Top 300 Moments that Shaped Major League Baseball: 70-61
61. Ichiro’s debut
When his incredible career is over, people will look back at Ichiro as one of the greatest hitters of his generation. Although he didn’t debut in the Majors until he was 27, Ichiro comes into the 2016 season just 65 hits shy of 3,000 for his career. In addition, he was perhaps the most dynamic defender and base runner in the game during his prime. Already a superstar in Japan, Ichiro was one of the first position players to play in the Majors and was the first to make a significant impact in the game. Although people were skeptical due to his slight size, non-traditional style of play and no history of success for Japanese position players, Ichiro proved everyone wrong very quickly. He batted an amazing .350 with 242 hits on his way to winning the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards.
62. New York Mets win the 1969 World Series
Through the first seven years of their existence, the New York Mets were the laughingstock of baseball. In fact, calling them a laughingstock may not even be strong enough. They finished in last place by numerous games in most of their seasons in existence, only creeping up to second to last once. However, in 1969, led by a mix of dynamic young pitching and solid veteran players, the Mets improbably overtook the Chicago Cubs in the National League East and swept the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. They were heavy underdogs to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, but capped their improbable run to the title in a swift five-game series. After dropping game one, 4-1, the Mets won the next four games. They won the decisive Game 5 by scoring five runs over the final three innings to overcome a 3-0 deficit in one of the biggest upsets in World Series history.
63. Ray Chapman dies after being hit by a pitch
Throughout most of the 1910s, Chapman was known as a scrappy shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. He was a fine fielder, excellent bunter and an adept base runner. He drew the respect of icons like Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker and was a fan favorite in Cleveland. On August 16, 1920, Chapman’s legacy took a tragic turn. While batting against known spitballer Carl Mays, Chapman took a pitch to the temple and collapsed in a heap at the plate. He attempted to walk off the field after some time, but collapsed before he could do so. He died 12 hours later in a New York City hospital and remains as the only player to have died during a Major League Baseball game.
64. Steve Carlton‘s 1972 season
When talking about the best pitching seasons in Major League history, Carlton’s 1972 season with the Philadelphia Phillies should be near the top of the list. Carlton’s 27 wins and 1.97 ERA are impressive enough, but consider that the Phillies only won 59 games that year, it makes his season even more impressive. Carlton won 46% of his team’s game that year, by far the highest percentage ever for one team in one season and with any support, could have easily topped 30 wins. At one point, Carlton lost five consecutive starts in which the Phillies scored just 10 total runs. He struck out 310 batters in 346 innings and unanimously won the first of his four Cy Young Awards.
65 . Fernandomania
Very few players have burst onto the scene the way Fernando Valenzuela did back in 1981. Valenzuela was the perfect person for the perfect team, a “Mexican Sandy Koufax” for a team that had been searching for one ever since the Los Angeles Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Southern California. The 20-year-old rotund folk hero won his first eight starts in 1981, hurling a complete game in each one. Fans came out in droves for Valenzuela’s starts throughout the 1981 season as he stampeded towards the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards. He never reached the heights of the 1981 season again, but he did remain one of the National League’s top starters throughout the 1980s.
66. The Pinetar Game
Everyone has seen the video over and over. George Brett victimizing the New York Yankees yet again with another late-inning home run and after he reaches the dugout, Billy Martin comes out to speak to the umpires. A conference ensues and umpire Tim McLelland bends to measure Brett’s bat across home plate. He then takes a few steps towards the Kansas City Royals dugout, points at Brett and signals “out.” From there, insanity ensued. Brett charged McLelland and had to be physically restrained as the Royals tried to make off with the bat. When cooler heads prevailed, the American League upheld the Royals’ protest and the game was played at a later date from the point of Brett’s home run.
67. Jose Canseco writes Juiced
As the controversy surrounding steroid use in baseball unraveled, Canseco was perhaps the most vocal person in implicating himself and other players. Sure, his methods and personality made him seem far from trustworthy, but as more time passes, it seems like Canseco has been the most honest about the use of drugs in the game. In 2005 he published Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big in which he named names and documented specific incidents as steroids took over the game. Canseco’s book predated the Mitchell Report and the Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball and although it was mostly ridiculed when released, it has gained respect in recent years and seen as one of the forces in helping to bring steroid abuse to the forefront of the sport’s consciousness.
68. The Astrodome is built
In November of 1964, construction was completed on the Eighth Wonder of the World. There have been a number of structures and people who have been given that nickname, but the only on in the baseball world is the Houston Astrodome. It was unlike any athletic structure that was ever built and stood in stark contrast to the other ballparks in the majors at the time, most of which had been built in the first part of the 20th Century.
69. The Mets trade Nolan Ryan
Baseball history is loaded with trades that turn out to be pure highway robbery. Every team has bungled away a prospect who turned out to be an All-Star or has given up on a player way too soon. Near the top of the list of any lopsided trade is when the New York Mets dealt Ryan to the California Angels. At the time, the Mets really couldn’t be blamed for giving up on Ryan. While he always had his trademark fastball, he never could harness the control or command that would make it seem that he’d become an All-Star, let alone a Hall of Famer. The Mets got back Jim Fregosi, who was a very solid player at the time. However, Fregosi’s career took a sharp downturn and Ryan’s skyrocketed with the new opportunity. December 10, 1971 turned out to be a major mistake in Mets history and the date of perhaps the most lopsided trade in baseball history.
70. Roberto Clemente‘s 3000th hit
There’s a saying in life that tomorrow is never guaranteed. It always seems to surface when someone unexpectedly dies, and it certainly applied to Clemente in a few different ways. As the 1972 season drew to a close, Clemente was hobbling towards his 3,000th career hit. At the time, only 10 players had reached the milestone before him and none of them were Latino. On September 30 against the Mets, Clemente finally came through in one of the season’s final games. The 38-year-old Clemente doubled off of Jerry Koosman for his 3,000th hit and was later lifted for pinch hitter Bill Mazeroski. Clemente never had another regular season at bat as he died in a plane crash that winter.
Coming tomorrow: Top 300 Moments the Shaped Major League Baseball 60-51.
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.