Fifty years ago today, arguably the greatest one-game performance by any Mets batter in history took place.
Now, that’s a mighty tall statement. The Mets have been around a little over 50 years, playing over 8,000 games, which means they’ve trotted out over 60,000 batters in their starting lineups, so it’s quite an accomplishment to say one guy’s performance was No. 1.
But there’s a reason to give this one top billing—actually, a statistic that puts him on top: Win Probability Added (WPA). As many THT readers know, WPA is the “story stat” that gauges how each at-bat in a game affects a club’s likelihood of winning. The game starts with the assumption that each team has a 50-50 chance of winning and ends at 100-0. WPA notes every little change in fortune along the way. It’s not a perfect stat by any stretch, but it does a great job describing how the game feels while watching it.
And no Met batter ever shined in WPA like obscure Mets infielder Tim Harkness did 50 years ago today.
On June 26, 1963, Harkness manned his typical post at first base for the Mets as they hosted the visiting Chicago Cubs in the Polo Grounds. Batting sixth, his day got off to a slow start. He singled in the second with no one on, popped up to lead off the fifth, and flew out to lead off the seventh.
That’s okay, though. WPA, by its very nature, typically awards the big points for late action, not early efforts. (That’s a big reason why it’s a controversial stat, but that’s a whole other topic.)
Harkness had his first chance to be a hero in the ninth. For the third time today, he led off the inning, and now the score was tied, 4-4. If he homered, he’d send the Mets home as winners. He didn’t. Instead he flew out. So far on the day, he was 1-for-4 with just an empty single. His WPA was actually in negative territory.
But the Mets didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth. The game went into extra innings, and overtime heroics cause a player’s WPA score to skyrocket like nothing else. The game would go on long enough to give Harkness plenty of extra-inning opportunities for glory.
Harkness came up next to lead off the 11th. (This marked five straight plate appearances for him leading off an inning.) This one he made count. A line drive rang off his bat and sailed into right for a double. By WPA, the Mets’ chances of winning jumped from 62 percent to 80 percent, an impressive showing to say the least. The Mets never did advance Harkness, and the game went on … and so did Harkness’s chances for glory.
He came up again in the 13th with the game still deadlocked, 4-4. This time he didn’t lead off but strode to the plate with a runner on first and one out. He flicked his bat, and the ball dribbled into right field for a single, one that advanced the lead runner all the way to third. Now the Mets’ chance of winning leaped from 62 to 82 percent.
That was two straight great clutch moments. Frustratingly for the club, though, they made two outs before they could push that lead runner the last 90 feet. The game went on. And with it, chances for Harkness to be the day’s great Clutch God.
In the top of the 14th, the Cubs staged a seeming breakthrough, when star left fielder Billy Williams raced around the bases for a two-run inside-the-park home run. Now it was 6-4 Cubs. Things looked bleak for the Mets indeed.
The Mets would not go down gently, though, and staged a nice rally. Between two singles and two walks, they loaded the bases (one player made an out on the base paths). With two outs and the bases loaded, you know who came to the plate.
At that moment, WPA gave the Mets just a 16 percent chance to win. Sure, they had the bases loaded, but they were down to their last out and trailing by a pair. But that was irrelevant. What mattered was that Harkness had his turn to bat.
You can figure out how this ended, right? Yup, home run. Harkness ended the day and crushed Chicago’s hopes with a walk-off grand slam that sent everyone from the peanut vendors to manager Casey Stengel into delirium. What was left of the crowd of 8,000 must’ve shouted themselves hoarse with joy.
Tim Harkness had a slow start, but he came through in each of his three extra-inning at-bats, especially the walk-off slam. His WPA on the day: 1.107, which is worth more than one win all by itself. It was a great performance, and it was 50 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something happening X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
3,000 days since Juan Pierre’s consecutive-innings-played streak comes to an end at 1,700 as he opts to take the day off.
4,000 days since Nelson Barrera, the Mexican League’s all-time home run and RBI leader, dies at age 44. He accidentally electrocutes himself while trying to free a metal roofing piece from high-tension wires.
7,000 days since Bobby Thigpen appears in his last game.
7,000 days since Scott Erickson throws a no-hitter, walking four and fanning five for Minnesota.
8,000 days since Chris Short, former big league pitcher, dies.
20,000 days since Orioles pitcher Jack Harshman helps his own cause by hitting two home runs in one game, which he wins, 3-2, over Washington.
1874 Topsy Hartsel, leadoff hitter and on-base machine, is born.
1880 Even back then, people recognized the platoon advantage. Chicago batters Abner Dalrymple, George Gore, and Larry Corcoran, all normally lefties, today all bat right-handed when facing southpaw Lee Richmond. They each get one hit as Chicago wins, 4-0.
1889 200-game winner Jack Stivetts makes his big league debut.
