Twenty years ago today, baseball witnessed one of its odder benchings—an odd benching in part because it was an example of life imitating art.
On August 15, 1991, the Yankees beat the Royals 5-1, with shooting star Kevin Maas at first base and not the team’s normal first baseman, Don Mattingly. No, not the veteran Mattingly, for he’d been benched by manager Stump Merrill.
The problem wasn’t his offense. Mattingly sported a .305 batting average heading into the day. The problem wasn’t his glove. Mattingly could field the position better than Maas. The problem was something much simpler: Mattingly’s hair. Under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees had a very clear policy on hair. The players couldn’t grow beards and they needed to adhere to regulation hair length.
The Yanks thought Mattingly let his hair get too shaggy, and its length now violated team standards. So they benched him, and fined him $250, plus an additional fine of $100 for each succeeding day he didn’t get it cut. Mattingly immediately got a haircut and returned to action the next day.
The story became even more interesting a little later. In February of 1992, a new episode of The Simpsons aired in which Mr. Burns arranged for Mattingly and eight other major leaguers to join his power plant’s softball team, only to see them fall victim to a series of misfortunes making it impossible for them to play. From Ken Griffey, Jr.’s grotesquely swollen jaw to Steve Sax’s run-in with the law, almost all the ringers were unable to play.
Mattingly, however, was able to play—only to have Mr. Burns bench him for having sideburns that were too long. Mattingly shaved the sides of his head up to the top to ensure he could play, but Mr. Burns still saw sideburns, called Mattingly a hippie and benched him for his facial hair. Mattingly trudged off, grumbling that this still beat playing for Steinbrenner.
It looked like a parody of Mattingly’s real-life benching except for one problem: The episode had been written and the voices recorded months earlier. It just takes a long time for a Simpsons episode to make it on the air.
The Simpsons worked as a parody of a real-life incident without even trying to be one.
Aside from Mattingly’s benching, many other baseball events celebrate 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:
2,000 days since the Rangers sign free agent Kevin Millwood.
3,000 days since Colorado’s Todd Helton blasts three homers in one game.
4,000 days since Rogers Communications purchases 80 percent of the Toronto Blue Jays.
7,000 days since former Yankee pitcher Eddie Lopat dies.
9,000 days since free agent Reggie Jackson signs with Oakland, returning to his original team.
15,000 days since Padres manager Preston Gomez yanks starting pitcher Clay Kirby after pitching eight no-hit innings for a pinch-hitter. The bullpen blows the no-hitter in the ninth. In Gomez’s defense, the Padres were losing 1-0, and the manager needs to prioritize a chance to win over the no-hitter.
30,000 days since Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes pitches his best known Game Score in a nine-inning game: 84. Really, that’s his best. His line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K. Strikeouts were a lot rarer back then.
1859 Hall of Fame owner Charles Comiskey is born.
1884 Guy Hecker becomes the first pitcher to hit three homers in a game (yes, hit) and still the only one to score seven runs in a game. He gets six hits in all, the only pitcher ever to do that.
1889 Larry Twitchell hits for the cycle in a six-hit performance for the Cleveland Spiders.
1893 300-game winner Tim Keefe last appears in a big league game.
1895 Hall of Fame shortstop George Davis collects six his in one game.
1895 200-game winner Al Orth makes his big league debut.
1905 Rube Waddell tosses a no-hitter in shortened game (five innings).
1909 George Davis plays in his last game.
1910 Mordecai Brown allows 11 hits but gets the shutout anyway as Browns Cubs crush the Dodgers, 14-0.
1910 Pittsburgh purchases future Hall of Famer Max Carey from South Bend of the Central League.
1912 Yankee outfielder Guy Zinn steals home plate twice in one game, leading New York to a 5-4 win over Detroit.
1920 The Braves lose, putting manager George Stallings career record under .500 (864-865). Stallings, most famous for winning the world title with the 1914 Miracle Braves, will never reach .500 again.
1921 After 10 consecutive hits, George Sisler makes an out.
1923 Washington’s George Mogridge becomes the only pitcher ever to steal home in extra innings. It’s an insurance run, as Washington tops Chicago 5-1 (12).
