42 Big Baseball Moments

I have few memories of life as a three-year-old, but my favorite one is going to Fenway Park with my dad. Baseball has always been part of my life, and the stories are a big part of this. In this book, I trace the development of the game as part of American history and identity, examining the well-known stories surrounding Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Babe Ruth’s called short, and Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. I also focus on the broken records, the oddities, and the once-in-a-lifetime events that make the game so fascinating. A couple of my favorite chapters so far have been Jackie Mitchell, a 17-year-old female pitcher who struck out Ruth and Gehrig; and Rick Monday, who rescued an American flag from two protesters who were trying to set it on fire in the outfield.

Clockwise from top left: (1) My first game at Wrigley Field, fulfilling a lifelong dream, (2) “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks, the man who made me a Cubs fan, (3) Couldn’t resist recreating the Bartman pose in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113, (4) Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium were both being torn down in 2008. My wife’s response: “Book us flights to New York.” Isn’t she great?, (5) My return to Boston’s Fenway Park after 22 years, (6) Might as well catch a White Sox game while in Chicago.

The events I am planning to include are:

1. Fred Merkle (September 23, 1908)
The most famous baserunning errors in the game’s history costs the New York Giants the National League pennant and enables the Cubs to win the World Series.

2. Black Sox (October 1-9, 1919)
A gambling scandal shocks the nation, and eight players are banned for life from professional baseball.

3. Jackie Mitchell (April 2, 1931)
A female pitcher for the Chattanooga Lookouts plays an exhibition game against the New York Yankees and strikes out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back.

4. Babe Ruth (October 1, 1932)
In Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, Ruth makes a cryptic gesture before hitting a home run, leading many to believe that he called his shot.

5. Lou Gehrig (July 4, 1939)
A devastating disease forces one of the game’s greats to retire near the peak of his career and leads to one of the most emotional farewell speeches in history.

6. Joe DiMaggio (July 5, 1941)
DiMaggio breaks the record for the longest hitting streak, setting a mark that many view as the most unbreakable record in the game.

7. Ted Williams (September 28, 1941)
Rather than settling for his .39955 batting average to be rounded up to .400, Williams jeopardizes his accomplishment by insisting on playing both games of a double-header to wrap up the season.

8. Rip Sewell (July 9, 1946)
Sewell, who had baffled many of the game’s greats with his “eephus” trick pitch, attempts to get it past the no-nonsense Ted Williams.

9. Enos Slaughter (October 15, 1946)
Slaughter ignores his third base coach’s signals, scoring the winning run of the 1946 World Series in one of the game’s most storied baserunning feats.

10. Jackie Robinson (April 15, 1947)
Breaking the color barrier, Jackie Robinson makes his major league debut. Although he received much criticism and many threats, his abilities on the field changed many people’s minds.

11. Pee Wee Reese (May 13, 1947)
Jackie Robinson’s teammate overhears people yelling and silences the hecklers without a word by standing beside his friend with an arm on his shoulder.

12. Satchel Paige (July 9, 1948)
After over two decades of professional baseball in the Negro leagues, Paige makes his major league debut on his 42nd birthday.

13. Eddie Gaedel (August 19, 1951)
Unorthodox team owner Bill Veeck debuts the shortest major league player of all time (at 3 feet, 7 inches), whose career lasts a single at-bat.

14. Bobby Thomson (October 3, 1951)
The New York Giants make an incredible comeback late in the season, tying the Brooklyn Dodgers by winning the last seven games of the season. They then won the National League pennant with the help of Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” home run in the decisive playoff game.

15. Willie Mays (September 29, 1954)
Preventing the Cleveland Indians from winning the opening game of the 1954 World Series, Mays makes a running, over-the-shoulder catch so impressive that it has come to be known simply as “The Catch.”

16. Don Larsen (October 8, 1956)
Despite unpredictable ball control during the regular season, Larsen makes history as the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series.

17. Bill Mazeroski (October 13, 1960)
Mazeroski wins the World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates, marking the only time the championship has been decided by a walk-off home run in Game 7.

18. Roger Maris (October 1, 1961)
Maris breaks Babe Ruth’s longstanding single season home run record but is not given full credit for the accomplishment by Commissioner Ford Frick.

19. Miracle Mets (September 24, 1969)
A seemingly insurmountable late-season deficit gives way to a World Series championship when the Chicago Cubs end the season with a disastrous collapse and the New York Mets finish the year by winning 14 of their final 17 games.

20. Roberto Clemente (September 30, 1972)
Clemente joins an elite group of players when he records his 3,000th and final regular season hit only three months before dying in a plane crash during an earthquake relief mission.

