April 17th in baseball history: A mamouth tape measure home run by Mantle

"Ground control to Major Tom" 

WASHINGTON, D.C. | APRIL 17, 1953- Imagine someone hitting a ball the length of almost two football fields! Sportswriters, and others who claim to know, believe 21-year old Mickey Mantle did that on this date in 1953. The prevailing belief is that the blast traveled an estimated 565 feet out of old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. where the old Washington Senators (today's Minnesota Twins) were hosting the New York Yankees.

Mantle wasn't a superstar yet. At this stage of his career, he was a young, inconsistent ‘can miss' switch-hitter from Commerce, Oklahoma.

Yogi Berra had walked just before Mantle came to bat with two outs in the 5th. The switch hitter was batting right-handed. On a 1 and 0 pitch, Mantle crushed the ball. According to those present, it not only cleared the regular fence, it sailed over a 55 foot wall 70 feet behind the left center field fence! No one had ever done that before.

It hit off a scoreboard on top of the back wall, and sailed out of view. A ten-year old boy found it in a back yard 105 feet further back. Baseball-Almanac.com is skeptical of the 565 foot estimate. It believes the actual distance is more like 510 feet, still, an awesome display of power.

Almost overlooked in the same game were some of the all-around talents Mantle had early in his career. He dragged a bunt for a single and stole a base. Before a series of nagging injuries, and the toll of many nights on the town, Mantle was clocked at 3.1 seconds from the left-handed batter's box to first. One of the fastest home-to-first times ever recorded.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
About Mickey Mantle 
April 17, 1953 boxscore 

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April 16th in baseball history: Home run in first MLB at bat

Off on the right foot

DETROIT, MICHIGAN | APRIL 16, 2014 - What a way to start a career. On this date in 1929 Cleveland Indians outfielder Earl Averill hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He hit an 0-2 pitch off Detroit's Earl Whitehill to help the Indians beat the Detroit Tigers 5 to 4 in 11 innings.

That first at bat turned out to be an indicator of a stellar career for Averill. He had 18 home runs and 96 RBIs that first year, ended up with 238 career home runs, was 6 time all-star, and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

As spectacular as it is to hit a home run in your first major league at-bat, it has not been a great omen for everyone who's done it. According to Baseball-Almanac, 113 rookies got the ultimate hit in their first at bat (26 of them on the first pitch), but 21 never hit another major league home run.

Then there is Tommy Milone. He homered in his first at-bat for the Washington Nationals in 2011, but it's unlikely he'll hit many more. Milone is a pitcher, and is now in in the American League (Oakland A's) where pitchers only bat in interleague play.

The first American League player to hit a home run in his first at bat, Luke Stuart of the St. Louis Browns, not only never hit another, he only had two more major league at bats.

The first at-bat home run hitter with the most career home runs is Gary Gaetti who finished with 360. Second is Jermaine Dye who retired with 325.

Contributing Source:
First at-bat HRs

Jermaine Dye

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April 15th in baseball history: Jackie's first game

The color line is broken

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK | APRIL 15, 1947 - As the movie "42" depicted, Jackie Robinson became the first African American major league baseball player of the modern era. The first big league pitcher Robinson faced was Johnny Sain of the Boston Braves. Robinson went hitless, but handled 11 chances at first base to help the Brooklyn Dodgers (today's Los Angeles Dodgers) beat the Boston Braves (today's Atlanta Braves) 5-3.

As the description first African America of the "modern era," implies, Jackie Robinson was not first Black major leaguer. There were a few others, but you had to go back to the late 1800s to find them. An unwritten "gentleman's agreement" created a color barrier in major league baseball from roughly the late 1880s until 1947.

Many point the finger at Chicago White Stockings (the modern day Cubs) star Cap Anson for leading the charge to exclude Blacks. The story is, Anson refused to take the field in an 1884 exhibition game against the Toledo Blue Stockings because they had an African American catcher.

Even if true, Anson was certainly not alone in his bigotry. By the end of the decade the "gentleman's agreement" was in force barring teams from signing Black players. The color barrier lasted until the Dodgers' general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1947.

Ironically, the Black player Cap Anson reportedly threatened a boycott over was probably the smartest man on the field. Moses Fleetwood Walker studied Greek, French, German, Latin and math at Oberlin College in Ohio before going to law school at the University of Michigan.

  • Jackie's brother Mack Robinson was also an exceptional athlete. He came in second behind Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany.

Contributing Sources:
Spalding's World Tour, Chapter 3, "Going West," by Mark Lamster, 2006

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April 14th in baseball history: Fisk gives new fans a thrill

Fisk has a BLAST

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS | APRIL 14, 1981 - Carlton Fisk had little trouble getting acclimated to his new “Sox”. He hit a grand slam home run in the home opener for his new team, the White Sox, after eleven years with the Red Sox. The blast helped Chicago beat the Milwaukee Brewers 9-3.

Fisk’s move from Boston to Chicago was the result of a strange turn of events. He became a free agent after the 1980 season when the Red Sox failed to mail his contract to him by the deadline. He ended up signing with the White Sox for which he played the next thirteen years – a longer stint than he had in Boston.

Fisk finished his career with 376 home runs, 1330 RBI and was an 11 time all-star. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.

Contributing Sources:
April 14, 1981 box score/play-by-play
Carlton Fisk Stats

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April 13th in baseball history: A 3rd Major League is launched

Federal League's short but impactful life

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND | APRIL 13, 1914 - A third major league began play on this date in 1914. The Baltimore Terrapins defeated the Buffalo Blues 3 to 2 before 27,140 fans. The insurgent Federal League put teams in eight cities, including four where the National or American leagues already had teams. It lured a handful of players from the established leagues, including marquee names Joe Tinker and Three Finger Brown, by waving wads of cash at them. Shoeless Joe Jackson was reportedly offered four times his salary to jump to the new League. The National and American Leagues reacted by throwing more money at the likes of Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Walter Johnson to keep them where they were.

The Federal League didn't appear to be a fly-by-night operation. All eight teams had new stadiums. Attendance was comparable to the NL and AL.

The FL was also trying to beat the established major leagues in court. It sued the American and National for being unfair monopolies. The parties eventually settled. As part of the agreement, the owner of the Chicago Whales, Charles Weeghman, was allowed to buy the National League Chicago Cubs. The ballpark he built for the Whales became the Cubs home and would later be known as Wrigley Field.

Other FL players and teams were absorbed into the National or American League, but not all. The owners of the Baltimore franchise weren't happy with the settlement and sued. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Major League Baseball saying it was exempt from antitrust laws, a ruling which for the most part remains in effect today.

  • The Federal League's inaugural season had teams in Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Buffalo and Indianapolis
  • The judge who presided over the Federal League's lawsuit against Major League Baseball was Kennesaw Landis, who later became the first commissioner of baseball.

Contributing Sources:
Chicago Tribune, Baltimore, Maryland,
April 14, 1914
More on the Federal League

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