From 2002–2010 Gabriel Schechter was a researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. His first book, Victory Faust, published in 2000, was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) prestigious Seymour Medal Award. He is also a dedicated blogger and the author of Unhittable! Baseball’s Greatest Pitching Seasons, as well as This Bad Day in Yankees History. Gabe also wrote the captions for collections of Neil Leifer’s baseball and football photos as well as photographs from the lens of baseball photographer Charles Conlon.
After Sandy Koufax won the Cy Young Award in 1966, the Baseball Writers Association of America had seen enough. For the third time in four seasons, Koufax had won—unanimously. Plenty of other fine pitchers never sniffed a vote (like Juan Marichal, 25–6 in 1966). So the BBWAA did something about it.
How sad that it took Cy Young’s death at age 88 to nudge the powers that be into honoring him. Soon after Young’s death late in 1955 came an announcement that the Cy Young Memorial Trophy would be awarded to the best pitcher in the Major Leagues in 1956. The initial balloting proved decisive: Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers received 10 of the 16 votes.
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?
As fans of the original 1962 New York Mets, my parents and I quickly learned to redefine the word “miracle.” On April 27, my mother and I attended a thrilling game that dropped our fledgling heroes’ record to 1–12. Trailing the Phillies, 11–1, in the sixth inning, the Mets rallied to make it 11–9 in the bottom of the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate. Don Zimmer took a called third strike, and home we went.
One month remained in the 1967 season when Al Naples explained why the Boston Red Sox would prevail in the hotly contested American League pennant race. We saw no reason to dispute his analysis. We were 11th graders in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, and Al Naples was our math teacher. Once, he had played in the Major Leagues. Or, more precisely, twice. You could look it up.
Entire books have been written about the collapse of the Philadelphia Phillies in the final two weeks of the National League’s 1964 pennant race and the St. Louis Cardinals’ win, but lost in the crossfire of tragedy and triumph is the team that was in first place with just five games left—the Cincinnati Reds.
Most baseball fans can give you the gist of the historic collapse of the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, who led the National League by 13 games on August 11 and somehow frittered it all away before the New York Giants delivered the coup de grâce on Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World.” Nearly forgotten, however, is the dress rehearsal for the famous 1951 nightmare—staged by the 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers, who enjoyed a 10-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals on August 5 yet failed to claim the pennant.
The Gashouse Gang—the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals—remains one of baseball’s fondest legends. The name conjures up the image of a rabble-rousing, rough-hewn group of misfits who played a brand of baseball formidable enough to win the World Series. Their symbol was “Dizzy” Dean, whose 30–7 record in 1934 made him the last National League pitcher to reach that milestone.
When the 2016 Chicago Cubs finally got off their 107-season schneid and won the World Series, it brought renewed attention to the franchise’s previous title in 1908. That year’s National League pennant race is still remembered for the so-called “Merkle game,” in which the Cubs’ Johnny Evers pulled a sore-loser stunt and got away with it.