Forty years ago today, one of the flukier injuries ever happened to a pitcher, derailing what could’ve been a great season. In fact, it derailed a season that could’ve arguably sealed up a Hall of Fame candidacy.
It was July 2, 1972, when veterans Twins starter Jim Kaat pitched against the White Sox. Kaat was having his best season in a long time—perhaps ever. He entered the day with a record of 9-2 and an ERA right around 2.00.
Kaat got off to a rare rocky start, allowing two runs in the first frame before settling down. By the sixth inning, Kaat had a nice 5-2 lead and seemingly could cruise to a win.
Something happened in the sixth, though. In this, the last season before the AL adopted the designated hitter rule, Kaat reached base on a fielder’s choice. Moments later, he had to slide into second to break up a double play and hit his hand but good in the process.
Kaat’s hand stung, but he had the adrenaline of the game to pull him through. After all, the pain would go away on its own soon enough, right?
It looked like it, as he retired the next six batters without any problem, but in the eighth frame, things caught up to him. The pain in his hand hadn’t gotten better. If anything, it was worse. And now Kaat couldn’t throw very well. He gave up two doubles and a single and couldn’t get out of the inning.
After the game, the team’s medical staff finally looked at Kaat’s hand and gave him the bad news; he’d broken it. He was done for the year. He won the game, giving him a 10-2 record. His ERA was 2.07, which would put him in the running for the ERA leader. It wouldn’t have won—both Luis Tiant and Gaylord Perry ended the year with ERAs under 2.00 (and Perry did it while pitching a ton of innings)—but it promised to be a great year of Kaat.
The point isn’t that Kaat was going to have an especially great season. There’s no way he’d overcome Perry in that year’s Cy Young vote. But a full strong season from Kaat that year could considerably affect his Hall of Fame chances.
It was only Minnesota’s 66th game of the year, and Kaat already had 10 wins. Even assuming he’d slack off and/or hit a rough patch, he was a good bet to win 20 that year.
If he wins another 10 games, that gives him 293 wins for his career. No, it’s not the magic number 300, but it’s pretty damn close. And it gives him a fourth 20-win season, including three in four years, as he also did it in 1974 and 1975.
For that matter, did the broken hand continue to affect Kaat in 1973? It was his worst year on the mound in a decade, and it really sticks out in his career. Kaat’s stat lines are that of a man with a delayed peak. After several solid years, he had a great first half to 1972, a pair of high-quality 20-win seasons in 1974-75, and right in between, this dismal little 1973, his only season in a long time as a below-average starting pitcher.
It’s all just water cooler conversation. No, the hand injury likely isn’t the reason why Kaat didn’t win 300. You have to engage in a few rounds of guessing and give him all the benefit of the doubt, but a little bit of alternate history guessing can be fun.
Actually, this sort of problem was all too typical of Kaat’s career. He was a high-quality pitcher in 1965, even better in a 25-win 1966 campaign. Then, in 1967, he got off to a slow start before having the greatest September by anyone you’ll ever see.
He threw 63 innings with an ERA around 1.50—and blew his arm out in his last start. He was still an effective pitcher the next several years, but he wasn’t as good as he’d been before. He didn’t really catch his stride until 1972, only to be freshly derailed by the broken hand suffered 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.
1,000 days ago one of the greatest games in baseball history took place, when the Twins topped the Tigers, 6-4 in 12 innings, to win a one-game playoff for the AL Central crown. Among other things, this game featured Chip Caray’s infamous, “Line drive base hit—caught out there” call for a double play in the bottom of the 10th.
3,000 days since Houston’s Brandon Backe strikes out the side against the Brewers on nine pitches in the eighth inning.
3,000 days since major league baseball begins the annual tradition of Jackie Robinson Day.
4,000 days since Adam Dunn makes his big league debut.
8,000 days since Pete Rose reports to federal work camp in Marion, Illinois.
15,000 days since Rod Carew plays an entire game at third base for the only time in his career.
15,000 days since the 1971 amateur draft. Among the players taken are the following: Cubs – Burt Hooton, Expos – Steve Rogers; Angels – Frank Tanana; Red Sox – Jim Rice; Dodgers – Rick Rhoden; Royals – George Brett and Steve Busby; Phillies – Mike Schmidt; Yankees – Ron Guidry; and Cardinals – Keith Hernandez.
20,000 days since the last time the Dodgers play a game with the word “Brooklyn” written across their chest. They lose 2-1 to the Phillies. It’s also the last game of Roy Campanella’s career.
20,000 days since the New York Giants play their last game in the Polo Grounds. They lose, 9-1, to the Pirates.
20,000 days since Ernie Banks’ only five-hit game. He’s 5-for-5 with three doubles. It’s also his only three-double game.
20,000 days since Harmon Killebrew plays second base for the last time.
