70th anniversary: MLB readies for war

Seventy years ago today, America declared war on Japan due to the previous day’s attack on Pearl Harbor and points elsewhere. As it happened, America joined World War II right in the middle of baseball’s annual winter meetings. In fact, WWII right away caused some substantial changes to baseball, changes that seriously altered the rest of the game’s history.

In particular, two big moves occurred. The first affected one team for nearly a half-century, and the second featured a much more lasting legacy for the game.

First, Cub owner Phillip K. Wrigley decided to donate some of his team’s resources to the war effort. Specifically, he donated some lights. In the early 1940s, teams were installing lights in just about all the ballparks, and prior to the 1942 season, Wrigley acquired lights for Wrigley Field.

However, with the new need ahead, Wrigley decided the nation might need the equipment more than his team. Once he moved away from installing lights, he never moved back. Shortly after the war, every big league stadium had lights—except Wrigley Field.

For the rest of the time Wrigley owned the Cubs, he kept it a daytime-only place. It became one of its distinguishing features. He lived until the late 1970s, and his family owned it until the early 1980s, all the time without lights at Wrigley Field.

They sold it to the Tribune Company, and after a few years’ effort, the Cubs finally played under the lights at home by the late 1980s, nearly a half-century after Pearl Harbor. To this day, there is some lingering legacy, as the deal the Cubs struck with the Chicago city council limits the number of night games they can have. They still play more day games than any other team.

That said, the second decision on Dec. 8 was far more important. On that day, the lords of the game were set to decide the fate of the St. Louis Browns. For years, the Browns had suffered through incredibly bad attendance. A few years earlier, they drew approximately 80,000 fans for an entire season. Simply put, they wanted out.

And they had a plan to move to uncharted waters—namely, Los Angeles. The owners were going to vote on it, but any chances for approval went out the window after the war began. Now was not the time to significantly increase fuel costs for major league baseball. The Browns would stay put in St. Louis during the war. They would eventually move, but to Baltimore.

Think how baseball history would be different. The Dodgers and Giants wouldn’t be the first ones out west. The AL would have that land for itself for a while. Who knows how the game might be different. A Los Angeles Browns dynasty? Stranger things have happened.

But it didn’t happen. Nope, baseball made some fateful decisions as the U.S. declared war exactly 70 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you feel like skimming.

Day-versaries

2,000 days since the A’s beat the Dodgers, 5-4 in 17 innings, on a walk-off walk. It’s the latest a game has ended on a walk-off walk since at least 1950.

5,000 days since Jerry Manuel manages his first game.

6,000 days since Bobby Cox manages his 2,000th game. His record at this point: 1,065-933.

9,000 days since Mike Schmidt connects for his 500th home run. It comes with two outs in the ninth to help Philadelphia to an 8-6 win over the Pirates.

9,000 days since the Reds sign free agent pitcher Jerry Reuss.

40,000 days since the Indians announce they signed Nap Lajoie (which happened a few days earlier).

40,000 days since Mike O’Neill becomes the first person ever to hit a pinch-hit grand slam. He’s a pitcher on the Cardinals.

Anniversaries

1879 Jimmy Austin, infielder, is born.

1881 A series of new rules is passed. One causes the creation of a three-foot long corridor on the way to first base. Another says you can’t tag runners returning to base after a foul ball. A third says pitchers won’t be automatically fined for hitting batters.

1887 The American Association doubles its basic admission price from 25 to 50 cents.

1899 The Pirates trade pitcher Jack Chesbro and three others and $25,000 to Louisville for Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner, Tommy Leach, Deacon Phillippe, Rube Waddell, and seven others. Louisville won’t exist next year. This is part of a deal to transfer all their talent to the Pirates. Chesbro will even return there.

1914 The A’s sell Eddie Collins to the White Sox.

1914 The National League votes to create a disabled list.

1928 The Braves purchase Rabbit Maranville from the Cardinals.

1936 Babe Ruth turns down an offer to manage a farm team in Albany.

1936 Brooklyn signs free agent Heinie Manush.

1939 The Braves trades Danny MacFayden to the Pirates for Bill Swift and cash.

1939 The White Sox pull off a pair of trades. They send outfielder Rip Radcliff to the Browns for Moose Solters, and they also send Gee Walker to Washington for Taffy Wright and Pete Appelton.

1941 Ed Brinkman is born.

1947 The Pirates trade Gene Mauch, Billy Cox, and Preacher Roe to the Dodgers for Vic Lombardi, Dixie Walker, and Hal Gregg.

1951 The American League lifts its ban on Sunday night games.

1951 Bobby Lowe, 19th century infielder, dies.

1958 Tris Speaker dies at age 70.

1959 The Continental League, a proposed rival to the AL and NL, awards a franchise to Atlanta.

1961 The Cubs sells Richie Ashburn to the Mets, where he’ll end his career.

1966 The Yankees trade Roger Maris to the Cardinals for Charley Smith.

1968 Mike Mussina is born.

1975 The St. Louis Cardinals trade Ken Reitz to the Giants.

1976 Cleveland trades outfielder George Hendrick to the Padres.

1976 Reed Johnson, outfielder, is born.

1977 Boston ownership sale to Haywood Sullivan is held up by AL owners over financing questions.

1977 The Mets, Braves, Rangers, and Pirates engage in a rare four-team trade. Among the key players changing hands, the Pirates land John Milner and Bert Blyleven, Texas gets Al Oliver and Jon Matlack, the Mets receive Willie Montanez, and Atlanta doesn’t get anything worth mentioning.

