This Week in Baseball History: August 3–9

Lightning tends to strike twice in August.

When the calendar turns over into August, the milestones pour in. Some of the best hitters of the modern era have treated the beginning of August as their personal stomping grounds. In 2007, Alex Rodriguez turned Aug. 4 into a very special date — three years later, he made it twice as special. For Barry Bonds, this week saw two of his most important career home runs. And in 1999, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs joined the same exclusive club on back-to-back days.

As we can see, when these historic hitting feats happen, they tend to come in pairs. But did you know that over 60 years ago, the All-Star Game came in pairs, too?

 

Aug. 3, 1959: Two All-Star Games, One Season

 

If you are like me and tend to aimlessly scroll through Baseball Reference in search of weird outliers or forgotten superstars, you may have noticed that something weird happened in the late 1950s-early 1960s. For example, over Hank Aaron’s 23-year-long career (’54-’76), he made the All-Star Game 25 times, only missing out in his first and last season. How is this possible?

You see, in 1959, Major League Baseball decided to switch things up. The Midsummer Classic first started in 1933 as a way to drum up support for the sport in a country that had been emotionally ravaged by the Great Depression. This was back when the only time you saw the National League face off against the American League was in the World Series. For a crowd that couldn’t wait until October to watch Washington Senators star outfielder Heinie Manush face off against New York Giants ace Carl Hubbell, this proved to be an enormous draw.

What made this event even more important was that it helped raise funds for retired baseball players who were struggling financially. Back in 1933, baseball players did not have the lucrative contracts that they are known for today — Babe Ruth was the highest paid player in the league at $52,000 ($1.03 million in 2020 when adjusted for inflation). This issue of players receiving low pay and benefits would not really change until the birth of free agency in the 1970s.

Enter 1959. The All-Star Game had been a raging success for the past couple decades, but the sport still suffered from similar financial shortfalls, especially within the players’ pension fund. Back then, nobody had multi-million dollar television deals or endorsements, and ballpark beers sold for around 6 cents not $16.

League officials searched for a solution, and they came to the same conclusion as they did in ’33:

Need money? Have an All-Star Game! Oh wait, that already happens? No problem, let’s do another!

On Aug. 3, in front of 55,105 fans who packed the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, this idea became a reality. The first game happened about a month earlier on July 7, with the National League beating the American League 5-4 in Forbes Field in front of 35,277 fans. The second matchup, which was the first ever All-Star Game on the West Coast, saw the American League get its revenge, winning 5-3. There weren’t any real differences between the two exhibitions; both featured the same coaches and essentially the same rosters. The only big change was that of the scenery.

This experiment was a relatively last-minute idea with no definite answer about whether this would be a temporary or permanent change. Yes, in the short term it did raise money for the pension fund and drew a lot of fan interest. But players argued that it made the sport less unique. The All-Star Game and World Series were so huge because they were the only times both leagues played each other. The more times these interleague games happen, the less special it becomes.

Support for two All-Star Games a year would slowly decline due to a couple reasons. The league gradually improved its financial situation, which was the initial reason for this idea. There was also significant opposition among the players and coaches, and the fans gradually became less enamored with each of these games, as they were so similar. This experiment would only go on for a couple more years, ending in 1962.

 

Aug. 4, 2007 & 2010: A-Rod Hits A-Bombs No. 500 & 600

 

Alex Rodriguez started off his career red hot, and he seemed like he was never going to slow down. He had the most career home runs in his 20s by a wide margin with 424 (second place was Ken Griffey Jr. with 382). At the pace that he was going, Rodriguez seemed like he had a legitimate shot of hitting the most home runs ever.

On Aug. 4, 2007, in the midst of his third MVP season, Rodriguez made history. He entered the day sitting at 499 home runs, which had been weighing on him for the week prior. Rodriguez was stuck in a slump, homer-less in eight straight games with a paltry three hits over his previous 36 PAs.

However, Rodriguez turned on the very first pitch that he saw, a 89 mph fastball from Kyle Davies that barreled toward the bottom inside corner of the zone. He golfed it high in the air, pausing in the batter’s box, unsure of whether it would stay fair or cut foul. With a hang-time and distance that would make Ray Guy jealous, the ball planted itself in the left field bleachers.

 

This made Rodriguez the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, at 32 years and 8 days old.

Three years later, this moment almost repeated itself.

The story was nearly the same. Rodriguez entered an Aug. 4 matchup against the Blue Jays in a rut, with 12 straight homer-less games and a  0-for-17 slump. This time, he faced off against Shaun Marcum in the first, who threw two balls to start off the at-bat. The third pitch, an 85 mph floater, glided to the outside part of the plate, and Rodriguez gladly demolished the ball to Monument Park in dead center.

