This Week in Baseball History: July 5 – 11

"Bo Knows" how to impress former presidents

July 5, 1919 – George Halas’ Last MLB Game

 

The Yankees could build an all-time great NFL roster comprised entirely of players they drafted. From John Elway to Bo Jackson to Deion Sanders, the Yankees have a great eye for football talent.

The link between pinstripes and the gridiron goes far back. Back to an age when the NFL didn’t even exist and Babe Ruth was just starting to mash dingers. I’m talking about the year 1919, when there existed a baseball player named George Halas.

Born in 1895 as the child of Bohemian immigrants based in Chicago, Halas worked hard from an early age to help him family stay out of poverty. In 1909, Halas began studying carpentry at a local high school, where he also played on the school’s baseball, basketball and football teams. He continued playing these three sports when he went to college at the University of Illinois. A .350 average during Halas’ sophomore year earned him the attention of Yankees scout Bob Connery, but Halas turned down a spring training invite and instead opted to achieve a college degree and participate in military service.

In 1919, after WW1 ended and Halas received his degree, he decided to take the Yankees up on their offer.

After signing a contract with $500 signing bonus and $400 monthly payout ($7,780 and $6,224 when adjusted for inflation), a pinstriped Halas reported to spring training in 1919.

“Halas, who comes to the club with a reputation as an all-star athlete, breezed around the outer works like a breath of spring,” said the New York Sun. “Unless we are very much wrong, this boy is going to stick, for he looks every inch the ballplayer and handles himself like one.”

Going into this spring training, the Yankees had never seen success. They had never won the pennant and finished with a sub-.500 record in 11 of 16 seasons. In 1918, the Yankees featured a middle-of-the-pack offense (their 94 wRC+ ranked 7th of 16 teams) and was headlined by Home Run Baker (127 wRC+), who was definitely past his prime.

But Halas was an exciting prospect for a team that desperately needed a spark to take them to the next level. The Chicago Tribune even said, “Every spring training trip has its phenom, and the ensign [i.e. Halas] has the earmarks of being this season’s phenom.”

In one of the last games before the regular season started, Halas slapped a ball to the center field wall off Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, and he tried stretching it into a triple. But while successfully sliding into the bag, Halas tweaked his hip, setting in motion the end of his professional baseball career before it even began.

This injury would delay the start of Halas’ 1919 season until May 6, where he batted leadoff and played right field. In his third major league AB, Halas singled off Scott Perry for his first hit.

Two days later, Halas recorded his second hit. Unfortunately for Halas, he would never record another hit in the majors.

After the Yankees lost to the Senators on July 5, Halas was batting .091/.091/.091 in 22 PAs with no RBI or runs. With Halas failing to deliver on the hype that accompanied him in spring training, the Yankees sent Halas to the St. Paul Saints in the American Association. According to the Washington Post, despite his speed and raw talent, “the big league ways [were] not for Halas.”

Throughout his life, Halas claimed that he lost his job on the Yankees due to the arrival of The Great Bambino. But Ruth would not head to the Bronx until the following season.

Ultimately, this played out for the best. Halas went on to do that whole football thing and win a lot of championships, while the Yankees did the same thing. If Halas didn’t injure himself while stretching out a triple, the modern world of professional sports could look impossibly different.

 

July 6, 1933 – The First All-Star Game

 

The baseball offseason drags on for ages, while the regular season flies by in the blink of an eye.

Can you believe that next week is All-Star week?

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as an All-Star Game. Such was life before 1933.

As the entire world struggled with the Great Depression, so did baseball. Between 1930 and 1933, attendance dropped 40 percent and, as a cost-cutting measure, players’ salaries decreased 25 percent as well. With the sport in dire financial straits, owners and players were desperate for anything that could draw fans back.

The idea actually originated with Arch Ward, sports editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 1933, Chicago hosted the World’s Fair, and Mayor Edward Kelly desired an accompanying sporting event to help promote the fair. Ward essentially designed the entire premise, including the idea that fans could vote for their favorite players via ballots included in newspapers.

This was marketed as a one-time exhibition event — the only time other than the World Series where fans could witness a battle between the best of the AL and the NL.

As the date grew closer and closer, it became clear that this would be an enormous draw.

47,595 fans filled Comiskey Park in Chicago to witness two rosters absolutely cluttered with 20 future Hall of Famers. For the AL, you had Babe RuthLefty Gomez and Connie Mack leading the charge. The NL countered with Frankie FrischCarl Hubbell and John McGraw.

The AL jumped out to an early lead and never relinquished it. The first RBI in ASG history happened on a single by Gomez, who had a career .147/.194/.159 slash line across 1,024 PAs. Of course the Great Bambino would have the first homer, a third-inning, two-run blast to deep right.

Although the NL responded with two runs on a Frisch homer in the sixth, it wasn’t enough: the AL won 4-2.

This game proved to be so popular that it turned into an annual event, one emulated by the NFL a few years later.

About one week from now on July 13, we will see the 91st Midsummer Classic in baseball history. Thank you, Arch Ward!

 

July 9, 2011 – Derek Jeter’s 3,000th Hit

 

Few modern players are as consistent as Derek Jeter.

Throughout his entire career, Jeter failed to record 150 hits in a season just twice: his rookie and penultimate years. In between those two seasons, Jeter regularly hit .300 across 150+ games. As the years went on, Jeter gradually built up his counting stats and it seemed like every day he would reach some new milestone.

