“America's pastime” provides more than just an opportunity to devour hot dogs and Cracker Jacks. Trips to the ballpark are cemented in many Americans' memories, but the game of baseball has also periodically acted as a time capsule of the past century.
In the 1940s, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in a monumental moment in U.S. civil rights. Later, Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers headed west, just like thousands of other Americans.
In the 21st century, as technology became part of our everyday lives, the influence of new inventions infiltrated baseball diamonds. Baseball has always been a sort of breeding ground for science, whether it be an invention like AstroTurf, or in showing the darker sides of performance-enhancing drugs.
For many, baseball represents a certain nostalgia. New Yorkers coming of age in the 1950s can still hear the crack of the bat from Bobby Thomson's historic home run. (Those same New Yorkers, a few years later, might also remember the sting of when the beloved New York Giants left town for San Francisco). Baseball has also proven to be inspirational to many, like the children in the Dominican Republic who listened to the radio or saw newspaper clips of Juan Marichal's dominance, inspiring them to pursue their own versions of the American Dream.
Stacker compiled key moments from Major League Baseball's history over the past 100 years. Using a variety of sources from Major League Baseball (MLB) record books, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and audio and video from events, we've listed the iconic moments that shaped a sport and a nation. Read through to find out what happened in MLB history the year you were born.
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Eight members of the Chicago White Sox were found to have accepted money to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series. The “Black Sox” scandal was one of the biggest black eyes ever laid upon U.S. professional sports, and the effects of the events have been dramatized in major Hollywood films such as “Eight Men Out” and “Field of Dreams.” However, some baseball historians believe 1919 was not the first instance of players “throwing” games.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner of baseball one year after the Black Sox scandal necessitated serious reform in Major League Baseball. A former federal judge, Landis's first official action was to ban all eight accused members of the scandal from baseball, forever. During his first years on the job, sweeping out bad elements from baseball became a primary focus for Landis, a native of Millville, Ohio.
On Aug. 5, 1921, local Pittsburgh radio station KDKA aired the Pittsburgh Pirates' 8-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Radio soon became synonymous with baseball, where voices like Vin Scully, Mel Allen, and Bob Murphy charmed millions of listeners in the decades to come with soothing vocals and colorful descriptions of America's pastime.
“Gorgeous” George Sisler was named the American League's most valuable player after terrorizing opposing pitchers for 142 games for the St. Louis Browns. Sisler ended the campaign with a .420 batting average, which is third-best in modern history. Sisler also swiped 51 stolen bases, notched 18 triples, and at one point during the season he hit safely in 41 consecutive games.
After losing the previous two World Series to the New York Giants, the New York Yankees finally bested their crosstown rivals in six games. The 1923 title was the first for the Yankees, who would go on to win 26 more over the next 86 years and become the bane of the existence for baseball fans in Boston and Queens.
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Baseball's live-ball era beginning in 1920 is often looked at as a starting point for what historians consider modern-day baseball. In 1924, Texas native Rogers Hornsby hit .424 for the season, setting the modern era record. In 1942, Hornsby was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Pitchers are always looking for an extra edge. Myths have abounded for years that hurlers use everything from pine tar to other natural lubricants to put a little something extra on the ball. In 1925, the National League allowed the use of rosin bags, a seemingly innocuous aid that some pitchers believe help them grip a baseball better.
On Oct. 6, 1926, Babe Ruth became the first player to smash three home runs in a World Series game. Some accounts claimed Ruth's last homer of the day traveled over 500 feet. The three home run World Series feat would not be repeated by another person until 1977, when Reggie Jackson did so for the New York Yankees, solidifying his nickname of “Mr. October.”
The 1927 New York Yankees lineup—which earned the nickname Murderers' Row—was among the most feared to ever step foot on a diamond. Led by Lou Gehrig (47 home runs, 173 runs batted in) and Babe Ruth (60 HR, 165 RBI), the Yankees cruised to 110 wins and a World Series title. According to Major League Baseball official historian John Thorn, the nickname is either attributed to entombed villains or a dangerous New York City neighborhood.
They won nine games fewer than their vaunted 1927 season, but the 1928 New York Yankees were still one of the sport's most dominant teams. Winning 101 games, the Yankees once again swept the World Series. Babe Ruth matched his record from 1926, hitting three long balls in the Game Four clincher.
