Friday, March 02, 2012
20,000 “day-versary”: Walk-off homer by a pitcherPosted by Chris Jaffe
20,000 days ago, baseball saw one of its rarest sights—a walk-off home run. That, in and of itself isn’t so special. There are hundreds of those each year and have been several thousand of them across all baseball history.
No, but the one that happened 20,000 days ago had something special going for it. The man hitting it was the team’s pitcher. Yeah, that’s one you don’t see too often, no do you?
It was May 30, 1957 and the Detroit Tigers hosted the Kansas City A’s. It was a nice, back-and-forth game pretty much all the way through, one in which the outcome seemed in doubt the entire time.
Heading into the bottom of the ninth the A’s led 5-3, but a walk, single, and two-run double evened it up, 5-5. No, the pitcher homer didn’t come here. The A’s got out of the inning without further damage, and the game went into overtime.
After Detroit pitcher Steve Gromek (making one of the final appearances in his 17-year career) allowed a leadoff single in the 10th, the team pulled him. In came reliever Lou Sleater. By and large, there is no reason at all to remember Sleater’s brief baseball career. He appeared in 131 games, mostly in relief, and went 12-18 with an uninspiring 4.70 ERA. In seven seasons he bounced around five teams. Detroit was already his fourth stop. Two years earlier he had played with the very same Kansas City A’s he now faced.
Yeah, there’s little reason to remember Sleater—except for what happened 20,000 days ago.
The top of the 10th was pretty uneventful. Sleater got out of the inning without too much difficulty, and even initiated an inning-ending 1-4-3 double play.
The fun part, of course, came in the bottom of the 10th. The pitcher spot was due to lead off. It’s a sign of how things have changed over the last 20,000 days that the team neither pulled him for a pinch hitter immediately nor initiated a double switch in the top half of the inning despite knowing the pitcher would lead off.
It’s not like Sleater was any kind of inspiring hitter. In 79 plate appearances, he’d never belted a home run, and his lifetime average was under .200. In fact, as a reliever he rarely batted. This was the first time he'd stepped to the plate in a game in nine months.
But step up he did, and swing he did. Sure enough, against Kansas City’s Wally Burnette, Sleater connected, and the ball left the grounds. It was a home run and Detroit had the win, 6-5.
There have been walk-off home runs by a pitcher since then, but it’s really quite rare. In fact, the last of them occurred 26 years ago (nearly 10,000 days ago), when Craig Lefferts went deep against Greg Minton to end the game.
But Sleater did go deep to end a game. And, in fact, the team gave him more chances to hit, and he responded with a pair of homers in August. He added another home run on May 15, 1958 for Detroit. That homer would be his last at-bat with the club. The Tigers traded Sleater to Baltimore and that’s where he ended his career.
But before it ended, Sleater got to taste one sweet moment of undeniable glory, and that happened 20,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other key baseball events have their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim the list.
1,000 days since Kelvim Escobar last pitches in the big leagues.
3,000 days since a Rule 5 draft with some notable acquisitions. Most notably, the Orioles draft Jose Bautista from the Pirates. Also, Houston claims Willy Taveras from Cleveland.
3,000 days since the Cubs trade Damian Miller to the A’s for Michael Barrett (whom they had just acquired from Montreal).
5,000 days since Jeff Bagwell bashes his 200th home run.
5,000 days since Adrian Beltre makes his big league debut.
5,000 days since Alex Rodriguez steals three bases in a game, something he’ll do again 11 years later.
6,000 days since some drunken jerk runs onto the field at Wrigley Field to yell at reliever Randy Myers after he yields a ninth inning home run. Myers knocks the moron down and pins him.
6,000 days since Kirby Puckett’s career ends on a ghastly note. He’s hit in the head by a fastball from Dennis Martinez. His jaw in broken and he’s bleeding from the head. He’ll recover, but during the following spring training he will come down with an unrelated eye malady that ends his career.
6,000 days since Expos pitcher Greg Harris uses both hands on the mound. He faces four batters—two as a righty and two as a lefty—as the Reds top the Expos, 9-7.
8,000 days since Roger Craig manages his 1,000th game. His record: 510-490.
9,000 days since Cecil Cooper and Ron Cey both play in their last game. In an odd coincidence, it’s the same midsummer game. In that same contest, Walt Weiss makes his big league debut.
9,000 days since Pat Corrales manages his final big league game.
20,000 days since Willie Mays legs out the third of his six inside the park home runs.
At some point today, it’ll be 1,000,000,000 seconds since Andruw Jones’ birth.
1874 The National Association adopts the batter’s box.
1888 The NL votes to abolish all discounts from the normal 50 cents minimum admission price.
1899 The NL attempt to expel St. Louis fails by a 7-4 vote. Now, 113 years later, it’s still in the league.
1902 Moe Berg, catcher/scholar/spy, is born.
1906 Woody English, infielder, is born.
1909 Mel Ott, Hall of Fame slugger, is born.
1913 Mort Cooper, pitcher, is born.
1917 Jim Konstanty, early reliever and 1950 MVP, is born.
1940 Matt Kilroy, 1880s star pitcher, dies.
1949 In his first workout since surgery last November, Joe DiMaggio feels pain in his heel. It will bother him for much of the season, and cause so much pain he’ll consider retiring before it suddenly goes away later in the year.
1956 Fred Merkle dies.
1956 The A’s purchases Tommy Lasorda from the Dodgers. It’s part of his short and largely forgotten non-Dodger career.
1960 Howie Camnitz, Deadball Era CPirates pitcher, dies.
1962 Terry Steinbach, All-Star catcher, is born.
1965 Ron Gant, outfielder, is born.
1966 Baseball Commissioner William “Spike” Eckert voids the contract uber-prospect Tom Seaver signed with the Braves. He signed during the college season when he pitched college ball, and that’s against the rule. This opens the way for the Mets to sign him.
1976 After 57 years, the Stoneham family sells the Giants. Financier Robert A. Lurie and cattle rancher Bud Herseth are the new owners.
1977 Baltimore signs free agent pitcher Ed Farmer.
1979 Former big league ball player Dale Alexander dies.
1989 In a team photo session for the Mets, Darryl Strawberry throws a punch at Keith Hernandez.
1996 The Pirates and Cardinals play a spring training game featuring two Japanese umpires and two American umpires.
2004 Former Reds owner Marge Schott dies.
2005 Jackie Robinson is given the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow.
2005 Former Braves pitcher Rick Mahler dies.
2006 Bret Boone announces his retirement from baseball.
2007 Clem Labine dies.
2011 Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez and teammate Carlos Silva get in a fight in the dugout. Silva pitches poorly for the Cubs in the day’s games while his teammate, including Ramirez, play poor defense behind him.
2011 The Giants release longtime journeyman pitcher Jeff Suppan.
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.