On Sept. 9, 2009 Jeter became the first shortstop ever to record 200 HR and 300 SB in his career. In his very next game, he passed Lou Gehrig to become the Yankees’ all-time hits king.

By the end of the ’09 season, Jeter had 2,747 career hits. He also finished third in that year’s MVP voting hitting .334/.406/.465 across 716 PAs. Every fan knew that Jeter would become the next member of baseball’s 3,000 hit club barring a major catastrophe. The main question was how high he could go.

A lackluster 2010, which saw a career-low .270 average, gave Jeter just 179 hits (also his lowest total across a full season). Jeter began 2011 needing 74 hits to cross that illustrious 3,000 threshold.

Jeter struggled out of the gate. In April, he slashed just .250/.311/.272, good for 23 hits. The next month was a bit better: .274/.338/.371 with 34 hits. A calf injury in mid-June put Jeter on the IL for the first time since 2003. With mounting concerns regarding Jeter’s durability and performance, the question became not “how high could he go” but rather “could he really go that high?”

During Jeter’s rehab assignment, he worked on his swing mechanics with Gary Denbo, one of his first minor league coaches back in the early 90s. Together they adjusted Jeter’s approach to emphasize greater patience. The result was a resounding success, where Jeter began hitting like he was 10 years younger.

In his first game back on July 4, Jeter went 0-for-4. The next three games? 4-for-14. And the fifth game on July 9? Well, let me tell you about that.

Jeter began the day at 2,998 career hits. The visiting Rays brought David Price to start the game. The Price isn’t always right when he plays the Yankees (career 5.04 ERA and 1.425 WHIP in 259 IP). In the first inning, Jeter dribbled a leadoff single into left field for No. 2,999. The second time he came up, Jeter made history with an exclamation point!

 

Jeter became the second player ever, after his former teammate Wade Boggs, to smack a home run for No. 3,000.

But Jeter’s day wasn’t done there. His HR may have tied the game, but the Yankees needed much more from their captain. In the fifth, trailing 3 – 2, Jeter pulled a leadoff double and ended up scoring on a Curtis Granderson single to tie the game. Another Jeter single in the sixth failed to generate a run.

In the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied at 4 – 4, Jeter recorded his fifth hit in his fifth at-bat, an RBI single up the middle to knock in the winning run.

Jeter became the second player ever besides Craig Biggio with five hits on the same day as their 3,000 hit. Here you can watch all five ABs from Jeter’s historic day:

 

After his return from the IL, Jeter hit .331/.384/.447 in 314 PAs for the rest of the year. In 2012, a 38-year-old Jeter slashed .316/.362/.429 across 740 PAs while leading the league in hits (216) for the first time since 1999.

Thank you, Gary Denbo, for your witchcraft.

 

July 11, 1989 – Bo Jackson’s ASG Home Run

 

Wow, two football legends in one article about baseball history!? What is this, a crossover episode?

In the case of Bo Jackson, he was a true baseball star as well. As the only professional athlete to earn All-Star nods in both baseball and football, prime Bo was an unstoppable two-sport force.

His athletic accomplishments sit on the boundaries of mythical lore.

 

We saw his absolute potential in 1989. First, Jackson crushed 32 HR and 105 RBI with 26 stolen bases while slashing .256/.310/.495 (121 wRC+) in 561 PAs. About two weeks after his last regular-season baseball game, Jackson rushed for 85 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries with the Los Angeles Raiders. He would finish the NFL season with 950 yards and four TDs on 173 rushes and 69 yards on nine receptions in just 11 games.

Those stats would be great for an athlete who plays either one of those sports. But Jackson had an All-Star baseball season and then immediately followed it up by recording 1,000 scrimmage yards against the best football talent of the 80s.

Wait, let’s rewind and talk about that MLB All-Star Game in 1989.

By that point, Jackson had wowed the baseball world with physical feats like breaking a bat over his head and gunning out one of baseball’s fastest players with a nigh impossible throw. In the first half of the season, Jackson’s stat line (56 R, 21 HR, 59 RBI, .263/.307/.522 in 336 PAs), absurd speed (26 SB to 5 CS) and truly ridiculous defense reflected his five-tool ceiling. Such excellence made Jackson the top vote-getter in the American League with 1,748,696 votes.

Jackson batted leadoff for the AL, set to face Rick Reuschel, a veteran 40-year-old starter in the midst of a late-career renaissance (12-3 with a 2.12 ERA and 78 K:32 BB in 140 IP). With former President Ronald Reagan accompanying Vin Scully in the booth, Jackson stepped to the plate in the first. Here is how it played out:

 

450+ feet to dead center on that pitch?! Reuschel had some great movement and location there, but Jackson was simply better. Is that really a surprise coming from Bo?

Remember that this was an era before social media and the internet. Many people only caught glimpses of Jackson’s athletic prowess via highlight reels on TV. For most baseball fans, this at-bat was their first time watching Jackson live.

Later during that same All-Star game, and as fans tried to grapple with the mammoth blast they just witnessed, the iconic “Bo Knows” commercial debuted and added to Jackson’s mythical aura.

 

Jackson finished the day 2-for-4 with 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI and 1 SB, receiving the All-Star MVP award.

It is such a shame that injuries shortened his professional sports career. A healthy Jackson could’ve been the second person ever after Cal Hubbard to earn plaques in both Cooperstown and Canton.

 

Photo by Icon Sportswire | Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & 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.

Account / Login
>