February 9, 1971: Satchel Paige Inducted Into Baseball Hall of Fame

On this day in 1971, Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first player to receive that honor based on his success in the Negro Leagues.

Satchel PaigeOn this day in 1971, Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first player to receive that honor based on his success in the Negro Leagues.

The pitching prowess of Paige is the stuff of legend that credits him with more than 1,500 career wins and 300 shutouts. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know how great he really was. Racism in America kept him out of Major League Baseball and mainstream until his early 40s and his Negro Leagues’ statistics are incomplete and/or not on par with those of the Majors, especially by Moneyball-era standards. In addition, Paige pitched in Central America during his early 30s, meaning that four seasons of his most formidable years are not in the record books.

Oh, and one more thing: baseball historians note that Paige was a bit of embellisher who had didn’t mind adding to the myth that followed him.

Despite this void of historical record, there are many facts and anecdotes that attest to his greatness. Paige was universally regarded by his peers to be the most dominant pitcher of the Negro Leagues. The available statistics show that Paige completed more than half the games he started and 15 percent of the ones he pitched were shutouts.

And while Paige was not allowed to play in the Majors for most of his career, he would often play Major Leaguers in games between seasons on “barnstorming” teams, all-stars that traveled across the country playing exhibition games. Joe DiMaggio, one of the many all-time greats that Paige pitched against, called him “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

Following Jackie Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s color barrier in 1947, Cleveland Indians Owner Bill Veeck signed Paige in 1948. At 42, he set and still holds the record for being the oldest rookie in the Major Leagues. In his first season, Paige’s record was 6-1 with 2.48 earned run average (ERA) and he became the first African-American pitcher to pitch in the World Series as the Indians defeated the Boston Braves in six games.

Paige would pitch five more seasons with the Indians and St. Louis Browns, ending his career with 28-31 record and 3.28 ERA. In 1965 at the age of 59, Paige made a special retirement appearance, pitching three shutout innings for the Kansas City Athletics, making him the oldest player ever to play in a Major League game.

His greatness, even though much of it was unrecorded, put Paige in the Hall in 1971. However modern statistical analysis of the limited information available has proven Paige’s superiority as well.

Bill James, the godfather of baseball’s statistical analysis movement, has stated that a statistical analysis of Paige’s impressive Major League numbers in his 40s alone bolsters the fact that he deserves to be listed among the best ever. In 2012, Beyond the Box Score examined Paige’s available Negro League statistics, arguing that they “do more than just back some of the legend surrounding his name, but that they, in fact, add to his lore.”

February 7, 1976: Darryl Sittler Sets NHL Single-Game Scoring Record

On this day in 1976, Darryl Sittler set the NHL single-game scoring record with ten points, as his Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Boston Bruins 11-4. This is one hockey record that may never be broken.

Darryl SittlerOn this day in 1976, Darryl Sittler set the NHL single-game scoring record with ten points, as his Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Boston Bruins 11-4.  This is one hockey record that may never be broken.

In hockey, a goal is worth one point, but an assist is worth one point as well. Sittler started off the game by collecting two assists in the first period and scoring three goals and two assists in the second.

“During the second intermission, the statistician came to the dressing room and let me know that I was only one point away from Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richards record of 8 points (set on December 28, 1944),” Sittler told the Canadian Expat Network in 2012.

He then scored three third period goals. The final tally: six goals, four assists, and a record that has stood for 37 years.

Sittler would go on to play for the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings before retiring in 1985. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989.

Since Sittler’s historic night, the closest any player has come to reaching his historic mark is eight points. Wayne Greztsky did it twice and Mario Lemieux did it thrice. The last player to score eight points in a game was Sam Gagner on February 2, 2012.

 

January 29, 1936: Baseball Hall of Fame Announces First Inductees

On this day in 1936, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced its first inductees. While controversy over performance-enhancing drug use prevented any nominees from getting enough votes for induction this year, there was no discord over this first class.

