Jason Turbow is the author of The Baseball Codes. His next book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, about the championship A’s teams of the early 1970s, will be published in spring 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The Lady in the Broadcast Booth:
Betty Caywood’s Single Season with the A’s as Baseball’s First Female Broadcaster
When Charles O. Finley bought the Kansas City Athletics in 1960, he was ambitious, energetic, and focused, but he was not a miracle worker. Not yet, anyway. The last-place club he acquired actually managed to fall in the standings, dropping from eighth place to ninth thanks to the introduction of two teams, the Angels and the Twins, to the American League. Even that indignity, however, would be superseded in 1964, when the Athletics tumbled to 105 losses, finishing a whopping 42 games behind the league champion Yankees.
On January 6, 1951, it was announced that Joe DiMaggio—36 years old, perpetually injured, and hardly certain about his long-term future with the Yankees—would be offered the same $100,000 salary that he had received in 1950. Little effort was made to obscure that the figure was based largely on past performance, or that the marginalization of the Clipper had already begun.
The minor leaguer most prominently mentioned to replace DiMaggio was a 19-year-old from northeast Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle.
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.
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.
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.
In 1937, Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s iron-fisted dictator from 1930 through 1961, turned his attention from despotism to baseball. More accurately, he saw baseball as a means to further his despotism. His political rivals, seizing upon the national obsession with the sport, had begun to field formidable teams within the Dominican professional league. Trujillo knew that to fully maintain his grip on public opinion, he would have to do the same.
Ted Williams didn’t exactly come from nowhere in 1941. He had led the league in RBIs as a rookie two seasons earlier, and started the All-Star Game in 1940, but still he was still seen as little more than a “lean, nervous, 22-year-old,” at least according to one contemporary account.
Ted Williams, popular theory holds, would have threatened Babe Ruth’s home run record had he not missed nearly five full seasons over two stints’ worth of military service during the prime of his career. It’s the lead topic in an endless game of What if?, wherein one estimates the numbers a player would have put up had his Major League attendance never been compromised.
When an arbitrator ruled that A’s owner Charlie Finley had defaulted on payments for Catfish Hunter’s 1974 contract, it resulted—above Finley’s vociferous objection—in free agency for the player. The occasion was momentous, but hardly groundbreaking. Hunter set the table for the arrival of widespread free agency a year later, but his forebear in contract default preceded him by nearly four decades.