It was 15,000 days ago today that the Minnesota Twins debuted a new pitcher with quite a career ahead of him: Bert Blyleven. He went on to win 287 games before finally, belatedly earning election to Cooperstown this year, and he’ll have his official induction ceremony alongside Roberto Alomar next month.
He looked younger back in 1970.
There’s a lot that can be said about Blyleven, and I intend to spend a column on him next month when he gets inducted, but in the limited space here I’ll just make some comments on the beginning of his career.
Blyleven got his promotion to the big leagues due to an injury to another long-lasting Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher: Luis Tiant, who was in the midst of his first and only season with the Twins.
Tiant had been a great fireballer who went 21-9 with a 1.60 ERA in 1968, but he blew his arm out and collapsed to a 9-20 record in 1969.
That caused the Tribe to give up on him, trading him to Minnesota for Graig Nettles and others.
At first, the trade looked good for Minnesota, as Tiant started the year 6-0. But he hurt his arm at the end of May and had to miss two months.
Cue Blyleven. It was 15,000 days ago, on June 5, 1970, that he won his first start, leading Minnesota to a 2-1 win over Washington.
Blyleven pitched well enough in his following start that when Tiant returned to the roster in August, Blyleven kept his spot in the rotation.
Some random Blyleven trivia from that first game:
His first manager was Bill Rigney, who was also the first manager for Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Mike McCormick, Bill White, “Daddy Wags” Leon Wagner, Willie McCovey, Jim Fregosi, Dean Chance, Rudy May, Willie Montanez, Jay Johnstone, Aurelio Rodriguez, Andy Messersmith, Steve Braun, Bob Knepper, and the Angels. (Yeah, he was the first manager in Angels history).
First batter faced: Lee Maye, who proceeded to hit a home run against Blyleven. Welcome to the bigs, kid. Blyleven settled down and didn’t allow another game all game, though. The good news is Minnesota gave Blyleven a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, so the homer merely tied the score.
First strikeout: Ed Stroud, immediately after Maye’s homer.
First walk: Ed Brinkman, shortly before Rigney pulled Blyleven from the game in the seventh inning.
Here are some other items celebrating their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. The better ones are in bold for those who just want to skim the list:
8,000 days since the Angels trade Roberto Hernandez and a minor leaguer to the White Sox.
8,000 days since Dave Stieb had one of his many brushes with perfection. After retiring the first 26 batters in the game, he allows a double and then a single to the Yankees. It’s the third time Stieb was one out from a no-hitter only to have his hopes thwarted.
20,000 days since Jackie Robinson fans three times in one game for the only time. He’ll play in three more regular season games, then the 1956 World Series, and that’s it for him.
30,000 days since Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt loses his 100th game, 155-100.
1884 Old Hoss Radbourn allows the only walk-off home run of his career, as fellow Hall of Famer King Kelly hits it.
1888 Philadelphia release catcher Deacon McGuire, who goes on to play another 20 years or so.
1892 Boston releases 300-game winner John Clarkson
1894 MLB debut: Fred Clarke. The future Hall of Famer gets five hits, one of the best debuts in baseball history.
1902 Leftfielder Jim Jones of the Giants tosses out three runners at home in 8-0 loss to Boston.
1905 Nap Lajoie is sidelined due to blood poisoning from a spike wound. He’ll only play 65 games this year.
1908 Cy Young tosses his third no-hitter. He’s 41 years old. Young walks the leadoff batter, who promptly gets gunned down in a failed steal attempt. Then Young proceeds to retire the next 26 batters in a row.
1909 Forbes Field opens in Pittsburgh. A crowd of 30,338 sees the Cubs beat the Pirates, 3-2.
1911 The Indians purchase Ray Chapman from Davenport in the Three-I League.
1912 Shoeless Joe Jackson, Cleveland, hits three triples in one game.
1913 Tigers skipper Hughie Jennings manages his 1,000th game (552-436).
1914 Terry Turner of the Indians hits his first home run since 1906, ending a drought of 3,186 at bats.
1916 For the second time in three days, first baseman Ed Konetchy gets the only hit for the Braves in a game.
1922 New York Giants purchase future (albeit ill-deserving) Hall of Famer Travis Jackson from Little Rock in the Southern Association.
1927 Pittsburgh shortstop Glenn Wright is having a rotten week. He’s traveling separate from his teammates in order to go home to recover from a recent beaning. His train wrecks, however, injuring him near Dennison, Ohio.
