The late Dick Heller was a contributing sports columnist for the Washington Times and author of the series Magic Moments for The National Pastime Museum’s Historian’s Corner.
One glorious day in 1952, record stores were blessed by the arrival of an LP called Greatest Moments in Sports. The album cover showed the Bambino hugging the doomed Iron Horse on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. Included were such memorable snippets as Babe Ruth’s own farewell in 1948, Russ Hodges’s call of Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard Round the World home run in 1951 (“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! . . .
This one required more than a little thought. Favorite player — well, let’s see. How about Pete Rose, whose ferocious style of play I greatly admired before he turned from Charlie Hustle into Charlie Hustler? What about Teddy Ballgame, by far the greatest hitter I ever saw? And how could I possibly overlook Cal Ripken Jr., the guy who showed up for work every single day and redefined the notion of what a shortstop should be?
At 3:58 on the afternoon of Oct. 3, 1951, at the ancient Polo Grounds in Harlem, New York Giants play-by-play man Russ Hodges was no better than Gotham’s third best-known baseball broadcaster. Mel Allen of the Yankees and Red Barber of the Dodgers ruled the electronic horsehide scene in an era when radio still held sway over television. Most of Hodges’ national recognition came from working the Wednesday night fights on CBS-TV along with “Bill the Bartender.”
The tune is simplistic, corny and old-fashioned. A child of five or so can rattle it off with no sweat. When it comes to musical accomplishment, this banal ditty makes something like “Hail to the Redskins” sound like “Stardust." Yet for 105 years, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has been, for better or worse, baseball’s national anthem.
Walter Johnson, baseball’s famed “Big Train,” was a gentle man beloved by opponents as well as teammates and fans. But as Harry Hooper stepped to the plate in the ninth inning at Fenway Park on July 1, 1920, he was determined to spoil Johnson’s biggest moment.
“Tell Walter he’s got to pitch to me,” the veteran Boston Red Sox outfielder muttered to catcher Val Picinich. “I’m going to bust one if I can.”
Five major league pitchers have tossed two no-hitters in the same season: Johnny Vander Meer consecutively for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938, Allie Reynolds for the New York Yankees in 1951, Virgil Trucks for the Detroit Tigers in 1952, Nolan Ryan for the California Angels in 1973 and Roy Halladay for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010 (one in the postseason). Of these double no-no artists, only Trucks had a losing record.
I saw my first Opening Day game in 1950 between two teams that no longer exist as the original Washington Senators defeated the Philadelphia Athletics 8–7. Also in the crowd of 29,320 that jammed DC’s tiny Griffith Stadium was President Harry Truman, who threw out two “first” balls—one right-handed and one left-handed—before settling down to watch the game in a much better seat than I had.