Baseball season will not start for a while yet, but fans are already gearing up. Spring training reporting dates for all major-league teams are between February 17 and 21 – not too long now. Fans have their favorite teams and players and follow them religiously all season, from spring training through the final climax of the World Series.
Part of the “draw” of baseball is watching for those unique and/or thrilling moments when an amazing or goofy play is executed and talked about for weeks afterward. Many seem to be almost metaphors for life experiences. Some of these incidents go down in history. Here are 11 curious incidents from the long love affair that America has had with baseball.
1. The Eccentricities of Jimmy Piersall
Piersall played in the 1950s and 60s for five teams. While most people remember him for his mental illness and a complete breakdown that required a lengthy road back to health, he also dabbled in football and wrestling. He has also worked as a broadcaster and a minor-league developer. At 88, he still has a radio show and lives in Arizona.
But Piersall was also known for his stunts during games. At one point, he went up to bat with a Beatles wig on; he also taunted a referee by climbing up on the roof of a grandstand.
His biggest stunt, however, was during his 100th home run. He ran the bases backwards. Mets manager, Casey Stengel, who had obviously had enough, fired him.
2. Prototype for a Hand Grenade
During the late years of World War II (1939-1945), the American Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA, crafted an experimental design for a hand grenade. Eastman Kodak was also a part of this endeavor, and the grenade was designed to mimic a baseball in both weight and size. The reason for this was that the makers figured any young man could throw a baseball accurately, and thus would be able to throw the grenade accurately too. It became known as the “Beano” grenade. The weight, however, became an issue and later was increased from 5.5 ounces to 12.
3. “Houston, We Have Touchdown”
Pitchers are not usually known for their ability to hit, although some have certainly surprised their fans over the years. One pitcher who certainly typified the general thinking was Gaylord Perry. His major league debut was with the San Francisco Giants, and his hitting was pretty bad. In 1969, his manager, Alvin Dark, joked with reporters, saying, “They’ll put a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.” That year, on July 20, Neil Armstrong was the first man to put a foot on the moon. 20 minutes later, Perry hit the first homerun of his career.
4. Cruelty to Animals
Hall of Famer David Winfield was playing for the Yankees in 1983 when they played an exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Toronto. While warming up, he threw a ball that hit and killed a seagull. The crowd was enraged and threw both things and obscenities at him.
After the game, Winfield was arrested by the Toronto police and charged with animal cruelty. He posted bond, and the charges were dropped the next day. The relationship did not end there.
In an attempt to make amends, Winfield then donated two paintings to Toronto’s Easter Seals campaign, which brought in $60,000. That helped.
Every time Winfield appeared in Toronto after the seagull incident, stadium goers would flap their arms at him. That ended in 1992 when he joined the Blue Jays.
5. Fantasy Baseball in The Front Office
The history of sports games goes way back – game boards with dice, actually. From there, fantasy games moved to arcades. Ultimately, sports hit the computer gaming industry, and ultimately, today, online baseball games are amazingly accurate representations of what really occurs on a field.
6. One Inning – Three Home Plate Outs
Jack McCarthy was an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs in 1905. The game was not going well, and he was frustrated that no team member seemed to be able to throw an out at home plate.
From the outfield, McCarthy decided to throw for the home late outs rather than to other bases. He managed to throw three home plate outs in one inning, a feat that has never been duplicated.
7. From Baseball to Espionage
Moe Berg never distinguished himself on the field. Between 1923 and 1939, he played catcher for a number of major-league teams, but primarily as a relief catcher. He couldn’t hit well either. But Berg, who had been educated at Princeton, Columbia and the Sorbonne, spoke 12 languages. He was recruited by the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) as a spy during World War II. In his later years, he became a bit of a nomad and was a frequent guest of people like Joe DiMaggio and Albert Einstein. He is the only baseball player to have a picture on the wall at CIA headquarters.
8. Charlie Sheen Buys a Section
In 1996, Charlie Sheen spent $6,537.50 to buy an entire section of seats at Anaheim Stadium for a Tigers-Angels game. Why? He wanted to catch a home run ball, preferably from Cecil Fielder who was a pretty amazing hitter in those days. He and two friends sat in the empty section through the whole game. Unfortunately, no homerun was hit that day.
9. Losing But Winning
Bobby Richardson played for the Yankees from 1955 – 1966. He was a solid infielder and a bit of a clutch hitter. In the 1960 World Series against the Pirates, New Yorkers were already calling the Yankees the World Champions. Alas, their predictions proved false. Bill Mazeroski hit a home run for the Pirates. Richardson, however, had an amazing day driving in 12 runs, including hitting a grand slam.
Richardson received the MVP award for the World Series – the only player to win the award being on the losing team. And no one contested it – perhaps because baseball players are willing to recognize one another’s achievements, no matter what team they are on.
10. Biggest Trade Ever
The year was 1957, and it was late in the season. The Dodgers were preparing to move to California, unbeknownst to their fans. The Cubs were staying put, of course. But both teams were looking for new blood on their farm teams. The two teams swapped their entire farm teams, making this the largest trade ever – 25 from each team.
11. There Are 9 Ways to Get to First Base
Yes, that’s right. There are nine ways for a batter to get there. Here they are:
- Hit a single
- 4 Balls (Walk)
- Fielder’s choice
- Get hit by the pitch
- Fielding error
- Catcher drops third strike
- Fielder interferes or obstructs
- A ball is batted and hits another runner before touched by a fielder.
There are also some other interesting situations in which managers are allowed to make choices about which runner should be out.