Hall of Fame First ClassOn this day in 1936, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced its first inductees. While controversy over performance-enhancing drug use prevented any nominees from getting enough votes for induction this year, there was no discord over this first class. The inductees were:

  1. Babe Ruth: Perhaps the most dominant player of any era, Ruth led the Major Leagues in home runs an unprecedented 12 times. When he retired, he held the records for home runs in a career (714) and a single season (60 in 1927). As a pitcher early in his career for the Boston Red Sox, Ruth won 89 games in six seasons and set the World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings.
  2. Ty Cobb: His career spanned 24 seasons from 1905-1928. His batting average was .240 his rookie year, but remained over .300 for the next 23. Cobb batted over .400 in three seasons, his highest being .420 in 1911. His career statistics are a lifetime batting average of .367, 4,191 hits, 297 triples and 892 stolen bases.
  3. Honus Wagner: Over a 21-year career from 1897-1917 (mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates), the shortstop compiled a .329 batting average and stole 722 bases. His plaque at the Hall calls him, “The greatest shortstop in baseball history.”
  4. Christy Mathewson: Throughout his 17-year career (almost all with the New York Giants) Mathewson won 373 games as a pitcher. He exceeded the 30-win mark in four seasons and still holds the National League record for 37 wins in 1908.
  5. Walter Johnson: His sidearm fastball is the stuff of legend. During his career from 1907-1927 with the Washington Senators, Johnson won 417 games (second only to Cy Young) and still holds the record for most shutouts in a career (110).

The Hall officially opened in 1939 in Cooperstown, New York. The small town, which is 25 miles from the nearest interstate but worth the drive, was selected because it is believed to be the town where the first baseball game was played. To date, the Hall has inducted 300 members, the names of whom can be found at http://baseballhall.org/hall-famers.

January 23, 1984: Marcus Allen Runs with the Night in Super Bowl XVIII

On this day in 1984, Marcus Allen ran for 191 yards as the Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII in one of the big game’s more forgotten upsets.

Marcus Allen (Super Bowl XVIII)On this day in 1984, Marcus Allen ran for 191 yards as the Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII in one of the big game’s more forgotten upsets.

The Redskins rolled into the game as defending Super Bowl champs with a 14-2 regular season record. With an offense helmed by MVP Joe Theisman and sporting running back John Riggins and receivers Art Monk and Charlie Brown, the Redskins racked up a record 541 regular season points (it has since been broken by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings and 2007 New England Patriots). Meanwhile, the Raiders finished 12-4 and champions of the AFC West division. When the two teams met in the regular season, Washington came away with a dramatic 37-35 victory.

Had the Redskins won, they would likely have been remembered as one of the greatest teams in history. A recent NFL Network broadcast listed them as the tenth best team to never win a Super Bowl.

But as the old saying goes, “That’s why they play the game.” When the two teams took the field in Tampa, the Raiders jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Washington responded with a field goal but was dealt a death blow seconds before the end of the first half. Pinned on its own 12-yard line with 12 seconds left, Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs called a screen play known as “Rocket Screen,” a play that had worked well when the two teams met in the regular season. This time, however, Raiders linebacker Jack Squirek intercepted in the backfield and ran five yards in to the end zone for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, Allen put the final nail in the coffin with his improvised 74-yard touchdown run for which he is best remembered. The play would further be immortalized John Facenda’s NFL Films voiceover of the game (his final one) when he said, “Here comes Marcus Allen, running with the night.”

January 19, 1989: Billy Ripken Baseball Card Error Receives National Attention

On this day in 1989, a Fleer baseball card featuring Billy Ripken holding his bat with an obscenity written on it gained national attention with a story in the Los Angeles Times.

On this day in 1989, a Fleer baseball card featuring Billy Ripken holding his bat with an obscenity written on it Billy Ripken Error Fleer 1989gained national attention with a story in the Los Angeles Times.

Every set of sports cards has misprints and errors, but none caused more national ire than this card featuring Ripken, best remembered as the brother and teammate of Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., holding a bat with the word “Fuck Face,” scribbled on the bottom.” When collectors noticed the obscenity, the card’s value went from about a nickel to $500 (it’s dropped considerably since then).

So how did it happen? Well, in 2008, Ripken finally told CNBC.com how the bat ended up in his hands:

“I got a dozen bats in front of my locker during the 1988 season. I pulled the bats out, model R161, and noticed–because of the grain patterns–that they were too heavy. But I decided I’d use one of them, at the very least, for my batting practice bat.”

