75th anniversary: Walter Alston’s only game

75 years ago, a man played in his first, last, and only big league game, and struck out in his only time at the plate.

Why should anyone care about him? Because he made the Hall of Fame, that’s why.

It was Walter Alston, who became a long-time manager of the Dodgers. But on Sept. 27, 1936, he was just a young 24-year-old hoping to get his shot. He was a bit old for a prospect because he’d gone to college and only went pro after graduating.

In the minors Alston showed promise, hitting over .300 with power in the St. Louis farm system, but there was a big problem. He played first base for a team that already had Johnny Mize. Four times Alston would lead his league in homers, but there was no place for him in the majors. And the more the years went by, the less the aging Alston seemed like a prospect.

Instead, he shifted into managing, spending a dozen years managing in the minors, first with the St. Louis system and then with Brooklyn’s minor league teams.

Then came 1954. The Dodgers won the pennant in 1953 and their highly regarded manager Chuck Dressen wanted a multi-year contract. Team owner Walter O’Malley didn’t think any manager was worth that, and balked. Dressen left, and the team needed a new manager, so they hired their top minor league manager, Alston.

This move was widely derided at the time. Alston seemed like a bush leaguer. He was a complete unknown and an eternal minor leaguer. There was almost no precedent for a man with such limited experience in the majors succeeded in a big league dugout.

Prior to Opening Day 1954, 22 men had won 1,000 games as a major league field general; 20 of who had played in the majors. Of those other two, one was Frank Selee, and 1890s manager who had been died for nearly a half-century and was almost completely forgotten.

The other was Joe McCarthy, one of the brightest names in all the managerial pantheon, but still not a great comp. McCarthy got his first shot in the big league dugout with the Cubs in 1926. They finished in last place the year before and had won just one pennant in the previous 15 campaigns.

Of the other 20 skippers who won 1,000 games before Alston’s big league dugout debut, 16 had played in over 1,000 games. Two of the others (Connie Mack and Bill McKechnie) were long lasting veteran catchers. A third was Clark Griffith, a pitcher who won over 200 games. The last one was Harry Wright, who began as a player-manager on the game’s first professional team.

In other words, there was no precedent for a man with as little big league experience as Alston getting such a high-profile gig in his first game in the dugout. Though scorned as someone not up to snuff, Alston established himself, ultimately lasting 23 years with the Dodgers—longer than anyone else with one team aside from John McGraw and Connie Mack.

As it happens, Alston quit with a few games to go in his final season. His last game was Sept. 28, 1976—missing the 40th anniversary of his only game by one day.

Aside from that event, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold for those who wish to skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since the Cubs traded Mark DeRosa to the Indians for three warm bodies.

2,000 days since the ESPN show Bonds on Bonds debuted.

2,000 days since James Loney made his big league debut.

3,000 days since Texas traded Ugueth Urbina to Florida for Adrian Gonzalez and two others.

7,000 days since Will Clark hit a pinch-hit, walk-off home run.

8,000 days since the Senior Professional Baseball Association began play in Florida.

10,000 days since the release of the overrated baseball movie The Natural.

10,000 days since the 1984 Tigers became the first team to start the season 26-4.

10,000 days since Joe Morgan fanned with the bases loaded to end a game for the only time in his career. Baltimore beats Morgan’s Athletics, 4-3.

15,000 days since Gene Lamont homered in his first major league at bat, but his Tigers lost the game 10-1 to Boston.

15,000 days since John Lowenstein’s major league debut.

15,000 days since Sudden Sam McDowell issued five intentional walks and an unintentional one in a start.

30,000 days since Herb Pennock won his 200th game. He was 200-134 in his career at that point.

30,000 days since Jim Bottomley belted his 100th triple.

Anniversaries

1879 Lee Richmond, baseball’s first notable southpaw pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1888 Ed Crane tosses a shortened game, seven-inning no-hitter.

1890 Jack Glasscock gets six hits in a game. On the same day, in a completely different game in a separate league, Frank Shiebeck also gets sex hits in a game.

1890 Ned Williamson, probably the best third baseman of the 1880s, plays in his final game.

1892 The New York Giants purchase Wee Willie Keeler from the Binghamton club in the Eastern League for $800. Even back then, that wasn’t too much.