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Before 1929, numbers on the back of baseball jerseys weren't necessarily in vogue. The New York Yankees began a new trend, though, announcing at the beginning of the year that they would permanently sew digits on all of their players' uniforms. In a strange twist, the Yankees home opener was rained out, and the Cleveland Indians—who also decided to add permanent numbers—became the first team to actually wear the new style in a game.
As the New York Yankees took a quick respite from their dominance of the American League, the Philadelphia Athletics ascended to the throne. In 1930, the A's won their second consecutive World Series and their last while residing in the City of Brotherly Love. In 1955, the franchise moved to Kansas City, and 13 years later they relocated to their current home of Oakland.
On April 2, 1931, Jackie Mitchell took the mount for the Chattanooga Lookouts in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. Mitchell, equipped with a lethal curveball, struck out Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, becoming a national sensation. Later, critics tried to claim that the strikeouts were staged. Regardless, Mitchell's legend was an inspiration for young girls for decades to come.
In May 1932, the New York Yankees unveiled a memorial for Miller Huggins, manager of their famed 1920s teams. The tablet was placed beyond center field of Yankee Stadium and became the first of many tributes in the famed Monument Park. Today, the attraction features tributes to some of the game's greats like Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, and Babe Ruth, who famously “called his shot” in the 1932 World Series, pointing to where he'd hit a home run on his next swing.
For the first and only time in history, the American League and National League both had triple crown winners (leading in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in). Jimmie Foxx socked 48 home runs, drove in 163 runs, and batted .356 for the Philadelphia A's, while Chuck Klein notched 28 home runs, collected 120 RBI, and hit .368 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Like Philadelphians debating over Pat's or Geno's cheesesteaks, there was no wrong answer to who was the city's king of baseball in 1933.
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On June 9, 1934, the Washington Senators hit a record five consecutive doubles in the eighth inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox. The Senators notched one additional double in the inning, setting an American League record for most in an inning.
After spending 15 years with the New York Yankees, Babe Ruth was released on Feb. 26, 1935. Within hours, the Great Bambino signed with the Boston Braves, but his time in Beantown would not last for long. Ruth, clearly deteriorating in skill, played only 28 games and retired in May.
Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb become the first class of Baseball Hall of Famers. Johnson was the only star to not appear on 90% of ballots cast, while Cobb led all five players, garnering nomination from 98.2% of voters. The Hall would not have a player gain 100% of the vote until 2019, when Mariano Rivera became the first unanimous selection.
On Dec. 8, 1937, the Boston Red Sox swung a deal with the San Diego Padres, picking up a young slugger named Ted Williams. Although “ Teddy Ballgame” would go on to become the Red Sox's most iconic hitter, it wasn't a smooth relationship from the start. Williams was seen as unprofessional by some teammates when he arrived in camp, rubbing others in the clubhouse the wrong way for minor snafus like not tucking in his jersey.
The Bronx Bombers became the first team to capture three straight World Series titles, sweeping the Chicago Cubs in four games. October 1938 would mark Lou Gehrig's last postseason appearance, as deteriorating health prematurely ended his remarkable career.
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On May 2, 1939, Lou Gehrig took himself out of the New York Yankees lineup, ending his consecutive games played streak at 2,130. Two months later, on Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium, Gehrig bid farewell to baseball, with an iconic speech, declaring: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Gehrig's #4 was retired by the team, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two years later, Gehrig, who had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, died at his home in the Bronx.
Quarrels have been a part of baseball's history as much as peanuts and pretzels, and in 1940, in response to egregious amounts of batters being plunked, the Spalding sporting goods company created a batting helmet with ear flaps to protect hitters. In a game May 8, 1940, Brooklyn Dodgers reliever Carl Doyle not only gave up 14 earned runs on 16 hits, but he also hit four Cincinnati Reds batters. That moment spawned an intense rivalry between the two teams that carried on for decades.
Joe DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak, while Ted Williams equally owned opposing pitchers, eventually finishing the year with a .406 batting average that no one has topped since. Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Hugh Mulcahy also became the first major leaguer drafted into the United States Army for World War II.
