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Great Moments From Baseball History


The Short Shot Heard ‘Round the World

“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” is perhaps baseball’s most famous play. And certainly the Giants’ amazing comeback, both in the pennant race and the game, was hard to believe. However, sometimes the greatness of baseball’s lore can obscure interesting and noteworthy facts. In the case of Thomson’s home run, it is the distance of the left field fence. 

The Polo Grounds was one oddly-shaped ballpark, that is for sure. The distance to dead center was 483, but the left and right field lines were just 279 and 258 respectively. In addition, left field had an overhang of some 21 feet. 

At the time of the “Shot,” movie reel cameras often (frustratingly) followed the hitter rounding the bases instead of the flight of the ball. Hence, it is Thomson’s galloping jaunt to first that fans always see, not the rather unimpressive view of a ball sailing over a left field wall that was laughably close.

Of course, none of this takes away from the drama of the moment or the fact that the ball traveled more than 300 feet. Well, maybe it takes away a little bit…


Empty Ebbets

It is often said that baseball is in decline today — having long ago given up the National Pastime crown to professional football. Maybe so, but it is an odd comparison to judge baseball today vs. yesteryear. Take baseball in the 1950s, for instance. While clearly the national sport, baseball enjoyed a kind of broad, languid sort of popularity. Most boys played baseball, most men were fans. And yet Major League Baseball was not the popular money-making machine that any of the four major sports are today. At least from a paid popularity standpoint, today’s baseball is far more popular than it ever was.

Ebbets Field led the National League in attendance in 1952. But take a scroll down their attendance sheet from that year and the results are rather striking. For one thing, the large number of weekday day baseball games is astounding. And predictably, many of these games garnered small crowds. On Wednesday July 23rd, with the Dodgers holding a seven game first place lead, less than 6,000 fans turned out to see the Bums take on Cincinnati. A Friday, June 20th game against the Pirates brought out less than 5,000. Yes, these games are cherry-picked, but most Brooklyn games that year — day or night — brought in less than 20,000 fans. There are many games that failed to clear four-digit attendance totals.

In this clip, we see Game 6 of the 1952 World Series with the Dodgers up 3 games to 2. Amazingly, the Dodgers have a chance to win their first ever world’s championship, and as Red Barber tells listeners, the paid attendance is just 30,037. Unless there was some kind of error in counting tickets sold, that would mean there were thousands of empty seats that day as the Dodgers attempted to make history. This would roughly be the equivalent of the 2004 Red Sox not selling out Fenway if they had hosted a Game 6 against St. Louis, up 3 to 2. Unthinkable. Indeed, it’s hard to square the facts of baseball attendance in its supposed heyday with the reputation the sport had in those days.

The clip also shows an at bat from Billy Martin late in the game. The “spunky little kid” (as Barber calls him) would make a game-saving catch that saved the Yankees in Game 7 — leading Brooklyn fans to returning to the old “wait ’till next year” refrain. Perhaps the Brooklyn fans knew a little something after all. 

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The Smaller Moments

Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic 9th inning home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series is a rival for the most famous moment in baseball history. But like in any close baseball game, a number of smaller moments were just as crucial in the outcome of the game and the series. Two plays in particular probably cost the Yankees the game in the 8th inning. 

The first gives us a chance to discuss one of this website’s favorite subjects — the tremendous difference in the quality of infield surfaces in Major League Baseball in earlier generations. It is hard to underestimate just how much worse groundskeeping techniques were in those days. The bad hops perhaps shed some light on why artificial turf was so readily embraced in the 1970s. Here we see a routine double play bounce erratically off the Forbes Field infield dirt, striking Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat. Had the ball bounced true, Kubek likely would have turned the twin killing, leaving the Pirates down 7-4 with just four outs to go and no one on base. As it happened, the Pirates had two men on and no outs as “all hands were safe,” as Mel Allen puts it. Check out the infield dirt as the camera pans to first base just before the pitch.

A lesser known play occurred a few batters later with two strikes and two outs on Hal Smith. Still down a run, the Pirates slugger takes a wild swing in which he clearly goes around. Strangely, there is no appeal and the Yankees do not seem particularly bothered by the swing, which at least by modern standards, seems to be a clear out. On the next pitch, Smith drilled the ball over the left-center field fence. A Yankee comeback eventually set the scene for Mazeroski who made some better-known history. 

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Talk About a Lineup

All-Star lineups are always full of Hall of Famers, but the 1971 National League lineup kind of blows you away as the players are introduced one by one.  Of course, not every position voted in can have a hall-of-famer. Second Baseman Glenn Beckert, batting 8th, had a fine major league career.  He was a 4 time all-star, gold glover and finished twice in the top 10 in MVP voting.  Somehow he seems out of place in this lineup, however.

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Charlie Hustle

Sure, Pete Rose’s popularity was due to his outstanding performance on the field, but it also had a lot to do with how interesting he was to watch. When you see Rose in clips from the ’70s and ’80s, you can’t take his eyes off him. In a sense, he is a bit like the Anti-Puig. Yasiel Puig, who at the time of this writing has just finished his rookie campaign for the Dodgers, is just fascinating to watch. He’s always doing something and often it is negative. He lolligags a fly ball, stomps out of the batter’s box on a call he doesn’t like, rifles a ball three stories above the cut-off man. But then he will suddenly hit a ball or run the bases or make a throw in a manner so outstanding, you just can’t believe it. Rose, had a similarly eye-catching baseball persona, but it all seemed to the good. Everything was for the benefit of the team…selfless, hustle. After a walk, he’d sprint to first, he’d slide head first, break up a double play. His enthusiasm for baseball was endless. One rather bizarre habit he had was to literally slam the ball into the Veterans Stadium turf when he recorded the third out at first base. Kid-like energy…

Rose was celebrated endlessly for the play above from the final inning of the final game in the Phillies’ 1980 championship. Sure, most first baseman would have been over there next to the catcher anyway and it was really just a lucky bounce, but after more than a decade of hustling every play, Rose had more than earned the praise.

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What Makes it Amazing

Sometimes the brilliance of a dramatic moment is actually made by the undramatic moments that precede it. That progression can be watered down through the years as the highlight condenses into a single swing. Such is the case with the famous Kirk Gibson home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 Dodgers-A’s World Series. 

We have all seen the home run a million times, but the impact is minimized by just watching the swing and the ball sailing into the right field stands.. It is the lead up to the hit that really makes the conclusion difficult to believe. It’s the way Gibson looks so beat up, it’s Scully and Garagiola discussing how he can’t take off or land on either foot, it’s the weak swings and dribbling fouls he hits, it’s Eck and his seemingly unhittable side-armer. 

By the time the ball lands in the right field bleachers, one marvels at how this could have happened.

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