Top 300 Moments that Shaped Major League Baseball: 20-11
The number 4,191 had been so incomprehensible for so long that it was widely considered nobody would ever approach Cobb’s career hits record. There had only been about a dozen players in the game’s history even reach 3,000 hits, and most of them squeaked over the finish line at the ends of their careers. How could somebody add an additional 1,292 hits on top of that to pass Cobb? Pete Rose found a way. He fought, scrapped and clawed his way to the precipice of the record and then on September 11, 1985, Rose lined an opposite field single to left center off of Eric Show of the San Diego Padres to remarkably pass Cobb. Rose retired with 4,256 hits, a mark one figures will never be approached. The same thing people figured about Cobb’s record.
12. Tommy John has his surgery
John was a solid pitcher for three teams in the 1960s and early 1970s, but his career was anything but transcendental. However, in the middle of a strong 1974 season, John injured his UCL and his life, and the sport, changed forever. Dr. Frank Jobe proposed an experimental surgery that would replace the UCL with the idea to allow John normal function of his elbow for the rest of his life. Returning to Major League Baseball wasn’t even a though. However, John sat out the entire 1975 season and rehabbed with teammate Mike Marshall, who had a doctorate in kinesiology, and began to feel great again. John decided to give pitching another shot and he flourished in his new opportunity. He pitched 13 more seasons and won more games after his surgery than he did before.
The groundbreaking surgery has saved so many pitching careers over the four decades since John was the first patient and while it was once considered revolutionary, it is now actually a common, yet sad reality in the game. In recent years, players like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Stephen Strasburg, John Smoltz and Adam Wainwright have all had the surgery and bounced back with great success. In the years before Tommy John surgery, every one of those players would have had their careers ended abruptly.
13. FDR pens the Green Light Letter
As America entered into World War II, it was clear that sacrifices would need to be made and every industry in the country needed guidance on how to best serve during the war. Major League Baseball was no different, so Kenesaw Landis turned directly to Franklin Roosevelt to see how baseball should proceed. On January 15,1942, Roosevelt wrote Landis a letter saying it was in the best interest of the country for baseball to continue throughout the war, but able-bodied players who are of age should serve their country. Known as the “green light letter,” it paved the way for baseball to serve as a distraction to the horrors of war and a way to help raise money for the ongoing war effort. Baseball in America during World War II is perhaps one of the most important periods of sport in our country’s history.
14. Bill Mazeroski‘s 1960 World Series Game 7 home run
There has never been a World Series where the winning team was so totally dominated by the loser as the 1960s World Series. In the series, the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27, yet the Pirates won the series in seven games, thanks to one of the most clutch home runs of all time. A five-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Pirates a 9-7 lead going to the ninth, but the Yankees tied it up with two runs of their own in the top of the inning. Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Mazeroski blasted a 1-0 pitch off Ralph Terry to win the World Series. It still remains the only time a player has won Game 7 of the World Series with a walk off home run.
15. Cincinnati Reds/Boston Red Sox 1975 World Series Game 6
Any short list of the sport’s greatest games, postseason or not, has to include Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Two powerhouse teams battled it out in Fenway Park and the back-and-forth affair had a little bit of everything. Fred Lynn started the scoring for the Sox with a three-run homer in the first and the Reds tied it with a three-run rally in the fifth. A George Foster double and Cesar Geronimo homer gave the Reds a 6-3 lead in the top of the eighth. The Sox rallied in the bottom of the eighth though and Bernie Carbo was sent in as a pinch hitter. Carbo, who later admitted he was high on drugs at the time, barely fouled off a 2-2 pitch on an awkward defensive swing. Of course, he then blasted the next pitch for a game-tying three run homer.
The game went to the ninth and then extra innings, and the dramatics continued. Foster threw out Denny Doyle as he attempted to score the winning run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth and a remarkable defensive play by Dwight Evans kept the Reds off the board in the eleventh. Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, Carlton Fisk crushed a ball down the left field line and famously jumped up as he drifted towards first base, waving it fair. The ball, of course, was fair and the Sox had an incredible Game 6 win. Game 7 was nearly as dramatic, as the Reds won on a Joe Morgan RBI single in the top of the ninth.
