Magic Johnson and Larry Bird faced each other in the NCAA championship game on March 9, 1979. Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated Indiana State, led by Bird.
The following June, the Los Angeles Lakers with the first pick in the draft, selected Johnson. Bird had already been drafted in 1978 by the Boston Celtics. Even though he had only completed his junior year, Bird was eligible because he had originally enrolled at the University of Indiana, but he dropped out during his freshman year and sat out a season.
Johnson and Bird both played their first NBA games on October 12, 1979. Bird and the Celtics opened their season against the Rudy Tomjanovich led Houston Rockets. Bird had a respectable 14 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, but he had to sit out the last 6.5 minutes, having committed five fouls. The Celtics won 114-106.
Even with Johnson’s 26 points in his debut game, the Lakers needed a Kareem Abdul Jabbar last second sky hook to edge the Los Angeles Clippers 103-102.
Cleveland Indians fans have earned the right to kvetch. Their team hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. Some might argue that the misery felt in Cleveland pales to what the Cub fnas have endured, not having won a World Series since 1908. Then again (Some folks in Chicago will consider this to be adding insult to injury.), the White Sox “just” won a World Series in 2005.
But let’s not dwell on the frustration of being an Indians fan. Instead let’s revisit the short lived glory they enjoyed in October of 1948.
The Indians didn’t exactly stroll into the World Series. They ended the regular season tied with the Red Sox. The Tribe beat the Sox in a one-game playoff to take the American League Pennant. Prior to 1948, Cleveland’s only other World Series appearance was in 1920. They won the series that year.
In 1948 the Indians faced an even more unlikely World Series opponent than themselves, the Boston Braves. The Braves hadn’t won a National League Pennant since 1914.
In the opening game of the World Series, Indians Ace Bob Feller lost a pitchers’ duel to the Braves Johnny Sain, 1-0. The Indians came back though, and won the next three games, and eventually won the series in six.
Babe Ruth – You know about his 60 home runs in 1927, his 714 career homers, and the one in 1932 where he allegedly called the shot after he met the little kid in the hospital. But did you know that he was the goat of the 1926 World Series?
The Yankees were playing the Cardinals in game seven at Yankee Stadium. New York was batting in the bottom of the ninth inning, trailing 3-2. Facing Cardinals’ reliever Pete Alexander, the Yankees’ Earl Combs started the inning by grounding out to third. Mark Koenig followed him and also grounded out to third. Then Babe Ruth stepped to the plate. At that point he was probably the leading contender to be the series MVP. He had hit three home runs in game four, and another in the third inning of game seven.
Ruth was 6-20 for the series, as he stepped to the plate. He had also walked 10 times including three previous at-bats in game seven. His on base percentage was .516. After running a 3-2 count, Alexander walked Ruth one last time.
And then as H.I. Phillips wrote in the Boston the Globe the next day –
The end came a moment later when the Babe was caught stealing second. It was a case of the behemoth mistaking itself for a gazelle.
If you define a “subway series” as a World Series in which the American League and National teams both represent the same city, then the 1906 series which pitted the Cubs against the White Sox certainly meets that definition. However while parts of the “L” had already been constructed in 1906, the trains didn’t start running underground there until 1943.
1906 was the one and only time when Cubs and White Sox played each other in the World Series. Subway series? Your call.
In 1921 and 1922 the Yankees played the New York Giants in the World Series. By that time the subway system was an integral part of New York life. But to call either of those World Series a “subway series” is a bit of stretch, since all of the games were played at the Polo Grounds.
In 1923 the Yanks and the Giants squared off in the Fall Classic for the third straight time, but this time, but this time the series moved back and forth between the brand new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. Therefore, if you define a subway series as one where you can take the subway from one team’s ballpark to the other’s, then you would be correct to say that the first subway series was played in 1923. After 1923 The Yankees and the Giants played in three more subway series (1936, 1937 and 1951.)
The Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers also played in six subway series (1941, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956.)
The most recent subway series was played in 2000, between the Yankees and the Mets.
In 1944 St. Louis hosted what was called “The Trolley Series” (St. Louis has never had a subway system.) when the Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns faced off in the World Series. As was the case in the first two Yankees-Giants series, all of the games of the 1944 World Series were played at Sportsman’s Park.
The cap that Don Larsen wore when he pitched the perfect game, is part of the collection at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. So is the catcher’s mitt that Yogi Berra used that same day. Unlike Larsen, when you go to Cooperstown, you can see Yogi’s face on a plaque on the wall. Because unlike Larsen, Yogi Berra is also a member (deservedly) of the Hall of Fame.
The total number of Major League games ever played is now well over 200,000, and Larsen’s perfect one is arguably the most memorable of them all. (We can argue about that at length in another blog post.) But if not for Larsen’s other worldly performance in game five of the 1956 World Series, his legacy would barely pierce the threshold of being a fair-to-middling journeyman pitcher.
