90th anniversary: Walter Johnson’s 3,000th K

Ninety years ago today, a baseball milestone was reached for the first time. It was on July 8, 1923 that Walter Johnson became the first pitcher to strike out his 3,000th batter.

The best strikeout pitcher of his generation, Johnson entered the game with 2,996 Ks in 4,904.1 innings pitched. Against the White Sox, Johnson would fan four in eight innings to get to the big round number of 3,000.

Strikeouts were rarer then than now. In 1923, Johnson would lead the American League in strikeouts with just 130. In fact, no AL pitcher had fanned 200 in a season since 1916, when Johnson did it, with 228. No American Leaguer would do it again until Lefty Grove in 1930, and after that not until Bob Feller in 1938.

But Johnson didn’t pitch in the 1930s. He pitched in the 1910s, when strikeouts were more common. From 1910-16, he fanned more than 200 batters each year, including a pair of seasons over 300. He dominated the strikeout list, leading the league 12 times. Nolan Ryan led the league in Ks only 11 times.

When Johnson topped 3,000 Ks, only five other pitchers were even over 2,000: Cy Young, Tim Keefe, Christy Mathewson, Rube Waddell and Eddie Plank.

By 1960, only seven more pitchers had joined the 2,000 K club (Grove, Fller, Pete Alexander, Early Wynn, Bobo Newsom, Warren Spahn, and Dazzy Vance,) and none of them were over 2,300 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Johnson stood over 3,500 strikeouts. A generation had passed and no one had even remotely threatened to join him in the rarefied air.

Things finally began to shift in the 1960s. Strikeout rates rose across baseball, and a crop of young pitchers emerged. When Jim Bunning retired in 1971, he passed Cy Young for second place on the all-time strikeout list, though he fell short of 3,000, with 2,855.

It took over a half-century, but eventually Walter Johnson finally had company in the 3,000 K club, as Bob Gibson joined him on July 17, 1974. Once the dam had been breached, a generation of World War II babies and baby boomers flooded in. A decade after Gibson, there were seven more members of the club: Gaylord Perry, Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Don Sutton and Phil Niekro. In fact, in 1983, Perry, Ryan and Carlton all passed up Johnson for first place all time.

But all that lay in the future. It’s a testament to Johnson’s dominance as a strikeout artist that it took a half-century for any other pitcher to join him with 3,000 Ks. Sure, the lower overall strikeout rate in the opening decades of the lively ball era played a key role as well, but the man topped the league in strikeouts more than anyone else ever. Making it to 3,000 Ks is quite the milestone in any era—and Johnson was the first to do it, 90 years ago today.

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.

Day-versaries

4,000 days since Carl Everett smacks two home runs in one inning for Texas.

5,000 days since Colorado trades Dante Bichette (along with cash) to the Reds for Jeffrey Hammonds and Stan Belinda.

7,000 days since California League shortstop Neifi Perez pulls off the rare unassisted triple play.

8,000 days since Tim Raines launches his 100th career home run.

8,000 days since Paul Molitor belts the first of two career walk-off home runs.

8,000 days since Ron Kittle plays in his final game.

20,000 days since Warren Spahn throws a complete game two-hit shutout in Game Four of the 1958 World Series for a 3-0 win over the Yankees. Milwaukee now leads three games to one, but New York will sweep the next three games to become world champions for a final time under Casey Stengel.

30,000 days since Ken Boyer is born.

Anniversaries

1880 The Chicago Cubs win their 21st straight game.

1890 Ivey Wingo is born. He’ll play for 17 seasons as a catcher.

1898 Pete Donahue throws a no-hitter in a 5-0 Phillies win over the Braves.

1900 Hall of Fame outfielder Jesse Burkett hits two inside the park home runs in one game. This isn’t the first time he’s done that, either.

1900 Jouett Meekin, an effective workhorse pitcher in the 1890s, appears in his last game.

1901 Cupid Childs, a fantastic second baseman during his prime, plays in his final major league contest.

1901 Cardinals fans beat up umpire Hank O’Day after they lose 7-5 to Brooklyn.

1902 A’s player Danny Murphy collects six hits in one game.

1907 When Dodgers fans throw beer bottles at Cubs first baseman Frank Chance, he throws them back at the crowd—and cuts the leg of one fan as a result. The cops need to escort him off the field.

