THIS DAY IN BASEBALL

For those of you, like me, that wonder what Steve Lyons is doing in the broadcast booth with Dave O’Brien or on the pregame or post game slots with the likes of Jim Rice, Tom Carron and Tim Wakefield, this is a special day.

I had begun to believe that NESN had committed themselves to color commentators with weird hair when they added Dennis Eckersley and his retro hairdo to Lyons on their staff. After all, why had they stuck so long with a career .252 hitter, who averaged just over 95 games a year for his nine year playing career and who brings about as much insight to the broadcasts as Jessica Mendoza does?

The fact that he played 328 games for the Sox, batting just .251, in three different stints as a team member, certainly doesn’t earn him Red Sox legend status like Rice, Remy, Wakefield, Eckersley and the rest of the other favorites NESN keeps rotating at us.

To get to that Special Day; Twenty-seven years ago today, on July 16, 1990, that same Steve Lyons, whose nickname as a player, by the way, was ‘Psycho’, playing for the Chicago White Sox, slid head first into first base to beat out a bunt by a hair. After being called safe, Lyons stood up, unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants to get the dirt out of them, apparently temporarily forgetting that there were 14,778 fans watching him from the stands. If you don’t believe me, there is a video available on line.

That and the fact that he played every position in his nine year career, seem to be the highlights of his career as a player. Anyway, the incident where he apparently forgot where he was for a short period of time and dropped his drawers was just one, and probably the least important of the memorable things that occurred on this date in baseball history.

In 1941, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in his 56th consecutive game, establishing a record that will probably never be broken. The Yankee Clipper went three for four that day, with two singles, a walk and a double and scored three runs, driven in all three times on hits by Yankee catcher Buddy Rosar.

The next day, Joe went 0-3 with a walk and the streak was over. Al Smith got him to ground to Kenny Keltner at third in the first and seventh and walked him in the fourth. Joe came up with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, with the Yankees up 4-1, and Jim Bagby replaced Smith on the mound. DiMaggio hit a ground ball to Lou Boudreau at short for a double play to end the inning and the streak. The Yankees held on despite a Cleveland two run rally in the ninth for the win.

On that same day, Ted Williams pinch hit for Skeeter Newsome and hit a sacrifice fly to drive in a run as the Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox, 2-1, at Comiskey Park. Ted was hitting .395 en route to a final .406 average for the season, the last person to hit over .400 in a season and another plateau that will probably never again be reached.

Since 1954, and off and on before that, sac flies are not charged as at bats when computing batting averages. According to Baseball Almanac, Ted came to the plate that day with 96 hits in 242 at bats and finished the day with 243 at bats, indicating that he was charged with an at bat for the sac fly. Other sources, including Baseball Reference verify that Baseball Almanac’s final numbers are correct.

There were no records kept that year of sac flies as a category so there is no way to tell if Ted had other sac flies for which he was charged. If so, his actual final average might have been much higher.

Twenty-one years earlier, on July 16, 1920, 25 year old George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth did not hit a home run. The day before, July 15th, in the eleventh inning, with the score tied 10-10 against the St. Louis Browns, he had hit a walk off home run to win the game 13-10. That homer, his 29th of the season, tied his own single season home run record set the year before, in the first 84 games of the season. He would go on to hit another 25 homers that season, establishing a new record of 54.

In 1921, he would hit 59 for a new record and, of course, in 1927, he hit 60, a record that would stand until 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61. Everyone knows that the Babe hit 714 homers in his career but most people don’t realize that he hit 603 of them from 1920 until 1932, an average of better than 46 a year for 13 years.

Rod Carew, the Minnesota Twins great first baseman, who hit .328 for his career, had a total of 3,053 career hits and was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, stole home on July 16, 1969 against the Chicago White Sox. In the second inning, with two outs and the Twins up 5-2 and the bases loaded, Carew stole home against the White Sox pitcher Jerry Nyman. It was his seventh steal of home of the season, a total exceeded only by the eight thefts of home by Ty Cobb in 1912.

Carew was known as a hitter, not as a base stealer and only stole 19 total bases that year and had only stolen a total of five bases in his first two seasons with the Twins. According to Carew’s biography, Billy Martin, who managed the Twins to the Playoffs in 1969, had talked to him about adding another weapon to his arsenal and had worked with him before the season on stealing home.

Martin was a great believer in the steal of home, seldom seen today, as a weapon. His philosophy, summed up in a quote from when he managed the Oakland Athletics, was

‘ Usually the pitcher will see you and panic. Eight out of ten times, he’ll do something wrong – rush his delivery and put the ball in the wrong place, throw the wrong pitch..’.

The baseball world was shocked on July 16, 1948, when Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey agreed to allow Manager Leo Durocher to leave the Dodgers and become Manager of the Dodgers’ hated rival the New York Giants. It was calledthe swiftest and most stunning managerial change in baseball history‘.

Durocher had managed the Dodgers for 8 full seasons and had won 738 games while losing just 565 and had brought them the pennant in 1941. At the time he left , though, the Dodgers were just 35-37 for the year and would go on to finish third in the National League.

Durocher moved from Ebbetts Field across to the Polo Ground, replacing Mel Ott, who moved into a front office job. Durocher’s Giants won 41 and lost 38 the rest of that year and finished in fifth place. ‘Leo The Lip’ would win 637 and lose 523 as Giants’ Manager in eight seasons, winning the pennant in 1951 and the World Series in 1954.

July 16th has been the date of many memorable accomplishments in baseball over the years. It will be interesting to see if NESN mentions Lyons particular ‘anniversary’ in its broadcast of the Yankee Red Sox game today.

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