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.
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.
Posterity has long since declared that Babe Pinelli will be remembered solely for his controversial call of strike three on Dale Mitchell to finish off Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. But that would be unfair. For one thing, the implication is that because it was Pinelli’s final game, consciously or subconsciously he widened his strike zone to end his career with a bang. Stephen Jay Gould, for instance, maintained that Mitchell was right to say the pitch was outside, but “Pinelli was more right. . . .
Although it is manifestly unfair, it is the fate of many players to be remembered only for one ill-timed mental error or physical gaffe. Merely mentioning their names—Fred Merkle and Bill Buckner, for instance—will cause most fans to recall only the disaster and not the players’ long, successful careers. Umpires can suffer the same fate, as Don Denkinger will tell you.