1911 Rube Marquard, Hall of Fame pitcher, hits his only career home run.

1912 All things must end. After beginning the year 19-0, Rube Marquard finally loses, dropping his record to 19-1. It’s still the longest winning streak to open a season.

1921 White Sox pitcher Dickie Kerr (one of the Clean Sox in the 1919 World Series) steals home in a 4-1 win over New York.

1921 Star Tigers outfielder Harry Heilmann blasts a homer that supposedly goes 610 feet.

1921 The Pirates announce that fans can keep foul balls.

1926 Cocky Eddie Collins gets his 500th career sacrifice hit. No one else in history has more than 400, let alone 500.

1927 Babe Ruth hits his ninth of 10 career inside the park home runs.

1932 Legendary manager Joe McCarthy works his 1,000th game. His record so far is 587-404.

1933 The Giants release what’s left of former star pitcher George Uhle.

1934 Max Bishop draws eight walks in a doubleheader, tying his own record.

1934 Willie “Sug” Cornelius of the Chicago American Giants throws a no-hitter versus the Pittsburgh Crawfords and their star pitcher Satchel Paige.

1939 Mickey Vernon makes his major league debut.

1941 It’s the most famous All-Star Game ever, with Ted Williams hitting a walk-off home run to win it for the AL.

1942 The Cubs purchase pitcher Lon Warneke for $35,000 from the Cardinals.

1945 After an eight-year hiatus, Babe Herman returns to the big leagues. He singles in his first at bat—but then trips over first base. He scrambles back there to safety.

1947 Frank Shea becomes the first rookie to win an All-Star Game. He is the pitcher of record as the AL wins, 2-1.

1949 The Giants break the color barrier, as Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin both debut. Previously just the Dodgers, Indians and sort of the Browns had integrated. I say “sort of” with the Browns because they signed two players (including Thompson) in hopes of getting huge crowds, and when that didn’t happen, they were quickly cut and the team remained all white for several years.

1950 It’s one of the most clutch shots ever. Pirates pinch-hitter Jack Phillips hits a walk-off grand slam with his team down by three. That’s never happened before and has happened only once since (on May 20, 2010: a pinch-hit, walk-off slam for a one-run win.

1951 The all-time cumulative franchise record for the St. Louis Browns falls 1,000 games under .500 (3,314-4,314). It’ll spent 18 years under that, until the Earl Weaver Orioles lift them up.

1951 Red Schoendienst homers from both sides of the plate in one game.

1952 In a first, the All-Star Game is curtailed due to weather. The NL wins 3-2 in five innings at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

1953 Monte Irvin sets a personal best with seven RBIs; he goes 2-for-5 with a double and home run.

1955 Joe DeMaestri of the KC A’s gets six hits in an 11-inning game.

1956 Marginal pitcher Tommy Lasorda appears in his last big league game.

1956 On the third anniversary of his first major league grand slam, Monte Irvin hits his fourth and final one. It’s one of seven homers the Giants hit in a 16-1 demolition of the Pirates.

1957 Baseball’s lords elect Ford Frick to another seven-year term as commissioner when his current contract expires in 1958.

1960 The Reds sign amateur free agent Pete Rose.

1960 Fred Hutchinson manages his 1,000th game. His record is 461-531.

1962 Frank Robinson scores five runs in one game for the only time in his career. He’s 4-for-6 with a walk, a double, and a home run in Cincinnati’s 12-11 13-inning win over Houston. The Reds use nine pitchers in that game.

1962 Stan Musial hits three home runs in one game.

1964 Sandy Koufax wins his 100th decision, for a career record of 100-69 and counting.

1965 Joe Morgan gets six hits in a game, including two home runs. It’s the first time any expansion team has a player get six hits in a game.

1966 Mickey Mantle blasts two home runs out of the park. It’s the fourth time in 11 days he’s done that.

1966 Big Willie Stargell legs out his second career inside the park home run. He’ll never do that again.

1969 Former World Series winning manager Bill “Rough” Carrigan dies at age 85.

1969 Former Yankees third baseman Red Rolfe dies at age 60.

1970 Jim Ray Hart becomes the third player in a week to hit for the cycle. He collects six RBIs in an inning, something no one had done since Fred Merkle in 1911.