Following Hugh Mulcahy, scores of other pro baseball players were drafted into the military. After the season, Ted Williams and Bob Feller were among the stars to go off to aid the wartime effort. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt composed a “ green light” letter that allowed Major League Baseball to continue on during the war, even believing it could help boost the nation's morale.
With Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, and others now suiting up for the military, Major League Baseball continued to make adjustments. Spring training sites were removed from parts of Arizona and Florida and spread across the eastern U.S.. In addition, team owners Branch Rickey and Phil Wrigley were among those who helped establish the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was later dramatized in the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.”
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The St. Louis Cardinals held off the St. Louis Browns in the 1944 World Series, winning the “Fall Classic,” in six games. The 1944 World Series was notable in being the first where all games were played west of the Mississippi River. Both teams also played at the same stadium, Sportsman's Park. Earlier in the year, the Browns dropped a segregation policy for their home games, allowing African-American fans to purchase tickets for any seat in the stadium.
After scouting him in the Negro Leagues and meeting with him earlier that year, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey officially signed Jackie Robinson to his team's Triple-A minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals, Oct. 23, 1945. In college, Robinson was a standout athlete on UCLA's baseball, basketball, football, and track teams. After a stint in the military during World War II, Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, where he caught Rickey's eye.
With World War II over, hordes of baseball stars returned to the field. Ted Williams, who missed three seasons, came back to the Boston Red Sox and hit for a .342 average, and led the league with 142 runs scored, which won him the American League most valuable player award. However, Williams's Red Sox fell short in the World Series, succumbing to the St. Louis Cardinals.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player in Major League Baseball history. Starring for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and led the major leagues with 29 stolen bases. In 2004, Major League Baseball anointed April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. His #42 is retired by every major league team.
When the Cleveland Indians signed Satchel Paige during the 1948 season, some critics thought the move was a publicity stunt. Paige, a star hurler in the Negro Leagues, turned 42 that July. But the wily veteran proved he was still a legendary pitcher, posting a 6-1 record and helping the Indians win a World Series title. Cleveland's lineup also boasted Larry Doby, the first African-American signed to an American League team.
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The 1949 Midsummer Classic at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn was the first to feature African-American players. Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, and Larry Doby all were named All-Stars. Robinson scored three runs in front of his hometown crowd, which was announced at 32,577.
Baseball nostalgists often yearn for the days when relief pitchers would enter from the bullpen in motorized vehicles—usually a golf cart designed like a baseball. In 1950, the Cleveland Indians used what was described as a “ little red auto” to usher in pitchers. After a long dormant period, bullpen cars made a return to the major leagues in 2018.
On Oct. 3, 1951, the New York Giants claimed the National League pennant over the rival Brooklyn Dodgers. Entering the ninth inning trailing 4-1, the Giants had already scored one run when Bobby Thomson stepped to the plate with two on. Thomson clocked a three-run homer, winning the game and sending the Giants and their fans storming around the field.
Ted Williams once again left the Boston Red Sox to serve his country, leaving behind baseball to fight in the Korean War. Later in the season, the Boston Braves signed Henry “Hank” Aaron to a contract.
In the 1954 World Series, Willie Mays made one of the sport's most memorable defensive plays, robbing Vic Wertz of an extra-base hit. Wertz, a slugger for the Cleveland Indians, drove the ball over 460 feet, but Mays tracked it down and caught the fly ball over his shoulder as his hat flew off his head. Announcers broadcasting the game, so befuddled by Mays' catch, called it “ an optical illusion.”
Fresh off a World Series championship, Willie Mays continued his amazing play from the year before, slugging 51 home runs for the New York Giants and becoming the first African-American player to reach the 50 home run milestone. At the start of the 1955 season, 13 of 16 teams fielded an African-American player. Future Hall of Famers like Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente, and Sandy Koufax all made their debuts this year.
Tied 2-2 and with the World Series headed back across the East River to Brooklyn after Game Five, the New York Yankees needed a stellar performance from Don Larsen to keep hope alive in capturing another championship. On Oct. 8, 1956, Larsen answered the call and tossed a perfect game in a 2-0 Yankees win. Larsen remains the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series.
These days, professional athletes are used to flying in the lap of luxury, but this was not always the case. Before the 1957 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first major league team to purchase their own team plane, a 44-seater with the team's name painted across the side. The next year, the Dodgers would jet out of town in a less ceremonious manner.
