Forty years ago today, Willie Stargell did something that no one else had ever done before and no one else had ever done since. He smacked a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium. Not just out of the playing field, but out into the parking lot itself.
On May 8, 1973, the Dodgers hosted Stargell’s Pirates in a night game at Chavez Ravine. In the top of the fourth inning, Stargell came up with a runner on against Dodger hurler Andy Messersmith when he hit his historic moonshot.
Some places are easy to hit the ball out of. Wrigley Field is famous for having balls leave its park, for instance. In some places, it happens rarely, but at least it still happens. Over a dozen players knocked one out of Tiger Stadium, for example.
But Dodger Stadium is big. It’s one of the biggest parks the game has ever had. That’s why only Stargell has done it in over a half-century of games there.
Oh, I should note that today isn’t the 40th anniversary of the first time a ball left Dodger Stadium. Wait, what? Yeah, you see, while Stargell is the only person to do it, that doesn’t mean he did it only once. Stargell first accomplished the feat in 1969, and today is the 40th anniversary of his second parking-lot shot. We’re still waiting for a third occasion.
Yeah, Stargell had some pretty damn impressive power. I’ve always had a theory about him. On a few occasions, I’ve heard people wonder how different our impressions would be of baseball if no one ever took stats. It’s an odd counterfactual, but typically the arguments I’ve seen about it are that we’d still have the same all-time greats.
Babe Ruth was such a force that people would’ve noted it no matter what. Willie Mays would’ve captured everyone’s attention even if we didn’t have the numbers. Barry Bonds—more of the same. Generally speaking, the most awesome talents don’t need numbers to inspire awe.
But if there’s one guy who’s reputation just might rise up a notch or two in a world without stats, it’s Stargell.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize how nice his reputation already is. He made the Hall of Fame, and on the first ballot, no less. But without batting average and career counting numbers, we’d have to rely on the impressions he left in games themselves, and those could be rather powerful things.
Let’s think it through. Without numbers, here’s what would still be true of Stargell. He’s still the guy who hit the ball out of Dodger Stadium, something no one else ever had before or has since. What’s more, that wasn’t a fluke. He smashed the longest homer in Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. It landed so far from the plate that the Phillies painted the seat it hit to honor Stargell. He also hit the longest homer in the history of Stade Olympic in Montreal. Oh, and unsurprisingly, he seemingly monopolized the longest homer memories in Pittsburgh. At one point, Stargell had on his resume the longest homer hit in nearly half of the NL parks.
Imagine what his reputation would be if that’s all we had to go on. As nice as his reputation is now, it would be quite a bit more impressive. That’s because when Stargell was impressive, he was incredibly impressive. And he was rarely as impressive as he was 40 years ago today, when he crushed the ball entirely out of Dodger Stadium.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since the Dodgers blow a seven-run lead in the eighth inning to the Phillies. Philadelphia triumphs, 10-9.
1,000 days since baseball owners unanimously approve the sale of the Rangers to Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan’s group.
5,000 days since Barry Bonds hits the fifth of 10 career walk-off home runs.
5,000 days since Edgar Alfonzo of the Mets has a day for the ages: 6-for-6 with three home runs.
5,000 days since Vernon Wells makes his big league debut.
7,000 days since former infielder Elbie Fletcher dies.
7,000 days since former broadcaster John Kruk is diagnosed with testicular cancer.
9,000 days since Kirby Puckett gets his 1,000th hit.
9,000 days since owners unanimously elect A. Bartlett Giamatti commissioner to replace Peter Ueberroth, who declined to serve a second term.
9,000 days since Reds pitcher Tom Browning throws a perfect game. It’s the first NL perfecto in 23 years. It’s also a rain-delayed game.
15,000 days since the players vote to end their first strike. The season will start belatedly two days later.
40,000 days since Hall of Fame shortstop Travis Jackson is born. He’s an ill-deserving Hall of Famer, but a Hall of Famer nonetheless.
1850 Ross Barnes, great hitter in 1870s, is born.
1858 Dan Brouthers, one of the best hitters in the 19th century, is born.
1871 George Zettlein, one of the hardest throwing pitchers of his day, makes his National Association debut.
1878 Paul Hines starts a triple play, a pretty neat fact given that he plays center field. He catches the ball, runs to third base for the second out and tosses it to second base for the last out. It was a very different game back then.