21. Hank Aaron (April 8, 1974)
Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s career home run record on his way to 755 total home runs, a record that would stand until 2006.

22. Carlton Fisk (October 21, 1975)
Gesturing wildly in the hope of encouraging a 12th inning hit to remain fair, Fisk hits the winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The following night, however, the Cincinnati Reds won Game 7 and took the championship.

23. Rick Monday (April 25, 1976)
When two protesters attempt to set the American flag on fire in the Dodger Stadium outfield, center fielder and former Marine Corps Reserve member Rick Monday saves the flag in what has been called the greatest play in baseball.

24. Reggie Jackson (October 18, 1977)
Reggie Jackson earns the nickname “Mr. October” by hitting three home runs and propelling the New York Yankees to victory in the decisive sixth game of the World Series.

25. Bucky Dent (October 2, 1978)
Despite batting at the bottom of the order, Dent hits the game-winning home run in the American League tiebreaker game, thrilling Yankees fans and crushing the hopes of the luckless Red Sox.

26. George Brett (July 24, 1983)
Brett hits the go-ahead home run against the Yankees but is then declared out when it is discovered that he had too much pine tar on his bat. The ensuing protest and legal battle determine that the home run would count and that the game must resume, albeit without Brett, who had been ejected for his apparent attempt to attack the home plate umpire.

27. Pete Rose (September 11, 1985)
Rose becomes the all-time leader in career hits, breaking Ty Cobb’s mark, which had stood for 57 years. Despite his place as the best contact hitter of all time, a gambling scandal ultimately leads to his banishment from baseball and blacklisting from Hall of Fame ballots.

28. Roger Clemens (April 29, 1986)
At age 23, Clemens becomes the first pitcher to strike out 20 players in a nine-inning game, a feat he would duplicate a decade later.

29. Bill Buckner (October 25, 1986)
A misplayed ground ball prolongs the “Curse of the Bambino,” as the Red Sox collapse in the 1986 World Series.

30. Bo Jackson (July 11, 1989)
Jackson solidifies his status as a two-sport superstar by hitting a 450-foot home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning of the All-Star Game. An impressive defensive catch and a stolen base helped guarantee his selection as the game’s Most Valuable Player.

31. 1989 World Series (October 17, 1989)
Just before the beginning of Game 3 of the “Battle of the Bay” World Series, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hits San Francisco, halting the series for 10 days. The series eventually ends in a four-game sweep by the Oakland Athletics.

32. Nolan Ryan (May 1, 1991)
Nolan Ryan records his seventh no-hitter, adding to a list of accomplishments that also includes the all-time strikeout total.

33. Rickey Henderson (May 1, 1991)
On the same day as Ryan’s no-hitter, Henderson steals his 939th career stolen base, breaking Lou Brock’s record. He would go on to add almost 500 more steals before retiring.

34. Jim Abbott (September 4, 1993)
Abbott inspires everyone watching as he pitches a no-hitter despite being born with one hand.

35. Joe Carter (October 23, 1993)
With his team down 6-5 in Game 6 of the World Series, Carter hits a three-run home run to win the championship for the Toronto Blue Jays.

36. Cal Ripken, Jr. (September 6, 1995)
Ripken plays his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig’s record. The record had been considered unbreakable by many, but Ripken continued for another 501 games, marking over 16 years without missing a game.

37. 1999 All-Star Game (July 13, 1999)
At age 80, Ted Williams makes an appearance at what was planned to be Fenway Park’s final All-Star Game. He tips his cap to the fans—a rare event—and receives a 25-minute standing ovation.

38. Barry Bonds (October 5, 2001)
In the culmination of several years of home run battles, Bonds sets the record for the most home runs in a season, at 71, en route to finishing the season with 73 total home runs. Five years later, he would also claim the career record by surpassing Hank Aaron’s mark.

39. Steve Bartman (October 14, 2003)
Five outs away from reaching their first World Series in 58 years, the Chicago Cubs collapse after a fan catches a foul ball in a controversial play. The team lets in 8 runs in the final two innings before losing the decisive Game 7 to keep the “Curse of the Billy Goat” alive.

40. Yankee Stadium (September 21, 2008)
After 85 years, the final game is played in the “House That Ruth Built,” as fans and former players gather to celebrate the legendary events that took place in the stadium.

41. 2011 Game 162 (September 28, 2011)
In one of the most dramatic reversals of fortune in history, the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves appear poised to make the playoffs but collapse in the final game of the season while their rivals end the season with wild card berth-clinching victories.

42. Chicago Cubs (November 3, 2016)
After a 116 year drought, the Cubs overcome a curse, bad luck, and all other obstacles to end the heartbreak and bring the championship to Wrigley Field for the first time.