April 15, 2005
To honor the return of baseball to Washington, Dcstandup is proud to present these amazing and true anecdotes from the great history of the sport.
Add the Asterisk
Statistics are a traditional way of measuring a player's greatness. But many players in the history of baseball -- even the great Babe Ruth -- have used substances that have affected their performance, calling many of their statistics into question. In 1927, Ruth hit an astonishing 60 homeruns, but add an asterisk to that number: because Ruth was drunk for more than half of the season, his homerun total should be adjusted upwards by about 40 percent.
Relief pitcher Bill Spellman of the St. Louis Cardinals was notorious for his superstitious ways. When on a hot streak, he would make sure to repeat his daily routine down to the smallest detail, no matter how much it vexed his teammates. After pitching three no-hit innings against the Cubs one June, Spellman reviewed his day’s activities: he had skipped his morning shower; cut himself shaving; eaten a 14 oz. steak for lunch; failed to have a bowel movement; had unprotected sex with a prostitute; and passed out after drinking a fifth of bourbon in his hotel room. Spellman followed that routine exactly for the next week, and although he was not called on to pitch in that time, he did die from an impacted colon. “And good riddance,” said Stan Musial.
Some players are valued for their ability to play any position, but no one had more utility than Stan Randa of the minor-league St. Paul Pioneers. Randa could play any position in the infield or outfield -- and he did so while wearing the team's mascot costume! Between innings, he would even hop into the stands to sell cotton candy. And amazingly enough, none of this was at the request of the team: it just turns out that Randa was severely bipolar.
The Origin of the Game
Many aspects of baseball were devised by William Pulsipher of Erie, Pennsylvania, in the 1850s, including the diamond, the nine-inning format, the use of a rounded bat, and most of the ground rules. So why does Abner Doubleday get the credit for inventing the sport? Because he snuck in to Pulsipher’s house, rummaged through his desk, made love to his wife, and then stabbed Pulsipher in the throat when he came home.
Calling Your Shot
One of the boldest moves a batter can make is to call his shot – pointing to the outfield fence to predict a homerun. In May 1985, Jimmy Shingles of Johnson’s Funeral Home stepped to the plate in the fifth inning of a 7-7 ballgame. Shingles was a feared power hitter and the top RBI man in the Elkton Rec Association. On the mound was Jeff Schwartz of Plochman’s Dairy Market, an off-speed lefthander. Before Schwartz could throw his first pitch, Shingles stepped out of the batter’s box, pointed his bat to left field and loudly proclaimed, “You’re dead meat!” He then dug in close to the plate and locked his gaze directly on the southpaw. Which is why he did not see Schwartz’s father, who only had weekend visitation rights and was having a rough go of things, run up from behind to hit him in the back with a water cooler, again and again and again, even though Shingles was crying. You may have read about it in the paper.
The Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., draws the best teams from all over the world, and sometimes the teams from overseas have dominated their American hosts. In 1992, an amazing squad of youngsters from the Philippines stormed to the championship, setting tournament records for team ERA (0.21), team batting average (.580), moustaches (12), number of players' wives in the stands (10), average height (6'2"), bottles of celebratory champagne consumed (25), and average mortgage payment ($1,250).
By Any Means Necessary
Ezekiel “Four-Knuckle” Heap had a reputation as a great competitor – a man who would do whatever it took to win the game for his beloved Philadelphia Athletics. Usually, this meant doctoring the baseball with any number of rasps and substances, making his pitches erratic and nearly unhittable. But in 1919 Heap took his dedication to a new level against the Chicago White Sox. Using a small vial concealed in his glove, Heap smeared each ball with a liberal sample of the Spanish influenza. The Athletics lost the game 9-4, but severe vomiting and stomach cramps hindered the White Sox players the rest of the weekend as the A’s took the series.
Young at Heart
Cy Young is the winningest pitcher in baseball history, with 511 wins. He is also the losingest pitcher, with 315 losses. But did you know that he also holds the record for the lamest real name? That's right, DENTON TRUE YOUNG. We're on to you.
The tighter financial constraints of the minor leagues sometimes lead to deals you would never see at the top levels of the sport. In 1973, the Single-A Lafayette Mud Hens were scheduled to play a doubleheader at home against the Tuscaloosa Otters. At the conclusion of first game, Howard Lejune, equipment manager and second baseman for the Mud Hens, noticed that the team was dangerously low on baseballs and would likely be unable to play a second game. Unwilling to forfeit (as the Mud Hens were part of a tight pennant race), team owner Catfish Long quickly traded right-fielder Pete Purdue to the Otters in exchange for a bag of baseballs the Otters had stowed on their team bus. The trade turned out to be brilliant: Purdue broke his foot in the first inning of the second game, while the bag of baseballs went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a homerun. The Mud Hens won the League Championship, with the bag of baseballs hitting an astonishing .435 down the stretch.
What a Card!
Every star-eyed collector knows that rare baseball cards can be incredibly valuable. Perhaps the rarest card of all? A 1917 treasure that shows Honus Wagner hitting Kaiser Wilhelm in the teeth with a bat.
The Umpire Strikes Back
Umpires take more than their fair share of abuse, but they can also dish it out. And no one dished it out better than Dave “Cowboy” Dumars. In 1970, Ted Williams, manager of the Washington Senators and a phenomenal hitter in his own right, took issue with one of Dumars’ strike calls. “That pitch was a foot outside!” protested Williams, charging out of the dugout. “Listen, Ted,” replied Dumars. “I had sex with your wife last night.”
The surface of the sun. Also, when there's a new trivia night I'll post the date here.
A nine-day journey into the heart of madness (aka California) is being posted on the travel pages. Read it before the Big One makes it obsolete!
The third Nerdcation (TM) is in the books. Feel free to recreate this journey stop for stop with your spouse, the next time you really want to strain your marriage.