This is a wonderfully succinct, yet broad sweeping look at the history of our national pastime. If you’re looking for an introduction to the development of this wonderful game, this is a great place to start. Even if you are familiar with the game and its past, this is still a refreshing review of the game.
The New York Mets won their first franchise game on April 23, 1962, their tenth game of the season. Jay Hook pitched a five-hit complete game as the Mets defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-1, at Forbes Field. What’s more, they also broke the Pirates’ ten-game win streak with the victory.
Seventy years ago today, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers made his debut at Ebbets Field. This historic moment marked the first time in the twentieth century that an African-American played major league baseball.
Fifty years later, on April 15, 1997, President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Jackie Robinson in Shea Stadium, and Major League Baseball retired his number 42 throughout the league. “No man is bigger than baseball,” commissioner Bud Selig said, “except Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson is bigger than baseball.”
By signing Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers had ended the institutionalized racial segregation in baseball that had existed since the 1880s. Robinson endured the slings and arrows of racial slurs bravely and stoically, proving through his play on the field that blacks were just as capable as whites of playing outstanding baseball. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, there is little doubt that Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier impacted the history of America. As the world continues to face issues of hatred and discrimination today, perhaps Robinson’s example is one we should all keep in mind as we continue to strive forward.
On April 11th of the 1907 season, the Giants had their home opener against the Phillies. The game took place following a major snowstorm, and the New York grounds crew had been forced to shovel large amounts of snow to the outer edges of the field. When the Giants fell behind in the game, restless fans started hurling snowballs at one another. In spite of numerous warnings from Bill Klem, the home plate umpire, the snowball fights continued. A frustrated Klem finally called the game in the top of the ninth, and the Giants were forced to forfeit the game to the Phillies.
On March 28, 1970, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced the re-institution of fan balloting for the MLB All-Star Game. It would be the first time since 1957 that fans would get to vote on the eight position players, a practice that had been revoked after years of ballot stuffing. To prevent the problem from happening again, 26 million ballots were evenly distributed to 75,000 retail outlets and 150 minor and major league stadiums. Kuhn also announced that a special panel would determine whether ballot stuffing occurred in the voting.
Lizzie Arlington was a woman baseball player during the late-nineteenth century. She has been regarded by historians to be the first-ever professional female baseball player, though some evidence does exist that contradicts this assertion. Nevertheless, Arlington did manage to make quite a name for herself during her time.
Lizzie Arlington was actually the stage name for Elizabeth Stroud (or Stride, according to some sources), who came from Pennsylvania and grew up playing baseball with her brothers. William J. Connor discovered her pitching talent and offered her $100 per week with the intention of using her as a gate attraction at games. Arlington made her debut in 1898 with the Philadelphia Nationals reserve team. She made appearances as a pitcher and infielder with a number of teams throughout the year.
As William Connor hoped, Arlington’s involvement in professional baseball attracted larger crowds, who wanted a glimpse of this woman ballplayer, not only to see how well she played, but also to see what she wore and how she carried herself. As part of the ploy to use her as a gate attraction, on July 5, 1898 with the minor league Reading Coal Heavers, Arlington entered the field in a horse-drawn carriage with her hair done and wearing black stockings and a gray uniform with knee-length skirt.
Her abilities on the field, meanwhile, were evidently impressive, according to writers of the time. During that July 5th game, Arlington was brought in to pitch in the ninth inning with a 5-0 lead. Although she loaded the bases, she still managed to retire the side without giving up any runs and sealed the win.
Attitudes towards women playing baseball, especially professional baseball, during this time period were not particularly positive, and Arlington would find herself on the receiving end of these judgments. The Reading Eagle, for example, reported that “for a woman, she is a success.” The Hartford Courant commented, “It is said that she plays ball like a man and talks ball like a man and if it was not for her bloomers she would be taken for a man on the diamond, having none of the peculiarities of women ball players.”
Arlington’s career was short-lived, however, and her name soon disappeared from the papers. After being released from the Coal Heavers, she joined the Boston Bloomers, a women’s professional team that traveled extensively. What became of her after the Bloomers, however, seems to be a mystery.
On February 19, 1935, Lou Gehrig signed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees for $30,000. The previous season, Gehrig hit .363, 49 homers, and led the American League with 165 RBIs.