The Dodgers and Giants franchises broke the hearts of millions of New Yorkers, fleeing their respective homes in Brooklyn and upper Manhattan for new digs in California. The Dodgers embedded in Los Angeles, while the Giants relocated to San Francisco. An estimated 200,000 fans welcomed the Giants to the Bay Area, and Dodger blue has been synonymous with Southern California for more than 60 years.
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When the Boston Red Sox sent rookie Pumpsie Green to their minor league affiliate before the start of the 1959 season, the move caused chaos. The Red Sox were the only team to not have a minority player, and Green's demotion led to protests by the NAACP. Team owners were eventually called to testify before a state commission against discrimination. Green finally made his debut in July of 1959.
Despite being one of baseball's most revered franchises, the Pittsburgh Pirates won only two World Series in the first half of the 20th century. In the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run off New York Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry to clinch the Pirates third championship. As Mazeroski rounded the bases, fans ran on the field and congratulated him.
On the last day of the 1961 season, New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris hit his 61st home run of the year, making him the all-time single-season home run king, surpassing the 60 HR Babe Ruth hit in 1927. Maris was named the American League's most valuable player, and his Yankees won another World Series later that October.
The New York Mets played their inaugural season in 1962, replacing the void left when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left for the Golden State. The Mets colors of orange and blue were a combination of the former New York National League teams, but they did not capture the success of their predecessors immediately. The 1962 Mets are considered by baseball historians as one of the worst teams ever, finishing with a 40-120 record. The Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros), also debuted this year.
On June 15, 1963, Dominican pitcher Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants became the first Dominican hurler to throw a no-hitter in major league history. Marichal inspired a generation of Dominican pitchers ( like Pedro Martinez) and had his #27 retired by the Giants. Marichal is also enshrined in Baseball's Hall of Fame.
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With Major League Baseball expanding throughout the decade, many teams, new and old, sought upgrades to their facilities. In 1964, the New York Mets opened Shea Stadium, which would be their home for over 40 years. The Los Angeles Angels broke ground on a new home field in Anaheim, and the Milwaukee Braves agreed to a future move to a new ballpark in Atlanta. At the end of the year, the Houston franchise officially changed their name to the Astros and prepared to move into the Astrodome.
From June 8–9 in New York City, Major League Baseball held its first draft. The Kansas City Athletics tabbed Rick Monday with the first pick, while other notables such as Johnny Bench and Nolan Ryan were picked later on. Over 800 players were selected.
As the first domed stadium, the Houston Astrodome was all about looking toward the future. In 1966, the facility installed AstroTurf, a synthetic fielding surface that was supposed to help fielders combat the glare from the stadium's roof panels. Many stadiums followed suit in the years to come, and although the fake grass was easy to take care of, many players began complaining that it led to injuries (and probably more than a few nasty rug burns).
The Kansas City Athletics were allowed to move to Oakland, but western Missouri baseball fans would not be left empty handed. The American League promised to bring an expansion team to the city, as well as adding one in Seattle. Meanwhile, the National League also agreed to add two new future teams, with Milwaukee, San Diego, and Montreal as frontrunner candidates
A former Harlem Globetrotter, Bob Gibson proved in 1968 that his natural habitat was on a pitcher's mound and not on the hardwood. Gibson posted a 1.12 earned run average, the lowest in the modern era of baseball. In Detroit, Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers, as he and Gibson took home Cy Young awards. Together with other astounding achievements like Don Drysdale's six straight shutouts, 1968 is remembered as the “ Year of the pitcher.”
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In their eighth season of existence, the New York Mets transformed from laughingstocks into champions, topping the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Led by Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, the Mets became the first expansion team to win a title, setting a template for four new teams in 1969—the Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, and Seattle Pilots. Cleon Jones bent his knees to catch the final out, and scores of fans rushed the field to celebrate the return of National League baseball dominance to New York City.
St. Louis Cardinals star outfielder Curt Flood was unhappy with a proposed trade to the Philadelphia Phillies and refused to comply. Flood argued his contract violated federal antitrust laws and filed suit. Flood eventually lost but struck the first blow in bringing free agency to Major League Baseball, forever changing the landscape of the game.
