On 22 August 1989, Nolan Ryan threw a 96 mph fastball to strike out Rickey Henderson — the 5,000th strikeout of his career. Over the course of the game, Ryan struck out 13 batters and gave up only five hits, but still ended up losing to Oakland 2-0. To this day, Nolan Ryan remains the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to strike out 5,000 batters (5714 total). Coming in second is Randy Johnson, with 4875 strikeouts.
Published in 1907 in The Nashville Tennessean, this poem by Grantland Rice is the sequel of the original “Casey At the Bat.” It certainly captures the spirit of the roller coaster ride of any player’s season.
There were saddened hearts in Mudville for a week or even more;
There were muttered oaths and curses—every fan in town was sore.
“Just think,” said one, “how soft it looked with Casey at the bat,
And then to think he’d go and spring a bush league trick like that!”
All his past fame was forgotten—he was now a hopeless “shine.”
They called him “Strike-Out Casey,” from the mayor down the line;
And as he came to bat each day his bosom heaved a sigh,
While a look of hopeless fury shone in mighty Casey’s eye.
He pondered in the days gone by that he had been their king,
That when he strolled up to the plate they made the welkin ring;
But now his nerve had vanished, for when he heard them hoot
He “fanned” or “popped out” daily, like some minor league recruit.
He soon began to sulk and loaf, his batting eye went lame;
No home runs on the score card now were chalked against his name;
The fans without exception gave the manager no peace,
For one and all kept clamoring for Casey’s quick release.
The Mudville squad began to slump, the team was in the air;
Their playing went from bad to worse—nobody seemed to care.
“Back to the woods with Casey!” was the cry from Rooters’ Row.
“Get some one who can hit the ball, and let that big dub go!”
The lane is long, some one has said, that never turns again,
And Fate, though fickle, often gives another chance to men;
And Casey smiled; his rugged face no longer wore a frown—
The pitcher who had started all the trouble came to town.
All Mudville had assembled—ten thousand fans had come
To see the twirler who had put big Casey on the bum;
And when he stepped into the box, the multitude went wild;
He doffed his cap in proud disdain, but Casey only smiled.
“Play ball!” the umpire’s voice rang out, and then the game began.
But in that throng of thousands there was not a single fan
Who thought that Mudville had a chance, and with the setting sun
Their hopes sank low—the rival team was leading “four to one.”
The last half of the ninth came round, with no change in the score;
But when the first man up hit safe, the crowd began to roar;
The din increased, the echo of ten thousand shouts was heard
When the pitcher hit the second and gave “four balls” to the third.
Three men on base —nobody out —three runs to tie the game!
A triple meant the highest niche in Mudville’s hall of fame;
But here the rally ended and the gloom was deep as night,
When the fourth one “fouled to catcher” and the fifth “flew out to right.”
A dismal groan in chorus came; a scowl was on each face
When Casey walked up, bat in hand, and slowly took his place;
His bloodshot eyes in fury gleamed, his teeth were clenched in hate;
He gave his cap a vicious hook and pounded on the plate.
But fame is fleeting as the wind and glory fades away;
There were no wild and woolly cheers, no glad acclaim this day;
They hissed and groaned and hooted as they clamored: “Strike him out!”
But Casey gave no outward sign that he had heard this shout.
The pitcher smiled and cut one loose —across the plate it sped;
Another hiss, another groan. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
Zip! Like a shot the second curve broke just below the knee.
“Strike two!” the umpire roared aloud; but Casey made no plea.
No roasting for the umpire now —his was an easy lot;
But here the pitcher whirled again—was that a rifle shot?
A whack, a crack, and out through the space the leather pellet flew,
A blot against the distant sky, a speck against the blue.
Above the fence in center field in rapid whirling flight
The sphere sailed on —the blot grew dim and then was lost to sight.
Ten thousand hats were thrown in air, ten thousand threw a fit,
But no one ever found the ball that mighty Casey hit.
O, somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun,
And somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun!
And somewhere over blighted lives there hangs a heavy pall,
But Mudville hearts are happy now, for Casey hit the ball.
On 20 August 1938, Lou Gehrig hit a grand slam in the first inning against Philadelphia’s Buck Ross. It was the twenty-third, and final, grand slam of the Iron Horse’s career, which extended his career Major League record. The Yankees went on to defeat the Athletics 11-3. The record still stands today, tied only by Alex Rodriguez.
I can remember a sports writer asking me for a quote and I didn’t know what a quote was. I thought it was some kind of soft drink.
In a game against the Yankees on 16 August 1920, Cleveland infielder Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays. Though, according to some accounts, the pitch barely missed the strike zone, Chapman had been crowding the plate against the submarine huler. Carl Mays was also well-known as a headhunter when it came to hitters who crowded the plate, and few doubted that the inside pitch was accidental (not that Mays intended to kill, of course). After being struck by the pitch, Chapman was taken from the Polo Grounds to the hospital, where Dr. T. M. Merrigan performed surgery. He never regained consciousness, however, and Chapman died twelve hours later, at 4:40 a.m. on 17 August. It is the only case in Major League history in which a ballplayer died as a direct result of being hit by a pitch.
Of the tragedy, the New York Tribune wrote:
The extreme rarity of fatal or even of serious accidents in baseball is surprising, when one remembers the vast multitudes who play the game. Consider the number who are drowned while bathing or boating, who meet injury or death while hunting. In the light of such comparisons baseball is singularly free from untoward happenings. Ray Chapman’s fate, sad as it is, may be rated as sheer accident. It represents a coincidence not likely to occur again.
Nevertheless, the incident resulted in some rule changes in Major League Baseball. The following season, the league established a rule that required umpires to replace the baseball anytime it got dirty (prior to this, pitchers made a point to dirty them up as much as possibly, in order to make them more difficult for a batter to see). The banning of the spitball after the 1920 season was also due in part to Chapman’s death. Interestingly, however, it would be another thirty years before batting helmets would be invented.
“Beaned by a Pitch, Ray Chapman Dies.” The New York Times, August 17, 1920. The New York Times Company, 2004. Web. Accessed 17 August 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/sports/year_in_sports/08.17.html
Gorman, Bob. “‘I Guess I Forgot to Duck’: On-Field Player Fatalities in the Minor Leagues.” Nine 11.2 (Spring 2003).
“Ray Chapman.” BaseballLibrary.com. The Idea Logical Company, Inc., 2006. Web. Accessed 17 August 2013. http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Ray_Chapman_1891
On 15 August 1990, Oakland’s Mark McGwire hits a game-winning grand slam as the A’s are victorious over the Red Sox, 6-2 in ten innings. In doing so, McGwire becomes the first player to hit at least thirty home runs in each of his first four Major League seasons.
Now, I feel pretty safe in saying that I am not the only Calvin & Hobbes fan out there. So, as a treat today, I say why not combine this great comic with a great sport? Thank you, Bill Watterson!