1893 St. Louis trades star infielder Jack Glasscock to the Pirates.
1901 Someone didn’t get the memo. The Red Sox arrives in Philadelphia for a game against the A’s, but there’s been a scheduling change, and the Sox are supposed to be in Baltimore. 4,500 fans in Charm City wait in 90-degree heat for a team that isn’t coming. The umpires also are in Philadelphia.
1903 Babe Herman, slugger who couldn’t run or field, is born.
1903 Ed Delahanty goes on a drinking spree. He’ll be dead in a week.
1906 Tragedy strikes the Iowa State League when Burlington Pathfinders catcher Herbert Whitney receives a beaning and dies as a result.
1912 The Senators gets Hippo Vaughn from the New York Yankees (then called the Highlanders).
1913 Washington catcher Eddie Ainsmith steals second, third, and home in one inning against the A’s.
1916 Fielder Jones, skipper for the 1906 world champion White Sox, manages his 1,000th game. His record is 551-420 thus far.
1916 The Indians number their uniforms on an experimental basis. It’s the first time any team has worn numbers on their uniforms. However, Cleveland’s numbers are on the sleeve and difficult to see, so this experiment fails.
1916 The NYPD arrests three fans in the Polo Grounds for petty larceny when they insist on keeping balls hit into the stands.
1917 Swingman pitcher Jakie May makes his big league debut.
1920 Star pitcher Dolf Luque attacks umpire Bill Klem. He’ll later claim the Klem used “vicious language.” Yeah, that’s not a very good reason, Dolf.
1923 The Brooklyn Dodgers sign amateur free agent Moe Berg, the smartest man ever to play big league ball.
1925 George Kelly smashes his 100th career home run. He also gets No. 101 in the same game, a walk-off blast. He’s the 21st member of the 100-home run club.
1927 Star Dodgers strikeout artist Dazzy Vance notches his 12th straight Quality Start, his longest-ever streak. He’s 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA in this span.
1928 Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes posts his best Game Score for a contest that doesn’t go into extra innings: 84. (Really, that’s his best). His line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, and 6 K.
1930 Herb Pennock has the worst Game Score by a starting pitcher who gets the win in the 1930s: 8. His line: 7.1 IP, 16 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, and 3 K
1935 Pirates center fielder Lloyd Waner records 18 putouts in a double-header. That’s still the record.
1938 Carl Hubbell notches his 200th win. He’s 200-107 in his career so far. He’ll be 53-47 for the rest of the way.
1941 Joe DiMaggio’s streak nearly ends at 37 games. He’s the fourth batter due up in the bottom of the eighth with the Yankees leading. With one on and one out, Tommy Henrich bunts to avoid an inning-ending (and streak-ending) double play. Given this chance, DiMaggio gets a hit to extend his streak to 38 games.
1943 Joe McCarthy loses his 1,000th game as manager. His record is 1,650-1,000.
1943 Beginning today, a 32-foot high, 15-foot wide marine stands by the left field wall at Forbes Field. It’ll last the rest of WWII.
1944 The Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers play in a three-way exhibition game to raise bonds for the war. The Dodgers score 4, the Yankees 1, and the Giants 0.
1947 Johnny Sain, the hardest-to-whiff pitcher in history—and one of the hardest to fan batters of any position ever—strikes out for the first time in over 170 plate appearances. I told you he was one of the hardest-to-fan batters ever.
1949 Pat Mullin of the Tigers hits three home runs in one game.
1953 For the second day in a row, Larry Doby bashes two home runs in one game.
1956 Jackie Robinson enjoys his eighth and final multi-home run game.
1956 The Braves finally lose a game under new manager Fred Haney. They won their first 11 under him.
1957 Baltimore signs amateur free agent bonus baby pitcher Milt Pappas.
1958 Hector Lopez of the Kansas City A’s hits three home runs in one game.
1960 Ron Santo makes his big league debut and has a great time of it. He goes 3-for-7 with five RBI in a Cubs double-header sweep of the Pirates.
1961 Minor league player Don DiChiara of the New York-Pennsylvania League gets homers in four consecutive at-bats.
1962 Earl Wilson throws a no-hitter, guiding Boston to a 2-0 win over the Angles.
1963 Jud Wilson, Negro League Hall of Famer, dies.
1964 The Twins purchase reliever Al Worthington from the Reds.
1966 The AL and NL announce they’ll move to a two-division format in 1969.
1966 Sandy Koufax matches an NL record by fanning seven batters in a row.
1968 Pete Rose gets his 1,000th career hit. It takes his 831 games to get there.
1968 Don Drysdale wins his 200th game, giving him a record of 200-154. It’s his 15th straight Quality Start. He’s 9-3 with 7 CG, 121.1 IP, 81 H, 16 R, 11 ER, 27 BB, and 83 for a 0.82 ERA in this span. This is just about it for him, though. Barely in his 30s, Drysdale’s arm is about to fall off. He’ll be 9-12 in the rest of his career.
1968 Bob Gibson tosses his fifth consecutive shutout. He’s allowed 21 hits and five walks while fanning 35 in these 45 innings.