1972 John Hiller, Tigers reliever, returns to the mound 18 months after suffering a heart attack.

1974 Gaylord Perry completes his 12th straight start. He’s 11-1 with a 1.24 ERA in that span.

1975 Veteran AL skipper Ralph Houk manages his 2,000th game. His record is 1,051-942 and counting.

1978 Omar Moreno gets a first inning single—and that’s the only hit the Pirates get all day against Cardinals starter Silvio Martinez.

1979 Ben Oglivie becomes the first Brewer to hit three home runs in one game.

1979 The only thing between Luis Tiant and a perfect game is Rickey Henderson, as he singles in the fourth inning against the crafty Red Sox veteran.

1979 Tigers pitcher Dan Petry makes his big league debut.

1979 Great Royals relief ace Dan Quisenberry makes his major league debut.

1981 Wild Bill Hallahan, Cardinals pitcher from the 1930s, dies.

1983 Billy Martin wins his 1,000th game as manager. His record is 1,000-814.

1984 Veteran managers Chuck Tanner and Dick Williams square off against each other for the 200th time. In the divisional era, it’s one of just two managerial pairings to face off that many times. The other is Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker.

1984 Nolan Ryan has one of the worst outings of his career. His line: 1.1 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, and 1 K for a Game Score of 7.

1985 Marge Schott becomes CEO and president of the Reds.

1987 Veteran infielder Rick Burleson appears in his last game.

1988 Bud Black has some control problems on the mound: He hits three batters in the fourth inning.

1990 Tommy Lasorda suffers his 1,000th career loss. His record is 1,138-1,000 at the moment.

1990 Eddie Murray is hit by a pitch for the final time in the major leagues. He has 4,038 more plate appearances, but no more HBP.

1990 The Angels take a quick 7-0 lead ver Milwaukee before things fall apart on them and they lose 20-7.

1992 According to WPA,this is the worst game of Willie Randolph’s career. He’s 0-for-4 with a K and a GIDP for a –0.637 WPA.

1993 Barry Bonds belts his 200th home run.

1993 Former star second baseman Bill Doran appears in his last game.

1993 Red Sox shortstop John Valentin pulls off the rare unassisted triple play.

1994 Alex Rodriguez makes his major league debut as an 18-year-old Mariners shortstop.

1995 Houston beats the Padres 3-2 in 17 innings in a weird game. They both score once in the first, never from the second to 15th, and then one each in the 16th.

1995 Jason Giambi smacks his first career home run.

1999 Florida trades Matt Mantei to Arizona for Brad Penny and two other players.

2000 Brewers batters fan 20 times in a 4-2 loss to the Tigers in 15 innings.

2000 Ken Griffey Jr. gets a personal best eight RBIs in a game by going 4-for-6 with a pair of homers and a double.

2001 A librarian finds a reference to “base ball” from an 1823 writing. At the time, it’s the earliest known reference to it. (Researchers have since uncovered an even earlier one.)

2003 Art Howe loses his 1,000th game as manager. His record is 1,03-1,000.

2005 Jeff Kent gets his 2,000th hit.

2005 Ageless Jaime Moyer wins his 200th decision. His record is 200-148.

2005 A line drive smacks Roy Halladay in the shin, fracturing his leg. He’ll miss the rest of the year.

2006 Jason Vargas has the longest relief outing in Marlins history: 6.1 innings.

2008 Oakland trades Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for Matt Murton, Sean Gallagher and two other players.

2009 Mets batter Alex Cora hits a foul ball off the chin of ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews. She suffers minor bruises but is otherwise OK.

2009 Texas Rangers slugger Andruw Jones hits three homers in one game.

2009 The longest hitting streak of Scott Rolen’s career peaks at 25 games.

2010 Tampa releases the once highly touted Hank Blalock.

2011 Phillies reliever Juan Perez strikes out the side on nine pitches against Atlanta in the 10th inning to nail down a 3-2 win.

2012 In the top of the fourth of a Rangers-Twins game in Texas, a sudden and huge thunderclap strikes just outside the stadium, sending most of the on-field personnel scurrying for safety because they have no idea what that loud boom was. A runner on first hits the deck as if avoiding gunfire.

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