40,000 days since Pittsburgh’s all-time record hits .500by Chris Jaffe
February 25, 2013
40,000 days ago was a landmark day in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise. It was Aug. 22, 1903, and on the face of it, there was nothing too special about that day. It was a nice day, as they swept a doubleheaders against the state rival Phillies to increase their lead in the NL pennant race to six games.
But that doubleheader sweep did something else for the club. Those wins gave the team a cumulative franchise record of 1,409 wins and 1,409 losses, right at .500. They’d been under .500 for essentially their entire franchise existence but had finally fought their way out of the hole.
Pittsburgh began in 1882 in the American Association, which was a major league back then. After a .500 first season, the team fell apart in 1883, finishing 31-67. (Yeah, seasons weren’t as long back then). They remained a bad team for a decade, and the franchise record bottomed out on Aug. 6, 1892 at 207 games under .500 (491-697).
But bottoming out is another way of saying they began improving. That they did, though initially only a little bit, playing just over .500 over the next half-dozen years. Still, at the turn of the century they’d put together a great team, anchored by Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke.
In 1901, they won their first pennant, then they repeated in 1902 and were cruising to a third in 1903. Though they were 141 games under .500 when 1901 began, they overcame that deficit with two months left to play in 1903.
I doubt anyone recognized it when the doubleheader ended 40,000 days ago, but the Pirates' entire legacy was now at the break-even point. As it happened, they stayed there for a bit. The next day, the Pirates didn’t play, and the game after that was a tie. But on Aug. 25, they swept another doubleheader from the Phillies. Pittsburgh didn’t lose another game for two weeks, essentially wrapping up the pennant race.
That run also ensured they wouldn’t fall under .500 any time soon. In fact, 40,000 days later, the franchise record is still over .500. While the Pirates have been brutally bad in recent years, they’re still 104 games over .500 (9,961-9,857). They spent much of the last 100 years about 500 games over .500, though. The Pirates were 200 games over .500 at the end of 2008 and 300 over when 2004 ended. At this pace, they’ll be back under come 2016. But of course, they could fix themselves.
Regardless, no one knows what the future holds, but we do know what happened in the past, and 40,000 days ago the Pirates hit .500.
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.
1,000 days since the Tigers trade Dontrelle Willis to Arizona.
1,000 days since major league baseball VP Bob Watson says umpire Bill Hohn “would be addressed in a stern way” for his unwarranted ejection of star hurler Roy Oswalt.
1,000 days since Victor Martinez goes 5-for-5 with four doubles.
1,000 days since Tampa beat the Blue Jays, 7-6, but barely. Toronto scores four runs in the bottom of the ninth, but on just one hit, a bases-loaded double. Tampa issues five walks and throws a wild pitch. Also, in the top of the ninth, manager Joe Maddon is ejected for arguing balls and strikes after team slugger Carlos Pena strikes out looking.
2,000 days since Ivan Rodriguez hits his 500th career double.
2,000 days since Bobby Cox manages his 4,000 career game. His record is 2,242-1,755 and counting.
2,000 days since veteran reliever Rick White appears in his last game. It’s an unusual and inglorious ending, as he’s ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
3,000 days since the White Sox sign two free agents, reliever Dustin Hermanson and slugger Jermaine Dye.
3,000 days since San Diego also signs two free agents, infielder Eric Young and starting pitcher Woody Williams.
5,000 days since Todd Helton hits for the cycle.
6,000 days since Robby Thompson plays in his last game.
6,000 days since the only time Vladimir Guerrero plays an entire game in center field.
8,000 days since Baltimore signs free agent pitcher Mike Flanagan, who now returns to the team for which he played almost all his career.
8,000 days since Milwaukee signs free agents Rick Dempsey, Willie Randolph, and Candy Maldonado. It’s about 5,000 days or so too late for this crew, though.
9,000 days since Barry Larkin gets hit by a pitch twice in one game. The same thing happened to him 15 days earlier. These are the only two times it ever happens to him, though.
1881 Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke signs with Buffalo.
1884 Bob Bescher, left fielder, is born.
1901 From Feb. 25 to 28, the National League Rules Committee meets. They’ll determine that a catcher must be within 10 feet of the batter.
1917 The White Sox make one of the worst moves in franchise history, purchasing first baseman Chick Gandil from Cleveland for $3,500. Gandil will later help organize the 1919 World Series fix.
1919 Hall of Fame outfielder Monte Irvin is born.
1921 Andy Pafko, one of only two men still alive who played for the Cubs in a World Series, is born.
1933 Tom Yawkey, who just four days ago inherited a fortune, uses his new wealth to purchase the Boston Red Sox. He’ll hold them until his death over four decades later.
1934 John McGraw dies from prostate cancer at age 60.
1939 Denny Lemaster is born.
1940 Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo is born.
1943 Due to the wartime shortage of players, the St. Louis Cardinals places a want ad in The Sporting News. It’s an open call for ballplayers.
1946 Back from the military, Ted Williams hits the first pitch he sees in spring training out of the park for a homer.
1946 The White Sox have a neat idea, as they hand out something new called a media guide to the beat writers. The 17-page document is the brainchild of front office staffer Marsh Samuel.
1951 Cesar Cedeno is born.
1951 Hall of Fame Negro League pitching great Smokey Joe Williams dies.
1954 Manager-turned-announcer Bob Brenly is born.
1957 The Supreme Court rules that baseball is the only sport exempt from antitrust laws.
1963 Former Reds/Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill is born.
1969 The executive council of the Players’ Association accepts a proposal from owners for an improved pension plan. Now a player can get a pension after just four years, not five, in the majors.
1972 The Cardinals make a terrible trade, sending Steve Carlton to the Phillies for Rick Wise.
1973 The owners and players agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. Among its features, now a player with 10 years in the majors and at least the last five with one team has the right to veto a trade.
1974 Shannon Stewart is born.
1975 Baltimore trades former MVP Boog Powell to the Indians for catcher (and future pitching coach) Dave Duncan and a minor leaguer.
1981 The executive board of the Players’ Association unanimously votes to strike on May 29 if free agent compensation issues remain unresolved.
1987 La Marr Hoyt, 1983 Cy Young Award winner, is banned for the year for taking illegal pills.
1999 Major league baseball’s front office hires Frank Robinson to handle on-field disciplinary matters.
1999 The Pirates trade infielder Tony Womack to Arizona.
2002 84-year-old Ernie Harwell announces that this will be his last year calling games in Detroit.
2002 Matt Williams, Arizona, breaks a bone in his left leg during workouts.
2005 Kerry Konrad, who won one-day rights to name Boston’s Fleet Center Arena, wants to call it the Derek Jeter Center because he’s a Yankee fan, and what better way to stick it to Red Sox Nation? Instead, a compromise is reached, and it’ll be Jimmy Fund Center for the day, after the Red Sox’s team charity.
2010 Texas voids Khalil Greene’s contract due to a “recurrence of issues he’s dealt with in the past,” i. e., social anxiety disorder. They just signed him last month.
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.