Top 300 Moments that Shaped Major League Baseball: 40-31
31. Pete Rose banned for life
Very few players in all of professional sports have had such a swift and far fall from grace as Pete Rose. For the better part of over two decades, Rose has become someone you just shake your head at. But prior to his gambling habits surfacing, Rose was a symbol of how the game should be played and a hero to millions of fans across generations. However, when Commissioner Bart Giamatti stepped to the microphone at a press conference on the morning of August 9, 1989, Rose’s legacy would change forever. Giamatti publicly reprimanded Rose for his actions, citing the Black Sox scandal as the last time the game saw a situation like this. The ensuing controversy has lasted perpetually going on 27 years now as Rose has run the gamut from erratic behavior to seemingly sincere remorse and it’s been an ongoing soap opera now about to enter its third decade.
32. MLB lowers the pitchers’ mound
1968 was such a dominant year for pitchers that something simply had to be done. After nine pitchers had an ERA under 2.10, seven pitchers won 20 games and nine pitchers had a WHIP under 1.00, changes were made to the game. Baseball decided that the best way to even the playing field was to lower the pitchers’ mound from 15 inches to 10 inches for the following season. In some places, that made for more than a five-inch adjustment. Because nobody ever went out and actually measured the heights of mounds, some mounds were rumored to have been as high as 20 inches. When baseball stepped in and ordered the mound lowered and started actually enforcing the rule, the playing field tilted back towards the offense.
33. Johnny Vander Meer‘s back-to-back no-hitter
Of all the records that are deemed unbreakable, you can count Vander Meer’s record near the top. The Cincinnati Reds lefty is the only player in baseball history to throw back-to-back no-hitters. To break that record, someone would have to obviously throw three straight. Vander Meer’s first no-hitter came on June 11, 1938 when he shut down the Boston Braves. Four days later, he repeated the feat against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first night game at Ebbets Field. Vander Meer was just 23 years old at the time and 1938 seemed like it would be the start of a fantastic career, especially after he was tabbed to start the All-Star Game. However, while he did make three more All-Star Games, he never developed into the superstar that people predicted he would after those magical two starts in 1938.
34. Innaugural class of the MLB Hall of Fame
The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is the preeminent Hall of Fame in sports and the first class voted into the Hall represent the pinnacle of the game’s immortals. In 1936, 226 people voted for the first class and five people gained the necessary 75%. Voting was so tight that Cy Young didn’t even garner 50% of the vote. The first five elected to the Hall of Fame, in order of most votes, were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Of the 50 players listed on the first ever Hall of Fame ballot, 42 of them eventually got into the Hall of Fame, including Gabby Hartnett and Charlie Gehringer who didn’t receive a single vote.
35. Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game
There are very few things that are not up for debate in baseball history. One of those items is the debate on the best pitched game in postseason history. That should begin and end with Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. It’s the only perfect game in postseason history and Larsen turned the trick against a lineup stacked with legendary Brooklyn Dodgers players. He navigated his way through Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella among others in a masterful performance.
36. Wild card round added to MLB postseason
From the turn of the century through 1994, the way to get into the Major League Baseball postseason was simple. Win your division, and you’re in. Even when expansion happened in 1969, the only way to get into the postseason was to win your division. That all changed in 1995 when MLB realigned into three divisions and started to allow a wild card team into the postseason. Although baseball purists balked at the idea, it created much more suspense in the pennant races and kept more teams alive for a longer amount of time. In turn, that generated so much revenue for so many teams that it’s hard to believe it took that long for baseball to add it.
37. Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, the best game ever pitched
Earlier in the countdown, the “double no-hitter” between Fred Toney and Hippo Vaughn was described as “possibly” the best game ever pitched. Although neither one of those pitchers gave up a hit over nine innings, the best-pitched game as far as sheer dominance would have to have been between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965. On that date, Koufax pitched a perfect game with 14 strikeouts. It was the fourth no-hitter of his career, moving him past Bob Feller, who had thrown three. His opposing pitcher, Bob Hendley only gave up one hit in the game, in the seventh inning, and allowed just one unearned run in the fifth inning. In the game, only two runners total reached base and there was just one hit and one walk allowed combined.
38. Mike Piazza‘s home run after 9/11
Just as it did during World War II, Major League Baseball helped hold a nation after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Ten days after the attacks, baseball returned to action and the first game held in New York after the attacks was between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. With the Mets wearing FDNY and NYPD hats on the field and American flags waving in the crowd, patriotism and emotions were extremely high. With the Mets trailing 2-1 against their rivals in the bottom of the eighth, Piazza blasted a long two-run home run into the camera tower in center field off of Steve Karsay to give the Mets an emotional 3-2 win.
39. Curt Flood refuses to report after being traded
Flood was a very good centerfielder on some good St. Louis Cardinals teams, but his legacy in baseball history is much bigger than that. His litigation against Major League Baseball was one of the catalysts of the termination of the reserve clause and the advent of free agency. Flood was part of a big trade between the Philadelphia Phillies and Cardinals and he flat our refused to go to Philadelphia. He brought his fight to the Supreme Court and although he lost, he created solidarity among the players. Flood was blackballed from baseball and sat out the entire 1970 season. He returned to the Washington Senators in 1971 but retired after the season.
40. Larry Doby integrates the American League
Although Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey rightfully get credit for finally integrating the game, Bill Veeck and Doby deserve a large portion of the credit as well. Veeck broached the topic of integration in 1942, five years before Robinson’s debut, but was turned down by Kenesaw Mountain Landis. After Robinson’s debut though, Veeck was next on board bringing in Doby from the Newark Eagles just a few months after Robinson’s debut. Doby debuted in early July and became the first player to go directly from the Negro Leagues directly to the majors. Veeck’s theory was that he didn’t want any attention of a Negro League player coming through the Indians system. He just wanted the team to go out one day and there was Doby playing outfield. Veeck did a lot of crazy things over his career, but he was always a pioneer in integration and equality in the majors and Doby’s debut as the first black American League ballplayer is one of the most historical events in the game’s history.
Coming tomorrow: Top 300 Moments the Shaped Major League Baseball 30-21.
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.