Larsen was a 7-12 rookie in 1953 with the St. Louis Browns. He moved with the Browns to Baltimore in 1954 (where they became the Orioles) and staggered through a 3-21 season. In fairness to Larsen, the Orioles overall were a pathetic 54-100, but managed to avoid last place thanks to the Philadelphia A’s who at 51-103, were making sure they would not be missed in Philly before moving to Kansas City the following season.
During the off season between 1954 and 1955, Larsen was the “other pitcher” in a 9 for 3 trade that brought Bob Turley and Larsen to the Yankees.
It’s amazing how getting traded from a 54-100 club to one with a 103-51 record, tends to make a pitcher look good. Larsen posted a 9-2 record for the pennant winning Yankees in 1955.
He started game four of the World Series that year against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, and lasted through four innings. The Dodgers tagged him with five earned runs and the loss. Going into the game, the Brooklyn was down two games to one, but they went on to win it seven games, the only World Series that the Brooklyn Dodgers ever won.
In 1956, with the likes of Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Moose Skowron, Hank Bauer, and oh yeah – Mickey Mantle, providing support, Larsen went 11-5. He never won more games than that in a single season. Then again, Casey Stengel thought enough of him to start Larsen against the Dodgers, in game two of the 1956 World Series, a game that was also played at Ebbets Field.
The Yankees handed Larsen a 6-0 lead, but Stengel yanked him the second inning after he gave up a single and two walks. The Yankees went on to blow the lead and the game 13-8, and now trailed Brooklyn, two games to none.
The Subway Series went back to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and the Yankees bounced back winning the next two games and tied the series. Stengel decided to “go home with the girl that he brung to the dance.” Despite having only lasted a total of five and two thirds innings in his previous two World Series starts (with six walks against only two strikeouts) Larsen was the Yankees starter for game five. And of course, we know what happened.
He kicked off the 1957 season with a thud. In his first start, against the Red Sox, Larsen only managed to retire four batters, while giving up five hits and four earned runs. The Yankees wound up winning that game, so he got away with a no decision. For the entire 1957 season Larsen posted a 10-4 record. In the World Series against Milwaukee, he started and won game three, a 12-3 laugher. He was also on the mound for the start of the decisive seventh game, but this time it was the Braves Lew Burdette who made history, winning his third game of the series, while Larsen took the loss.
During their 1958 World Series rematch with the Braves. He pitched seven shutout innings and got the win in game three. Larsen started game seven and once again was opposed by Burdette. In the third inning, with the Yankees leading 2-1, he gave up a pair of singles, and Stengel decided to try his luck with his ace Bob Turley. Turley had already lost game two, won game five and saved game six, but he still had enough left to hold the Braves to one run the rest of the way. The Yankees won the game 6-2 and the series 4-3. Turley got the win and the series MVP, and Larsen had to “settle” for a second World Series ring.
In 1959 Larsen’s record was 6-7 and the Yankees finished third, their first non-pennant winning season since 1954. Before the start of the 1960 season he was traded to Kansas City. Larsen then went on to play for five more teams before calling it quits in 1967. He ended his career with a record of 81-91.
Don Larsen is to this day, probably, the most famous sub .500 pitcher in the history of baseball.
Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is the current holder of the NFL record for the most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. His streak of 54 games started on October 26, 2008 and lasted until November 29, 2012. He broke Johnny Unitas’s record of 47 games on October 7, 2012. Unitas’s record stood for almost 50 years. He first set the record on December 6, 1958. At that time the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass was 24, but Unitas kept throwing touchdown passes, extending the record until it reached 47 games on December 4, 1960.
Brees’s streak coincided with a run by Tom Brady. On the day that Brees’s streak ended 54, Brady had thrown a touchdown in 43 consecutive games, but Brady’s streak ended at 52 games when he got shut out on October 6, 2013.
Phil Niekro, at the age of 46 years, six months and five days, became the oldest pitcher to win his 300th Major League game.
The win came at the expense of the Toronto Blue Jays, in Toronto, on October 6, 1985.
Niekro didn’t exactly limp to his milestone win. He blew the Jays away on a 4-hit complete game shutout, and led the Yankees to an 8-0 win. Famous for his knuckle-ball, Niekro stifled Toronto with a full repertoire of pitches.
Twenty-one years and 299 victories into his career, Phil Niekro decided to prove he was more than just a knuckleball pitcher.
And for 26 outs Sunday, on his way to an 8-0 victory over Toronto, Phil Niekro, the knuckleballer, simply became Phil Niekro the pitcher. He threw curveballs, slip pitches, fastballs and screwballs. And for 8 innings, the Blue Jays could not touch him.
Then, on the threshold of the milestone only 18 other pitchers have achieved, sentiment took over, and the need to prove that he could win without the knuckler lost out.
“As hard as it may seem, I threw three knuckleballs, and that’s when Jeff Burroughs (the final batter) came up to the plate,” Phil Niekro said. “I figured if there’s anyway I’m going to win my 300th game by striking the guy out, I was going to do it with the pitch that won the first game for me.” Read more LA Times
He wasn’t finished yet.
Niekro’s 300th win, which came on the last day of the 1985, was far from his swan song. He won 18 more games before retiring in 1987 with a record of 318 wins against 274 losses.