The Pittsburgh Pirates fielded what is believed to be the first lineup with all minority players in 1971, featuring stars like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Dock Ellis. Later that year, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that members of the Negro Leagues elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame would receive full membership, instead of being housed in a separate wing, which was the original plan.
In his final at-bat of the 1972 season, Roberto Clemente doubled for his 3,000th career hit. Just three months later on New Year's Eve, he died in a plane crash. Clemente, as good a humanitarian as he was a ballplayer, was on his way to Nicaragua to deliver relief items after an earthquake devastated the Central American country. Clemente was 38. He was elected into Baseball's Hall of Fame the next year.
In a move that would fracture American baseball fanbases for decades, the American League agreed to start using the designated hitter. In replace of a pitcher coming to bat, each AL team could send up a position player whose sole duty was to hit and not play in the field. Ron Blomberg was the first ever DH.
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On April 5, 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run, which surpassed Babe Ruth for most of all-time. In front of an announced crowd of 53,775, Aaron blasted the ball over the left field wall off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs.
Frank Robinson was announced as the player/manager for the Cleveland Indians for the 1975 season, becoming the first African-American to hold a head managerial role in Major League Baseball. Robinson went on to hit a home run on Opening Day. In an added bonus, Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson's wife, threw out the honorary first pitch.
The Cincinnati Reds won their second straight World Series, sweeping the New York Yankees in four games. Leading the offensive juggernaut were Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, George Foster and Ken Griffey Sr. During the decade, the Reds captured four National League pennants.
Reggie Jackson catapulted himself into postseason lore, when for the New York Yankees, he hit three consecutive home runs in Game Six of the World Series, helping the Bronx Bombers capture another championship. After his third long ball, Jackson took a curtain call as fans screamed his name.
Melissa Ludtke won a lawsuit when U.S. District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled that women reporters could not be banned from major league clubhouses. Ludtke, a Sports Illustrated reporter, filed the suit against Major League Baseball in December 1977, stating her 14th Amendment rights were violated by not being allowed in clubhouses to perform her job duties. Indeed, Motley ruled that MLB's ban " substantially and directly" interfered with Ludtke's liberty to pursue her profession.
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During the 1979 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates used the Sister Sledge hit, “ We are Family” as their theme song. Boosted by those good vibes, the Pirates, led by Willie Stargell, affectionately known as “Pops,” took the World Series in seven games over the Baltimore Orioles. Stargell was also named co-most valuable player in the National League.
The Philadelphia Phillies, who were founded in 1883, captured their first World Series title in 1980, besting the Kansas City Royals in six games. The Phillies were led by Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt, who won the National League most valuable player award, and then the World Series MVP.
Fernando-mania took Los Angeles by storm in 1981, as 20-year-old rookie Fernando Valenzuela electrified crowds at Dodger Stadium with his devastating repertoire of pitches. Valenzuela won the Rookie of the Year award but not before there was a work stoppage. On June 12, the players went on strike and didn't return to the field until two months later. The season was split into two sections, with first place teams from each half meeting in the postseason.
In 1982, Cal Ripken Jr. became the everyday shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, and did not let go of his spot in the lineup for 12 years. Ripken Jr. eventually broke Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played in 1995, and played in 2,632 straight games before finally sitting on September 19, 1998. Baseball's “Iron Man” was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.
During a relatively nonchalant game on July 24 at Yankee Stadium, Kansas City Royals star George Brett hit a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning, which caught the eye of New York Yankees manager Billy Martin. The Yankees skipper noticed a large amount of pine tar on Brett's bat; after an umpire inspection, the homer was overturned, sending Brett into hysterics. Brett had to be physically restrained in one of the game's most historic outbursts.
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Three years after Fernando-mania, another National League rookie pitcher mesmerized audiences. Dwight Gooden arrived in New York and dominated opposing hitters from the time he first picked up the ball. Posting 17 wins and a league-leading 276 strikeouts, Gooden, nicknamed “Dr. K,” was named the NL Rookie of the Year.
Toward the end of the season, a number of players were called to testify before a grand jury in Pittsburgh. The testimony revealed large usage of illegal drugs by professional ballplayers, including cocaine. Several players were later suspended by Major League Baseball. Pete Rose also broke Ty Cobb's all-time hit record with his 4,192nd base knock, but Rose would soon find himself mired in scandal as well.