 

This made Rodriguez the youngest player to hit 600 home runs, at 35 years and 8 days old.

 

Aug. 6 & 7, 1999: Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs Join the 3,000 Hit Club on Back-to-Back Days

 

When you think of the best pure contact hitters of the modern era, who comes to mind?

Undoubtedly Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs would be in that conversation. Of every hitter whose career began after 1950, Gwynn and Boggs have the first- and second-highest career batting averages with .338 and .328, respectively. Their stories have a lot of overlap, with both debuting in 1982 and going on to play exactly the same amount of games (2,440). And, in August 1999, on back-to-back days, Gwynn and Boggs became the 22nd and 23rd members of the 3,000 hit club, respectively.

Gwynn’s achievement came on Aug. 6, 1999, in the midst of his 17th straight season with a .300+ average. This day was already a special day for Gwynn. Why?

Simply put, Gwynn loves Aug. 6. Not only did Gwynn get his 2,000th hit exactly six years to the date before, but it is also his mother’s birthday. His career average on this date? .459.

Back to 1999. Gwynn faced off against Expos starter Dan Smith in the first inning, who tried to drop a breaking ball in the dirt and induce a swing-and-a-miss. Unfortunately for Smith, the ball didn’t find the dirt. Instead, Gwynn slapped the pitch, which was well below the strike zone, over the second baseman’s head into the artificial outfield turf.

 

Gwynn would go on to dominate this game, going 4-for-5 as the Padres worked out a 12-10 win.

Boggs had entered his Aug. 6 game with 2,997 hits, but he went hitless, falling behind as Gwynn celebrated. Boggs was in his last professional season, and he didn’t want to fall short of this milestone and live out a nightmare scenario like that of Bernie Mac in “Mr. 3,000.” He quickly shrugged off that performance with a great start on Aug. 7, recording two hits in the first four innings, putting him at 2,999.

In the sixth inning, he faced off against Chris Haney, who hung a 2-2 breaking ball up in the zone. Boggs turned on this one, launching it into the right field bleachers.

 

With this blast, Boggs became the first player ever to hit a home run for his 3,000th hit, a feat later matched by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

Fun fact: Remember how I previously mentioned that in the past the National League and American League rarely faced off? Gwynn and Boggs, despite their long careers and common achievements, never played each other in the regular season.

 

Aug. 7, 2007 & Aug. 9, 2002: Barry Bonds Blasts Bombs No. 756 & 600

 

The number of record-breaking home runs that Barry Bonds has — from his single-season best of 73 to his career total of 762 — must be a record in and of itself.

Y0u could also make the argument that August is Bonds’ favorite month. Not only does this feature Bonds’ highest OPS (1.084) and his most home runs (148) in any calendar month, but it also saw two of his most significant moments ever.

The first of these occurred on Aug. 9, 2002, in the beautiful ballpark haven of Oracle ParkAT&T ParkSBC Park, Pacific Bell Park. The Giants were in the hunt for the Wild Card, just 1.5 games back from Dodgers. A young Pirates starter by the name of Kip Wells was on the mound, although with Bonds at the plate, it didn’t really matter who was pitching. Wells faced off against Bonds in the 6th and delivered a 2-1 pitch to the bottom outside corner of the zone that just caught a bit too much of it. Honestly, to my eyes, it wasn’t even a terrible pitch, but anything to Bonds that wasn’t an intentional walk was a risky pitch to throw. Bonds took this opportunity to launch the ball into the batter’s eye in center.

 

With this bomb, Bonds joined the exclusive 600 home run club that featured only Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

It didn’t take long for Bonds to pass them each, one by one.

First up was Mays, who Bonds passed with No. 661 less than two years later in April 2004. In May 2006, Bonds hit No. 715 to put him above Ruth. And a bit over one year later, Bonds found himself challenging Aaron for the title of home run king.

This ultimately became Bonds’ throne following his Aug. 7, 2007, game against the Washington Nationals. While the Giants were in last place in the NL West, Giants fans did have something to be happy about, as Bonds was in yet another phenomenal season. He entered this game, in his age-42 season, sporting an incredible 1.040 OPS with 21 home runs on the year.

Bonds, who was playing in his last season, was just as terrifying at the plate then as he was in his prime. And when Mike Bacsik lobbed a 3-2 pitch at 86 mph to the inside part of the plate, Bonds knew that it was history.

 

Feature graphic designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram and Twitter.)

Alex Kleinman

Journalist who loves the Yankees and the Bears. One gives me strength, the other leads me to existential dread. When I'm not obsessing over baseball, you can find me at a concert, hiking in a National Park or chasing my dog, Frankie, who has probably stolen one of my socks.

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