1885 Hall of Fame slugger Sam Thompson makes his big league debut.
1892 The Pittsburgh Pirates sign future Hall of Famer Joe Kelley from Omaha in the Western League for $500.
1903 Ed Delahanty dies one of the stranger deaths in baseball history. He’s been having something of a personal breakdown lately. He chases teammate Highball Wilson with a knife and is near Niagra Falls when he is tossed off the team train. He says, “I don’t care whether I’m in Canada or dead!” and ends up apparently going over the falls. He’s never seen again.
1909 The White Sox steal 12 bases versus the Browns, including three steals of home. Pitcher Ed Walsh has one of the swipes of the plate.
1911 Ty Cobb’s hitting streak reaches 40 games.
1912 Veteran infielder Larry Gardner hits two inside-the-park home runs in one game.
1913 The Reds select Jimmy Sheckard off waivers from the Cardinals.
1915 The A’s sell Jack Barry to Boston for $8,000. Barry was one-fourth of Philadelphia’s star $100,000 infield.
1920 Benny Kauff plays his last game in the big leagues, as the Giants trade him to Toronto. He was a star for a few years, but soon will be banned from baseball for throwing games.
1923 Branch Rickey manages his 1,000th game. His record is 473-512 in the dugout.
1923 Hall of Fame pitcher and all-time White Sox win leader Ted Lyons makes his big league debut.
1925 Gabby Hartnett gets a personal-best 11 total bases in one game when he goes 4-for-5 with a double and two homers in an 11-6 Cubs win over the Cardinals.
1925 Jack Fournier gets seven RBIs despite no extra-base hits, which is at least tied for the record since 1920 for most RBIs in a game with nothing beyond a single. He’s 4-for-5 with a sacrifice bunt as his Dodgers torch the Braves, 20-7.
1927 Pittsburgh signs former star third baseman Heinie Groh.
1930 Hall of Fame skipper Bucky Harris manages his 1,000th game. His record: 529-461.
1930 Carl Reynolds of the White Sox smashes three home runs in one game. He gets them in the first, second, and third innings. Two of them are inside-the-park shots.
1931 Babe Ruth enjoys his 11th straight game with an RBI. He has 18 RBIs total in this stretch.
1933 Jimmie Foxx gets a double, triple, and two home runs but misses the cycle by a single. In fact, Foxx homers twice in both ends of a doubleheader for four longballs on the day.
1933 Carl Hubbell has one of the greatest pitching performances of all time, tossing a complete-game shutout in an 18-inning, 1-0 Giants win over the Cardinals. Hubbell allows just a half-dozen this, walks none and fans 12 for a Game Score of 132. Yeah, that ain’t too bad.
1940 Ted Williams comes to the plate three times in one inning, an inning in which the Red Sox score 14 times. Williams twice walks and once grounds out. Boston tops the A’s, 15-9.
1941 Joe DiMaggio extends his hitting streak to 45 games in style with a three-homer day.
1947 Cleveland signs Larry Doby, becoming the second big league team and first AL squad to break the color line.
1950 Bob Feller wins his 200th game, giving him a record of 200-118.
1951 Bill Veeck gets the necessary 75 percent of Browns stock to buy the option of the team from Bill and Charlie DeWitt. It’s a good thing he did it today, too, because this was the last day he had that option.
1953 AL slugger of the 1980s Tony Armas is born.
1954 Don Zimmer makes his big league debut.
1956 NBC pays $16.25 million for the rights to the All-Star Game and World Series. Six-tenths of the money will go to the players’ pension fund.
1957 Cincinnati signs amateur free agent pitcher Claude Osteen.
1958 The Indians release former ace hurler Bob Lemon.
1958 The Dodgers break the 1,000,000 fan mark in just their 35th game of the season and their first year in Los Angeles.
1961 Boston signs amateur free agent Rico Petrocelli.
1963 It’s one of the most famous games ever played as Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn square off for 16 innings before Willie Mays breaks the double shutout with a walk-off solo home run. Giants 1, Braves 0 (16).
1964 Controversial slugger Jose Canseco is born.
1966 For the third time in five days, Mickey Mantle belts two home runs in one game.
1966 Whitey Ford experiences the worst start of his career. His line 6 IP, 15 H, 10 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 0 K for a Game Score of 16. Well, at least most of the runs were unearned.
1968 Fergie Jenkins’ only steal attempt of his career ends in failure. It’s part of a strikeout-throw out double play, and thus likely a blown hit-and-run.
1969 Reds pitcher Gerry Arrigo hits three batters in one inning, something that won’t happen again in major league baseball for 41 more years.
1969 Reggie Jackson hits three home runs in one game for the first time in his career.
1970 The Royals sign amateur free agent Frank White.
1970 Tony Horton hits for the cycle.
1973 (Ill-deserving) Hall of Famer Chick Hafey dies.
1973 Detroit signs amateur free agent and former jailbird Ron LeFlore.
1974 Sean Casey, Reds first basemen, is born.
1975 Don Baylor of the Oriole hits three homers in one game. Including the day before, that gives Baylor home runs in four consecutive at-bats.
