizzy Dean was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Between 1933 and 1936 he won 102 games (including 107 complete games) for the St. Louis Cardinals. Injuries curtailed his playing career but he became a well-known announcer and public figure later in life due in large part to his “aw-shucks” countrified persona—as seen in this classic clip from the television show Hee Haw.
*A baseball myth is that former All-Star closer Donnie Moore shot his wife and then killed himself in 1989 because he couldn’t live with having relinquished a home run to the Red Sox’s Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS; something which ultimately helped shift momentum of the series to Boston. Michael McKnight of SI Longform has completely debunked that with his thorough re-telling of the hurler’s final troubled years. A violent past, alcohol abuse, troubled family life and a dwindling career were the actual contributing factors to his actions.
The homer relinquished to Hendu may have been a defining moment of Moore’s career but he battled demons far darker throughout his life than that one pitch. The entirety of Game 5 is available for free on YouTube.
*Although outfielder Curt Flood hit .293 over 15 major league seasons, his refusal to play is what he is best known for. In 1969, he declined to report to the Philadelphia Phillies after being traded to them by the Cardinals. His actions challenged MLB’s reserve clause, which essentially made players paid indentured servants to teams, and ultimately paved the way for players to have the rights of free agency. The New York Times has released a short documentary on this titled Rebel Without a Clause. It’s required viewing for any fan of baseball, especially since Flood isn’t remembered nearly as much as he should be given his impact on the game.
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