December 10, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Wednesday, January 02, 2013
25,000 days ago, Cubs slugger Bill Nicholson had the greatest game of his career. It was very nearly a day for the ages—and topping it off, the opposing team paid Nicholson the highest of all compliments.
It was July 23, 1944, and Nicholson’s Cubs were in New York for a doubleheader against the Giants. In the first game, the man nicknamed “Swish” kept connecting, and connecting but good. After a walk in his first plate appearance, he smacked a solo homer his second time up and then belted a two-run bomb over the fence in the sixth inning. In his last plate appearance of the game, Nicholson homered yet again. He was 3-for-3 with three homers, four RBIs, a walk and four runs scored. That proved to be the difference in Chicago’s 7-4 triumph.
And there was still that second game left to play.
Well, Nicholson couldn’t keep up his torrid homer pace in the second game, but he still displayed his impressive power. He hit one more homer—his fourth of the day—and added a single. One more homer, and Nicholson would tie the record for most long balls in one day.
He never got the chance, even though under ordinary circumstances he would have. After all, he came to the plate in the eighth inning, seemingly with another chance to homer. Seemingly? Heck, it was a guaranteed chance to swing. After all, the bases were loaded. The Giants had no choice but to pitch to him. Who ever heard of intentionally walking someone with the bases loaded?
Well actually, Giants manager Mel Ott had heard of it. Though no team had done it in 16 years, the last time it happened, the Giants were the team to do so. John McGraw ordered a bases-loaded intentional walk. One of the men in the ballpark that day was a young Mel Ott, and 16 years later Ott was the Giants' manager.
Sure, walking Nicholson went against every code of baseball conduct. It would concede the Cubs a run, obviously. The Giants' 10-7 lead then would become 10-8 and put the tying run in scoring position. Mind you, there were no outs at this point, so it seemed crazy to walk Nicholson.
Maybe, but Ott thought Nicholson was crazy good this day. Four homers. He’d already beaten the Giants in the first game, and Ott was not going to let Nicholson do it again here.
So Nicholson got the rare bases-loaded intentional walk. It wouldn’t happen again for over a half century, when Buck Showalter did it to Barry Bonds in a Diamondbacks-Giants game.
For a few minutes, the Cubs made Ott look stupid. They kept their rally going and tied the game, 10-10. Well, a slam would have given them the lead outright, Ott could tell himself. More importantly, the Giants staged their own rally, scoring twice in the bottom of the eighth for a 12-10 win. Their offensive hero in the game was player-manager Ott, who was 3-for-3 with three RBIs, a triple and stolen base. I can’t say for sure if Ott batted in the bottom of the eighth, but it’s possible he saved himself from an army of second-guessers with a timely hit in that last rally.
Nicholson nearly had five homers in one day, but instead had to settle for four plus the rare bases-loaded intentional walk. That was a rather impressive performance, and it happened 25,000 days ago.
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 the list.
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