1898 Jake Beckley handles a record 22 chances in one game at first base.

1899 Jay Parker faces two batters, both of whom he walks and both of who scores. He never appears in another major league game, giving him a lifetime ERA of infinity.

1902 Win Mercer plays in his last game. He’ll commit suicide next year.

1903 Chief Zimmer, 1890s catcher, plays in his last game.

1903 Tom Daly, infielder, plays in his last game.

1905 Bill Dineen tosses a no-hitter: Red Sox 2, White Sox 0.

1908 Hans Lobert of the Reds steals second, third, and home in one inning versus St. Louis.

1912 Eddie Plank pitches 19 innings only to lose 5-4 to Washington when a wild throw by infielder Eddie Collins lets an unearned run score in the final frame.

1914 Nap Lajoie belts his 3,000th hit. He’s the third man to ever do that, behind Cap Anson and Honus Wagner. Lajoie ends the year with exactly 3,000 hits.

1919 Babe Ruth belts his last homer as a Red Sox. It’s also his 29th of the season, a new record.

1919 Johnny Pesky, Red Sox icon, is born.

1919 Sherry Magee, deadball slugger, plays in his last game.

1920 The White Sox play their last game before the deluge breaks over the 1919 World Series fix. Playing in this game (which will thus be their last game ever): Buck Weaver, Swede Risberg, and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

1920 In a note rather clearly related to the above item, the Chicago White Sox all-time franchise record peaks at 314 games over .500 (1,637-1,323). They’ll tie it five days later, but never better it.

1921 Ray Powell, Boston Braves, hits three triples in one game.

1922 Hall of Fame shortstop Travis Jackson makes his big league debut.

1923 Lou Gehrig hits his first home run.

1924 New York Giants players Jimmy O’Connell and Cozy Dolan over Heinie Sand of the Phillies $500 to not bear down. This will be reported to Commissioner Landis.

1926 In the season finale for the Cleveland Indians, Tris Speaker manages his last big league game, and Bill Wambsganss (who famously had an unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series) last plays.

1928 The Giants lose 3-2 when umpire Bill Klem doesn’t call interference in a play at the plate even though it was blatant. Cub catcher Gabby Hartnett had the runner in a bear hug to keep him from scoring.

1928 Hall of Fame manager Al Lopez makes his debut as a catcher.

1928 Lefty Grove strikes out the side on nine pitches in the first inning against the White Sox.

1928 Red Ruffing has his worst Game Score: 0. His line: 8 IP, 17 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 4 BB, and 8 K. He got the complete game.

1930 Babe Ruth gets his 21st sacrifice hits of the year. He’ll never have another one in his career. I’ve heard that baseball changed the definition of a SH, and apparently it happened in the 1930-31 off-season.

1930 Cub slugger Hack Wilson gets his 56th homer of the year, which will be an NL record until 1998. After the game, team manager Joe McCarthy resigns.

1931 Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons has his worst start ever: 2.2 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 1 BB, and 1 K for a Game Score of –2.

1931 Hall of Famer Edd Roush plays in his last game.

1931 Lefty Grove makes his last start of the year, and gets killed. He allows five runs on eight hits in three innings. The loss drops his record to 31-4 and his ERA rises from 1.92 to 2.06. The league ERA is 4.38 that year. As great as his year was, he was even greater until this last game.

1931 Hall of Fame skipper Wilbert Robinson manages his last game. His team wins, giving him a career record of 1,399-1,398. Good thing for him his team won their last two games.

1933 Carl Hubbell wins his 100th game, giving him a record of 100-64. After today, he’ll be 153-90 for the rest of his career.

1935 Every game in the AL is rained out.

1935 The Cubs win their 21st straight game, clinching the NL pennant in the process.

1936 Boston releases veteran outfielder Heinie Manush, and Bing Miller.

1938 Joe McCarthy manages his 2,000th game. His record: 1,218-760.

1938 Hank Greenberg homers twice in a game for the fourth time in 17 days, and the 11th time this season. He has 58 homers, but will belt no more in the last five games of the year.

