25,000 days ago, Cubs slugger Bill Nicholson had the greatest game of his career. It was very nearly a day for the ages—and topping it off, the opposing team paid Nicholson the highest of all compliments.
It was July 23, 1944, and Nicholson’s Cubs were in New York for a doubleheader against the Giants. In the first game, the man nicknamed “Swish” kept connecting, and connecting but good. After a walk in his first plate appearance, he smacked a solo homer his second time up and then belted a two-run bomb over the fence in the sixth inning. In his last plate appearance of the game, Nicholson homered yet again. He was 3-for-3 with three homers, four RBIs, a walk and four runs scored. That proved to be the difference in Chicago’s 7-4 triumph.
And there was still that second game left to play.
Well, Nicholson couldn’t keep up his torrid homer pace in the second game, but he still displayed his impressive power. He hit one more homer—his fourth of the day—and added a single. One more homer, and Nicholson would tie the record for most long balls in one day.
He never got the chance, even though under ordinary circumstances he would have. After all, he came to the plate in the eighth inning, seemingly with another chance to homer. Seemingly? Heck, it was a guaranteed chance to swing. After all, the bases were loaded. The Giants had no choice but to pitch to him. Who ever heard of intentionally walking someone with the bases loaded?
Well actually, Giants manager Mel Ott had heard of it. Though no team had done it in 16 years, the last time it happened, the Giants were the team to do so. John McGraw ordered a bases-loaded intentional walk. One of the men in the ballpark that day was a young Mel Ott, and 16 years later Ott was the Giants’ manager.
Sure, walking Nicholson went against every code of baseball conduct. It would concede the Cubs a run, obviously. The Giants’ 10-7 lead then would become 10-8 and put the tying run in scoring position. Mind you, there were no outs at this point, so it seemed crazy to walk Nicholson.
Maybe, but Ott thought Nicholson was crazy good this day. Four homers. He’d already beaten the Giants in the first game, and Ott was not going to let Nicholson do it again here.
So Nicholson got the rare bases-loaded intentional walk. It wouldn’t happen again for over a half century, when Buck Showalter did it to Barry Bonds in a Diamondbacks-Giants game.
For a few minutes, the Cubs made Ott look stupid. They kept their rally going and tied the game, 10-10. Well, a slam would have given them the lead outright, Ott could tell himself. More importantly, the Giants staged their own rally, scoring twice in the bottom of the eighth for a 12-10 win. Their offensive hero in the game was player-manager Ott, who was 3-for-3 with three RBIs, a triple and stolen base. I can’t say for sure if Ott batted in the bottom of the eighth, but it’s possible he saved himself from an army of second-guessers with a timely hit in that last rally.
Nicholson nearly had five homers in one day, but instead had to settle for four plus the rare bases-loaded intentional walk. That was a rather impressive performance, and it happened 25,000 days ago.
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 the list.
2,000 days since Phil Garner manages his 2,000th game.
4,000 days since Arizona signs free agent pitcher Rick Helling.
6,000 days since Andy Pettitte sets a personal worst (that he’d later tie) by allowing 10 runs, all earned.
6,000 days since Boston trades Kevin Mitchell to the Reds.
6,000 days since Jesus Tavarez has the greatest one-game WPA for a position player with no plate appearances in a game: 0.498. He’s a pinch-runner who advances on a wild pitch and balk.
6,000 days since Montreal trades Kirk Rueter to the Giants.
7,000 days since Cliff Young, a 29-year-old player with Cleveland, dies in a truck crash.
9,000 days since the Royals sign Bill Buckner.
25,000 days since Bobby Doerr hits his 100th home run.
1905 Pinky Whitney, NL third baseman, is born.
1905 Red Kress, AL shortstop, is born.
1912 Dodgers honcho Charles Ebbetts announces his team will build a concrete-and-steel stadium—Ebbetts Field, of course.
1929 Denny Lyons, best hitter in the 1890 Amercan Association (which was a major league at the time), dies at age 62.
1933 Kid Gleason, four-decade player who later became manager of the Black Sox, dies at age 66.
1951 Bill Madlock, multi-time batting champion, is born.
1951 Jim Essian, backup catcher and briefly a Cubs manager, is born.
1963 David Cone is born.
1963 Edgar Martinez is born.
1965 Greg Swindell is born.
1970 Royce Clayton is born.
1972 Garrett Stephenson, who went 16-9 for the 2000 Cardinals, is born.
1975 Jeff Suppan is born.
1977 Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspends Braves owner Ted Turner for tampering with free agent Gary Matthews. Atlanta can keep Mathews, though.
1977 Scott Proctor, who led the AL in pitching appearances in 2006 with 83, is born.
1981 Playing in the winter leagues, Rickey Henderson sets a new Puerto Rican League record with his 41st and 42nd stolen bases. He’ll end the year with 44.
1986 Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck dies at age 71.
1992 Boston signs free agent Frank Viola.
1994 Eddie Smith, hard-luck early-1940s AL pitcher victimized by poor run support, dies at age 80.
1995 Don Elston, relief pitcher All-Star for 1959 Cubs, dies at age 65.
1996 Boston signs free agent pitcher Jamie Moyer.
1996 Cincinnati signs Eric Davis, allowing him to return to the team with which he had his best seasons.
2002 Oakland signs free agent Scott Hatteberg.
2002 Pittsburgh signs free agent reliever Mike Williams.
2008 Gerry Staley, four-time All-Star pitcher who started with the early-1950s Cardinals and relieved for late-‘50s White Sox, dies at age 87.
2010 The Cubs sign free agent center fielder Marlon Byrd.