August 10, 1889: Mickey Welch Becomes First Pinch Hitter
The first years of professional baseball saw many rules and norms that would baffle a modern-day fan. A batter could call whether he wanted a pitch high or low, and the pitcher had to oblige. Ground-rule doubles used to be scored as home runs. And one core part of baseball strategy did not even exist until 131 years ago when Mickey Welch stepped up to the plate as the first-ever pinch hitter.
— National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ⚾ (@baseballhall) July 4, 2019
“Smiling Mickey” was a 19th-century pitcher who made his debut for the Troy Trojans in 1880, just four years after the founding of the National League (and over two decades before the American League began). Welch is also known for being the third pitcher ever to get 300 wins—a feat he accomplished in just 11 seasons.
It really is interesting how different baseball in its beginning years. Seriously, could you even imagine someone getting 300 wins today in that short of a time span? Heck, the last time someone even just 200 games in a decade was Warren Spahn in the 1950s!
Welch reached the 300 win plateau on August 11, 1890. Exactly one year and one day earlier, on August 10, 1889, Welch became the first-ever pinch hitter.
Old baseball stats are incomplete, and an earlier instance of this happening could have been simply lost to time. Some sources even say that Welch accomplished this feat on September 10 rather than August 10. But according to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was on this date that Welch became the first pinch hitter in recorded history when he subbed in for his teammate Hank O’Day in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Welch, who had thrown the second-most strikeouts of the 1880s, struck out in this appearance.
August 12, 1994: The ’94 Baseball Strike Begins
There have been eight work stoppages in baseball history. The most recent and longest stoppage began on August 12, 1994, with the last game of the regular season being played one day prior.
While this event represented the culmination of decades of deteriorating relations between the MLB and the MLBPA, the strike officially began due to contentious negotiations over a proposed salary cap. The players vehemently opposed this measure, and the owners sought to run out rosters of replacement players. The two sides were at an impasse. Ultimately, the league canceled the rest of the ’94 regular season, as well as the playoffs. This strike continued for 232 days, ending on April 2, 1995 when future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled against the owners.
Even though the 144-game-long ’95 regular season proceeded as normal just days later, the effects of this strike were felt for years.
Baseball struggled to regain its popularity. The average attendance for each game had doubled from 15,403 people in 1975 to a record 31,256 people in 1994. In 1995, that figure dropped to 25,021. It took until 2006 for the average attendance to reach 31,000 again.
The ’94 season is filled with numerous “what-ifs.” Tony Gwynn had a legitimate chance to be the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. Gwynn ended the season with a .394 average, the highest single-season mark since Williams.
1994 also saw two of the best offensives seasons ever by Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell, who each won the MVP in their respective leagues with a wRC+ of 205—there are only 30 other examples of a hitter posting a single-season wRC+ of 200 or more.
The strike also led to an abrupt end to Michael Jordan’s baseball career. Jordan, who was playing for the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, did not want to be used as a replacement player for those on strike. As a result, he decided to quit baseball and return to the NBA.
Some fans were thankful that the season was canceled, as the Texas Rangers were on pace to shatter the record for worst team to ever qualify for the playoffs. The Rangers led the AL West with a 52-62 record, good (or should I say…bad?) for a .456 winning percentage.
Meanwhile, this strike crushed the hopes of the Montreal Expos, who were in the midst of the best season in franchise history with a .649 winning percentage (74-40). The Expos were seen as World Series contenders, but the cancellation of the playoffs represented the beginning of the end for the team. The Expos would never again have a winning percentage above .543, and they posted losing records in seven out of their 10 remaining seasons before they became the Washington Nationals.
August 14, 2007: Bobby Cox Breaks Record for Most Career Ejections
There are many “unbreakable” records in baseball, from Cy Young’s 511 career wins to Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games streak. But an oft-forgotten record was set on August 14, 2007 after Chipper Jones struck out looking on a ball that his manager, Bobby Cox, thought was a bit too inside.
Cox started jawing at home plate umpire Ted Barrett from the Braves’ dugout, leading to his record-setting 132nd career ejection.
This broke the mark previously held by long-time New York Giants manager John McGraw. Cox, wanting to cement his legacy, would get thrown out another 26 times before retiring in 2010. He would end his career with 158 ejections in the regular season and three in the postseason. Cox is also tied for the single-season record with 11 in 2001.
These “achievements” are unlikely to be broken. Besides Cox and McGraw, nobody has gotten 100 career ejections. If “Sweet” Lou Piniella could only get tossed 63 times, I can’t imagine anyone else will even come close to Cox. Tigers’ manager Ron Gardenhire is the active leader with 73. If Gardenhire wanted to beat Cox, he would have to keep up his current pace of 4.56 ejections a year for 20 more years.
However, some of Cox’s ejection records are within reach. Cox is the only person to be ejected in two separate World Series games—Game 3 in ’92 and Game 6 in ’96. This is still pretty difficult to do, as Dave Martinez is the only active player or coach to be ejected in a World Series.
August 15, 2011: Jim Thome Hits Home Runs No. 599 and 600
The steroid era saw countless chemically-enhanced, hot-headed personalities, but Jim Thome was neither. Rather, his friendly demeanor contrasted with his raw strength and menacing presence at the plate. His excellence both on and off the field made Thome not just one of the best hitters of his generation, but also one of the nicest people to ever play the game. And on August 15, 2011, Thome went yard twice, hitting career home runs No. 599 and 600.
Even though Thome was in his age-40 season, he was still a great hitter. The previous year, Thome hit .283/.412/.627, good for a 182 OPS+ (his second-best single-season OPS+) over 108 games. In 2011, Thome wasn’t as good, but he was still having a great season with a .256/.361/.477 line and a 131 OPS+.
Thome entered the game on August 15 in a bit of a slump, with just four hits over his previous 26 PAs. But Thome also performs better against the Tigers than almost every other team, with a 1.068 OPS over 900 career PAs.
In his first two at-bats of the day against future Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, Thome lined out and singled to center. In the sixth inning, Thome faced off against Porcello again. Porcello dealt a hanging off-speed pitch to the outside part of the plate, which Thome easily slapped over the wall in left-center field for home run No. 599.
Just one inning later, Thome was up again, this time against Daniel Schlereth with two runners on. Thome worked a 2-1 count before Schlereth dealt up a pitch with nearly the exact same movement and location that Thome clobbered for a homer in his last at-bat. Thome took the pitch and slapped it over the left-field fence for No. 600.
Thome’s trophy case is shamefully barren, but not through any fault of his own. Thome has never won an MVP and he only won one Silver Slugger. From his debut in ’91 to his retirement in ’12, Thome had the most home runs, runs, RBIs and walks of any first basemen. In fact, Thome retired with the seventh-most walks (1,747), eighth-most home runs (612) and 17th-best career OPS (.956) of all hitters.
How did he win only one Silver Slugger? Your guess is as good as mine.
Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)