1938 On the 15th anniversary of his first home run, Lou Gehrig belts his 493rd and final one.

1940 In a big game in the AL pennant race, the Indians and Tigers meet. Cleveland fans dump a basket of tomatoes on the Tigers, knocking out catcher Birdie Tebbetts. An umpire threatens to forfeit unless the crowd controls itself, and later says the basket hit Tebbetts so hard he feared the backstop was dead. The Tigers overcome that (and Indians pitcher Bob Feller) with a 2-0 win to clinch the flag. Feller only gave up two hits, but that was enough.

1941 Virgil Trucks, pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1941 Ted Williams goes 1-for-4, dropping his batting average on the year to .3995.

1942 Dixie Walker collects his 1,000th hit.

1942 Charlie Gehringer, Hall of Fame second baseman, plays his last game.

1942 Longtime Yankee position players George Selkirk and Red Rolfe play their last game (aside from the World Series next month).

1945 Paul Derringer, 200-game-winner, plays his last game (not including the upcoming World Series).

1946 Hal Trosky, terrific slugger whose career had been derailed by back problems, plays his final game.

1947 The White Sox release Thornton Lee, a star pitcher for them for many years.

1949 Mike Schmidt is born.

1949 For the 84th straight game, Ted Williams reaches base. His line in that time: .371/.518/.695 with 92 walks and 19 strikeouts.

1950 Whitey Ford loses his first big league game on a walk-off home run. He’ll only allow one more walk-off home run in his career. He’s now 9-1 lifetime.

1950 Exactly thirty years after their all-time franchise peak, the White Sox franchise cumulative record reaches it’s all-time low, 109 games under .500 (3,716-3,825). They’ll tie that level early next year, but never be worse. Thus their record in the past 30 years has been: 2,079-2,052.

1951 Warren Giles becomes new NL president, replacing Ford Frick.

1952 Eddie Mathews becomes the last Boston Brave to hit three home runs in a game.

1953 Skipper Steve O’Neill wins his 1,000th game. His record: 1,000-784.

1953 Fred Hutchinson, pitcher, plays his last game. He is a pitcher-manager this year, the last pitcher-manager in big league history.

1953 The St. Louis Browns lose their final game, 2-1 in 11 innings to the White Sox. It’s also their 100th loss of the season. Next year they’ll become the Baltimore Orioles.

1957 Seals Stadium owners agree to rent the facility to the Giants until Candlestick Park is ready.

1959 Sparky Anderson plays his final game. I bet he looked old even then.

1960 Four-decade player Mickey Vernon plays in his last game.

1961 Bill Mazeroski hits his only regular season walk-off home run.

1961 Sandy Koufax sets a new NL record (since 1900 anyway) with 269 strikeouts in a season. The old record was 267 by Christy Mathewson. That said, Koufax loses the game despite a Game Score of 76, the second highest mark for someone stuck for the loss all season. LA loses 2-1 on a pair of unearned runs.

1963 Cincinnati pitcher John Tsitouris tosses his third straight shutout. He holds opponents to a mere eight hits over that span.

1963 Houston breaks out their super-young lineup, with an average age of 19 years and four months in the starting lineup. 15 rookies appear in the game, which they lose 10-3 to the Mets. The kiddie korps includes: Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, and Rusty Staub.

1963 Johnny Logan plays in his last game.

1964 Randy Hundley, catcher and father of a catcher, makes his big league debut.

1967 Jim Bunning suffers his fifth 1-0 loss of the year, this one in 11 innings to Houston. Bunning will end the season with a 17-15 record despite a 2.29 ERA and six shutouts.

1968 Clay Carroll becomes the last Cincinnati Reds reliever to toss nine inning in one stint out of the bullpen.

1968 Larry Jackson, 200-game winner, plays in his last game.

1968 Dick Howser, manager of the 1980s Royals, plays in his final game.

1968 Eddie Mathews appears in his last regular season game. He’ll appear in the World Series with his Tiger teammates.

1968 Reggie Jackson has his worst day at the plate, going 0-for-5 with five strikeouts, his only five-K game.

1968 Johnny Bench endures his worst WPA game: -0.477 WPA. He was 1-for-6 with a double but two GIDPs, as the Giants beat the Reds 3-2.

1969 Jerry Reuss makes his big league debut. Of all the four-decade players, he’s the one who most barely makes it. He has this one game in the 1960s, and one in the 1990.