16. Joe Carter‘s walk off World Series home run
Holding a 3-2 series lead in the 1993 World Series, the Toronto Blue Jays looked well on their way to winning the title as they held a 5-1 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies going to the seventh inning. They would eventually get their World Series win, but it took a lot more dramatics than expected. The Phillies rallied for five runs in the top of the seventh and carried that 6-5 lead to the bottom of the ninth. Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor reached base against Phillies closer Mitch Williams to bring up Joe Carter, who announcer Tim McCarver said “looked uncomfortable” at the plate. Carter was so uncomfortable that he belted a three-run homer to left to deliver the Blue Jays their second straight World Series. Carter’s home run marked the first time a World Series was won on a come-from-behind walk off home run and represents one of the most dramatic home runs in postseason history.
17. The Black Sox Scandal
For as bad as the Pete Rose scandal, Pittsburgh drug trials and steroids scandals were, the Black Sox Scandal reigns as the biggest controversy to ever hit the sport. Eight players were charged with fixing the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds and the rest is pretty common knowledge. Rumors swirled of a fix in the offseason and for nearly the entirety of the 1920 season, Major League Baseball investigated the allegations. The players were implicated by a grand jury and subsequently banned by Kenesaw Mountain Landis for life. A trial surrounding the fix occurred in 1921, but after three hours of deliberation, a jury found the players not guilty. Even so, Landis refused to reinstate the players and Shoeless Joe Jackson and his seven teammates remained banned for life to this day.
18. 1926 World Series
The 1926 World Series between the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals is widely considered the greatest World Series played in the early days of the game, and it’s easy to see why. The game featured immortals like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and Grover Alexander and went to a dramatic Game 7. With the series tied at three, Hall of Famers Jesse Haines and Waite Hoyt squared off against each other. Ruth got the Yankees on the board first with a solo homer in the third, but the Cardinals answered with three runs in the top of the fourth.
The Yankees cut the lead to 3-2 with a run in the sixth and looked to have some momentum. Hornsby, who was the team’s player manager, decided to bring Alexander in relief of Haines with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. Alexander had pitched a complete game the day before and, at best, was nursing a hangover from the night before. At worst, he was still drunk. Tony Lazzeri, another Hall of Famer, came within feet of hitting a grand slam, but the ball sailed just foul. Alexander then struck out Lazzeri and nursed the 3-2 lead to the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and nobody on, Ruth represented the tying run. Alexander walked him on a 3-2 count to bring up Earle Combs, yet another Hall of Famer. On the first pitch, Ruth inexplicably tried to steal second and was thrown out by a considerable margin, thus ending the World Series. It was the Cardinals first World Series championship and still remains the only time a World Series ended on a caught stealing.
19. Ted Williams bats .406
On the evening before the final day of the 1941 season, Ted Williams had a decision to make. His batting average stood at .3995 and when rounded up, it was exactly .400. Williams could have sat out the final day of the season, a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, to clinch his .400 average. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Williams’ demeanor knows that wasn’t going to happen. Williams said in an interview, “If I’m going to bat .400, I want more than my toenails on the line.” Williams went out and went 6 for 8 in the doubleheader to finish with a .406 average. No player has hit .400 in the 75 years since.
20. Babe Ruth converted to an outfielder
From 1914-1918, Ruth was one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League. He went 80-41 over that time and led the league with a 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts as a 21-year-old in 1916. So when the Boston Red Sox began to wane the young Ruth off of pitching and into a bigger role as an everyday player, it was a risky move. Ruth started just 30 games on the mound between the 1918 and 1919 seasons combined after starting 35 games alone in 1917. His offensive production increased as he led the league in home runs in 1918 and 1919 with 11 and 29 respectively. By 1920, Ruth was now a Yankee and they only used him as a pitcher in one game. The rest was history and the course of Major League Baseball was changed forever.
Coming tomorrow: Top 300 Moments the Shaped Major League Baseball 10-1.
For a more in depth look at some of these moments, as well as interviews with 50 former Major League players, you can read Constantino’s book 50 Moments that Defined Major League Baseball.