“Now I had to write something on the bat. At Memorial Stadium, the bat room was not too close to the clubhouse, so I wanted to write something that I could find immediately if I looked up and it was 4:44 and I had to get out there on the field a minute later and not be late. There were five big grocery carts full of bats in there and if I wrote my number 3, it could be too confusing. So I wrote ‘Fuck’ Face on it.”

“After the season was over, in early January, I got a call from our PR guy Rick Vaughn. He said, ‘Billy, we have a problem.’ And he told me what was written on the bat and I couldn’t believe it. I went to a store and saw the card and it all came back to me. We were in Fenway Park and I had just taken my first round of batting practice. I threw my bat to the third base side and strolled around the bases. When I was coming back, right before I got up to hit again, I remember a guy tapping me on the shoulder asking if he could take my picture. Never once did I think about it. I posed for the shot and he took it.

“I tried to deflect it as much as I could. It was fairly easy to say that somebody got me with a joke because people think you’re the scum of the earth for doing something like this. The truth is that there’s a lot of words like that that are thrown around in the clubhouse. They just don’t get out there.”

“I can’t believe the people at Fleer couldn’t catch that. I mean, they certainly have to have enough proofreaders to see it. I think not only did they see it, they enhanced it. That writing on that bat is way too clear. I don’t write that neat. I think they knew that once they saw it, they could use the card to create an awful lot of stir.”

“Fleer sent me some of the cards out of the goodness of their heart. I autographed them and used them for my gifts to my groomsman in my wedding (which took place that offseason). I figured, at the time, it was better than giving them a set of cufflinks. I think I devalued the cards by signing them though.”

“When people recognize me, I see the look on their face. They think of the card immediately and, before they even ask, I say, ‘Yeah, it was me.’ I don’t know if it happens daily, but, to this day, it still happens a couple of times a week.”

To correct the error, Fleer created numerous variations, which are documented at BillRipken.com, a website created by Donovan Ryan that is devoted to the card. Of the variations, one featuring a whiteout of the obscenity is the most valuable and lists for $120 in Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. The actual card that caused the ruckus goes for about $30.

 

January 18, 1954: Million Dollar Man Born

On this day in 1954, Theodore Marvin “Ted: DiBiase, Sr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He would go on to be known to wrestling fans as the “Million Dollar Man.”

On this day in 1954, Theodore Marvin “Ted: DiBiase, Sr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He would go on to be Ted DiBiaseknown to wrestling fans as the “Million Dollar Man.”

DiBiase was inspired to enter the squared circle by his wrestler stepfather, the late “Iron” Mike DiBiase. When Iron Mike died of a heart attack in the ring when DiBiase was 15 and his mother began to struggle with depression and alcoholism, he was forced to live with his grandparents. Shortly after his junior year of college, DiBiase decided to follow in his stepfather’s footsteps and entered professional wrestling under the tutelage of Terry and Dory Funk.

He joined World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 1987, under the moniker of the Million Dollar Man. One of WWE owner Vince McMahon’s talents has been to develop and market wrestlers to reflect their era of stardom and in DiBiase, he found a wrestler to represent the overblown greed of the 1980s.

In character, DiBiase would wear a diamond encrusted, self-proclaimed “Million Dollar Championship Belt”, travel in limousines and claim to live in the fast lane. He would always be accompanied by his bodyguard Virgil, who he would make perform humiliating tasks like rub his feet. His tagline was that “Everybody has a price,” and his skits would have him seeing how far his money could take him in the ring and what other wrestlers and fans would do for money.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t wrestle. While he’s best remembered for his antics, DiBiase grappled his way to the WWE Tag Team Championship three times. Injuries forced him to retire from actual wrestling in the early 90s, but he continued to work as a manager and guest commentator.

DiBiase continues to make occasional appearances at WWE events, but his main focus is his Heart of David Ministries, where he travels the world as an evangelist. His son, Ted DiBiase, Jr., wrestles for the WWE and has followed in his father’s footsteps by winning the Tag Team Championship.

 

January 15, 1939: First Pro Bowl is Played

On this day in 1939, the New York Giants beat a team of National Football League all-stars 13-10 in the first-ever Pro Bowl. The game was played at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field.

On this day in 1939, the New York Giants beat a team of National Football League all-stars 13-10 in the first-ever Pro Bowl. The game was played at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field.

