This day in baseball: Intentionally walking Nap Lajoie

Going into the ninth inning against the White Sox on May 23, 1901, the Athletics were trailing 11-7, but managed to load the bases with nobody out. White Sox player-manager Clark Griffith put himself into the game and intentionally walked cleanup hitter Napoleon Lajoie, forcing in a run and cutting the lead to three.  The strategy proved successful when he induced the next three batters to ground out, thereby completing the 11-9 victory at Chicago’s South Side Park.

South_Side_Park_1907 - Wikipedia

South Side Park, 1907 (Chicago Daily News)


This day in baseball: First Sunday game in D.C.

The first Sunday baseball game ever played in the nation’s capital took place on May 19, 1918, five days after Congress voted in favor of lifting the ban in Washington, D.C. The Washington Senators defeated the Cleveland Indians, 1-0, in twelve innings in front of 15,352 fans at Griffith Stadium.

Griffith Stadium between 1909 and 1932 (Library of Congress)


This day in baseball: The first American League shutout

On May 15, 1901, Washington Senators pitcher Watty Lee threw the first shutout in American League history, blanking the Boston Americans, 4-0. Lee, a 21-year-old southpaw, would finish the season with a 16-16 record and would be responsible for two of the eight shutouts to occur in the AL’s opening season.

The game’s complete box score can be found here.

Watty Lee with Newark Indians in 1911

Watty Lee with Newark Indians, 1911 (Library of Congress)


This day in baseball: Abe Ribicoff seeks to establish National Baseball Day

On May 11, 1950, Connecticut Senator Abe Ribicoff introduced a bill to Congress to designate June 26th “National Baseball Day,” in honor of the birthday of Major General Abner Doubleday. Doubleday, of course, was at one time credited with inventing the game of Baseball. Sadly, the bill was never approved by Congress.

National Baseball Day - Twitter


Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of the early twentieth century. He was a multi-sport athlete who particularly shined in track and field, though he also had professional careers in both baseball and football.

The details surrounding the birth of Jim Thorpe aren’t entirely clear. It is generally accepted that James Francis Thorpe was born May 22 or 28, 1887, with no birth certificate found to confirm an exact date. He was born in Indian Territory near present-day Prague, Oklahoma to Hiram Thorpe, who was of Sac and Fox descent, and Charlotte Vieux, who was of Potawatomi descent. Jim Thorpe had a twin brother, Charlie, who died of pneumonia when the pair was nine years old.

Both of Thorpe’s parents were Roman Catholic, and in the Catholic Church, he was baptized Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe. Growing up, Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox, and his native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translates as “Bright Path.” Six year after his brother Charlie’s death, Thorpe’s mother also passed away, and his father would follow when Jim was just sixteen years old.

Thorpe was sent to many boarding schools and academies throughout his youth, including Sac and Fox Indian Agency School near Tecumseh, Oklahoma, Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Jim Thorpe hated his experiences in these institutions, which were set up to teach racial integration, banning students from speaking their native languages and imposing the dress of the average white American. Thorpe’s academic performance was less than stellar, but he showed tremendous promise as an athlete.

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs c 1915-1920 - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs, c. 1915-1920 (Wikipedia)

While attending Carlisle, Thorpe competed not only in track and field, but also in football, baseball, lacrosse, and even ballroom dancing. It was here that Thorpe’s athletic abilities started to garner nationwide attention, especially on the football field, where he earned All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912. However, it was in track and field that Thorpe would really leave his mark.

In 1912, Thorpe represented the United States in the Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden. He dominated in both the pentathlon and the decathlon, winning gold medals in both events. He remains the only athlete in history to accomplish this feat. What makes this accomplishment even more incredible is that Thorpe competed wearing mismatched shoes. Ahead of competition, Thorpe’s own shoes were stolen. The culprit behind the theft was never identified, but it goes to show how rampantly racism continued to persist against indigenous peoples. With no other options, Thorpe found two old, different shoes in a dumpster, one of which was larger than the other. He wore an extra sock on one foot to help the larger shoe fit better.

Jim_Thorpe,_1912_Summer_Olympics - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Summer Olympics (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately for Jim Thorpe, in 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympics. Thorpe had played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay. College players, in fact, regularly spent summers playing professionally in order to earn some money, but most used aliases, which Thorpe, unfortunately, did not do. When reports of Thorpe’s past activities were leaked by the press in early 1913, the Amateur Athletic Union decided to withdraw Thorpe’s amateur status retroactively. Later that year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously decided to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals, and awards, and declare him a professional.

In 1913, Thorpe signed to play professional baseball with the New York Giants. Thorpe played sporadically with the team for three seasons as an outfielder. After playing in the minor leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1916, he returned to the Giants in 1917 and was sold to the Cincinnati Reds early in the season. Late in that same season, he was sold back to the Giants. Once again, Thorpe played sporadically for the Giants in 1918 before being traded to the Boston Braves in May 1919.