1975 Fred Lynn’s hitting streak snapped at 38 games.
1975 Gaylord Perry loses his seventh straight decision, the worst stretch of his career. His line in this time: 55.1 IP, 80 H, 48 R, 44 ER, 17 BB, and 28 K for a 7.16 ERA. Yeah, that’s pretty bad indeed.
1975 Jim Rice is installed as the regular Red Sox left fielder and hits two homers in the game, including one that’s one of the longest ever hit at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
1976 For the second time in five weeks, Houston gets 25 hits in a game. They need them, as they barely beat the Reds, 10-9 in 14 innings. Pete Rose gets five hits for the Reds in the loss. One of the only batters having a bad day is Hall of Fame backstop Johnny Bench, who is 1-for-7 with a career high four strikeouts on the day.
1980 White Sox starting pitcher Ross Baumgarten nearly throws a no-hitter, allowing just a seventh-inning single by Rod Carew in Chicago’s 1-0 win. Baumgarten needs to be this good, as some of the most dreadful run support any pitcher ever experienced will give him a 2-12 record despite an above-average park-adjusted ERA.
1985 Paul Molitor gets his 1,000th hit. It takes him 835 games to do it.
1985 Aging knuckler Joe Niekro wins his 200th game, giving him a 200-174 career record.
1986 Dave Winfield plays an inning at third base, one of only two times he ever does that.
1986 Roger Clemens loses his first game of the year, giving him a record of 14-1.
1988 Wade Boggs legs out the only inside-the-park home run of his career.
1990 Montreal signs amateur free agent Ugueth Urbina.
1991 Oops. Catcher Benito Santiago manages to accidentally brain a pair of coaches. Upset at a groundout, Santiago tosses his helmet, which bounces into the dugout, hits pitching coach Mike Roarke in the head, ricochets off and nails coach Greg Riddoch, who gets a concussion. How the hell hard did Santiago throw that helmet anyway?
1993 A Padres-Phillies game ends at 4:40 AM. It’s the second game of a doubleheader, and it started at 1:26 AM after the first game endured three rain delays. The Phillies win the late show, 6-4 in 10 innings.
1993 The Royals renamed Royals Stadium, Kaufmann Stadium.
1993 Sammy Sosa gets six hits in a game.
1994 Jeff Bagwell plays in right field for seven frames. It’s the only time he ever takes the field at any slot other than first base.
1994 Hubie Brooks plays in his final game.
1995 A woman is arrested with a .22 caliber pistol at the SkyDome Hotel. She had threatened to establish a relationship with Roberto Alomar because she couldn’t “establish a relationship” with him. Creepy.
1996 Mark McGwire belts his 303rd home run with the A’s, passing Jimmie Foxx as the all-time franchise leader. McGwire still holds that slot. In that same game, Jason Giambi enjoys the only five-hit game of his career, going 5-for-5.
1997 Longtime closer Lee Smith appears in his last game.
1998 Wade Boggs appears in his sixth straight game without a hit, his longest slump. He’s 0-for-17 with five walks.
1999 Florida signs amateur free agent Miguel Cabrera. Good move.
1999 Scott Rolen legs out the only inside-the-park home run of his career.
1999 It’s a brotherly decision. When Texas tops Seattle, 7-6, Jeff Zimmerman gets the win while Jordan Zimmerman gets the loss.
1999 Umpire Tom Hallion is suspended for three games for actions taken on June 26. On that day, Hallion bumped a pitcher who was complaining to a different umpire about a call.
2000 Boston signs amateur free agent Hanley Ramirez. It’s a good signing, but Boston won’t reap the benefit of it.
2002 Baseball players combine for 62 homers, a one-day record. A total of 53 different men homer on the day.
2002 Due to a mix-up by the attendant in the umpire’s locker room, today’s Cubs-Astros game is played with non-regulation baseballs. Practice balls are used instead, and those aren’t up to gametime snuff.
2004 Arizona fires former world champion manager Bob Brenly.
2004 According to WPA, Jim Thome experiences the worst game of his career. He’s 0-for-8 with five Ks and a GIDP.
2005 Houston releases aging reliever John Franco.
2005 Kenny Rogers is suspended for 20 games and fined $50,000 for onfield actions that sent a cameraman to the hospital and launched a police investigation. (Wait—what?)
2006 Chipper Jones’s 341st career home run is his first pinch-hit one.
2007 Roger Clemens wins his 350th decision. He’s 350-181 for his career at this point.
2008 Dustin Pedroia hits a homer, triple, and two doubles but never does get that single to complete the cycle.
2009 Sources reveal that MLB loaned around $15 million to cash-strapped Rangers owner Tom Hicks.
2009 A swarm of bees invades today’s Houston-San Diego game in the top of the ninth. There’s a 62-minute delay as part of the stands by left field have to be evacuated and an emergency call to a beekeeper is made.
2010 Washington signs free agent and eternal pitcher Orlando Hernandez.