1970 Frank Robinson hits just eight grand slams in his career, but today he swats two in one game. He’ll never hit another one again, let alone two in one game.
1971 The Angels suspend outfielder Alex Johnson for “failure to give his best efforts to the winning of games.” This charge later will be overturned, as the troubled outfielder will be ruled emotionally incapacitated.
1971 Doyle Alexander makes his big league debut.
1974 Derek Jeter is born.
1974 Jason Kendall is born.
1975 The Pirates release formerly great pitcher Sudden Sam McDowell.
1977 Jerry Remy handles 26 chances at second base in a double-header, the AL record.
1977 On Rod Carew Jersey Day in Minnesota, the star of the show is (of course) Rod Carew. He scores a personal-best five runs and drives in six by going 4-for-5 with a walk, double, and home run.
1978 The Blue Jays have one of the greatest offensive outpourings in one game, a 24-10 triumph over Baltimore. With the game already badly out of reach in the fifth, Earl Weaver puts outfielder Larry Harlow on the mound. He gets the first two guys out but then walks three in a row, uncorks a wild pitch, gives up a single, another walk, and then a home run.
1979 The Cubs trade Bobby Murcer to the Yankees.
1979 Darrell Evans belts a walk-off, pinch-hit home run.
1980 Mike Schmidt is out trying to steal home against the Expos.
1982 Graig Nettles belts his 300th home run.
1982 The Appleton Foxes of the Midwest League get one hit in each game of a double-header yet win both games anyway, 2-1 and 1-0, over the Wisconsin Rapids Twins.
1983 Rusty Staub ties an all-time record by getting his eighth consecutive pinch-hit. He’ll break the record with No. 9 three days later.
1984 Jason Thompson gets four homers today, two in each end of a double-header for the Pirates against the Cubs.
1984 Longtime Royals pitcher Paul Splittorff plays in his final game.
1985 A Florida State League umpire ejects the Clearwater organist for playing “Three Blind Mice” after a disputed call.
1985 Reggie Jackson nails his 11th and final career grand slam.
1987 Paul Noce of the Cubs is caught stealing twice in one inning.
1988 Craig Biggio makes his big league debut.
1989 George Brett gets his 500th career double.
1989 Kirby Puckett hits his only regular-season, extra-inning home run. It’s a 10th-inning walk-off shot for a 5-3 Twins win over the A’s.
1989 Big Daddy Rick Reuschel wins his ninth straight game, his best streak. His numbers in this span: 12 G, 87.1 IP, 74 H, 18 R, 14 ER, 15 BB, 43 K, and a 1.44 ERA. Wait – just 43 Ks in 87.1 IP in the late 1980s? Wow.
1990 Greg Maddux walks seven batters, the most in his career.
1991 The Angels set a record with their 13th consecutive error-free game.
1991 Mickey Tettleton hits a home run clear out of Tiger Stadium. He did it four days earlier, too.
1991 The first eight batters for the Cardinals in today’s game have a total zero of at-bats. Six of them walk, and the other pair hit sacrifice flies.
1992 Tony Fernandez is caught stealing twice in one inning. He’ll end the year with 20 stolen bases in 40 attempts, the worst success rate by any notable base stealer since 1923.
1992 Star second baseman Lou Whitaker is caught trying to steal twice in one game. It’s the only time that ever happens to him.
1993 Cleveland signs amateur free agent Bartolo Colon.
1993 Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella dies at age 71.
1997 Tony Gwynn hits his second and final inside-the-park home run. It’s also a grand slam.
1999 Sammy Sosa smashes his 300th home run.
1999 Pirates shortstop Pat Meares enters Milwaukee’s sausage race as the bratwurst—and wins. (He’s on the DL due to hand surgery and is thus unavailable to play in today’s game).
2000 Alex Cabrera of Arizona hits a homer in his first at-bat. Added bonus: It’s a pinch-hit shot.
2000 Orel Hershiser pitches in his last game.
2001 Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon walks off the field with the third base bag.
2002 Todd Stottlemyre appears in his final game.
2004 Roberto Alomar gets his 500th double.
2004 Cleveland signs free agent Aaron Boone.
2008 Houston releases Shawn Chacon, who recently assaulted the GM.
2009 Andre Ethier hits three home runs in a game for the Dodgers.
2010 Cleveland releases Three True Outcomes guy Russell Branyan.
2010 The Giants retire No. 20 for Monte Irvin.
2011 The Nationals hire Davey Johnson to be their new manager.
2012 Yankees outfielder DeWayne Wise makes a great catch, especially given that he never touched the ball. Against the Indians, he dives into the stands to catch the ball. He doesn’t get it and doesn’t even grab it off the floor but tells the umpire he caught it—and for whatever dumb reason, the umpire doesn’t check. Instead, the umpire ejects the Indians third baseman, who argues the incorrect call. A fan several feet away from where Wise was ends up with the ball.