1924 Pitcher Dolf Luque hits an inside the park home run off Burleigh Grimes.
1926 It’s the worst baserunning play in baseball history as Babe Herman doubles into a double play. He hits a shot to the outfield for Brooklyn with the bases loaded. The runner on third scores, but it’s all downhill after that. On second base, Dazzy Vance doesn’t start running until after he’s sure the ball has been caught, goes slow, takes a big turn rounding third, and ultimately decides to head back there.
Meanwhile, Chick Fewster, who began the play on first base, also arrives on third. Lastly, Herman is running with his head down all the while, and steams into third, joining his teammates. The umps say Vance has the bag, and the other two are out. Oops.
Note: while all reports I can find name those players involved on the play on Aug. 15, Vance didn’t play in the game. Jesse Barnes was Booklyn’s pitcher, and he did have two hits on the day.
1928 Big league debut for Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey.
1931 Babe Ruth launches a home run in the top of the 16th inning, the latest he ever hit one in a game.
1936 Lou Gehrig launches the 20th of his record 23 grand slams.
1938 Paul Waner becomes the 12th player to hit 500 doubles in his career.
1940 Ted Williams hits the third of his 17 career grand slams.
1940 Pee Wee Reese fractures his heel. He’ll miss the rest of the season.
1941 When the rain starts pouring in Washington, the Senators’ grounds crew vanishes. Washington leads 6-3 in the seventh inning and the grounds crew lets enough rain fall on the field to make it unplayable, hoping to seal up a win for the home team. It backfires when the AL president declares the game a forfeit to the Red Sox.
1945 AL president Will Harridge fires umpire Ernie Stewart for “disloyalty” after the arbitrator complained to commissioner Happy Chandler about his pay.
1949 Braves owner Lou Perini talks manager Billy Southworth into taking a leave of absence.
1950 Tom Kelly, former Twins manager, born. He won two world titles and retired a decade ago, but he’s still younger than Jack McKeon, Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland, Dusty Baker, Charlie Manuel, and only a little older than Jim Riggleman.
1951 Warren Spahn wins his 100th game.
1951 Al Rosen ties a big league record by belting his fourth grand slam of the year.
1955 Ted Williams hits his 13th career grand slam.
1955 For the second time in his career, Mickey Mantle homers from both sides of the plate in one game.
1955 At the plate, Warren Spahn homers in Sportsman’s Park. He’s now homered in every NL stadium. He’s goes 3-for-5 on the day with a single and triple alongside his homer for a personal-best eight total bases on the day. Milwaukee wins, 12-1.
1957 Hank Aaron belts his 100th career home run.
1963 The Giants put the three Alou brothers in the outfield together: Felipe, Matty, and Jesus.
1965 Since 1920, there are only six times a player reaches base twice in one game thanks to catcher interference. This is one of those times, as it happens to Pat Corrales. Bizarrely and improbably, it will happen a little over six weeks later, again to Corrales. It’s only happened six times in 90 years, but two of those half-dozen times were to the same player in one year.
1966 Boog Powell hits three homers in a game for the third time.
1966 Scott Brosius is born.
1969 Reliever Roy Face plays in his last game. The Expos release him later this same day.
1969 The Pirates trade Jim Bunning to the Dodgers.
1970 Pete Rose has possibly his worst game ever, going 0-for-7 with five strikeouts. The Reds manage to win, 5-4 (14). Rose’s –0.437 WPA is his worst for one game.
1973 For the first time in nearly 13 years, Al Kaline hits a grand slam. It’s the third and final one of his career.
1973 The White Sox claim Jim Kaat off waivers from the Twins.
1974 Houston trades Claude Osteen to the Expos.
1975 John Mayberry becomes the first person to hit 100 homers for the Royals.
1975 Umpire Ron Luciano ejects Baltimore manager Earl Weaver from both ends of a doubleheader.
1976 Bud Harrelson is having a heck of a day. He gets married and then scores the only run in 1-0 Mets win over the Reds.
