Fifty years ago today was possibly the single greatest game ever pitched in the major leagues. It has an extremely good claim to being the most overlooked great pitching performance.
On Sept. 12, 1962, Washington Senators pitcher Tom Cheney threw a 16-inning complete game, striking out 21 batters, which is still the all-time record. Oh, and he won the game, too—2-1 over the Orioles.
Cheney was a 26-year-old on his third big league team who began the year with just three wins. However, he’d shown some flashes of brilliance so far in 1962. On June 30, he fanned 10 in a complete game shutout, and then thrown two more shutouts in August. In his first start in September, Cheney allowed two runs in 10 innings while fanning 10. Keep in mind that teams in the AL as a whole averaged barely over five Ks per game back then.
Sept. 12 would easily be the greatest game of Cheney’s career, though.
It actually got off to a rocky start. Two of the first three batters he faced singled, and he never did strike anyone out in that first inning. More importantly, Cheney got out of the inning without allowing a run. The Senators had already scored a run in the top of the first off Baltimore’s Milt Pappas and Cheney was trying to hold onto the 1-0 lead.
He finally got his first strikeout when outfielder Dave Nicholson led off the second. It would be the first of three times Cheney would fan Nicholson. Cheney struck out three batters in the third, which ensured that the batters who got via a double and walk didn’t score.
Cheney kept plugging away. One more K in the fourth. He fanned three of the four batters he faced in the next frame (the other one hit a two-out double). The third and fifth innings would be the only time all day Cheney fanned three batters, and even in them he didn’t strike out the side in order. Cheney never utterly dominated any single inning, but he was pretty damn effective in all of them.
He was at his least effective in the seventh. Not only did he fan zero batters, but he allowed his only run, on a double and single. The single was by pinch-hitter Charlie Lau, who batted for Pappas. Cheney would match up against Baltimore reliever Dick Hall until the 16th frame.
After the seventh inning, Cheney hunkered down. Occasionally the Orioles would get someone on base, even advancing to second, but they never got beyond there the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Cheney methodically kept mowing down batters. He fanned two more in the eighth inning. And again in the ninth. And still again in 10th —and one more time in the 11th. Heading into the 12th, Cheney had 17 strikeouts.
He was approaching rarified air. The record was 18 strikeouts. Sandy Koufax had done it twice—including once earlier in 1962. Warren Spahn had done it 10 years, and a teenaged Bob Feller did it at the end of the 1938 season.
Koufax. Spahn. Feller. That’s some nice company. And Cheney was just one strikeout away from joining that cozy little club. OK, so it took extra innings for him to do it. Spahn threw 15 innings in his 18-K game.
However, at this point Cheney had his longest stretch without a strikeout. He was K-less in the 12th and 13th innings. He retired every batter he faced, but none with a strikeout. In the 14th, the first batter flew out before Cheney finally made the record books when he fanned second baseman Marv Breeding for his 18th strikeout of the day.
Then, for good measure, Cheney fanned opposing pitcher Hall to end the inning. That was 19 strikeouts—a one-game record.
Russ Snyder became strikeout victim No. 20 in the next inning. He was also the 15th straight batter Cheney retired, a streak that ended immediately afterwards when Brooks Robinson received a base on balls.
In the 16th inning, Cheney finally got some offensive help when first baseman Bud Zipfel hit one of his 10 career home runs to give Washington a 2-1 lead. Now it was up to Cheney to end it.
He gave up a single and two groundouts, but ended this game in the only appropriate manner—strikeout No. 21. That strikeout was pinch-hitter and future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams.
Cheney could say he’d done something no one else ever had, fan 21 batters in one game. Fifty years later, he’s still the only one who can say that. The rest of his career didn’t pan out well, and he retired with a 19-29 record and 345 strikeouts. But no one can ever take away what he did 50 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other 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 over things.
3,000 days since Roberto Alomar hits his 500th double.
9,000 days since arbitrator Thomas Roberts declares that due to collusion, seven player are granted status as no-risk free agents through March 1. Those men include Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk and Joe Niekro.
10,000 days since Don Sutton ties his personal worst Game Score: 6. He throws 4.2 innings, allowing eight runs (all earned) on 12 hits and five walks while fanning three. The 17 base runners allowed is also a personal worst.
10,000 days since Jim Rice, for the third time in seven days, hits into two double plays in one game.
30,000 days since the Philadelphia A’s pull off two triple steals in one game versus the Indians. Hall of Famer Al Simmons is involved in both—it’s his only multi-steal game ever.
1883 The Union Association is formed. It won’t honor the reserve clause in the AA and NL in hopes of becoming a major league. The UA will fail miserably and fold after just one season.