1931 The A’s purchase Waite Hoyt from the Tigers.
1934 Gee Walker of Detroit sets a record in bad baserunning, getting picked off twice in one inning. The team suspends him for 10 games in response. It doesn’t help that Detroit went on to lose, 4-3, in 10 innings to the Browns.
1934 One day after being badly beaned, Lou Gehrig checks out of the hospital and triples for the Yankees.
1938 Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Cronin blasts his 100th triple.
1938 After 51 years, Philadelphia says goodbye to the Baker Bowl. The Phillies retire it as only they can, losing 14-1 to the Giants.
1944 Ron Swoboda, hero of 1969 Miracle Mets, born.
1947 The Red Sox purchase Denny Galehouse from the Browns.
1948 Bob Lemon, Cleveland, tosses no-hitter over Detroit, 2-0. Lemon walks three but fans four.
1949 In his third game of the year, Joe DiMaggio (who had a nasty heel injury to begin the season) hits his third homer. He hits it so hard that it caroms all the way back to second base.
1950 Joe and Dom DiMaggio become the first brother combination to homer in the same game in 15 years.
1950 It’s a game Ned Garver would just as soon forget. He pitches a complete game in the St. Louis Browns’ 13-inning loss to the White Sox, 3-2. The Browns could, and should have, won it in the ninth with Garver scoring the winning run, but he didn’t touch third while rounding the bag and was called out on appeal. Fun fact: Garver fanned zero batters in 12.2 IP that day. Sine then, no one’s gone 12 or more innings without fanning at least one batter.
1954 Yankee pitcher Tom Morgan hits three batters in one inning in 6-1 loss to the Red Sox.
1955 Infielder Vern Stephens plays his last game.
1956 Al Kaline could’ve hit for the cycle if he just didn’t hit so well: He has a home run, a triple and two doubles, but no singles.
1957 Al Lopez manages his 1,000th game: 613-380.
1957 Padres manager Buddy Black born.
1957 WPA’s favorite Eddie Mathews game: 0.713 WPA. He went 2-for-5 with a homer and two Ks. His home run was a bottom-of-the-13th-inning, walk-off shot that turned a 5-4 deficit against Pittsburgh into a 6-5 win for Milwaukee.
1958 The Kansas City A’s suffer one of their hardest losses ever. They lead Detroit 6-4 but the bases are loaded. All three runners score when the A’s make two errors on the last play.
1958 The Detroit Tigers sign amateur free agent Mickey Lolich.
1959 Toothpick Sam Jones nearly has a no-hitter, and arguably deserves one. The only hit he allows is an infield single by Jim Gillian, and that could’ve been ruled an error, as shortstop Andre Rogers had trouble picking up the ball.
1959 In one of the most bizarre moments in baseball history, umpire Vic Delmore has a mental lapse and puts two balls in play at once in a Cards-Cubs game. Cub pitcher Bob Anderson throws a ball that gets away from the catcher and goes to the backstop. Catcher Sammy Taylor thinks the ball ticked off Musial’s bat and doesn’t retrieve it, while batter Stan Musial thinks it was ball four and heads for first.
The umpire doesn’t notice infielder Alvin Dark scampering after the ball behind the backstop and throws a new one to the pitcher. Musial notices the confusion and breaks for second. Both balls are thrown to second, with Anderson’s toss going into center field and Dark’s toss nailing him, where the ump calls Musial out. Musial ignores it because the original ball went into center, and he moves to third, where the ump there calls him safe. Eventually, the call at second stands. The NL fires Delmore after the season.
1961 Mickey Mantle hits his fourth and final inside the park home run.
1961 MLB debut: Knuckleball god Wilbur Wood.
1962 Cincinnati-Houston game called after seven innings due to extreme fog as the outfielders can’t see home plate.
1962 Sandy Koufax tosses his first no-hitter, beating the Mets 5-0 with 13 Ks and five walks.
1962 Infielder Tony Fernandez born.
1963 The Angels sign amateur free agent Jay Johnstone.
1964 Larry Jackson of the Cubs gets the better of it in a great pitchers duel. He allows one hit as the Cubs beat the Reds 1-0, despite Cincinnati hurler Joey Jay allowing two hits. The run scores on an RBI single by Jackson. Like I said, he got the better of it that day.
1967 Infielder Cookie Rojas pitches at the end of a blowout, meaning he’s now played all nine positions at one point or another in his career.