Developed by Washington Redskins Owner George Preston Marshall and sponsored by Los Angeles Times Charities, this first Pro Bowl pitted the league champion against its all-stars. The Giants had won the league championship a month earlier with a 23-17 win over the Green Bay Packers. The All-Stars featured Sammy Baugh, the NFL’s top players and five members from two independent Pacific coast teams.

According to The Coffin Corner, the game was “typical of football in the 1930’s, punting on third down, scoring teams receiving the following kickoff, and a few breaks deciding the outcome of the game.”  All that being said, it was probably a better game than the Pro Bowls we see today.

The Pro Bowls continued until 1942, when they were discontinued because of travel restrictions during World War II. The game was revived in 1950 as a true all-star game, pitting the best from the American Conference against the finest of the National Conference and has remained in place since then.

January 10, 1982: The Catch

On this day in 1982, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-27 in the NFC Championship, thanks to a touchdown pass from Joe Montana that was seemingly pulled out of the air by Dwight Clark with 58 seconds left. The play, simply known as “The Catch,” was captured in one of the most iconic photographs in NFL history and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.

The Catch

On this day in 1982, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-27 in the NFC Championship, thanks to a touchdown pass from Joe Montana that was seemingly pulled out of the air by Dwight Clark with 58 seconds left. The play, simply known as “The Catch,” was captured in one of the most iconic photographs in NFL history and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week. The 49ers would go on to win Super Bowl XVI two weeks later with a 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and begin their 20-year dynastic run.

Gary Myers excellent book, “The Catch,” argues that the game and its decisive play represented the beginning of the 49ers dominance in the 1980s and the 90s and the end of the Cowboys reign under head coach Tom Landry that began in the late 1960s. Myers does concede that this hypothesis doesn’t wrap up neatly in a bow as the 49ers went 3-6 in the following strike-shortened season and Dallas made the NFC Championship game again, losing to the Washington Redskins. Both teams, however, did begin their respective trajectories in 1983. By the end of the 1988 season, the 49ers had won a third Super Bowl and Landry had been fired. Who knows how things would have been different if that pass had sailed over Clark’s head?

A couple of points that are forgotten about this game are the fact that the 49ers had to overcome six turnovers and that the Cowboys still had 51 seconds to set up a field goal after the 49ers go-ahead touchdown. On the ensuing drive, Cowboy quarterback Danny White hit Drew Pearson with a beautiful pass up the middle. Had it not been for a game-saving tackle by 49er cornerback Eric Wright, Pearson would have scored and “The Catch” would be all but forgotten.

January 2, 1978: Notre Dame Beats Texas En Route to National Title

On this day in 1978, Notre Dame walloped Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl to win the national title. For those who find themselves griping every year about how the Bowl Championship System (BCS) screws at least one deserving team over each year, this is a shining example of how arbitrary the system used to be.

On this day in 1978, Notre Dame walloped Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl to win the national title. For those who find themselves griping every year about how the Bowl Championship System (BCS) screws at least one Cotton789deserving team over each year, this is a shining example of how arbitrary the system used to be.

Going into the bowl season, Earl Campbell and the undefeated, number-one ranked Texas Longhorns were scheduled to play Joe Montana and the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl. No. 2 Oklahoma was facing off against no. 6 Arkansas in the Orange Bowl. Third-ranked Alabama was playing ninth-ranked Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, and no. 4 Michigan was pitted against Pacific-8 Champion Washington in the Rose Bowl. In theory, five teams had legitimate shot at the national title, provided that they win and everybody else lose.

Notre Dame kicked off the festivities with its crushing defeat of Texas as running back Vegas Fergus ran for three touchdowns. Michigan was unable to capitalize and dropped a 27-20 loss to Washington. Knowing that the national title was within its grasp, Oklahoma was still drubbed by Arkansas 31-6 in what would be the worst loss of Barry Switzer’s college coaching career.

Alabama, however, took care of business with a 35-6 win over Ohio State. Nevertheless, Associated Press voters were so impressed with the Fighting Irish that they awarded them the national championship.

Thirty-five years later, this is by no means a travesty (but I would not be shocked if some Alabamans are still poring over every poll from 1977 with the hope of listing another national title in Bryant-Denny Stadium). Yet is important for the fans that screamed “Death to the BCS” – and got their wish – to remember that things used to be a hell of a lot worse.