Sunday, October 14, 2012
150th anniversary: Jim Creighton’s fatal swingPosted by Chris Jaffe
The further back in time one goes, the more foreign the game of baseball seems to us. This is especially true when you go to the 19th century, with its massive error totals and comically huge innings for pitchers.
But no single event is stranger to us or better demonstrated how very different the game was in its early years than what happened 150 years ago today.
On Oct. 14, 1862, in the midst of the Civil War and before professional baseball had begun, star slugger Jim Creighton belted a home run—and died from the swing.
Officially, Creighton, like all ballplayers, was an amateur, though sometimes the best players would be paid money under the table to play for teams. Creighton had played ball ever since the late 1850s and in 1860 joined one of the best teams in the New York City area, Excelsior of Brooklyn.
He was a star pitcher and slugger. Just 21 years old in October of 1862, he was one of the best-regarded players in the burgeoning game.
On Oct. 14, 1862—less than a month after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and days after the Civil War’s Battle of Perryville—Creighton was having a great day for himself, doubling in each of his first four at-bats against Union of Morrisania. In his fifth at-bat, he did even better, belting the ball over the fence for a home run.
As he finished rounding the bases, Creighton told a teammate that he thought he heard something snap when he swung. No worries – it was probably just a belt buckle or something snapping from the strain of his swing. Something snapped from the strain of his swing alright, but it wasn’t his belt buckle.
After the game, Creighton began to experience severe pain in his abdomen—he was hemorrhaging. Four days later, he died from what the press called a ruptured bladder (but more modern medical understanding calls a ruptured inguinal hernia).
Wait, a guy died as the result of a home run swing? Umm ... the hell? Like I said, it was a very different game. Back then, the swing wasn’t in the wrists but by turning the entire upper body. Too much torque went to the wrong parts of the body, and an organ gave out.
According to baseball historian John Thorn, Creighton had been the biggest star of his day, helping expand baseball’s popularity, and his sudden and shocking death helped the sport gain even more attention. He became the revered lost martyr for the game. Creighton was a big deal to 1860s baseball.
All baseball from those days has largely been forgotten to us. The pre-professionals don’t make the encyclopedias or Baseball-Reference.com. Creighton does have some lingering place in baseball’s memory and American folklore, though. In fact, he is the only baseball player from the 1860s to attain the highest honor our culture can give someone, a reference on a Simpsons episode (and back when the show was still a big deal, too).
In an early episode, Mr. Burns is determined to use a bunch of ringers on his softball team to win a bet. He originally tells Smithers to gather a team of stars that Burns knows of, but of course, being Burns, those stars are all ridiculously old. There’s Honus Wagner, Mordecai Brown—and Jim Creighton. Smithers has to tell Burns that Creighton has been dead for over 100 years and then goes out and gets guys like Don Mattingly and Mike Scioscia.
Creighton’s tragic swing is why we remember him, and it happened 150 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim through things.
3,000 days since Scott Rolen enjoys maybe the best game of his career, going 4-for-6 with two doubles, two homers, three runs, and three RBIs as his Cardinals team tops the Reds, 11-10. In that same game, Barry Larkin hits a pinch-hit grand slam. It’s the second and last grand slam of his career.
4,000 days since the Yankees top the Diamondbacks, 3-2 in 12 innings, in Game Five of the 2001 World Series thanks to two different two-out runs scoring in the bottom of the ninth. It’s the second straight walk-off win for the Yankees in the World Series.
4,000 days since Houston hires Jimy Williams as its manager.
5,000 days since MLB announces that an award named after Hank Aaron will be given to each league’s best hitter.
6,000 days since Al Leiter throws a no-hitter. It’s the first one in Marlins history. He walks two and fans six in an 11-0 win over the Rockies.
9,000 days since Jose Canseco creates the 40-40 club when he steals his 40th base of the year in Oakland’s 9-8, 14-inning win over the Brewers.
9,000 days since Orel Hershiser throws his fifth straight complete-game shutout. His scoreless inning streak is now at 49 innings. It’s his eighth straight complete game.
