30 more memorable moments

Baseball's list tends toward the recent and positive, so here are some alternatives, unvarnished.


King Kaufman
July 31, 2002 11:14PM (UTC)

Baseball has an advertising campaign going with a credit card company that involves the game's 30 "Most Memorable Moments."

Because baseball is interested in selling baseball and the credit card company is interested in selling credit cards, the list skews toward the positive and the recent. Credit cards are sold in large numbers to people in their late teens and 20s, after all, and those people don't remember or care much about events prior to the mid-1980s. Or do you think that baseball executives really think 12 of the 30 most memorable moments in the game's history have happened since 1985?

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Do they believe that three -- three! 10 percent! -- of the game's most memorable moments happened just last year? Get serious. Ichiro having a rookie year in which he proved himself to be roughly the equal of Willie McGee -- which is no small thing -- was memorable, mostly because Ichiro's a cultural phenomenon, but it's not in the top 30 of all time. Mark McGwire breaking Roger Maris' 37-year-old single-season home run record deserves to be on the list. Barry Bonds breaking McGwire's record three years later, amid a game-wide onslaught of offense, does not. And Luis Gonzalez's game-winning hit was arguably only the second most memorable moment of Game 7 last year, behind Randy Johnson coming in from the bullpen to pitch on no days' rest. Anyway, if Gonzalez's Series-winner from 2001 qualifies, why not Edgar Renteria's from 1997, which came in extra innings, and was at least a line drive?

Baseball has also gone to comical extremes to avoid negativity. The event cited for 1986 is the New York Mets' "comeback" against the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Bill Buckner's famous error in Game 6, which cost the Sox the Series and is what made the comeback memorable, goes unmentioned. The only moment on the list that could be considered even slightly negative is Babe Ruth being sold by the Red Sox to the New York Yankees in 1920, which isn't fondly remembered by Red Sox fans. Today the sale would be seen as symptomatic of the Yankees' unfair competitive edge, but that's a different column.

I decided to come up with an alternate list of the game's 30 most memorable moments. I'm not saying my list should replace baseball's. Many of the moments are obvious choices -- Don Larsen's perfect game, Maris' 61 homers, Willie Mays' catch, that sort of thing. I'm just offering up 30 more moments, a list that includes some rough but inarguably memorable moments, like players' strikes, and acknowledges that the 20th century comprised 100 years. You can take my list and baseball's, mix and match, add a few moments of your own, and come up with your own 30.

It's hard to make this kind of list, by the way. I kept running up against the question of what makes a "moment." What is "the moment" involved in Ichiro's rookie year? And there's the obvious paving over of Buckner's "moment" in '86. I decided to go, where I could, for an actual moment, a play, something that could be shown in a single video clip, over something more broadly defined as a "moment." So Rogers Hornsby's .424 batting average in 1924 doesn't make the cut, even though it was a hell of a thing, even for that era. And Sandy Amoros' catch in the '55 Series is my moment, rather than the Dodgers winning their only championship in Brooklyn, which probably made that moment significant. Sometimes, though, as with a strike or a World Series upset, that isn't possible.

I made my list and found myself with more than 30 moments. I asked a couple of friends and my dad for help paring it down. I tried to err on the side of older moments rather than more recent ones, to make up for baseball's erring the other way. But I didn't try to skew toward the negative to make up for baseball's bias. I don't have anything to sell, but I don't have an ax to grind either.

A few moments that didn't quite make it: Dock Ellis throwing a no-hitter on acid, so he claimed; the cocaine scandals of the '80s; Bill Wambsganss' unassisted triple play in the 1920 Series; the Boston Braves ushering in an era of franchise movement by going to Milwaukee in 1953; Maury Wills' 104 steals in 1962, breaking Ty Cobb's record of 96 in 1912, which also didn't make the list; Gabby Hartnett's "Homer in the Gloaming" in 1938; the various other work stoppages since the early '70s; "Disco Demolition Night"; Don Denkinger's blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.

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And the 30 that did:

1906: The Chicago Cubs, with a 116-36 record that to this day is the best in history, are beaten by their cross-town rivals, the White Sox, the "hitless wonders," who had won 93 games, in the greatest World Series upset of all time. Still.

1908: "Merkle's Boner" costs the New York Giants the pennant. In a September game against the Cubs, who were battling the Giants for first place, Merkle, on first, fails to touch second on a game-winning single by Al Bridwell. He merely heads to the dugout. Chaos ensues as the Cubs find a ball -- maybe or maybe not the game ball, and tag second, or don't. The game is ordered replayed at the end of the season. The teams enter that final game tied for first, and the Cubs win. Merkle has gotten kind of a bad rap. While the rule forcing a runner in that situation to touch second had always been on the books, umpires had only begun enforcing it a few weeks before.

