Top 300 Moments that Shaped Major League Baseball: 50-41
41. Charlie Finley’s attempted fire sale
The landscape of baseball in the late 1970s could have been a lot different if Commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn’t veto a number of transactions made by Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley. Finley originally thought free agency would keep salaries down because so many players would be available every season, but he was dead wrong. With salaries skyrocketing, Finley began dismantling the A’s himself before free agency could tear his team apart, much the way owners do today. Finley traded Reggie Jackson to the Baltimore Orioles, which was fine. But then he tried to sell Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Don Baylor and Gene Tenace to the Boston Red Sox for $1 million each. That would have essentially combined the two best teams in the American League, creating a superpower that would have lasted in the 1980s. The Red Sox agreed to take Fingers and Rudi for $1 million each and Finley shopped Blue and sold him to the New York Yankees for $1.5 million. Kuhn invoked the “best interest of the game” clause and voided all the transactions, sending everyone back to the A’s.
42. Satchel Paige becomes the first black player elected to the Hall of Fame
When it came down to representing Negro League baseball players in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, everyone was in agreement that Paige should be the first one inducted. The only problem was that Paige wasn’t eligible until 1971 and the inclusion of Negro League players was approved in 1969. Paige was so important, that the committee agreed to hold up elections by the Negro League committee until Paige was eligible. Finally, on August 9, 1971, Paige was the first Negro League player elected to the Hall of Fame, opening the door for dozens of others to follow him.
43. 1994 player’s strike
There have been eight work stoppages due to labor throughout the course of MLB history, but the 1994-1995 strike was the longest and the only one that caused the cancellation of the postseason. Years of mistrust and dissension between the players and owners along with a proposed salary cap finally boiled over into an ugly work stoppage. At the time of the work stoppage, the Montreal Expos had the best record in baseball (74-40), Tony Gwynn was challenging to hit .400 (.394 at the time) and Matt Williams was on pace to match Roger Maris’ home run record (without steroids).
44. Yogi Berra‘s D-Day herocis
To this generation, Berra is known mostly for his famous quotes, Aflac commercials and 10 World Series rings. All things considered, Berra should probably be best remembered for his actions on June 6, 1944. On that day, Berra was far from a baseball field and doing something significantly more important than hitting home runs. He was stationed on a six-man Navy rocket boat providing cover for troops storming the beaches at Normandy during D-Day. Berra’s significant role in one of the most important battles in World War II earned him several commendations for bravery and a place as one of the great players who also served a significant role in World War II.
45. Interleague play begins
Every so often, Major League Baseball changes in ways that irks the purists. It started with expansion and ruffled their feathers even more with the designated hitter. In 1997, the owners and players agreed upon a new concept, interleague play, which again was resisted by purists. However, the intriguing geographical matchups and showdowns between stars from the AL and NL brought excitement to fans and helped reinvigorate the game after the 1994 players’ strike. Matchups between the Chicago Cubs and White Sox and New York Mets and Yankees brought tremendous intrigue as interleague play has continued on for nearly two decades.
46. Yankees hire Casey Stengel
From 1934-1943, Stengel was a largely unsuccessful manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Bees and Boston Braves, having never made the postseason once. After remaining out of the majors for six seasons, Stengel returned in grand fashion as the manager of the Yankees in 1949. Managing a team led by Joe DiMaggio and later Mickey Mantle, Stengel led the Yanks to the World Series title in each of his first five seasons. He won 1,149 games over seven seasons with a winning percentage of .623
47. Tom Seaver traded to the Cincinnati Reds
Seaver’s nickname, “The Franchise,” tells just how much he meant to the New York Mets organization. He led the team out of the great depths of the early 1960s to an improbable World Series title in 1969 and was a true hero of New York sports. As the 1970s went on, it was inconceivable that he could wear any other uniform except the Mets orange and blue. That all changed when Seaver battled with management and was painted as a villain by New York baseball writer Dick Young. As Seaver grew tired of the negativity in the press and the Mets’ unwillingness to pay him, he finally had enough and requested a trade. The Mets finally agreed to send Seaver to the Reds on June 15, 1977 for Steve Henderson, Pat Zachary, Dan Norman and Doug Flynn in what instantly became known as the Midnight Massacre.
48. Baltimore Orioles build Camden Yards
When the Orioles decided to demolish Memorial Stadium in the early 1990s, they decided to take a risk on a new-style ballpark that borrowed from the old. Instead of replacing it with a monstrosity or another multi-sport facility, the Orioles decided to create a reto-part that hearkened back to the stadiums from the early 1900s. The risk paid off as Camden Yards was a huge hit when it opened in 1992. Still today, 24 years later, the park remains one of the signature ballparks in the game. Camden Yards was so successful that it spurned a baseball-wide movement to create cozy ballparks that offered great sight lines, wide concourses and a family-friendly atmosphere.
Because of the stigma surrounding Bonds’ steroid use, when he finally passed Aaron to become the most prolific home run hitter of all-time, there was significantly less fanfare than you’d expect. Sure, in San Francisco where Bonds connected off of Mike Basick of the Washington Nationals on August 7, 2007, there was jubilation and celebration, but around the baseball world his mark was met with skepticism. It was much different than when Aaron passed Babe Ruth. However, Bonds’ name sits above Aaron and Ruth, and that is an undeniable fact.
50. Wally Pipp takes a day off
Throughout the Dead Ball Era, Pipp was one of the top power hitters and a star on the early Yankee teams in the early 1900s. That’s not what he’s best remembered for though. Legend has it that Pipp showed up to Yankee Stadium on June 2, 1925 with a headache and wasn’t able to play. Some say that Pipp asked out of the Yankee lineup while others say that Miller Huggins saw him asking the trainer for some aspirin and told him to take one day off. Either way, Huggins decided to give his young upstart first baseman Lou Gehrig a chance instead of Pipp. Pipp’s “day off” turned into 2,130 games off and the start of Gehrig’s legendary consecutive games played streak. Pipp didn’t actually sit there for 2,130 games, he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason and was out of baseball by 1928.
Coming tomorrow: Top 300 Moments the Shaped Major League Baseball 40-31.
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.