15,000 days since AL owners vote 10-2 to approve Senators owner Bob Short’s plan to move his team to Texas. The dissenting votes are the Orioles and White Sox.
20,000 days since US Reps. Kenneth Keating and Patrick Hillings drop plans to bring MLB under anti-trust laws.
1842 Joe Start, early baseball star, is born.
1888 The Philadelphia Athletics purchase infielder Lave Cross from Louisville.
1891 Larry Corcoran, former star pitcher for the Cubs, dies at age 32.
1896 Oscar Charleston, maybe the greatest Negro Leagues player of them all, is born.
1903 Pirates pitcher Ed Doheny is placed in a mental hospital for attacking a doctor and nurse. He’ll never pitch again, and I’m not sure he ever leaves the hospital.
1905 Christy Mathewson pitches a complete-game shutout in Game Five of the World Series to clinch the title for the Giants over the A’s. It’s Mathewson’s third such gem of the Series.
1906 It’s the first shocking upset in World Series history as the "Hitless Wonder" White Sox claim the world title by winning Game Six over the 116-win Cubs. The final score today is 8-3.
1908 The Cubs top the Tigers, 2-0, in Game Five of the World Series to claim their last world title. Orval Overall pitches a three-hit shutout. Only 6,210 attend, a record low, on a cold day. Despite that, a dispute over seating arrangements in the press box causes a group of reporters to form a professional organization that will become the BBWAA.
1913 Hugh Casey, an early star reliever, is born.
1914 The Miracle Braves win Game Three of the World Series over the Braves, 5-4. The Braves are now just one win from the world title.
1914 Harry Brecheen, 1940s star pitcher, is born.
1915 Ken Heintzelman, NL pitcher in 1930s/40s, is born.
1927 Brooklyn signs free agent Dave Bancroft, whom the Braves had released earlier that day.
1927 Legendary pitcher Walter Johnson announces his retirement.
1929 Harry Heilmann of the Tigers is purchased by the Reds.
1929 The A’s win the world championship by topping the Cubs, 3-2, in Game Five. The A’s score three in the bottom of the ninth for the victory.
1930 The Phillies trade Lefty O’Doul to Brooklyn in a five-player trade.
1930 The Yankees sign Joe McCarthy as their new manager. Yeah, this is a good hire.
1944 The Browns sign amateur free agent Roy Sievers.
1944 The Cardinals release Pepper Martin.
1944 Topsy Hartsel, great turn-of-the-century leadoff hitter, dies.
1946 Al Oliver is born.
1947 The Cardinals release former star Joe Medwick.
1952 Pittsburgh trades Gus Bell to the Reds.
1953 The Dodgers let manager Chuck Dressen go when Dressen insists on a multi-year deal and the team refuses to give him one.
1960 The Braves release infielder Red Schoendienst.
1963 The Indians release Early Wynn, ending his big league career.
1963 Washington releases former star outfielder Minnie Minoso.
1964 The Red Sox release veteran fringe player Dick Williams. Instead, they’ll make him a minor league manager. In 1967, he’ll become their big league skipper to begin his Hall of Fame dugout career.
1964 Yankees manager Joe Girardi is born.
1965 In Game Seven of the World Series, Sandy Koufax shuts down the Twins for a 2-0 win and Dodgers world title. It’s the only World Series game the Twins have ever played that the home team lost. Road teams are 1-20 in Twins Fall Classic games, and this is the one win.
1968 It’s the expansion draft time for new NL clubs the Padres and Expos. The Expos take Larry Jackson from the Phillies (who will retire instead); what’s left of Mudcat Grant from the Dodgers, Carl Morton from Atlanta, Manny Mota and Maury Wills from the Pirates, Jack Billingham from the Dodgers, and Jesus Alou from the Giants. The Padres pick up Dick Selma and Jose Morales from the Mets, Clay Kirby from St. Louis, Dave Roberts from the Pirates, Cito Gaston from the Braves, and, best of all, Nate Colbert from the Astros.
1970 The Reds score three in the top of eighth in Game Four of the World Series to beat the Orioles, 6-5, and avoid being swept.