1912: Snodgrass' Muff costs the Giants again, this time in the deciding Game 8 of the 1912 World Series. (A game had ended in a tie.) Fred Snodgrass, a New York outfielder, drops an easy fly ball in the bottom of the 10th inning after the Giants had pulled ahead 2-1 in the top of the frame -- on an RBI single by ... Merkle. The error leads to a two-run rally that wins the Series for the Red Sox, who would suffer a similar fate 74 years later, with Buckner the goat. The Giants pitcher whose great performance goes for naught is the same man who would have been the winner if not for Merkle's Boner: Christy Mathewson.

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1914: Boston's "Miracle Braves," in last place, 11 and a half games out on July 15, roar back to win their first National League pennant of the modern era, and their last until 1948. Then they stun the powerful Philadelphia A's by sweeping the World Series. A's owner-manager Connie Mack -- maybe this should be a separate moment -- then breaks up his team, selling off his famous "$100,000 infield," perhaps suspecting that his players had tanked the World Series for gamblers' payoffs. (See 1919.)

1917: Ruth, pitching for the Red Sox at Fenway Park, walks Washington Senators leadoff man Ray Morgan on four pitches, arguing after each of them with the umpire, Brick Owens. Owens tosses him, and Ruth responds by punching the arbitrator. Ernie Shore, another Boston starter, comes in to pitch on two days' rest. Morgan is caught stealing, and Shore sets down the next 26 Senators, thus becoming the only relief pitcher ever to throw a perfect game.

1919: The White Sox throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for payoffs from mobster Arnold Rothstein in what becomes known as the Black Sox Scandal. Eight players, including the great Shoeless Joe Jackson, are banned for life, and baseball adopts a zero-tolerance posture toward gambling that remains more or less in place.

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1920: Ray Chapman, star shortstop of the Cleveland Indians, is fatally beaned by Carl Mays of the Yankees. He is the only player ever to die in a major league game.

1920: In his first season in New York, Ruth hits 54 home runs, nearly doubling the old single-season record of 29, set by Ruth the year before while playing for Boston. Game on: Welcome to the live-ball era.

1926: Grover Cleveland Alexander, at 40, turns in the most famous save in World Series history. The Yankees, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 in the seventh inning of Game 7, load the bases with two out and Tony Lazzeri coming up. Cardinals player-manager Hornsby brings in Ol' Pete, who had won Games 2 and 6 as a starter. The right-hander, who had had his greatest years in the teens with the Philadelphia Phillies, strikes out Lazzeri, only a second-year man but already a tremendous run producer, then finishes the deciding game, which ends when Ruth is thrown out trying -- inexplicably -- to steal second with Lou Gehrig representing the winning run at the plate. Alexander had a rough future in store, though: Ronald Reagan played him in the movies.

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1935: In baseball's first night game, the Reds beat the Phillies 2-1 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. President Franklin Roosevelt throws the light switch before the game -- from the White House.

1941: With the Yankees leading the World Series two games to one, the Brooklyn Dodgers have a 4-3 lead in the ninth, with two outs, nobody on and two strikes on the hitter, Tommy Henrich. Hugh Casey fires strike three, but catcher Mickey Owen fails to catch it, allowing Henrich to reach first on the passed ball. This sparks a four-run rally, and instead of being even, the Dodgers fall behind 3-1. The Yanks win Game 5 and the championship.

1946: Enos Slaughter's Mad Dash wins the World Series for the Cardinals. With the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 against the Red Sox, Slaughter scores from first on what is remembered as a single by Harry Walker. It's actually ruled a double, but Walker only reached second because of the throw home. Sox fans blame shortstop Johnny Pesky for hesitating before making the relay throw home -- "Pesky holds the ball!" -- though baseball historian Rob Neyer says that Pesky, while clearly surprised, made a quick throw.

1947: Pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto of the Dodgers breaks up Yankee Bill Bevens' no-hitter with a two-out, two-run, game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series. It would have been the first no-hitter in Series history and given the Yanks a 3-1 lead. Instead, the Dodgers tie the Series, though the Yankees win in seven games. It's Lavagetto's only hit of the Series, which marks the end of a 10-season career interrupted by World War II.

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1951: In the most famous promotional stunt in big-league history, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck sends 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to pinch-hit for the Browns' leadoff batter, Frank Saucier, in the first inning of the second game of a double-header against the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers protest, but Browns manager Zack Taylor produces a copy of Gaedel's contract, and the umps let Gaedel hit. Veeck, a former Marine, had told Gaedel that he would be on the stadium roof with a rifle, and if Gaedel even thought about swinging at a pitch, he would shoot him. Gaedel walks on four pitches and is removed for a pinch-runner. The next day, baseball changes its rules to prevent such a thing from happening again. Gaedel: "They ruined my career!"

1955: Sandy Amoros of the Dodgers makes a sensational catch in the left-field corner to rob Yankees slugger Yogi Berra of an extra-base hit and start a rally-killing double play that preserves a 2-0 victory in Game 7 of the World Series. The Dodgers, after seven Series defeats, win their first and only championship in Brooklyn.