1890 Kid McGill makes his big league debut at age 16. He’ll post 71 career wins before retiring at age 22. Yeah, it was a different time.
1893 Edd Roush, Hall of Famer interviewed in The Glory of Their Times, is born.
1896 While Billy Nash of the Phillies argues with an umpire over a called strike, savvy Cubs pitcher Clark Griffith takes advantage of the fact that Nash is still standing in the batter’s box to throw the ball at Nash’s bat. The ball doinks off it for a double play.
1899 Harry Wolverton hits a walk-off grand slam: Cubs 8, Spiders 7.
1901 Turkey Stearnes, Hall of Fame Negro Leaguer, is born.
1901 Amos Rusie, star 1890s fastball pitcher, makes his first big league start in over two years, and it’s immediately clear why he hadn’t pitched in so long. The Cardinals destroy him, 14-3.
1902 Here’s a weird one: the Cubs beat the Giants, 10-5, but afterward it’s discovered that the plate is 15 inches closer to the mound that it’s supposed to be. The Giants protest, and the game (and the previous day’s game) is replayed.
1906 Chief Bender would hit only six home runs in his Hall of Fame pitching career, but two come in this game off Jesse Tannehill. Bonus: both are inside-the-park home runs. Extra bonus: Bender wasn’t pitching in this game. Due to injuries, A’s manager Connie Mack put Bender in left field in the sixth inning, and he hit both dingers as a position player.
1907 Big Jeff Pfeffer throws a no-hitter, as the Braves beat the Reds, 6-0.
1911 Pete Alexander hurls the first of his 90 complete-game shutouts.
1912 Yikes! Umpire Brick Owens is hit in the head by an infield throw, knocking him out. His wife is in the stands, sees him get plunked, and passes out. It’s okay, though, as Brick is back to work the next day.
1921 Ty Cobb hits a home run, a triple, and two doubles but no single, so no cycle.
1922 Sam Beardon buys controlling interest in the St. Louis Cardinals.
1922 Philadelphia A’s pitcher Bob Hasty apparently isn’t very good. In one inning of work, he surrenders four triples against the Indians.
1926 A three-alarm blaze at Fenway Park burns down the grandstand roof and left-field bleachers. There won’t be any more left-field seat until the 21st century.
1929 Frankie Frisch legs out his 100th career triple
1929 Carl Hubbell throws no-hitter versus a very tough Pittsburgh Pirate offense. (I once determined it was the third-most impressive lineup ever no-hit. The Giants win, 11-0. He walks one, but two reach on error (both errors are in the ninth). In the game, Hubbell’s teammate Mel Ott hits an inside-the-park homer. It’s his second career insider-the-park homer and 24th homer overall. He’ll never have another inside-the-park one, though.
1930 Freddie Lindstrom hits for the cycle. Even by cycle standards it’s a really cool performance, as his homer was an inside-the-park one.
1934 The White Sox hire Jimmie Dykes as their manager. He’ll last a dozen years on the job.
1935 Ernie Lombardi clubs four doubles in one game, all in consecutive plate appearances.
1936 37-year-old Kiki Cuyler hits his 19th and last inside-the-park home run.
1936 Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize enjoys the first of 30 career multi-home run games.
1937 Bobo Newsom, 200-game winner with a losing career record (211-222), hits his only career home run.
1937 Mike Cuellar, pitcher, is born.
1939 Cards top Dodgers 1-0 as Pepper Martin steals home in the sixth inning.
1939 Chicago Cubs first baseman Phil Cavarretta breaks his leg sliding into second base.
1940 Reds get 27 hits in 23-2 demolition of Dodgers. In the game, Cincinnati’s Harry Craft hits for the cycle.
1940 Chick Fraser dies at age 66. He had a pair of 20-win seasons—but also a pair of 20-loss seasons, and an overall career record of 175-212.
1941 The Boston Braves release former AL star pitcher Wes Ferrell.
1941 Red Ruffing goes 3-for-3 with a home run in a 5-4 Yankees win over the Indians. He may have done more damage at the plate, but was taken out in the sixth, as he allowed 12 base runners while getting only 17 outs.
1941 Bill Joyce, star 1890s third baseman, dies at age 73. he twice led the league in base on balls, and once in home runs.
