June 24th in baseball history: Hero's welcome for traded Brewer

'Stormin' Gorman Returns

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN | JUNE 24, 1983 - More than 46,000 fans squeezed into Milwaukee County Stadium on this date in 1983, most of them there to see the other team's centerfielder. In an outpouring of affection rarely shown pampered, high-salaried pro athletes - especially from the opposing team - Milwaukee Brewers' fans showed their appreciation for one of their most beloved players, Gorman Thomas. He had been traded to the Cleveland Indians 18 days earlier. Fans were furious that he was no longer a Brewer.

Early in his career fans were often furious that Thomas was a Brewer. He had a low batting average and struck out a lot. During the 5-season span from 1974 - '78, Thomas was up and down from the big team to the minors, spending the entire '77 season at Spokane. His break out year was 1978 when he hit 32 home runs and drove in 86 runs. During the 5 seasons from ‘78 to ‘82, Thomas averaged 35 home runs and 98 runs batted in, and was a key part of the Brewers' 1982, and only, World Series team. Thomas also turned out to be an excellent centerfielder.

It was as much Thomas' persona and early failures as his slugging that endeared him to Brewer fans. He was the epitome of Milwaukee - a tough looking, but easy-going, lunch pail carrying, mutton chopped throwback who could have been any one of thousands of working stiffs in this blue collar town if he wasn't a major league baseball player.

Thomas was as devastated by the 1983 trade from the Brewers as the fans were infuriated. It brought him to tears, but he got a chance to finish his career as a Brewer in 1986. ‘Stormin' Gorman Thomas was inducted into the Brewer Walk of Fame in 2004.

The Milwaukee Journal, June 25, 1983, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Baseball Cube: Gorman Thomas

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June 02, 1941: Gehrig's battle ends

The Iron Horse surrenders

RIVERDALE, NEW YORK | JUNE 2, 1941 - Lou Gehrig died on this date in 1941. It seemed like only yesterday that the Iron Horse first baseman for the New York Yankees began his streak. In fact, it was yesterday, 16 years earlier, that the 21-year old Gehrig was told to grab a bat and pinch hit for shortstop Paul Wanninger.

Gehrig would play in every game from that date in 1925 until 1939 when a mysterious illness forced him out of the lineup and killed him two years later. It's sadly ironic that the anniversary of Lou Gehrig's death is the day after the anniversary
of him beginning his record-breaking string of consecutive games played.

Gehrig died of a rare disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In a matter of months, this solid, rock of a man became a helpless weakling who had difficulty walking. Gehrig finally took himself out of the lineup on May 2nd, 1939. Who knows how long the streak would have been had his strength, agility and drive not been zapped by what's become known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."

At the time, and for more than a half century after, Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak was thought to be unreachable. It was broken by Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles in 1995.

The New York Times, Riverdale, NY, June 3, 1941
For more information on ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)

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March 18th in baseball history: 1st franchise move in 50 years

Braves' move signals major shift

CansecoST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA | MARCH 18, 1953 - The Boston Braves got official permission from the other MLB owners on this date in 1953 to relocate to Milwaukee. It was the first franchise move in major league baseball since 1903 when the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York City to eventually become the Yankees. It opened the flood gates.

Expansion and relocation were in the air. As Braves owner Lou Pernini put it, "The country has changed in the last 75 years. You can't deny Los Angeles and San Francisco are major league in every respect, and so are Montreal, Baltimore and some other cities."

The next season the St. Louis Browns packed up and moved to Baltimore to become a reincarnation of the Orioles. By 1958 the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively. The Milwaukee Braves moved again in 1966 to Atanta, where they remain. Montreal and several other cities, such as Seattle, Anaheim and San Diego eventually got new teams. By 1972 there were 30 major league teams in two leagues, more than double the number the two leagues started with.

Pernini also thought back in 1953, "A third major league is the only answer for the future." That has not come about. In fact, in 2001 there was discussion among the owners about contraction - eliminating teams. That has not occurred either.

Contributing sources:
The Associated Press, St. Petersburg, FL, March 19, 1953, by Jack Hand
MLB team histories 

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March 16th in baseball history: Mexico shocks USA

Beat at your own game

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - In a shocker, Mexico eliminated the United States from the first World Baseball Classic on this date in 2006. With the likes of Alex Rodriquez, Johnny Damon and Vernon Wells on the U-S team Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 in Anaheim.

Roger Clemens took the loss. The winning pitcher was Culiacan, Mexico native Oliver Perez, at the time a 5-year major league veteran, but certainly no Roger Clemens.

The United States' mediocre record was 3 wins and 3 losses. The team had an impressive .337 team batting average and 3.13 ERA in the first round, but slipped in both categories in round two - .242 batting average and 4.32 ERA.

Japan ended up beating Cuba to win the 2006 Classic.

Contributing sources:

The New York Times, March 17, 2006, Anaheim, CA 
2006 World Baseball Classic results

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March 15th in baseball history - Spring training hot-spot: Indiana

Staying close to home

VARIOUS LOCATIONS | MARCH 15, 1945 - More spring training camps opened on this date in 1945 to prepare for the season, but not in the hot-spots you'd expect. The country was still in the midst of World War II and travel restrictions forced teams to train close to home.

Indiana turned out to be a popular place.

The New York Yankees - Atlantic City, New Jersey
The Cleveland Indians - LaFayette, Indiana
The Chicago White Sox - Terre Haute, Indiana
The Boston Red Sox - Pleasantville, New Jersey
The Philadelphia Athletics - Frederick, Maryland
The Detroit Tigers - Evansville, Indiana
The St. Louis Cardinals - Cairo, Illinois
The Chicago Cubs - French Lick, Indiana
The Pittsburgh Pirates - Muncie, Indiana

... Just to name a few.

Major League Baseball also drastically limited exhibition games at the urging of The United States Office of Defense Transportation. Teams could only play games with other teams if they were on a direct route to their home city. Side trips were not allowed. Some teams played very few exhibition games against other teams that spring.

Contributing sources:
Spring training locations - Baseball Guru
United Press International, March 16, 1945

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