Cal Ripken was 6 feet, 4 inches tall. That made him much larger than most shortstops of his time, who were like hummingbirds—small, twitchy, and designed for speed and quickness. Shortstops were your prototypical defense-first bat handlers, guys who hit second in a lineup because, the thought process went, they could move the leadoff hitter into scoring position. That, plus good defense, and there [wipes hands]—you’ve solved the shortstop issue.
If you’re of a certain age, perhaps you remember the 1985 Brewers-White Sox game that went 25 innings. You might even recall when the Mets and Cardinals did similarly a decade earlier. Those contests featured 14 and 13 pitchers, respectively.
Compared to what happened on May 1, 1920, those games were nothing. That year the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins set a record by playing 26 innings—using one pitcher each—before the game was called due to darkness in a 1–1 tie.
“Baseball is too venerable and too vigorous an institution to not have a permanent hall of fame.”
I. E. Sanborn, Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1915
Near the end of the 1876 season, former Cincinnati Red Stockings Manager John Joyce gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune. It was the first year of the National League. Perhaps Joyce, a wealthy Ohioan who’d revived the Cincinnati club that year, faced precarious times.
“I think high salaries will kill the sport ultimately,” Joyce said in an interview printed on August 6, 1876.
“How so?” the writer asked.
Most of us know about Fred Merkle, at least enough to recognize his nickname: “Bonehead.” The epithet is tied to Merkle’s failure in 1908 to complete his advance from first base to second on a game-winning hit, when he prematurely decamped for the clubhouse as fans of his hometown New York Giants flooded the field. The visiting Cubs somehow procured a baseball and tagged second base, which Merkle had neglected to touch.
Take a casual glance at the 1967 draft—the big one in June, that is—and you might figure teams were still trying to get a handle on this strange new institution. After all, it was only the third year of the amateur draft, and a fair number of clubs were really just winging it.
Number of future Hall of Famers drafted in June of ’67? Zero.*
Before the age of sabremetrics, which spawned new statistics and the current high-tech Statcast Era of exit velocities, catch probabilities, and launch angles, there was a cultured and scholarly sportswriter who analyzed every aspect of baseball, on and off the field, enriching his readers with his astute and brilliant observations for over six decades.
As the New York Yankees prepared for the upcoming 1936 season, they realized that changes were mandatory. Babe Ruth’s recent retirement put an exclamation point on the fact that New York had missed the playoffs in six of the seven previous seasons. With the club thirsting for an infusion of new blood, management’s biggest roster decision concerned a young unknown from the West Coast, who had terrorized Pacific Coast League pitchers the previous season.
For want of $50,000, a Hall of Fame shortstop was lost.
That’s how the story goes, anyway.
For as long as the draft had been around, teams had been passing up players or, more often, drafting but failing to sign them—because of money. It wasn’t until 1992, though that signability became not only an internal concern for clubs, but (as Baseball America has observed) a buzzword in the business and media.