1942 In a Navy Relief Fund exhibition game between the Dodgers and Giants, everyone—even the players and umpires—pays their way into the stadium, as all proceeds go to the war effort.
1946 Johnny Pesky becomes the first player in AL history to score six runs in one game.
1947 AP breaks the story that the St. Louis Cardinals reportedly are talking of boycotting a Dodgers game because of Jackie Robinson. This likely amounted to little more than some guys muttering in the clubhouse, and was never a real plan, let alone one involving the entire team.
1948 Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser loses his 100th decision (132-100).
1948 Steve Braun, long lasting batter, is born.
1948 Larry Doby hits reportedly the longest home run at Griffith Stadium in Washington since Babe Ruth in 1922. Doby’s blast hits a loudspeaker 35 feet over the center field wall.
1950 Star Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese gets his 1,000th hit. It took him nearly exactly 1,000 games—1,004, to be precise.
1953 Charlie Grimm wins his 1,000th game as manager (1,000-845).
1953 After losing 13 straight games to the Yankees, the Red Sox top them 2-1 in 11 innings in Boston.
1955 Longtime star first baseman Phil Cavarretta appears in his last game.
1957 Kansas City A’s lose, putting Lou Boudreau’s managerial record under .500 (1,083-1,084). It will stay under from here on out.
1957 Old Folks Ellis Kinder is finally too old—today is his last game.
1957 Ted Williams hits three homers in a game for the second time. He did it 11 years ago.
1958 Never count your chickens before they’re hatched—especially if you’re the Cubs. The Cubs allow eight runs in the top of the ninth to the Reds, turning a seemingly impregnable 8-2 lead into a 10-8 defeat at the hands of Cincinnati.
1960 A fourth inning single gives Willie Mays his highest career batting average: .318970 (1,325/4,154).
1961 It’s announced that the New York City NL expansion franchise will be called the Mets.
1963 Bob Buhl, pitcher, singles. It’s his first hit since 1961—and yes, he played all of 1962.
1963 Willie Stargell mashes his first big league home run.
1963 Stan Musial sets a record by hitting his 1,357th extra base hit. Babe Ruth had “only” 1,356.
1964 Willie Mays homers off Phil Ortega, the only hit Mays ever managed off Ortega in 19 plate appearances.
1965 Record longest game in organized baseball is viewed by a paid attendance of 386: Elmira Pioneers 2, Springfield Giants 1 (27). It was 0-0 for 25 innings, but incredibly they both scored in the 26th.
1966 It’s the last game at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. The Giants win, 10-5.
1966 Barely a month after joining the Orioles, Frank Robinson hits the only ball ever to completely leave Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He’ll win the Triple Crown in his first year in the AL.
1968 Catfish Hunter throws a perfect game and fans 11 in the process. The losing team was the Minnesota Twins, whose lineup featured Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva. It’s also Hunter’s 11th straight Quality Start, his longest streak ever. His record in those games: 5-5 W-L, 89 IP, 55 H, 22 R, 20 ER, 19 BB, 66 K, 2.02 ERA. 5-5 with a 2.02 ERA? Welcome to the 1968 American League.
1970 It’s a good thing that White Sox third baseman Beltin’ Bill Melton can hit, because he sure can’t field. Today he makes two errors—his 11th and 12th on the season—but it’s the last one that’s a doozy. He misplays a pop up and it hits him in the face, breaking his nose. He’ll be out for over a week.
1973 Ralph Miller, one of the last living 19th century players, dies at age 100.
1976 Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant allows nine runs in one outing against the Rangers—but none are earned. In the second inning, the first three batters strike out, reach on error, and then ground out. The next 10 straight batters reach base.
1977 Rod Carew gets two triples in one game. He’ll do it only one other time in his career—and that will come 26 days later.
1978 Royals manager Whitey Herzog tries something different. To try to stop Red Sox star Jim Rice (who enters the day batting .364 with a slugging percentage over .700), Herzog puts more men in the outfield. He goes without a second baseman. Rice goes 2-for-3 with a double and an intentional walk.
1979 It’s an infamous game in Kansas City, as Texas starting pitcher Ed Farmer beans Frank White and Al Cowens in the same game. White has to leave with a broken right hand bone and Cowens with a broken jaw. Cowens in particular clearly thinks this was intentional, as the next time he faces Farmer, he charges the mound. On a ground out. In extra innings. Despite the fact that Cowens is now a Tiger and Farmer now a White Sox.