1969 Jim Maloney nearly tosses a no-hitter. A Joe Morgan third-inning infield single is the only hit he allows, as the Reds top the Astros 3-0.

1970 Reggie Jackson belts his 100th home run.

1972 Don Sutton tosses his third straight shutout. His line in this span: 29 IP, 13 H, 0 R, 9 BB, 25 K.

1972 Bob Boone makes his big league debut.

1973 The Reds suspend Bobby Tolan for insubordination. It has been a series of incidents – scuffles with club personnel, going AWOL for two days in August, and growing a beard in violation of team facial hair policies.

1973 On his last pitch of the season, Nolan Ryan gets his 383rd strikeout, setting a new record.

1974 There’s a clubhouse confrontation between Gaylord Perry and Frank Robinson in Cleveland over a story quoting Perry saying he deserved more money than Robinson.

1974 The Royals release Orlando Cepeda.

1974 Ken Griffey Sr. hits the rare walk-off sacrifice hit in a 4-3 Reds win over the Giants.

1974 Jim Palmer has his best game, according to both WPA and Game Score. His line: 12 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 BB, and 5 K for a 1.023 WPA and 93 Game Score. Opposing him, Milwaukee Brewer starter Jim Colborn does even better, tossing 13 scoreless inning. The deadlock is only broken in the 17th inning, when Baltimore scores on a walk-off error. Ouch.

1975 Catfish Hunter matches his personal best with 12 strikeouts in one game.

1975 Veteran relief Lindy McDaniel appears in his last game.

1975 Veteran starting pitcher Claude Osteen appears in his last game.

1976 Don Sutton tosses his 15th consecutive Quality Start, a personal best streak he’ll later tie. His numbers in this span: 12-1 W-L, 129.2 IP, 85 H, 21 R, 19 ER, 34 BB, and 78 K for a miniscule 1.32 ERA.

1977 Jimmy Wynn appears in his final game.

1977 Vicente Padilla, one of the only pitchers to beat all 30 teams, is born.

1979 Carlton Fisk hits the first of four walk-off home runs in his career.

1979 Starting pitcher Jon Garland is born.

1979 Roy White plays in his final contest.

1979 George Scott appears in his last big league game.

1980 Tiger backstop Lance Parrish does something rare for a catcher – hit two triples in one game.

1981 La Marr Hoyt becomes the last White Sox to pitch nine innings in relief. It’s only happened twice in all baseball since then. The manager is Tony LaRussa, not normally known for giving his relievers long outings. In the first inning, Oakland belted eight straight singles, which brought Hoyt in. Hoyt rallies the team from a 5-0 deficit to an 8-5 win.

1981 Former 20-game winner Ed Figueroa appears in his last game.

1982 Sparky Lyle appears in his last game.

1983 Four days after his 300th win, Steve Carlton loses his 200th decision. He’ll be 29-44 in the remainder of his career.

1986 Jack Morris tosses a complete game 10-inning shutout as the Tigers beat the Yankees, 1-0. It’s an early taste of Morris’ Game Seven magic in 1991. The Yankee starter is a young Doug Drabek.

1986 Royals pitcher Dennis Leonard appears in his last game.

1986 Texas beats California 1-0 in a game featuring only five hits, three by Texas and two by California. The winning pitcher is Charlie Hough, who earlier in the season lost a 1-0 game to California on an unearned run after Hough had a no-hitter entering the bottom of the ninth. So today’s 1-0 win is revenge for the earlier tough 1-0 loss.

1987 Bert Blyleven walks the first batter of the game for the first time since April 29, 1980, 216 starts ago for him.

1987 It’s a rough outing for Chuck Finley, who walks in a run in two different innings.

1987 Phil Niekro appears in his last big league game.

1988 Ron Guidry makes his last appearance in a major league game.

1989 Doyle Alexander appears in his last game. For a long time, he’ll be the last pitcher to throw over 200 innings in his final season.

1989 Tony Gwynn has a pair of sacrifice hits in one game for the only time in his career.

1990 Bob Boone, on the anniversary of his first game, plays in his last game.

1992 It’s a big day for veteran catchers to retire, as both Rick Dempsey and Hall of Famer Gary Carter last see action. In Dempsey’s game, fellow longtime Oriole Mike Flanagan pitches, and it’s his last game, too.