1889 Braves star pitcher John Clarkson throws two complete game wins over the Spiders in one day. He allows 10 hits in all in his 3-2 and 5-0 victories.
1891 Abner Dalrymple hits for the cycle.
1894 Star first baseman Charlie Comiskey plays in his last game. He’s already become a manager and will soon ascend into the ranks of ownership.
1899 Brewery Jack Taylor, a hard-drinking pitcher, appears in his last game.
1900 The Reds make 17 errors in a doubleheader against the Dodgers. Not surprisingly, Brooklyn wins both games.
1901 Baltimore Orioles pitcher Iron Man Joe McGinnity pitches both ends of the doubleheader against the A’s, splitting the day with a 4-3 win and a 5-4 loss.
1905 Against Jack Taylor (not Brewery Jack—it’s a different Jack Taylor) of the Cardinals, Honus Wagner gets three hits, but his teammates have none. St. Louis wins 2-1 on a steal of home by Harry Arndt in the bottom of the ninth.
1906 Giants player-manager John McGraw appears in his final game.
1907 Tris Speaker makes his big league debut.
1907 Spud Chandler, Yankees pitcher, is born.
1907 Walter Johnson gets his first strikeout. He fans five on the day but due to an error only four are put on his seasonal line. Decades later, people find out that his 3,508 career strikeouts are really 3,509.
1908 The White Sox and Tigers play their fourth straight extra inning game, 43 innings in all.
1908 Walter Johnson completes his fifth start in nine days.
1912 The Indians and Red Sox play an 11-inning doubleheader. The first game ends due to rain after five innings. The rain stops, and late in the afternoon the second game finally starts—but is called for darkness after six. Cleveland wins both games.
1914 The Yankees name Roger Peckinpaugh their manager. At age 23, he’s one of the youngest ever.
1916 Charlie Keller, tremendous hitter before back problems did him in, is born.
1927 Eddie Collins lays down his 512th and final career sacrifice bunt. No one else in history has more than 392. Since 1927, no one even has 270.
1930 It’s the last bounced home run ever hit. Dodgers catcher Al Lopez does it in Ebbetts Field. From this point forward, they’ll all be doubles.
1932 Johnny Frederick smacks a baseball record sixth pinch-hit home run of the year. It’s a walk-off one, too, for a 4-3 Dodgers win over the Cubs.
1933 Waite Hoyt wins his 200th decision for a 200-147 career record. He’ll be 37-35 for the rest of his career.
1935 Bill Terry has maybe his worst game ever, going 0-for-4 with a personal worst three Ks. He has other three-K games, but got hits in them.
1940 Mickey Lolich is born.
1942 Joe Medwick gets his 2,000th hit in just his 1,495th game.
1947 Early Wynn endures his worst Game Score ever: 1. His line: 4.2 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, and 1 K. His second worst Game Score was just two months earlier, and his third worst will come next April. He’s having some issues, clearly.
1947 Ralph Kiner has yet another big day. He launches two home runs for his 10th multi-home run day of the year. Given that he had three homers in the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader, that gives him a record-tying five long balls in two days. Incredibly, it’s the second time this year he’s hit five homers in two games.
1948 Duke Snider’s fifth career home run is his first (of seven) pinch-hit home runs.
1950 Reds fireballer Ewell Blackwell loses 2-1 to Dodger starter Carl Erskine in a pitchers duel. There are just four hits on the day—only one allowed by Blackwell. Erskine’s three hits allowed includes a double by Blackwell and a home run by star Cincinnati slugger Ted Kluszewski.
1953 Mickey Mantle just misses hitting a ball out of Yankee Stadium. It’s reportedly still ascending when it lands 80 feet high and 425 feet deep.
1954 A record crowd of 84,587 sees the Indians sweep a doubleheader from the visiting Yankees, 4-1 and 3-2.
1959 Pirates reliever Roy Face finally loses, dropping his record to 17-1.
1959 Ken Boyer’s best hitting streak peaks at 29 games. It’s the only time he has one last more than 15 games.
1961 For the second time in his career, Philadelphia hitter Don Demeter hits three home runs in one game.
1962 In the middle of a pennant race, Giants star Willie Mays collapses in the dugout from nervous exhaustion. He’ll miss four games.
1963 Juan Marichal helps his own cause by hitting a home run while throwing a complete game shutout in a 6-0 Giants win over the Mets.
1963 Yogi Berra, at age 38 years and four months, steals his last base.
1964 For the fifth time in big league history, there is a double one-hitter. Frank Bertania of the Orioles tops Bob Meyer of the A’s, 1-0.
