It was 20,000 days ago that baseball great Frank Robinson had the greatest game of his career. At any rate, that’s what WPA says.
WPA is the “story stat” that tells us what the game felt like. A clutch homer in the bottom of the ninth to win the game scores far better than a generic fourth-inning shot because WPA is all about how each at-bat affects the win probability of the overall game. And what Robinson did 20,000 days ago had the biggest impact he ever had to help his club win the game.
It was July 23, 1958, and Robinson, a strapping young outfielder still a month shy of his 23rd birthday, led the Reds against the visiting Chicago Cubs. For whatever reason, Reds skipper Birdie Tebbetts had dropped Robinson to seventh in the batting order. That’s an odd placement, but given the damage he did from that slot, you can’t really argue with it, not on this day at any rate.
Early on, Robinson didn’t do much, flying out in each of his first two trips to the plate. But then again, these early at-bats rarely do much for WPA anyway. Robinson’s first clutch situation came in the fifth inning, as he came up with two outs and runners on first and second in a game tied, 2-2. Robinson made the most of it, belting a two-run double to give the Reds the first lead of the day. The club’s likelihood of winning rose from 56 percent up to 80.
Robinson flew out in his next trip up. Worse news awaited the Reds when the Cubs tied it in the top of the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. That gave Robinson his chance at real glory.
In the top of the 10th, former Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson hit a clutch solo home run to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead. Now the odds for a victory shifted dramatically in their favor. Obviously, the odds didn’t count on Robinson.
He was due up third for the Reds in the 10th. The leadoff man flew out, and then the next batter walked. You can figure out what happened next, right? Yeah, standing at the plate representing the winning run, Robinson smashed an offering from Chicago’s Don Elston into the left field seats for a walk-off, game-winning home run. The Reds’ likelihood of winnings skyrocketed from a meager 22 percent up to a 100 percent lock.
Robinson only had two hits on the day, but those were two massive clutch hits that helped decide the game. In his two big moments, he drove in four runs in the Reds’ 6-5 win. His three outs came in entirely inconsequential situations.
As a result, Robinson ended the day with a WPA of .969, nearly a full win all by his lonesome. That’s not a truly historic achievement, but it was impressive. It was the third-highest one-game total by a hitter in all 1958. And it was the best total Robinson ever had in a game, and that game was 20,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other 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 Arizona trades the well-traveled Edwin Jackson to the White Sox.
1,000 days since Cleveland trades Austin Kearns to the Yankees.
1,000 days since the Rockies get 11 straight hits in the bottom of the eighth against the Cubs. Chicago finally breaks up the streak by walking two batters. (That’ll show ‘em!) All this happens with two outs. Colorado gets 12 runs in the inning for a 17-2 triumph.
4,000 days since the second of two career walk-off walks for Jeff Kent.
5,000 days since Jose Jimenez, who threw a no-hitter less than two months ago, is sent to the minors by St. Louis.
5,000 days since A.J. Burnett makes his big league debut.
6,000 days since Seattle signs free agent Jamie Moyer. They traded for him earlier this year, but this ensures a nice, lengthy, (and productive) stay for him in Seattle.
9,000 days since Gary Sheffield makes his big league debut.
10,000 days since Bill Wambsganss, famous for turning an unassisted triple play during the 1920 World Series, dies.
15,000 days since Indians owner Nick Mileti drops plans to make them a two-city team, splitting time between New Orleans and Cleveland.
15,000 days since owners and players agree on an increase of $500,000 to the players’ pension fund. But the 1972 strike isn’t quite over as they are still at odds over the question of payment for games lost so far due to the strike.
20,000 days since pitcher Herm Wehmeier appears in his final game.
20,000 days since Red Sox star Ted Williams spits at A’s fans. He apologies two days later but will be fined anyway.
1876 It’s the first shutout in NL history. It’s by the Cubs, in their league debut.
1883 Russ Ford, godfather of the emery ball, is born.
1896 Fred Haney, who mismanaged the late 1950s Milwaukee Braves, is born. (Bill James once said Haney did the worst job by any manager with a good team in those years.)
1901 Wild Opening Day. The Tigers win their first game, 14-13, despite entering the bottom of the ninth trailing by 10 runs. Really. Still one of the all-time greatest comebacks.