A shutout against the 1976 Reds? That’s impressive for Mets starter Jerry Koosman, though it should be noted that much of the normal lineup didn’t start for whatever reason. Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Ken Griffey, Sr. got the day off (though Rose pinch hit). That still left them with Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo, though.
1978 Rod Carew plays in the outfield for the only time in his career, a third of an inning in left. A batter singles to left while he’s out there.
1979 Eddie Murray steals home in the 12th inning of Baltimore’s 2-1 (12) win over the White Sox.
1980 Oakland’s Rick Langford completes his 17th consecutive start, the longest streak by anyone since Robin Roberts. The A’ s pound the Mariners, 11-3. Langford will complete five more before manager Billy Martin yanks him with two out in the ninth on Sept. 17.
1980 Joe Morgan has his worst WPA game. He goes 1-for-9 with a strikeout for a WPA of –0.418 as the Astros top the Padres, 3-1 (20).
1981 Cubs 4, Pirates 3 (15) with the winning run scoring on a walk-off error by second baseman Phil Garner. Ouch.
1981 Pitcher Oliver Perez born.
1982 Reggie Smith connects for his 2,000th hit.
1982 In an 8-0 win over the Orioles, the Red Sox receive three intentional walks in one inning.
1983 Mike Schmidt hits the seventh and final grand slam of his career. He’ll knock out 172 more homers, but none with the bases loaded.
1986 Will Clark has the first of 13 multi-home run games.
1986 The White Sox sign free agent George Foster.
1987 Mike Schmidt has his 44th and final mutli-home run game.
1989 Dave Dravecky plays in his last game. It’s not a fun departure: While pitching, his arm breaks with an audible sound that can be heard throughout Olympic Stadium.
1989 The Rangers collect 13 hits in nine innings but don’t score a single run. Opposing them, the Mariners have only one hit, but mange to score two runs. It’s the second time Charlie Hough has tossed a complete-game one-hitter for the Rangers, and for the second time he walks away with the loss.
1990 Mark McGwire hits a walk-off grand slam. It’s the first of five walk-off homers for him, two of which are slams.
1990 Philadelphia’s Terry Mulholland faces only 27 batters in tossing a no-hitter against the Giants.
1991 Alan Trammell laces out his 2,000th hit.
1991 The White Sox release Ron Kittle, ending his career.
1992 Bobby Witt walks 10 in 4.2 innings. Even for Witt, that’s bad.
1993 Nolan Ryan posts his 324th and final career victory.
1995 Ron Darling pitches in his final game.
1995 Reggie Sanders hits three homers in one game.
1996 Bobby Seay is declared a free agent because the White Sox screwed up. They took him in the first round of the draft earlier that year but failed to offer a formal contract within 15 days. This is a first in baseball draft history.
1996 Andruw Jones makes his major league debut.
1997 The Dodgers retire No. 2 for former manager Tommy Lasorda.
1998 Seven extra-innings games occur in one day, matching a record set in 1918.
1999 Chuck Finley fans four batters in one inning, the second time he’s ever done that. He’s the first pitcher who has done this twice.
2000 Lou Piniella loses his 1,000 game as manager. (1,088-1,000).
2001 Trevor Hoffman collects his 300th career save.
2001 Mark McGwire singles, his first non-homer hit in 72 at bats. His last 11 hits were all home runs.
2001 Shawn Green hits three homers in one game.
2003 Tom Glavine posts his 250th career victory.
2006 Brandon Medders had the best WPA relief stint in Diamondbacks history: 0.540 WPA. He tossed three scoreless and hitless innings, fanning four and walking one.
2006 For some strange reason, Ivan Rodriguez plays second base for a few innings. It’s the only time he ever plays there for Detroit. He plays two innings, making one play—a pop to shallow right.
2006 Jose Reyes hits three homers in one game for the Mets.
2008 Todd Jones plays in his last big league game.
2009 Philadelphia’s Brad Lidge makes two errors on one play as Atlanta beats the Phillies, 4-3.
2010 Kevin Slowey of the Twins pitches seven innings of no-hit ball, but is then pulled by manager Ron Gardenhire. Slowey is recovering from elbow injures and already has tossed 106 pitches, so the injury risk isn’t worth it.