In his major league career, Thorpe amassed 91 runs scored and 82 RBIs. Thorpe struggled against the curveball, however, and batted just .252 over his six-year big league career. In his final season, however, Thorpe did manage to attain an impressive .327 average for the season. He would continue to play minor league baseball until 1922.

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Thorpe as a member of the New York Giants (The Sporting News)

In 1915, Jim Thorpe signed a deal to play football with the Canton Bulldogs for $250 per game under general manager Jack Cusack.  Thorpe would play and coach the Canton Bulldogs during his time with the team and was considered one of the best players in the sport at the time. The Bulldogs would claim an unofficial three world championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. When the National Football League (NFL) was officially formed in 1920, Thorpe was selected to be the league’s first president. Thorpe retired from professional football at age 41, having played 52 NFL games for six teams from 1920 to 1928.

Thorpe married three times throughout his life and had a total of eight children.  After his athletic career came to an end, Thorpe struggled to provide for his family. He found it difficult to work a non-sports-related job and never held a job for an extended period of time.  On March 28, 1953, Jim Thorpe died of heart failure.

Over the years, supporters of Thorpe attempted to have his Olympic titles reinstated. On January 18, 1983, almost 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee officially reinstated Thorpe’s medals from the 1912 Games at a ceremony attended by two of his children.

In addition, Jim Thorpe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He was a Charter Enshrinee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. In 1950, he was named AP’s Most Outstanding Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century, America’s Greatest Football Player of the half-century, and the national press selected him the most outstanding athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. Thorpe was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975, and from 1996-2001, he was continuously awarded ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Century award.


Kelsie Whitmore makes Atlantic League history

In case you missed it, this past Sunday, May 1st, Kelsie Whitmore became the first woman to start in an Atlantic League baseball game. Nine days previous, Whitmore had appeared in a game with the Staten Island FerryHawks as a pinch runner, making her the first woman to play in a league associated with Major League Baseball. On Sunday, Whitmore’s mark on history went even further when she started the game against the Gastonia Honey Hunters, playing left field and batting ninth.

Kelsie Whitmore (Twitter)

Having previously played for the United States women’s national baseball team from 2014 to 2019, Whitmore just signed with the FerryHawks in April. She was given only a few hours’ notice that she would be starting in Sunday’s game, but later stated, “I wasn’t really nervous because I’ve been mentally just visualizing and getting comfortable. So at the end of the day it is still baseball, and it really felt like another day at the ballpark.”

Whitmore went 0-for-2 as the FerryHawks lost, 10-5. Nevertheless, the game marked a major feat for women in baseball. Thanks for the inspiration, Kelsie Whitmore, and may your success in baseball continue!

USA Today


This day in baseball: Honus Wagner steals his way around the bases

In the second game of a double header against the Cubs on May 2, 1909, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Honus Wagner stole his way around the bases. After reaching first on a fielder’s choice, Wagner proceeded to steal second, and then third base. On Ed Reulbach’s third pitch to Bill Abstein, Wagner took a long lead off third base. According to Chicago Tribune sportswriter Sy Sanborn, the play unfolded as follows:

Wagner timed his dash splendidly and before Bid Ed could untangle his waving arms and legs, to say nothing of his wits, he was within a jump of the pan. With that final jump he cleared the remaining distance and actually hit the plate before the ball left Reulbach’s hand. It was the cleanest, most unquestioned steal of home … ever yet accomplished.

The Pirates went on to win the game, 6-0.

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Honus Wagner in 1911 (Library of Congress)


This day in baseball: Bock Baker gives up 23 singles

In a game against the Chicago White Stockings on April 28, 1901, Cleveland Blues pitcher Bock Baker gave up 23 singles, which allowed Chicago to cruise to a 13-1 victory over the Blues. As a result, Baker was tagged with the dubious record for giving up the most singles by an American League pitcher in a game, a record that still stands to this day.

Cleveland Blues 1901 logo - sportslogos.net

Cleveland Blues, 1901 logo (sportslogos.net)


This day in baseball: The Detroit Tigers are born

On April 16, 1895, the Detroit baseball team became known as the Tigers. The team was renamed after a year of being known as the Detroit Creams, inspired by owner George Vanderbeck who boasted the Western League team would be the “cream of the league.” When Detroit Cost-free Press editor Philip Reid headlined a story, Strouthers’ Tigers Showed Up Very Nicely, the team’s new moniker was born.

Detroit Tigers logo


This day in baseball: Willie Mays’s opening season streak

On April 6, 1971 at San Diego Stadium (later known as Jack Murphy Stadium), Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants hit a home run in the first inning off Tom Phoebus of the Padres on Opening Day. This blast marked the beginning of an historic streak in which Mays hit home runs in each of the Giants’ first four games, setting a major league record. The record would later be tied by Mark McGwire (1998), Nelson Cruz (2011), and Chris Davis (2013).

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