1904 Cy Young pitches two hitless innings at the end of a 2-0 win over the A’s, beginning what turns into a still-record streak for most consecutive hitless innings.
1911 Jack Rowe, star 1880s player, dies at age 54. He led the NL in triples in 1881.
1911 Connie Marrero is born. He’s currently the oldest living ex-ballplayer, 102 years old today. I believe he’s the oldest ballplayer of all time. I suppose that’s appropriate given that the Cuban-born Marrero didn’t reach the majors until he was 39 years old. At age 40, he represented the Washington Senators in the All-Star game.
1912 George Cutshaw, long-lasting second baseman, makes his big league debut.
1913 Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem nullifies an apparent game-winning Giants single because Klem was turned around announcing the pinch-hitter when the pitch was thrown. Oops.
1919 Dickie Kerr, White Sox pitcher who will win two World Series games as a Clean Sox player later this year, makes his big league debut.
1928 The Browns trade shortstop Wally Gerber to the Red Sox.
1930 Jack Quinn, the eternal spitballer, lodges his 200th career loss: 231-200. Until Jamie Moyer, Quinn was the oldest pitcher to win a game.
1933 Russ Van Atta didn’t have a great career, but he sure had a heck of an opening act. In his debut, he goes 4-for-4 while shutting out Washington as the Yanks win 16-0. There is also a nasty brawl in this game. It’s so bad a police riot squad is called out, and some attack the Yanks. Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth don’t get involved themselves, staying in the dugout during the melee.
1933 Lu Blue, veteran AL first baseman, plays in his final game.
1936 Luke Appling suffers through what might have been his worst day at the plate ever: 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. The last is especially impressive, as he fanned only 528 times in 10,242 career plate appearances. In 1936, aside from this game, he whiffed 22 times in 613 plate appearances.
1937 Cliff Melton makes his big league debut by fanning 13 for the Giants. He still loses, 3-1 to Boston, but will win 20 times on the season with 142 strikeouts, fourth in the league.
1941 Hall of Fame center fielder Earl Averill plays his last game.
1943 Lew Krausse, A’s hurler, is born. He’ll pitch for them in their late KC and early Oakland years.
1944 Tony Mullane, 1880s star pitcher, dies at age 85. Ladies Day supposedly began because of him, as his team wanted to cash in on the handsome Mullane’s appeal to female fans.
1948 Larry Doby ties the record by fanning five times in one day.
1953 Richie Ashburn gets three sacrifice hits in one game. In all, he’s 0-for-4 with one walk in a 7-6, extra inning win for the Phillies.
1954 First of three times Hank Aaron gets five hits in a game. Not bad for the kid enjoying his first month in the big leagues.
1954 Here’s a new one: umpires eject a player for praying. Orioles catcher Ray Murray is the man run out of the game. He’s upset at an umpire’s call and prays that the Lord gives the ump better eyesight.
1957 Baseball adopts a new rule stating that baserunners can’t intentionally interfere with batted balls on the field. The Reds did it twice earlier this week to help the batter advance on the bases.
1959 Tony Phillips, late-blooming baseball player, is born. In the All-Star era (1933-onward), he played in more games than anyone else who never made an All-Star team.
1961 The A’s sign Bert Campaneris, the first piece of their Mustache Gang puzzle.
1961 The A’s do something they hadn’t done since their days in Philadelphia and wouldn’t do again until they were in Oakland: score 20 runs in a game. The Kansas City A’s destroy the Twins, 20-2.
1968 Jim Perry‘s 100th win: 100-83 on his career.
1969 It’s the second straight day with Reggie Jackson homering twice in a game.
1969 Jack Hiatt hits well over his head. The catcher, who will end the year hitting .196 with 34 RBI, bangs two homers and seven RBI, including a 13th-inning grand slam in 12-8 Giants win over Houston.
1970 Earl Wilson of the Tigers does something rare: he reaches third base on a dropped third strike. After he whiffs, the Twins entire team pulls a Josh Paul and starts trotting off the field, so Detroit’s third base coach tells Wilson to run.
1970 Veteran pitcher Pedro Ramos appears in his final game.
1970 For the second time this week and seventh time in his career, Willie Stargell launches a homer over the right-field roof in Forbes Field.