1970 Mark Grudzielanek born.
1970 MLB debut: Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
1972 Garret Anderson born.
1973 Joe Morgan hits his only pinch-hit home run, one that ties the game in the bottom of the ninth.
1975 Gorman Thomas fans in a pinch-hit appearance against Boston, ending one of the worst series any player ever had. In three games against the Red Sox, he was 0-for-9 with seven Ks and a GIDP.
1975 For the third time in four days, the Reds win a game on an extra inning homer, as a Johnny Bench three-run shot gives them a 9-6 over Houston in 12 innings.
1976 Firpo Marberry, the first prominent reliever back in the 1920s, dies.
1977 Joe Morgan scores five runs in one game despite not getting any hits. He walked three times and reached on error twice.
1978 Willie McCovey blasts his 500th home run.
1978 Larry Doby, baseball’s second black player, becomes its second black manager, when he replaces Bob Lemon as White Sox skipper. Owner Bill Veeck tabs Doby as the manager, just as he’d picked him as a player 31 years before.
1979 Bobby Grich hits his 100th home run.
1979 Mets-Cubs game has wild finish. It’s 3-3 entering the 11th inning, but the inning ends with a 9-8 New York victory.
1980 Gene Mauch becomes the tenth manager to win 1,500 games. His record: 1,500-1,676.
1982 Cal Ripken plays third base. He won’t play there again until 1996.
1983 Minor league outfielder Lance Junker hits two grand slams in one inning.
1984 MLB debut: Mickey Tettleton.
1985 Sparky Anderson loses his 1,000th game as manager: 1,383-1,000.
1986 Red Sox beat Blue Jays 10-9 in 10 innings when Dwight Evans receives a walk-off walk.
1987 MLB debut: David Wells.
1987 Wade Boggs goes 3-for-3, raising his average to .391, but that’s as high as it will go this year.
1988 Illinois state legislature grants subsidies for the construction of a new White Sox stadium to keep them from moving to Florida.
1992 Tony LaRussa manages his 2,000th game: 1,083-914.
1993 The Indians win their 23rd straight home game.
1993 Minnie Minoso plays DH for the St. Paul Saints and grounds out to the pitcher in his only at-bat.
1994 MLB debut: Catcher Mike Lieberthal.
1995 Eddie Murray blasts out his 3,000th hit.
1995 Mark McGwire hits a walk-off grand slam, his second such walk-off grand slam in his career and third overall walk-off home run.
1995 Barry Bonds also hits a walk-off home run on June 30, 1995, but it’s not a slam.
1996 Rockies 16, Dodgers 15. The Dodgers led 5-1, 6-5, 10-8, 11-9, and 15-14, but lose. The Rockies steal 10 bases in 10 attempts, six by Eric Young.
1997 Raul Casanova hits the 10,000th home run in Tiger history.
1997 Mike Mussina notches his 100th victory: 100-43.
1997 Expos win the first ever official all-Canada game, 2-1 over the Blue Jays.
1997 Bobby Witt becomes the first AL pitcher to homer in the regular season in 25 years.
1998 Sammy Sosa sets a record by hitting his 20th home run of the month.
1998 Alex Rodriguez has what is according to WPA his worst game ever. He goes 0-for-5 with a pair of GIDPs for a –0.486 WPA as the Rockies beat the Mariners, 6-4.
1999 Randy Johnson fans 17 in a complete game loss as opposing pitcher Ron Villone one-hits the Diamondbacks for a 2-0 final. The last time Johnson pitched, the Diamondbacks were no-hit. This is the second of four consecutive Johnson starts where he pitches brilliantly but the team scores zero runs for him.
2003 Magglio Ordonez gets his 1,000th hit.
2003 Todd Helton hits his 200th home run.
2004 Larry Walker gets his 2,000th hit.
2007 Pirate fans attempt to stage a protest, as 1,000 walk out after the second inning.
2008 The Pirates bat the pitcher eighth for the first time in over 50 years.
2008 Ken Griffey’s 603rd career home run is his fifth and final walk-off shot.
2009 The Orioles stage the greatest comeback in franchise history, rallying from 10-1 deficit to beat the Red Sox 11-10.
2010 Luke Scott of Baltimore blows out a hamstring while sprinting around first. It turns out he didn’t need to sprint at all because the ball went over the fence for a home run.
2010 A Pennsylvania woman sues the Philly Phanatic, claiming that the mascot’s climbing on her in a 2008 minor league game caused her arthritis to flare up, leading to knee replacement surgery.
2010 The Giants trade Bengie Molina to their eventual World Series rival, the Rangers.