April 22nd in baseball history: National League begins play

Start of something good

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA | APRIL 22, 1876  - The National League played its first game on this date in 1876. The Boston Red Stockings (current Atlanta Braves) beat the Philadelphia Athletics (long since defunct) 6 to 5.

The NL became known as the Senior Circuit because it existed for 25 years before the American League entered the picture.

The National League was started by several teams from the National Association, which basically went belly-up with the birth of the NL. The new league went through many changes in its first few seasons. Some teams folded and some got kicked out. It's a wonder the league survived.

According to several sources, the eight charter franchises were variations of the:

Philadelphia Athletics
Boston Red Caps
(the current Atlanta Braves)
Chicago White Stockings (the current Chicago Cubs)
Cincinnati Red Stockings or Reds
Hartford Dark Blues
Louisville Grays
New York Mutuals
St. Louis Brown Stockings

Only two of the original eight National League teams remain; the White Stockings, which are now the Cubs, and the Boston Red Caps, now the Atlanta Braves. None of the other teams made it into the 20th Century. They all folded.

Some of the names are familiar only because franchises that came along later liked to use old names. By 1900, eight franchises were in place that exist today, though some names and addresses would change, they are the Braves, Dodgers, Cubs, Reds, Giants, Phillies, Pirates, and Cardinals.

Contributing sources:
Koppett's Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004
April 22, 1876
Major League Baseball History

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April 21st in baseball history: a major league spy story

'Berg... Moe Berg'

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA | APRIL 21, 1934 - "Moe Berg" doesn't roll off the tongue like "James Bond," but unlike 007, Berg was a real spy, and a real baseball player.

Little used catcher Moe Berg of the Washington Senators played in his 117th consecutive errorless game on this day in 1934, a new American League record, but it took him four years. Good thing he had espionage to fall back on.

Moe Berg actually had a long major league career - 16 years - despite being slow and a mediorce hitter. He must have had something going for him. It was his catching. He was a very good catcher. But there was something odd about Morris "Moe" Berg. Casey Stengel, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, called Berg, "The strangest man ever to play baseball."

Let's count the ways; he was a Princeton educated intellectual who studied several languages including Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, the classical language of Southeast Asia. While in the majors he attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and later Columbia Law School, finishing second in his class. It was said of Berg, "he could speak a dozen languages but couldn't hit in any of them."

When a major league all-star team was picked to tour Japan in 1934, there was Moe Berg along with the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. It was somewhat strange that Berg would join the ranks of those future Hall of Famers. It wasn't until years later that it was learned, while on this Japan trip Berg was secretly taking pictures of Japanese shipyards and military installations. He did such a good job he went to work for the Office of Strategic Services, which later evolved into the Central Intelligence Agency - the CIA.

Berg died in 1972 in Belleville, NJ. He was 70.

More on Moe Berg
Still more on Moe Berg

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April 20th in baseball history: Ted Williams arrives

Ted Williams' career begins

NEW YORK, NEW YORK | APRIL 20, 1939 - A skinny 20-year old kid from San Diego by the name of Theodore Samuel Williams played his first major league game for the Boston Red Sox on this date in 1939. The first of the Spendid Splinter's 2,654 hits was a 400-foot double in the vast outfield of Yankee Stadium as the Red Sox lost 2-0.

Ted Williams' career spanned 19 seasons and 4 decades. He amassed some of the greatest offensive numbers of all time, despite missing three full seasons - 1943, '44 & '45 - to serve in World War II, and playing only 43 games during the 1952 and 1953 seasons because of the Korean War.

Lifetime Stats: 
.344 lifetime batting average
521 home runs
1,839 RBI
2-time Triple Crown winner (1942, 1947)
2-time MVP (1946, 1949)

Take a close look at the stats above. Williams' 2 MVP years and 2 Triple Crown years do not overlap. They're 4 separate seasons. How he could win the Triple Crown and not be named MVP is a mystery.

And consider this; until Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012, no one in either league had won it since Carl Yaztrzemski in 1967 (a 45 year span), Williams won it twice in three years. In addition, "Teddy Ballgame" won the batting crown at the age of 40.

Williams was truly larger than life; a Hall of Famer, a decorated fighter pilot, a tireless champion of charity and the loudest guy in the room almost until his death July 5, 2002.

The Boston Globe, New York, New York, April 21, 1939

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April 19th in baseball history: 33-run baseball game

Rangers - Orioles score 33 runs

ARLINGTON, TEXAS | APRIL 18, 1996 - On this day in 1996 the Texas Rangers ran up a heck of a score against the Baltimore Orioles - both teams happened to be in first place in their respective divisions at the time. The host Rangers showed no mercy in beating the Orioles 26 to 7.

The game was relatively close into the bottom of the eighth, the Rangers last at bat if they were ahead, which they were; 10 - 7. But the Rangers scored an astounding 16 runs in an 8th inning that lasted almost an hour. No team ever scored that many runs in an 8th inning. The inning consisted of a grand slam home run and an Oriole reliever walking four - three with the bases loaded.

Some sniping developed between the managers, Davey Johnson for Baltimore and Johnny Oates for Texas. Each thought the other had run up the score in previous games.

That was not the only time Texas and Baltimore were involved in a massive slugfest. Texas set a new record for the most runs scored in an American League game by beating Baltimore 30 to 3 August 22, 2007.

Runs scored records: Baseball-Alamanac
April 19, 1996 box score, etc: Retrosheet

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April 18th in baseball history: Tigers ruin christening

Inauspicious Start

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS | APRIL 18, 1991 -  The Chicago White Sox opened New Comiskey Park (now called U-S Cellular) on this date in 1991 and got clobbered. The Detroit Tigers were not polite guests. Before the Sox came to bat in the third they were down 6-0. That was nothin'. Before Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas and company came to bat in the fourth they were down 16-0, which how the game ended.

White Sox ace starter Jack McDowell didn't make it out of the second inning. Thirty-seven year old Tiger starter Frank Tanana pitched a complete game shutout. The Tigers had 19 hits. Alan Trammel, Tony Phillips and Lou Whitaker had 11 hits between them.

The White Sox had a better year than that first game hinted, going 87-75. Jack McDowell had a record of 17-10. The Tigers went 84-78, with Frank Tanana finishing 13-12. Neither team made the playoffs that year.

Contributing Sources:
April 18, 1991 box score & play-by-play

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