1977 St. Louis trades Al Hrabosky to the Royals for Buck Martinez and Mark Littell.

1978 The Indians and Rangers swap star infielders: Cleveland gets Toby Harrah and Texas gets Buddy Bell.

1978 Houston trades Floyd Bannister to the Mariners for Craig Reynolds.

1978 The Mets trade Jerry Koosman to the Twins. The Mets will later receive as a player to be named later Jesse Orosco. Koosman was the pitcher on the mound when the Mets recorded the last out in their victorious 1969 World Series. Orosco will be the pitcher on the mound when the Mets record the last out in their victorious 1986 World Series. Those are the only world championships the Mets have.

The batter who made the last out against Koosman in the 1986 World Series was Davey Johnson, who will be Orosco’s manager on the 1986 Mets.

Neat.

1978 Vernon Wells is born.

1980 There are several notable pickups in the Rule 5 draft on this day. Toronto takes George Bell from the Phillies, Milwaukee claims Tom Candiotti from the Royals, San Diego gets Alan Wiggins from the Dodgers, and the Cubs get Jody Davis from the Cardinals.

1980 St. Louis can afford to lose Jody Davis, because they pull off a blockbuster trade on this same day. They send Terry Kennedy, Steve Swisher and five others to the Padres for Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, Bob Shirley, and a player to be named later. Fingers will never appear in a game for St. Louis as the team also acquires Bruce Sutter this week.

1980 Houston makes a pair of moves. First, they release second baseman Joe Morgan, who returned to the team he broke in with as a free agent for this one year. Second, the Astros trade longtime starting infielder Enos Cabell to the Giants for Bob Knepper and another player.

1981 The Cubs sign free agent pitcher Fergie Jenkins, allowing him to return to the team he became a star with. With Jenkins in the starting rotation, the Cubs get rid of a starting pitcher on this day, sending Mike Krukow and cash to the Phillies for Keith Moreland and two other players.

1983 The Dodgers trade Sid Fernandez to the Mets.

1983 The Yankees trade Steve Balboni to the Royals.

1983 Bobby Brown, a former infielder, is named AL president, succeeding Lee MacPhail.

1983 Texas trades Jim Sundberg to the Brewers for Ned Yost and a minor leaguer.

1984 Oakland trades reliever Bill Caudill to the Blue Jays for Dave Collins, Alfredo Griffin, and cash.

1985 Bill Wambsganss, second baseman who pulled off an unassisted triple play during the 1920 World Series, dies.

1987 Atlanta trades shortstop Rafael Ramirez to the Astros.

1987 The Reds trade Dave Parker to the A’s for Jose Rijo and another player.

1987 The Cubs make a terrible trade, sending Lee Smith to the Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi. Smith will be an effective closer for nearly a decade more, while Nipper and Schiraldi don’t do squat. To solve their closer hole, a year later the Cubs will eventually trade Rafael Palmeiro and Jamie Moyer to the Rangers for Mitch Williams.

1987 The Phillies sign centerfielder Bob Dernier as a free agent.

1988 The Reds trade Lloyd McClendon to the Cubs.

1991 The Reds trade relief ace Randy Myers to the Padres for Bip Roberts and a minor leaguer.

1991 The Phillies trade Von Hayes to the Angels.

1992 The White Sox sign free agent pitcher Dave Stieb.

1992 Florida signs free agent pitcher Charlie Hough. He’ll end his career with the Marlins.

1992 Kansas City signs free agent pitcher David Cone.

1992 It might be the best free agent signing in history: San Francisco lands Barry Bonds.

1992 Toronto signs free agent Dave Stewart. They also trade Kelly Gruber to the Angels on this same day.

1995 The Cubs sign starting pitcher free agent Jaime Navarro.

1997 The Indians have a busy day of wheeling-dealing. First, they sign free agent Dwight Gooden. The Indians also sign Kenny Lofton, returning him to the club after one year away. Also, the Indians trade Marquis Grissom and another guy to the Brewers for Ron Villone, Mike Fetters, and Ben McDonald. Finally, they take Fetters—just nabbed from Milwaukee—and immediately flip him to the A’s for Steve Karsay.

1997 Toronto signs infielder Tony Fernandez. It’s one of several times he returns there.

2000 Arizona signs free agent first baseman Mark Grace, ending his career with the Cubs.

2000 Colorado signs free agent Andres Galarraga.

2000 The Giants sign free agent veteran Shawon Dunston.

2004 Florida signs free agent starting pitcher Al Leiter.

2004 Philadelphia signs free agent Jon Lieber.

2005 Boston trades Edgar Renteria and cash to the Braves for Andy Marte.

2005 The Texas Rangers make a terrible trade. They send Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and Armando Galarraga. Soriano will have a career year in Washington, Wilkerson will be terrible in Texas and the others are fungible. Making it even worse, Texas received Soriano in a previous trade with the Yankees for Alex Rodriguez. Thus, in two trades, Texas turns A-Rod into Brad Wilkerson. Ouch.

2006 Oakland signs free agent catcher Mike Piazza, where he’ll end his career.

2006 Jose Uribe, former player, dies.

2006 The Royals sign free agent Octavio Dotel.

2006 The Dodgers sign free agent Luis Gonzalez.

2006 Free agent Andy Pettitte signs with the Yankees.

2009 The Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers make a trade that sends Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, with Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy going to the Diamondbacks, and Detroit landing Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke, and Austin Jackson.

2009 Seattle signs free agent Chone Figgins.

2010 Free agent Carlos Pena signs with the Cubs.

2010 Kansas City signs free agent Jeff Francoeur.

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