50,000 days since the first NL gameby Chris Jaffe
March 15, 2013
50,000 days ago, a new era of baseball began—the National League era.
That was April 22, 1876. General George Custer was still alive, Reconstruction was still going on in the south, and America had just 37 states.
And on that day, the Philadelphia Athletics hosted a Boston club later to be known as the Braves. The visiting Bostonians won, 6-5, giving them a record of 1-0, good for first place in the fledgling league.
The National League had been formed out of the ashes of the National Association. The NA was a professional league—all its teams got paid to play—but was barely a professional league. It had no set schedules and not even a set number of games to play. Teams came and went during the season. In fact, the winner wasn’t the team with the best overall winning percentage, but the team with the most wins.
The NA kept expanding with more teams and more games played each year, but it was always an awkward beast. In its final year of 1875, 13 teams participated. Two teams played in over 80 games, but most appeared in less than 50.
There was a desire for something better, something more organized, and that was the NL. The NL wasn’t perfectly organized at first. It took a year or two until a set schedule determined before Opening Day emerged. But it was something more impressive than the NA. In 1876, there were eight NL teams, and each lasted all year long. They didn’t play the same number of games, but it was a lot more consistent than the NA, with all clubs appearing in at least 57 and no more than 70 games.
Clearly, the NL had a nice future. Here we are 137 years later and it’s still with us. Discussing all the changes that have occurred since then would take too long. What is worth noting is that it has been around 50,000 days as of today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.
2,000 days since Antonio Alfonseca, the 12-fingered wonder of the world, is born.
4,000 days since highly touted third baseman prospect Sean Burroughs makes his big league debut.
7,000 days since Baltimore signs free agent Chris Sabo, a former Rookie of the Year Award winner.
7,000 days since Seattle signs starting pitcher Greg Hibbard.
8,000 days since Bucky Walters dies.
8,000 days since the Braves franchise reaches its historical low point, 526 games under .500 (8,105-8,631). The Braves are now back over .500.
8,000 days since Gary Sheffield lays down his last sacrifice bunt. He has 9,860 more PA left, but he’ll never do it again. (Want to know how early in his career it was? He bunts Willie Randolph to second).
10,000 days since the St. Louis Cardinals embarrass themselves, losing 11-0 to the Royals in Game Seven of the World Series. Losing is one thing, but Joaquin Andujar and Whitey Herzog both argue with the umpire for little reason, and Andujar has to be forced off the field by his teammates. John Tudor punches a fan (the kind that blows air, not the kind that drinks beer) and injures his hand. The entire team comes completely unglued.
1860 Third baseman Arlie Latham is born. He has maybe the greatest nickname of all-time: The Freshest Man on Earth. At various points he’ll lead the league in stolen bases, runs, at bats, and games played.
1870 Doc Casey, as turn-of-the-century NL third baseman, is born. I assume the nickname Doc comes from his late start. He debuts in the majors at age 28, but holds on long enough to still be an everyday regular at age 37.
1885 A lower court in New York state decides that it’s a crime to play baseball there on Sunday.
1898 Rosy Ryan, pitcher, is born. He’ll help the Giants win pennants in 1922 and 1923. He’s 17-12 in 1922 and 16-5 in 1923. He leads the league with 45 appearances in 1923, including 30 relief appearances.
1907 Lou Fette, pitcher, is born. As a 30-year-old rookie in 1937, he’ll win 20 games for the Braves. That year and in 1939 he tops the league in shutouts, and in 1939 is selected to the All-Star squad.
1925 Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville breaks his leg sliding into third base in an exhibition game for the Cubs.
1925 Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson, who had just established a Bonehead Club on the team (whoever makes a boneheaded play has to chip in some money to the club as punishment) become the first man to make a bonehead play when he submits the wrong lineup card before a preseason game. He immediately orders the club disbanded.
1938 Bob Locker is born. He’ll become the first pitcher to appear in over 500 games without ever starting one.
1944 Wayne Grangers, reliever who leads the league in games in 1969 and 1971 with the Reds, is born.
1946 Star outfielder Bobby Bonds is born.
1949 Former White Sox third baseman Bill Cissell dies at age 45. In 1929, he led the league in caught steals.
1949 Jim Kern, a three-time All-Star reliever (1977-79), is born.
1955 Mickey Hatcher is born. In 1988, he hit more homers in the World Series (two) than in the entire regular season (one) with the Dodgers.
1959 Harold Baines is born. At one point he was the all-time White Sox leader in homers.
1960 The Dodgers trade first baseman prospect Jim Gentile to the Orioles, where he’ll become a star.
1960 Mike Pagliarulo, third baseman, is born.
1960 The New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association cease operations.
1961 The Cardinals sign free agent second baseman Red Schoendienst, ending his time away from the team. He’s been with St. Louis ever since.
1969 As recounted in Ball Four, Jim Bouton takes his family to the rodeo. When the National Anthem starts playing, his son Mike says, “Dad, they’re playing the baseball song again.”
1970 Peter O’Malley becomes president of the Dodgers when owner Walter O’Malley kicks himself upstairs to serve in the new position of chairman of the board. Peter O’Malley is just 32 years old.
1971 Former umpire Bernice Gera begins a lawsuit against organized baseball for gender discrimination. Her deal had been voided by the New York-Pennsylvania League six days after signing a contract without a reason given.
1974 Robert Fick, 2002 All-Star, is born.
1977 The A’s trade young Phil Garner and two others to the Pirates for Tony Armas, Mitchell Page, Rick Langford, Dave Giusti, Doug Bair and Doc Medich. A’s owner Charles O. Finley is trying to grapple with having a small payroll in the era of free agency by loading up on young talent.
1977 The Expos trade second baseman Rodney Scott to Texas.
1978 The A’s trade Vida Blue to the Giants for seven players and $390,000.
1985 Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay is born.
1988 Cleveland trades Rico Carty to Toronto.
1978 The Pirates sign free agent pitcher Jim Bibby.
1979 Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks, is born.
1979 The Red Sox trade strong hitting but poor fielding Mike Easler to the Pirates. Despite the NL's lack of a DH, they’ll keep Easler for several years.
1980 Detroit trades future manager Jerry Manuel to the Expos.
1999 Baltimore signs amateur free agent pitcher Daniel Cabrera.
1999 Cincinnati signs free agent pitcher Brendan Donnelly.
2007 Bowie Kuhn, one of the least deserving Hall of Famers of all-time, dies at age 80. He was commissioner when the Players’ Association routinely bested ownership in all negotiations.
2011 Marty Marion dies at age 93. As Cardinals shortstop, he was the 1944 NL MVP and an eight-time All-Star.
2011 Former Browns pitcher Fred Sanford dies at age 91. He led the league in losses in 1948 with 21.
2012 Dave Philley, an outfielder who three times received token support in MVP voting, dies at 91.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.