In the 1986 World Series, the Boston Red Sox squared off against the New York Mets. With Roger Clemens winning the regular season most valuable player award, the Red Sox looked to be in prime position to win their first championship since 1918 and led the series, three games to two. But in Game Six, Boston blew a 5-3 10th inning lead, with the Mets winning when Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball that went through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. The Mets won Game Seven, and the Red Sox remained without a title since 1918, shortly before they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
Dwight Gooden, two years after winning the Cy Young award, entered drug rehab after testing positive for cocaine use. And although it would not be revealed until years later, Pete Rose—who retired as the game's all-time “hit king” and moved into managerial roles—bet on games throughout the season. Rose's gambling came to light two years later, and he was banned from baseball.
Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, known for their thick frames and ability to send baseballs deep over stadium fences, led the Oakland Athletics to the top of the American League in 1988. But the Bash Brothers could not overcome the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, led by grizzled veteran Kirk Gibson. In Game 1 of the World Series, Gibson, battling injuries to both legs, hit an iconic home run, propelling the Dodgers to the title.
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At only 19 years old, Ken Griffey Jr. opened his rookie campaign with the Seattle Mariners by lacing a double off Oakland Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart. Griffey's father was also still an active player, making them the first father-son duo in the majors at the same time. Over the next two decades, Griffey Jr. would become a face of baseball and one of the sport's most iconic stars.
The National League, which only had 12 teams compared with the American League's 14, announced plans to expand by 1993. Buffalo, Denver, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Washington D.C. were all named finalists, with Colorado and Florida eventually gaining two new teams. All of those cities, except for Orlando, eventually landed Major League Baseball franchises.
During the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves became the preeminent franchise of the National League. It all started in 1991, when they went to the World Series, falling in a tense seven-game series to the Minnesota Twins. The Braves would make five World Series appearances in the decade, but only won one championship, led by dominant pitchers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine.
Because of his ban from baseball, in the first year Pete Rose would have been eligible for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame, his name did not appear on the ballot. Instead, Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers headlined the class, with Seaver earning a then-record by appearing on 98.8% of ballots cast. Rose did receive 41 write-in votes.
Before the 1993 season, Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds, was fined $250,000 and barred from daily operations of her team. The previous November, Schott said in an interview with the New York Times that Adolf Hitler “was good in the beginning, but he went too far." Schott also commented inappropriately on several ethnic groups and was suspended again in 1996, before selling the team in 1999.
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On Aug. 12, 1994, Major League Baseball players went on strike. The work stoppage canceled the remainder of the 1994 season and dragged on for 232 days. Mistrust between players and owners had been brewing for years, and it took several seasons for Major League Baseball to regain fanbases feeling alienated by both sides. The Montreal Expos were perhaps the biggest casualty, as they were on pace for a postseason run, and in a few years were relocated to Washington, D.C., due to struggling finances.
14 years after Fernando Valenzuela captured the hearts of Los Angeles Dodgers fans, another import took the major leagues by storm. Hideo Nomo, a star in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League, became the first Japanese player to permanently compete in Major League Baseball. With a “tornado” style delivery that mystified hitters, Nomo won 13 games, led the National League with 236 strikeouts, and won Rookie of the Year. He also opened up the door for many of his countrymen to follow his path.
In 1994, Chan Ho Park made two relief appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Two seasons later, he became a mainstay in the rotation and became the first South Korean-born player in Major League Baseball history to win a game. Like Nomo did for Japan, Park similarly inspired Koreans to play in the majors. After the 1996 season, he won 75 games for the Dodgers over the next five years and was named an All-Star in 2001. The next season, he signed a $65 million contract, which was among the largest in the game at the time.
To the chagrin of purists everywhere, Major League Baseball instituted interleague play in 1997. Before, teams from the American and National Leagues only met in Spring Training and the World Series, but now regular season matchups pitted crosstown rivals like the New York Mets and New York Yankees, and north of the border, the Toronto Blue Jays faced off against the Montreal Expos. The first ever Interleague game was a more random geographical matchup, as the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants on June 12, 1997.