1959: In what many regard as the greatest pitching display of all time, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws 12 perfect innings against the Braves at Milwaukee. The Braves beat him 1-0 in the 13th on an RBI double by Joe Adcock that follows an error and an intentional walk.

1965: In the heat of a Giants-Dodgers pennant race during a violent summer in America, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal and Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro get into one of the most famous and bloody fights in baseball history. Roseboro had asked Sandy Koufax to throw at Marichal to retaliate for Marichal's knocking Wills down as part of an escalating bean-ball war. Koufax, who wouldn't throw at hitters, throws over Marichal's head, so Roseboro nicks Marichal's ear with a return throw. The two argue, and Marichal whacks Roseboro with his bat as the benches empty. The incident may have kept the great pitcher out of the Hall of Fame for a while. He was inducted in 1983 after Roseboro publicly supported him.

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1965: Koufax throws a perfect game against the Cubs. It's his fourth no-hitter, then a record.

1968: Denny McLain of Detroit becomes the first pitcher since Dizzy Dean in 1934 to win 30 games as the Tigers rally to beat the Oakland A's 5-4. He ends up 31-6 with a 1.96 earned-run average. Nobody's won 30 since, and nobody's likely to ever again.

1968: Bob Gibson of the Cardinals posts a 1.12 ERA. The unfathomable mark, the highlight of a period of general offensive drought, helps spark rule changes to help hitters, including lowering the mound.

1969: The "Miracle" Mets, the laughingstock of baseball for their first seven years of existence, during which they finished last or next-to-last every year and averaged 105 losses a season, win the World Series.

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1970: Star Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood sues baseball after he's traded to the Phillies. His suit challenges baseball's reserve clause, which essentially ties a player to one team for life, unless that team trades or sells him. "By God, this is America," Flood later recounts in Ken Burns' documentary "Baseball." "I'm a human being. I'm not a piece of property. I am not a consignment of goods." The case goes to the Supreme Court, and Flood loses. Within a few years, though, the reserve clause would be challenged successfully, ending a century of unfairness to players and ushering in the current era of free agency and market-rate salaries.

1975: Frank Robinson makes his debut as the player-manager of the Cleveland Indians. Incredibly at this late date, he is the first black manager in the major leagues.

1978: Bucky Dent's home run over the Green Monster at Fenway lifts the Yankees to a win over the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the A.L. East title. The Yanks had been 14 games out of first on July 19, then had gone 47-20 under Bob Lemon after the firing of Billy Martin. The Sox, meanwhile, had collapsed in September, falling three and a half games out with two weeks to play, only to rally and finish the season tied for first.

1981: A 50-day strike wipes out the middle third of the season, forcing baseball to crown first- and second-half champions, like many minor leagues do, and add a tier of playoffs. The team with the best record in baseball, Cincinnati, fails to qualify.

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1983: The Pine Tar Incident. George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hits a two-out, two-run home run in the top of the ninth off Goose Gossage at Yankee Stadium to give the Royals a 5-4 lead in a July game. But New York manager Billy Martin asks umpire Tim McClelland to inspect Brett's bat. McClelland calls Brett out, ruling that he had violated the rules by having pine tar more than 18 inches up the handle of the bat. A furious Brett leaping out of the dugout, arms flailing, and charging McClelland is one of the indelible baseball images of the '80s. The Royals protest the loss, and league president Lee McPhail overturns McClelland's ruling, saying that games shouldn't be decided by a close reading of rule technicalities. The game is ordered replayed from the point of the homer, and the Royals win.

1986: With the California Angels one strike away from their first pennant, Dave Henderson hits a two-run homer off Donnie Moore to give the Red Sox a 5-4 lead in the ninth. The Angels tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, giving Henderson the chance to win it with a sacrifice fly in the 11th, also off of Moore. The Sox go on to win the pennant but lose the World Series to the Mets thanks to Bill Buckner's error. Moore, who reportedly never got over blowing the save, committed suicide in 1989.

1992: Pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera, who had played in 10 games for the Atlanta Braves during the season, comes up with two outs and the bases loaded in Game 7 of the N.L. Championship Series, the Braves trailing the Pirates, 2-1. He lines a pinch single to left. David Justice scores from third, and here comes Sid Bream, possibly the slowest runner in America, racing a throw from Barry Bonds. Bream slides: safe. The Braves win their second straight pennant. Cabrera, 25, plays 70 games the next year for the Braves and then is never heard from again.

1994: A strike wipes out the last two months of the season, the playoffs and the World Series, the first time since 1904 that the World Series had not been played.

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1997-98: Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga holds a fire sale of the high-priced players he'd assembled to win the 1997 World Series. The dismantling of the team, then only 5 years old, disheartens Marlins fans, who never really return, and comes to serve as a symbol for everything that's wrong with the business side of baseball, even to people who disagree over exactly what's wrong.

This story has been corrected since it was first published.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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