1981 John Maine, pitcher, is born.
1982 Adrian Gonzalez is born.
1984 Kirby Puckett has a heckuva big league debut, going 4-for-5. He’s only the 12th person to debut with a four-hit game.
1984 The longest game in AL history begins: White Sox 8, Brewers 7 (25). Due to curfew rules, it will finish the next day. Robin Yount grounds into three double plays in it, his personal worst.
1987 It’s the first of 67 multi-home run games for Mark McGwire.
1988 Chris Chambliss plays in his last game.
1990 Andre Dawson hits his only walk-off home run as a Cub, giving him at least one walk-off home run in three different decades. It’s also his best WPA game: 0.813 WPA. 3-for-5, two homers, two runs, three RBIs, an intentional walk, and a K as Cubs beat Braves, 10-8.
1991 Howard Spira found guilty of trying to extort money from George Steinbrenner.
1992 Jim Leyland manages his 1,000th game. His record is 516-482.
1992 Astros pitcher Butch Henry has a memorable first major league hit: a three-run inside the park homer. But Houston loses, 6-3.
1994 Andy Van Slyke has a fantastic day, going 8-for-9 in doubleheader versus the Cubs.
1995 Jason Giambi plays in his first big league game.
1994 Former star second baseman Steve Sax plays in his last game.
1997 Randy Johnson loses, ending a 16-game winning streak.
1997 Cory Lidle, pitcher, makes his major league debut.
1998 Mark McGwire hits his 400th home run.
2000 For the second straight game Craig Biggio is twice hit by a pitch.
2000 Marlins lose to Braves on walk-off balk by John Rocker. It’s 2-2 entering the bottom of the ninth when this happens: single, error on botched pick off, out, out, intentional walk, runner advances to second on defensive indifference, balk. What an ugly inning.
2001 Randy Johnson fans 20 batters in nine innings—but then the game goes 10 innings. Records are normally different for nine- and extra-inning games, so Johnson doesn’t tie the Kerry Wood–Roger Clemens record, but Tom Cheney once fanned 21 in 16 innings, so Johnson isn’t there either.
2003 Giants sign amateur free agent Pablo Sandoval. Good move.
2003 Aaron Boone hits three homers in one game for the second time in his career.
2004 Texas Ranger Alfonso Soriano gets six hits in a game—the first time that happened to any batter in that franchise’s history.
2004 For the only time in his career, Greg Maddux lets the opposing pitcher homer off him. It’s Rockies hurler Jason Jennings in Wrigley Field. Pitchers are 162-for-1,250 with 19 doubles and a homer and a .130/.151/.147 AVG/OBP/SLG against Maddux during his full career.
2005 The Pirates release aging catcher Benito Santiago.
2008 That must be one embarrassed catcher: Jim Thome steals his first base since Sept. 25, 2002.
2009 Dom DiMaggio, star center fielder and brother of a Hall of Famer center fielder, dies at the ripe old age of 92. Though overshadowed by big brother Joe, Dom was a great player in his own right, with seven All-Star game selections.
2009 Alex Rodriguez returns to baseball following hip surgery. He homers on the first pitch he sees.
2009 Tampa trades Adam Kennedy to the A’s.
2010 Milwaukee’s Jody Gerut hits for the cycle. It’s an unlikely one as not only is Gerut having a terrible season, but before the game Brewers manager Ken Macha flipped a coin to determine if Gerut or Corey Hart should start in right field. The coin does the job right and Gerut gets the start.
2010 Mark Teixeira hits three homers in a game. It’s the third time he’s done that—with three different teams.
2011 Mike Scioscia posts his 1,000 win as manager: 1,000-817 for his career.
2012 You can tell he knows his career is about over. Failing Cubs reliever Kerry Wood flings his glove and hat into the stands after a rotten outing against the Braves. He’ll soon announce his retirement.
2012 Josh Hamilton makes history by bashing four home runs in one game. All are two-run shots, and they came off three Baltimore pitchers in a 10-3 Rangers win.
2012 Brandon Inge, of all people, smacks a walk-off grand slam for a 7-3 Oakland triumph over Toronto. Inge just joined Oakland a few days ago, having been recently cut by the Tigers, where he’d spent his entire career.