On January 1, 1947, The Sporting News made note of the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s voting 27-year-old Cubs first baseman Eddie Waitkus baseball’s Rookie of the Year for 1946.
Waitkus—whose greatest claim to fame would come two years later when a deranged female admirer shot him, helping inspire the plot of The Natural—had hit .304 for the Cubs.
Twenty-five starting pitchers won the Cy Young Award before the voters found a relief pitcher they felt deserved their votes. That pitcher was Mike Marshall of the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers, who put up Herculean numbers out of the bullpen. Nobody had approached his figures of 106 games and 208 1/3 innings pitched—and nobody pitching today will get the chance to. But did Marshall actually have an award-worthy season in 1974?
In 1897, one of the most widely followed baseball stories in the country centered on an athlete who never played an inning of professional ball, and yet the event that thrust him into the national spotlight was so compelling, years later, it became the basis of the first feature film about a baseball player.
While the precise details of his story are a bit muddy, largely because of what I’ll call the “informal” nature of journalism in that era, the essential facts appear to be these:
Twenty-five Octobers ago, baseball’s World Series finally made it north of the border, when the Toronto Blue Jays took on the Atlanta Braves. Canadian teams had been knocking at the door for many years—the Montreal Expos got to the final game of the NLCS in 1981 and competed for a string of division titles, while the Blue Jays had lost three ALCS’s (1985, 1989, and 1991). But until 1992 the World Series had always been an all-USA affair.
Beat writers who covered the New York Yankees in the late 1990s and early 2000s came upon an unmistakable quirk in Joe Torre’s storytelling repertoire: He couldn’t stop talking about Bob Gibson. Torre was an unusually charismatic manager, at least compared to the managers who preceded him (Stump Merrill, Buck Showalter) and certainly the one who replaced him (Joe Girardi). Sitting down with Torre during batting practice was a guarantee of at least one good anecdote a day.
If the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1962 World Series unfolded today, it would be the most widely second-guessed amalgam of decisions in sports history. The fascinating aspect of that decisive inning is that at the time it was played, it generated little public second-guessing at all.
At the 1964 baseball trading deadline (June 15 in those days), the St. Louis Cardinals made a six-player deal with the Cubs, a trade that really boiled down to swapping pitcher Ernie Broglio for outfielder Lou Brock. This deal remains famous as one of baseball’s all-time great swindles even as modern analysts have chipped away at Brock’s claim to greatness (He was not a very good defensive player, he did not walk much for a leadoff man, etc.).
How long does it take for a broken heart to heal? For older Pittsburgh Pirates fans, the answer may be: Forever. At least it feels that way to the ones who’ve never forgotten how the Bucs lost the 1992 NLCS to the Atlanta Braves in the last inning of Game 7. Last play. Last millisecond. Last desperate tag that catcher Mike LaValliere put on the sliding Sid Bream. To the Bucs’ army of loyalists, that memory will last into infinity.
It is hard to believe that we are more than a half-century removed from the turbulent decade of the 1960s. Though it is exaggerated how static the 1950s actually were—two of modern America’s most significant achievements occurred in that decade: the GI Bill that opened college education to millions and the Eisenhower administration’s establishment of the interstate highway system—there is no doubt that the 1960s were a watershed in our history.