1965 Washington’s Brant Alyea hits a pinch-hit home run in his first big league at bat.
1965 Wally Moon plays in his last game.
1965 For the 363rd and final time, Warren Spahn records a major league win.
1966 Ron Perranoski fans the first six batters he ever faces.
1967 Catfish Hunter fans 12, tying a personal best. This is the only time he fans 12 without pitching into extra innings, though. In fact, he last just 7.1 innings while losing 3-1 to Boston.
1967 The Reds sign amateur free agent Davey Concepcion.
1969 Gary Bell, baseball pitcher and roommate to Jim Bouton earlier this year, pitches in his last game.
1969 The Miracle Mets sweep a doubleheader over the Pirates in memorable matter. Not only are they both 1-0 wins behind pitchers Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell, but each pitcher gets the only RBI in his game.
1970 Tom Paciorek makes his big league debut.
1971Carlton Fisk hits his first home run.
1972 Billy Williams has a day from hell, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout and three GIDPs.
1972 Denny McLain, just four years removed from his 31-win season, plays in his last big league game.
1972 Mike Schmidt makes his major league debut.
1972 The Yankees win, pushing manager Ralph Houk’s career record 147 games over .500 (859-712), its peak. He’ll be 760-819 for the rest of his dugout days.
1973 Reds pitcher Jack Billingham hits a bases- loaded triple in a 7-3 win over the Dodgers.
1974 The Angels trade Frank Robinson to the Dodgers for two players and cash.
1974 A Braves-Reds doubleheader features a record three grand slams.
1974 John Denny, pitcher, makes his big league debut
1975 Second baseman Luis Castillo is born.
1975 Hard hitting slugger Jack Clark makes his big league debut.
1976 Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst notches his 1,000th career win.
1976 Ernie Whitt makes his big league debut.
1979 Carl Yastrzemski becomes the 14th member of the 3,000 hit club.
1980 Sean Burroughs is born.
1982 The Indians trade star pitcher John Denny to the Phillies.
1982 Ryne Sandberg hits the only leadoff home run of his career.
1985 Billy Martin finds out the hard way that he isn’t as young as he used to be. He gets in a fight with Ed Whitson, his pitcher. Martin comes away with a broken arm, bruises and lacerations while Whitson has a broken rib and a cut lip.
1986 Sparky Anderson becomes the 12th manger to make it to 1,500 wins.
1986 John Denny throws his last pitch in the big leagues.
1986 The Twins fire their manager, Ray Miller. In all the years since then, it’s the last time they’ve fired a manager.
1986 Terry Steinbach, catcher, makes his big league debut.
1986 Edgar Martinez, the prototypical DH, makes his big league debut.
1988 Eddie Murray gets his 2,000th hit.
1989 Damaso Garcia, at one point an All-Star second baseman, appears in his final game.
1989 Robin Ventura makes his big league debut.
1990 Age be damned, 37-year-old George Brett legs out two triples in one game. He’s 4-for-4 on the day—with a caught steal.
1990 Yankees pitcher Steve Adkins doesn’t allow a single hit in his big league debut—but walks eight in 1.1 innings pitched.
1992 Mike Piazza launches his first big league home run.
1992 Ryan Klesko makes his big league debut.
1993 Jeff Bagwell is hit by a pitch, and it breaks a bone in his left hand. He’ll be out for the remainder of the season.
1993 Nolan Ryan Appreciation Day in Texas is ruined by the Twins, who win 4-2.
1993 Padres star Tony Gwynn undergoes surgery on his left knee.
1996 Yankees star Bernie Williams gets eight RBIs in a 12-3 win over the Tigers.
1997 Jack McKeon finally gets to 1,000 games managed. His record is 502-498. Even though he is 66 years old, he has more dugout days in his future than in his past.
1997 Sean Casey makes his big league debut.
1998 The Cubs top the Brewers 15-12 in part of the wildest series in Wrigley Field history: All three games are back-and-forth slugfests not decided until the very end. In this one, Sammy Sosa hits his 60th home run of the season.
2000 Dodger Dave Hansen hits his record-tying seventh pinch-hit home run of the year.
2000 Joe Crede makes his big league debut.
2002 Barry Bonds walks five times in a game for the first time in his career. He’ll do it two more times.
2005 Barry Bonds plays in his first game of the year. He doubles in his first at-bat, and it is nearly home run No. 704.
2006 Bobby Abreu has a personal best seven RBIs in one game. He’s 2-for-3 with a double, home run, and sacrifice fly.
2011 Ex-big leaguer Manny Ramirez is arrested for domestic battery in Florida.
2011 Veteran center fielder Mike Cameron, now with the Marlins, gets in a verbal fight in a flight attendant. The company files an official complaint as a result. A few days later, the Marlins cut Cameron. After 17 seasons, Cameron’s career ends with a whimper.