If baseball suffered a period of doldrums after the 1994 strike, the game returned with a bang in 1998, buoyed by a number of historic feats. The story of the summer was the chase for Roger Maris's single-season record of 61 home runs. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. were all poised to surpass the 37-year-old mark. Each day, newspapers and sports news shows tracked the sluggers' at-bats, until Sept. 8, 1998, when McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season. McGwire finished with 70 HR, while Sosa posted 66 HR. Both players' achievements were later tainted due to suspicion of them having used performance-enhancing drugs.
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The Baltimore Orioles agreed to an exhibition series with the Cuban national team, sending American ballplayers to Cuba for the first time in 40 years. Meanwhile, the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres opened the season in Monterrey, Mexico. Major League Baseball would hold several international regular season games in the coming years, including in Japan, where interest in American baseball was booming thanks to the success of Hideo Nomo and other imports.
In 2000, three teams opened new ballparks: the Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, and San Francisco Giants. 12 more clubs have christened new stadiums since then. From 1974-1988, no new stadiums were created, but the opening of Camden Yards in 1992 inspired a renaissance of traditional ballparks, breaking away from the multipurpose stadiums with AstroTurf that ruled the decades before.
In the first half of the season, Ichiro Suzuki was the talk of baseball with his speed, defense, and ability to put a baseball in play like few before him. Suzuki won the American League most valuable player and Rookie of the Year awards, as his Seattle Mariners won a record 116 games. After Sept. 11, 2001, baseball helped provide a reprieve for some, particularly after Mike Piazza hit a go-ahead home run at Shea Stadium in the first game back in New York City after the attack on the World Trade Center.
The 2002 Oakland Athletics lost Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, and Johnny Damon, three of their key players that made them unexpected contenders the year before. With a low payroll, the A's heavily turned to analytics in building a lineup, and author Michael Lewis, chronicling the team for the season, coined the term “moneyball” to describe this method. Surprisingly, the A's once again made the postseason, setting an American League record in the process with a 20-game win streak. The A's have still yet to win a World Series since 1989, but they inspired teams around the league to embrace their philosophy, and the 2002 team was the subject of a best-selling book by Lewis and a major motion picture based off the book.
After the 2002 Midsummer classic ended in a tie, Major League Baseball added the rule to the All-Star Game between the American League and National League that the winner's side would gain home field advantage in the World Series. Players were mixed on this news, since the All-Star Game had always been viewed as more of a leisurely exhibition. The AL won, 7-6, at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field.
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The 2004 Boston Red Sox were coming off a heartbreaking end to their previous season, when New York Yankees infielder Aaron Boone smacked a series-winning home run in the playoffs to send Boston home for the winter. In the 2004 American League Championship Series, trailing three games to zero, the Red Sox staged comebacks in Games Four and Five, then won the last two of the series in New York City. Boston became the first team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit in Major League Baseball history, and the Red Sox carried that mojo onto the World Series, where they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform intervened in the allegations of unregulated steroid use in Major League Baseball, holding a congressional hearing on the matter. The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) was under investigation for supplying performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to athletes, and in the wake of this national news, some of the game's biggest sluggers were called to testify, with many refusing to answer questions or outright denying using steroids. One of those deniers, Rafael Palmeiro, later tested positive for using PEDs and was suspended by MLB.
With key support from Major League Baseball, 2006 saw the inaugural World Baseball Classic held. Sixteen teams competed in stadiums in Japan, the U.S., and Puerto Rico, and many rosters included some of the biggest MLB stars. In the final, Japan defeated Cuba, 10-6, behind three runs by Ichiro Suzuki, with Daisuke Matsuzaka earning the win on the mound.
On Aug. 7, 2007, Barry Bonds launched a fastball from Washington Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik over the wall at AT&T Park in San Francisco for his 756th career home run. The hit placed Barry Bonds at #1 on the all-time home run list, surpassing Hank Aaron. But because of Bonds' name being involved in the BALCO scandal, many fans felt the achievement deserved an asterisk.
Both New York teams, the Mets and Yankees, closed down their stadiums in 2008, as they prepared to move into new haunts the following season. The 2008 All-Star Game was held in Yankee Stadium, and served as a nice early send-off for one of the most historic buildings in sports. The Mets had a less memorable farewell to Shea Stadium, as they lost a home game on the final day of the season, which caused them to fall one game short of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, moved into Nationals Park in Washington D.C.