1971 Don Sutton wins, pushing his career record to 86-85. It’ll be over .500 forever more.
1971 Curt Flood plays his last game, as he abruptly jumps the Senators team and goes to Europe, telegramming his retirement.
1972 Super fielding center fielder Garry Maddox makes his big league debut.
1972 Steve Carlton has arguably the greatest performance of his illustrious career. In a complete-game shutout, he fans 14 while allowing just one hit and one walk. Oh, and he also had an RBI single off Juan Marichal during the Phillies’ 3-0 win over San Francisco. The sole safety was a first-inning leadoff single by Chris Speier.
1973 It’s the only time Harmon Killebrew fans with the bases loaded to end a game. Boston 4, Minnesota 3.
1975 Jacque Jones, longtime Twins outfielder, is born.
1976 Rick Monday‘s most famous moment. He rescues a U.S. flag from would-be flag burners at Dodger Stadium. The crowd cheers and spontaneously breaks into a rendition of “God Bless America.”
1977 Baltimore fans hang Reggie Jackson in effigy after he beats them in a game with two doubles and a game-winning homer for the Yankees. Making the loss that much harder, Jackson had been an Oriole just last year.
1977 The Reds tie an NL record by scoring 12 runs in the fifth inning en route to a 23-9 stomping of the Braves. George Foster ends the day with seven RBIs.
1980 Montreal’s Larry Parrish hits three homers in a game for the third time in his career.
1981 It’s a moment that dramatizes how savvy a manager Billy Martin was—and how clueless Maury Wills was. Before today’s A’s-Mariners game, Martin notices that the batter’s box in the Kingdome is seven feet long when it should be six feet long. Wills had it changed to take advantage of Oakland curveballs, but instead he’ll earn a suspension for his trickery.
1982 George Steinbrenner fires Yankees manager Bob Lemon. This ends Lemon’s days as a big league manager.
1986 Padres relief pitcher Craig Lefferts hits a walk-off homer. He’s the last pitcher to do that. He hits it off Greg Minton, who is known for rarely allowing homers to anyone. It’s the only walk-off homer by a pitcher since the 1960s.
1987 Whitey Herzog‘s 1,000th managerial win: 1,000-856.
1987 One day after fanning four times in one game, Eric Davis fans five times in five at-bats. It’s a record nine consecutive whiffs for a position player.
1987 Yankees star Dave Winfield fans with the bases loaded, ending the game. The Indians win, 2-1.
1987 Bill Bean, who will come out of the closet after retiring, makes his big league debut by getting four hits in one game.
1990 Bill Buckner hits an inside-the-park homer. He’s 41 years old, it’s his only homer of the season, and the last of his career. Someone misplayed a ball but good out there.
1993 Frank Thomas plays his 31st straight game without a homer, his all-time worst drought.
1994 Paul Molitor, age 37 years, eight months, and three days, hits his first career inside-the-park homer. He gets No. 2 the next year. Late bloomer, that Molitor.
1994 Ryne Sandberg, 34 years and seven months old, legs out two triples in a game.
1995 The baseball strike ends as the Dodgers beat Marlins, 8-7.
1997 Ken Griffey Jr. hits three homers in a game for the second time.
1997 Matt Williams hits three homers in a game.
2000 Sammy Sosa plays center field for the last time. He had some speed when he was young.
2000 Several players take today off to protest the feds’ taking of Elian Gonzalez in a pre-dawn raid a few days earlier. On the Marlins: Mike Lowell, Vladimir Nunez, Alex Fernandez, Michael Tejera. On Tampa Bay: Jose Canseco. On the Mets: Cookie Rojas (coach) and Rey Ordonez.
2000 It’s WPA’s favorite Tom Glavine game: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K, in 1-0 win. WPA: 0.783.
2001 Rickey Henderson draws his 2,063rd career walk, passing Babe Ruth for most ever.
2003 Todd Helton gets his 1,000th hit. It took him 844 games.
2003 Richie Sexson bangs out three homers in a game for the second time.
2006 Toronto minor leaguer Edward Rodriguez is suspended for 50 games due to testing positive for performance enhancing substances.
2007 Jake Peavy fans 16 D-backs, including nine in a row at one point, but San Diego loses, 3-2.
2008 Royals release Hideo Nomo, ending his major league career.
2009 Albert Pujols reaches 1,000 career RBI in style with his eighth career grand slam and second of the year.