1971 Nelson Briles pitches a two-hit, complete-game shutout for the Pirates in a 2-0 win over the Orioles in Game Five of the World Series.
1972 Gene Tenace makes history by becoming the first player to homer in each of his first two at-bats in the World Series. That paces the A’s to a 3-2 win over the heavily favored Reds in Game One of the World Series.
1973 The Mets top the A’s, 10-7 in 12 innings, in Game Two, which is one of the ugliest World Series games of all time. It’s most famous for Willie Mays staggering around like an old man and A’s infielder Mike Andrews making a pair of errors that not only costs Oakland the game but causes team owner Charles O. Finley to try to unfairly force him off the roster.
1975 The Reds top the Red Sox, 6-5 in 10 innings, in Game Three of the World Series. Boston ties it with two in the top of the ninth, but the Reds win anyway. The game is perhaps most famous for home plate umpire Larry Barnett calling catcher's interference on Carlton Fisk on one infielder grounder.
1976 Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss hits a walk-off homer to give the Yankees a 7-6 win over the Royals in Game Five of the ALCS and the first Yankee pennant in 12 years. As Chambliss rounds the bases, fans mob the field and steal third base and home plate before he can get to them.
1978 Ryan Church is born.
1978 It’s one of Reggie Jackson’s more controversial World Series moments. While running the bases, he does a hip check to deflect a ball thrown by a Dodger infielder to throw out a runner. Instead of getting the runner out, it goes into the outfield. The Yankees win Game Four, 4-3 in 11 innings.
1980 Astros pitcher J.R. Richard undergoes 18 hours of bypass surgery for a clotted shoulder artery.
1981 Twins pitcher Boof Bonser is born.
1982 Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol is born.
1985 The Cardinals beat the Dodgers in Game Five of the NLCS on a walk-off home run by, of all people, Ozzie Smith. It’s the only walk-off homer he ever hits, regular season or postseason.
1985 Former big league manager Ossie Bluege dies.
1986 The Mets top the Astros, 2-1 in 12 innings, in Game Five of an incredibly hard-fought NLCS. The Mets get the win despite having only five hits. The Mets are one win from the world title.
1988 Vic Raschi dies.
1991 The Pirates beat the Braves, 1-0, in Game Five. It’s the second 1-0 game of this NLCS but not the last one.
1991 The Cardinals release Jamie Moyer.
1992 It’s a hated moment in Pirates history, as Francisco Cabrera drives home two runs with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth for a Braves 3-2 walk-off win in Game Seven of the NLCS.
1995 The Braves hold the Reds to three hits in a 6-0 win in Game Four of the NLCS.
1996 The Braves destroy the Cardinals, 14-0, in Game Five of the NLCS. It’s during a four-game postseason stretch where the Braves outscore opponents, 33-2.
1998 The Padres top the Braves, 5-0, in Game Six of the NLCS when Sterling Hitchcock and four relievers hold Atlanta to just two hits.
2001 The Diamondbacks beat the Cardinals, 2-1, in Game Five of the NLDS to advance to the NLCS. The winning run scores in the bottom of the ninth and Curt Schilling get the complete-game win.
2003 It’s the day that made Steve Bartman famous. The Cubs are five outs from their first pennant in 58 years when everything goes wrong and they allow the Marlins to score eight runs for an 8-3 win. Bartman trying to catch a foul ball that Moises Alou is attempting to catch is the most famous part, but there is also Alex Gonzalez botching a would-be double-play ball for an error, and manager Dusty Baker being too slow to go to the bullpen.
2004 The Phillies select Aaron Fultz off waivers from the Twins. Fultz will have one great season as a middle reliever in Philadelphia.
2006 The Tigers top the A’s, 6-3, in Game Four of the ALCS to finish the sweep. The Tigers win the pennant on a three-run walk-off home run by Magglio Ordonez.
2006 You can’t stop Jeff Suppan, and today you can’t even contain him. The Cardinals pitcher lead the staff to a 5-0 win over the Mets in Game Three of the NLCS. Mets pitcher Steve Trachsel gets only three outs.
2008 Former Yankee Tom Tresh dies.
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.