Major League Baseball As Seen From Outer Space: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of April 12, 2015
Another baseball season has just gotten underway this week, finally releasing fans from the purgatory of the offseason. For those who truly love the game, this is truly a special time of year. In a famous monologue from the film Field of Dreams, actor James Earl Jones perfectly captures the way people are drawn to baseball. Now that the sport is in full swing again, that familiar connection is creeping back into souls across the world, and not a moment too soon.
And now, on to the notes for the week…
*Right-handed pitcher Harley Hisner had the most bittersweet of careers. In a late-season game in 1951, he made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox, striking out the first batter he faced (Mickey Mantle), going six innings in an eventual 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, he never made it back to the Show despite his solid performance, and wound up retiring after completing his seventh minor league season in 1953. Sadly, he recently passed away at the age of 88. Although he had the briefest taste of baseball at the highest level, he made the most of the experience and passed along his love of the game by acting as a youth coach for years after he stopped playing.
*Don Zimmer passed away last summer after spending over 60 years in baseball. It’s unfathomable to consider what he saw and experienced during all that time but his wife Soot has a pretty good idea. This touching story describes how Mrs. Zimmer spent years detailing her husband’s career through scrapbooking. It’s a fitting and unique tribute to someone who has gone down as one of the most treasured figures in the history of the game.
*Pitcher Dock Ellis was the wild child of baseball during his 12-year major league career. The right-hander was talented, heavily into drugs and alcohol and could be erratic in his demeanor. This was never truer than a 1974 game against the Cincinnati Reds when he intentionally hit the first three batters while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Before he recorded an out, his manager removed him from the game, unsure of how far his hurler was going to go with his beanball agenda. The full story is the stuff of baseball lore.
*Courtesy of a head’s up from @RonJuckett comes this piece by J. Gordon Hylton from the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog about how the city of Milwaukee lost the Braves franchise in 1966. It’s an interesting look on how it all went down from a legal perspective. Although the city ultimately ended up with the Brewers, at the time it was quite the bitter pill for the community to swallow.
*Nolan Ryan is still the king of strikeouts, holding the major league record with 5,714 during his 27 major league seasons. He also set the single-season mark with 383 punch outs in 1973 with the California Angels, and this candid photo shows him celebrating his achievement after his final start of that season where he struck out 16 Minnesota Twins batters.
*Having just started his 66th year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, legendary announcer Vin Scully is far from tired of his gig. The velvet-throated baseball denizen of diamond doings is still a fan of the game and loving every moment, as described in this Los Angeles Daily News article.
*As baseball has aged, there have been numerous advances in equipment and apparel. However, there have also been a number of ideas that failed to catch on. The reason this old patent for a “Baseball Catcher” didn’t become the next hot item is fairly self explanatory once you take a look.
*For a brief time in 1985, the New York Mets had the best prospect in baseball history in pitcher Sidd Fitch. Growing up an orphan raised by Buddhist monks in Tibet, the right-hander had a fastball purported to clock as high as 168 MPH, but he never ended up pitching in the majors. That of course is because he wasn’t real, but actually an invention from the mind of Sports Illustrated’s George Plimpton. This ESPN 30-for-30 short film and Grantland write-up by Bryan Curtis takes a look at the 30th anniversary of the phenom.
*Women have not yet broken the Major League Baseball gender barrier but there are undoubtedly players who have big league ability. One of the first widely recognized female talents was left-handed pitcher Jackie Mitchell, who as a 17-year-old struck out New York Yankees legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a 1931 exhibition game. Over time, the feat has been heavily celebrated, scrutinized and analyzed. ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield has the story.
*Selected in the second round of the 1993 draft, left-handed pitcher Matt LaChappa was an up-and-coming prospect for the San Diego Padres. Sadly, while warming up for a game in 1996, the then 20-year-old suffered a heart attack that left him permanently confined to a wheel chair. Although his playing career ended, his connection with the franchise has continued through the years. USA Today’s Ted Berg recently reported that the former player has had his minor league contract renewed every year in the two decades since his career ended in part so he can continue receiving medical insurance. Such a heart-warming story is truly remarkable.
*Finally, you have to check out the story of astronaut Terry Virts, who has been taking pictures of Major League Baseball stadiums and posting them to his social media accounts while working on the International Space Station. It’s an entirely unique way to view baseball’s cherished venues and gives new meaning to the term “nosebleed seats.”