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One year after video replay was instituted throughout Major League Baseball, the mechanism was utilized at a crucial moment during the 2009 Fall Classic. A flyball by New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez hit a television camera near the right field wall. Umpires reviewed the play and called it a home run, helping the Yankees win the game. The Yankees went on to win the World Series in their first year in the new Yankee Stadium.
For the first time in the modern era, two pitchers—Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay—tossed perfect games in the same season. However, perhaps even more memorable was a near-perfect game by Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga. The young Venezuelan pitcher retired the first 26 batters in order in a game against the Cleveland Indians and appeared to have #27, as Cleveland Indians batter Jason Donald tried to beat out a ground ball. Umpire Jim Joyce ruled Donald safe, though, and replays later showed the original call was incorrect. Instead, Galarraga finished with a one-hitter, and Joyce apologized after the game.
Several races still weren't decided by Game 162 of the season, leading to one of the most frantic days in Major League Baseball history the St. Louis Cardinals were able to wrap up the National League wild card with a win and Atlanta Braves loss. In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays came back to defeat the New York Yankees in extra innings, while the Baltimore Orioles stunned the Boston Red Sox, sending the Rays to the playoffs. Orioles manager Buck Showalter later said: “You try to run that script for a Kevin Costner baseball movie, they turn it down, saying nobody would believe that.”
Coming off the heels of the drama from the last day of the 2011 regular season, Major League Baseball added a second wild card spot for each league. The two wild card teams would face off in a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the divisional series round. Since its implementation, the one-game wild card has led to some of baseball's most thrilling games.
Several players were accused of obtaining performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) from Biogenesis, a health clinic in Florida. In the fallout, two of baseball's biggest stars, Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, received suspensions for ties to Biogenesis. Employees of the clinic were later taken in by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
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After successfully slowly implementing instant replay to games, Major League Baseball expanded the use of the tool. Now, managers could “ challenge” almost every call except for balls and strikes, twice per game. Late in the game, umpires could challenge calls on their own if a manager ran out of challenges.
During the 2015 National League division series, Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Chase Utley slid into second base to try and break up a double play. Utley's slide took out Ruben Tejada of the New York Mets, fracturing his leg. The play brought up an age-old debate around baseball circles on what constitutes a hard slide and what is an intentionally dirty play. Utley was roundly booed when the series shifted to New York City, and the Mets eventually won the series. The following year, Major League Baseball made a new rule that runners must make a bona fide attempt to reach and stay on the base they slide into.
For the first time since 1908, the Chicago Cubs were able to call themselves world champions. Winning the title did not come easily, though. The World Series went to seven games, and the Cubs held a 6-3 lead heading into the eighth inning. With closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound, Cleveland Indians outfielder Rajai Davis lined a three-run homer over the left field wall, tying the game. But the Cubs did not wilt and won the game in 10 innings.
In an effort to increase the pace of play, Major League Baseball added a rule that intentional walks could be instituted simply through a manager's signal. Previously, pitchers had to throw four balls to the catcher outside the strike zone. In addition, managers now had a 30-second time limit to decide whether or not they wanted umpires to review a play. Replays officials were also now recommended to finalize all decisions in under two minutes.
The 2018 campaign began on March 29, the earliest start date ever for a season. As more fans began streaming games online, Major League Baseball agreed to broadcast games live on Facebook Watch. In another attempt to generate more fan interest and speed up games, a new rule limited mound visits to six times per game for each team over nine innings.
The 2018 New York Yankees wowed MLB fans by setting the single-season home run record with a whopping 267 homers. Little did everyone know what the 2019 season held in store. The Yankees and Minnesota Twins emerged from the offseason hammering homers into the stands. Heading into the last game of the regular season, the Pinstripes had 305 under their belt while the Bomba Squad had 304. In a tense race for the record, the Twins managed an impressive three homers in their final game to the Yankees one—finishing the season with 307, the new all-time record.
The 2019 World Series sees the Washington Nationals face off against the Houston Astros. The Nationals emerged from the National League after topping the St. Louis Cardinals in 4 games, while the Astros pushed past the Yankees in game 6 of the ALCS after a dramatic walk-off homer from Jose Altuve.
[Pictured here: Nelson Cruz #23 and Miguel Sano #22 of the Minnesota Twins presented with an award by the Minneapolis bomb squad for the setting the MLB single season home run record]
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