If you had to pick a handful of games played over baseball’s rich history, which ones would stand out the most? You’d possibly be a little biased and focus on the era you grew up in, only because of the familiarity. Or you’d be focused on games that took place closer to where you’ve lived, putting in mostly games involving the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers. When you put your list together, are the games on it shocking to you? Did something happen in each game to create a memory that will last generations? That’s the hard part about putting together a list of something like the Top 6 Most Shocking Events – The Games – Of All Time. Like picking the best song of all time, you might think something by Barry Manilow is the best while I’m thinking Metallica. Either way, you’ll see below Games 4-6 that I think are among the most shocking of all time.
One note: These are the top event games. I’m separating these from the top events in MLB history, like Pete Rose’s banishment, Ray Chapman’s death, the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and the 1994 strike. Make sense? Great.
So, in no particular order, here are the second three of Jimmy Scott’s Top 6 Most Shocking MLB Events of All-Time: The Games (Part 2):
Chicago Cubs fans blame a nerdy fan with headphones and glasses for interfering with left fielder Moises Alou in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, ruining his chance to catch a ball falling into foul territory. When this event took place, Steve Bartman instantly became one of baseball’s all-time most famous fans. The error in judgment – let’s face it, if you were in his shoes, what would you have done with 1-second to think? – led to a series of catastrophic events for a Cubs team cruising on its way to a World Series berth.
But what fans forget is shortstop Alex Gonzalez booting a sure double-play ball later in the inning, opening the floodgates for a Florida Marlins team to eventually steal their 2nd World Series title in 6 years. And fans also forget Kerry Wood’s game-tying home run in Game 7, as well as a short-lived 5-3 lead. The Cubs had other chances. Maybe it wasn’t poor Steve’s fault after all.
5. The Jeffrey Maier Game
Bartman interferes and he’s crucified. Young Jeffrey Maier does it and he’s praised. See what a home crowd can do? In Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, 12-year old Jeffrey Maier reached over the right field wall to seemingly grab a Derek Jeter ball from landing in the glove of Baltimore’s Tony Tarasco. Umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run, not fan interference, and the Yankees eventually captured their first World Series title since 1978.
Here’s another But: Was the ball really going to be a home run? Scott Erickson recently said HERE that there was no doubt that the ball was going to be caught. But look at still photos and video and see the ball’s trajectory as it fell toward earth. Then look at Tony Tarasco’s glove. And look at his feet. They were planted on the ground. Was the ball really going to go over the wall? Possibly not. But the ball possibly wasn’t going to be caught, either. Remove Jeffrey Maier from the equation and we might have had a double instead of a game-tying home run. Look at the video and pictures and decide for yourself.
One additional thought: Armando Benitez was on the mound. Orioles and Mets fans know full well that if the Maier event hadn’t occurred, Benitez likely would have still found a way to blow the save. Sorry Mr. Erickson, but the Yankees would have tied the game that inning no matter what.
6. Midget At The Bat
It was 1951. Bill Veeck, owner of the St. Louis Browns, was desperate. His ballclub was lousy and nobody was coming to the games. Looking to give fans a reason to see a game – and pay – Veeck thought up the idea of a birthday party. 1951 was the 50th anniversary of the American League, as well as the 50th anniversary of Falstaff Brewery, one of the team’s sponsors. Nobody could actually prove that it was also Falstaff’s 50th anniversary, but as Veeck wrote in From Veeck – As In Wreck, his autobiography, “If we couldn’t prove it fell on the day we chose, neither could anyone prove that it didn’t.”
For years, Veeck had had the idea of using a midget to promote his team (he owned 3 different MLB teams during his lifetime). He called a booking agent who found Eddie Gaedel. While at first “dubious,” after some selling by Veeck, Gaedel agreed to appear at the birthday game. And Gaedel would more than appear. He’d sign a contract and become a member of the team. Better yet, he’d come to the plate and actually bat.
Gaedel knew virtually nothing about baseball besides “I know you’re supposed to hit the white ball with the bat. And then you run somewhere.” Veeck spent time teaching Gaedel how to stand in the box and how to crouch (making the already tiny strike zone tinier). When Gaedel pretended to swing, Veeck got scared, telling Eddie all he had to do was crouch in the box, take four balls, and trot to first base. And if Gaedel did swing? He was met with this warning from Veeck. “I’m going to be up on the roof with a high-powered rifle watching every move you make. If you so much as look as if you’re going to swing, I’m going to shoot you dead.”
Eddie was paid $100 for the day. Veeck took out a life insurance policy on him for $1,000,000 to protect the team in case of sudden death or “sudden growth.”
The whole plan was a secret. Even the Falstaff Brewery folks only knew they were part of a big surprise. The contract Gaedel signed was mailed to league headquarters on a Saturday night, so by the time it was opened on Monday morning, the game would have already been played (in case of expected protest from the league).
A crowd of more than 18,000 showed up for the game, the largest to see a Browns game in 4 years. In between games of the doubleheader, Gaedel made his grand entrance by popping out of a birthday cake. Then he went back into hiding until the bottom of the first, when it was announced that number one-eighth was batting for Frank Saucier. Home plate umpire Eddie Hurley questioned the stunt and Browns manager Zack Taylor showed the signed contract, a telegram to league headquarters (time stamped) proving proper procedures had been followed (just followed at the very last second, before plans could be thwarted), and a copy of the active roster, which included Eddie Gaedel.
Gaedel got into the batters box and the crowd was alive. The Falstaff people were beside themselves with joy at the promotion they were sure to receive from all of this. But Veeck was beside himself for another reason. Gaedel wasn’t crouching, like he had been taught. “He was standing straight up, his little bat held high, his feet straddled wide in a fair approximation of Joe DiMaggio’s classic stylek” wrote Veeck. “I was thinking, ‘I should have brought that gun up here. I’ll kill him if he swings. I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him.’”
But by the third pitch, pitcher Bobby Cain was laughing so hard he could barely throw. Balls three and four floated about three feet over Eddie Gaedel’s head.
Eddie trotted to first base, his image captured by snapping cameras. He stood on the bag until a pinch runner could take his place, and then he ran across the infield, waving to the crowd, toward the St. Louis dugout. He was now one of the most famous footnotes in one of the most famous games in the history of baseball.
And the Browns lost, 6 to 2.
To read Shocking Games Numbers 1-3, go HERE.
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