1890 – Sam Rice is born in Morocco, Indiana. A quick outfielder with a great arm, Rice will lead the American League in hits twice, in stolen bases once, and collect at least 200 hits on six occasions, while finishing in the top ten in batting average eight times. Rice will gain election to the Hall of Fame in 1963.
1920 – The Chicago Cubs give his unconditional release to Lee Magee after having learned from him a week ago that he has been betting against his team. Magee will sue the Cubs for his salary of $4,500, charging that his livelihood as a ballplayer was destroyed through the sudden canceling of his contract. The Cubs will ask for a dismissal of the suit, saying that “previous to the making of the contract the plaintiff was guilty of betting against the team of which he was a member, and sought to win bets by intentional bad playing to defeat said team.”
1923 – Future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson becomes president and owner of the Boston Braves. Mathewson purchases the team for $300,000 with New York attorney Judge Emil Fuchs and Bostonian James McDonough. The deal does not include Braves Field, which still belongs to James Gaffney. There are also 85 minority stockholders.
1943 – Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley and Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey draw up charter for the “All-American Girls Softball League”, which will eventually become the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The league, originally conceived in the belief that the major leagues would suspend play because of World War II, will operate from 1943 to 1954 around the Chicago area. When the league changes its name and switches to hardball, the pitching distance is 40 feet and bases 68 feet apart. After struggling through poor attendance in its early seasons, the league will draw over one million fans in 1948.
The U.S. Court of Appeals rules that organized baseball is a sport and not a business, affirming the 25-year-old Supreme Court ruling. This effectively dismisses the antitrust suits of Jack Corbett and former Brooklyn Dodgers minor leaguer Walter Kowalski. The $300,000 suit of Corbett, the owner of the El Paso Texans, is based on his belief that he lost money when Major League Baseball prohibited him from signing several players suspended for participation in the Mexican League. Kowalski’s $150,000 suit is based on the general principles of the antitrust and restraint-of-trade laws. Their lawyer in these cases is Frederic Johnson, who also represents player Danny Gardella in his suit against Major League Baseball.
After leading the Giants to the pennant, Willie Mays becomes the game’s presently highest paid player, signing a $100,000 contract, a ten-thousand dollar increase from last season. The 31 year-old outfielder, who slugged a major league-leading 49 home runs last year, joins Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams in inking a six-figure deal.
The era of ‘Billy Ball’ begins in Oakland when Billy Martin is hired as the manager of the A’s for $125,000. During his three-year tenure in the dugout, the fiery skipper will compile a 215-218 record and will win a division title as the first-half leader in the AL West of the 1981 strike-shortened season.
After Homer Simpson and his co-workers qualify the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s softball team for the league final, Mr. Montgomery Burns, the owner of the facility, hires nine professional MLB players, to win a $1 million bet with his Shelbyville rival. Although he hits nine home runs, the southpaw-swinging Darryl Strawberry, the only major leaguer to actually participate in the game, after Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr., Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, and Mike Scioscia are all sidelined after being involved in a series of bizarre pregame accidents, will be replaced by Homer in the last inning, because Burns wants a righty to face the opponent’s left-hander.
1992 – The episode of the animated series The Simpsons entitled “Homer at the Bat” gets its first broadcast on FOX. In the episode, Springfield Nuclear Plant owner C. Montgomery Burns hires a team of major league ringers in order to win a bet he placed on a softball game against a rival businessman. In the end, though, it’s the hapless Homer Simpson who saves the day with a walk-off hit-by-pitch. A number of contemporary major league stars, many of them future Hall of Famers lend their voices and likeness to the show, which is considered one of the classic episodes of the series.
The Yankees officially sign Dwight Gooden, who didn’t play last season as a result of being suspended for drugs, to a one-year deal with two option years. The complicated contract, necessitated by the hurler’s past addictions, calls for a salary of $1M in 1996, then $2M in 1997 and $3M in 1998, and requires the 31 year-old right-hander to be tested for drugs three times a week while participating in a 12-step program.
Longtime baseball figure Bill Rigney dies at the age of 83 after a long bout with cancer. After an eight-year playing career in the major leagues, Rigney went on to manage the New York and San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, and Minnesota Twins. Rigney also worked as a scout, executive, and broadcaster in a career that began in 1938.
Avoiding arbitration, the Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman (.283, 14, 51) agree to a one-year, $3.3 million contract. The 24 year-old third baseman is Washington’s all-time leader in almost every offensive category, including homers, RBI, runs, and hits, as well as contests played, since the franchise relocated from Montreal four seasons ago.
The A’s sign slugger Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract, ending a retirement that began last April when he prefered to hang up his spikes rather than face a 100-game suspension for violating the Major Leagues’ drug policy. He still faces a 50-game suspension before the A’s can add him to their major league roster.
2014 – Two men plead guilty to the brutal attack in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on fan Bryan Stow that left him permanently disabled following a Giants-Dodgers contest on Opening Day in 2011. The two are sentenced to four and eight years in prison, minus time served but face additional charges for weapons possession. A suit against former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt for failing to provide adequate security in the parking lot is also still pending.
2015 – Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announces a series of measures to quicken the pace of the game. Chief among them are that a batter will need to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times during an at-bat, and that the intermission between half innings will be strictly timed. Pitchers will be required to complete their warm-up pitches before there are only 30 seconds left before resumption of play, or risk forfeiting any unmade pitches. More dramatic changes, such as adding a pitch clock, are not introduced at this time. Violation of the new guidelines will result in fines, and not in game-related penalties.
2016 – The Orioles announce that they have signed free agent P Yovani Gallardo to a three-year contract worth $35 million. However, the physical exam needed to make the deal official will uncover an unspecified health issue, and five days later the Orioles will restructure the deal to two years and $22 million.
2018 – The Yankees address their lack of experienced infielders by acquiring 2B/3B Brandon Drury from the Diamondbacks, in return for a pair of prospects, IF Nick Solak and P Taylor Widener. The D-Backs immediately flip Solak and another prospect, P Anthony Banda, to Tampa Bay in return for OF Steven Souza, their second move in two days to address their failure to re-sign OF J.D. Martinez. For Tampa, the shedding of experienced players continues, as Souza is the third to leave in a span of four days, after P Jake Odorizzi and OF/DH Corey Dickerson.
1964 – Colts trade in cacti for grapefruits as they begin their first spring training in Cocoa, FL. The new facility is hailed as “state-of-the-art” but soon becomes disparaged because of poor drainage, snakes, and a spartan dormitory where the players are housed. Prankster Turk Farrell livens things up by purchasing a young alligator and slipping him into the clubhouse whirlpool.