1992 Randy Johnson fans 18 in a no-decision. His line: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, and 18 K.

1995 In his final start of the regular season, Greg Maddux wins his 150th decision. His record: 150-93. He’ll go 205-134 from here on out.

1996 Garret Anderson gets six hits in a 15-inning game. He’s the first Angel to ever get six hits in a game.

1996 Mike Henneman appears in his final game.

1996 Ken Griffey Jr. endures maybe his worst game: 0-for-4 with a quartet of Ks. He has two other four-K games, but had a hit in each of them.

1996 Roberto Alomar spits in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck in an Orioles-Blue Jays game.

1997 Infielder Greg Gagne appears in his last game.

1997 Randy Johnson finally gets to 20 wins in a season, albeit in a rather odd way. The Mariners are up 7-2 after four innings and manager Lou Piniella yanks the starting pitcher to let Johnson pitch relief. Since the starter only went four innings, he’s ineligible for the decision, thus it falls on Johnson.

1998 Dennis Martinez appears in his last game.

1998 Paul Molitor, ageless Hall of Famer, plays in his last game.

1998 Mark McGwire gets two home runs in a game for the second day in a row, fourth time in September, and 10th time all season.

1998 Neifi Perez belts a walk-off home run off Robb Nen. Not normally known for his offensive firepower, this will be Perez’s only walk-off hit of any sort in his career. Colorado 9, San Francisco 8.

1998 A Pirates-Reds game features two sets of brothers: Aaron and Bret Boone, as well as Stephen and Barry Larkin.

1999 In a Tigers-Royals game, the Tigers wear the numbers of all-time great players. Outfielder Gabe Kapler has no number, in honor of Ty Cobb (who played in the era before uniform numbers).

2001 Harold Baines plays in his final game.

2001 When the Cubs play their first home game since 9/11, Sammy Sosa homers in the first inning, and runs around the bases with a miniature American flag the first base coach had stashed just for this occasion.

2001 Kevin Tapani plays in his final big league game.

2002 Chuck Knoblauch, All-Star second baseman who fell victim to a bad mental block, plays in his last game.

2003 The Tigers avoid infamy. Sitting on 119 losses, they fall behind 8-0 to Minnesota, but rally for a 9-8 win on a walk-off wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. The wild pitch is thrown by Minnesota reliever Jesse Orosco, in what turns out to be the last pitch of his 24-year, 1,252-game career.

2003 Todd Hundley, on the 39th anniversary of his dad’s first game, appears in his last game.

2003 Ryan Madson makes his big league debut.

2006 Jeff Kent gets his 500th double.

2006 Jeromy Burnitz plays in his last big league game.

2006 Pedro Astacio makes his last big league appearance.

2007 Jim Thome becomes the fourth hitter to join the 2,000 strikeout club.

2008 Greg Maddux appears in his last game, and notches career win no. 355.

2008 Jeff Kent plays in his last big league contest.

2008 Paul Lo Duca appears in his final major league game.

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Comments

  1. Detroit Michael said...

    Love the idea that Gabe Kapler, a Jewish player, honored Ty Cobb, somewhat notorious as a bigot.  The times changed, Ty, so deal with it whereever you are.

  2. Steve I. said...

    Hey, Chris,
    Here’s a link
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Sacrifice_hit
    to changes in the SH/SF rule.  I think it’s generally accurate, although I seem to recall there were also some differences between the NL and AL in various years.  (The years 1926-30 were the era of the super-sac-fly rule, when the batter was credited with a sacrifice for any fly out that advanced a runner.)

  3. Dave said...

    “1950 Exactly thirty years after their all-time franchise peak, the White Sox franchise cumulative record reaches it’s all-time low, 109 games under .500 (3,716-3,825). They’ll tie that level early next year, but never be worse. Thus their record in the past 30 years has been: 2,079-2,052.”

    That can’t be right.  But I am too lazy to fix the math!

  4. Chris Jaffe said...

    Drew – I think I just tranposed the 5 & 0 in the loss number.  Too lazy to figure it for sure.

    Jim G.—good to know.  Thanks.

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