Despite the greatness and growing popularity in other sports, baseball continues to be America’s pastime, in large part due to the interest level of fans and their intrigue with the massive amounts of statistics that define the game in numbers.
When individual players are the topic, they are usually discussed through numbers, stats or a special achievement. And it is the game’s fan base that never stops asking questions or inquiring about unique or rare feats accomplished in MLB.
These questions and answers often serve as a history lesson for those curious minds.
Here is a sample of intriguing mail and calls I have received from baseball’s greatest followers, along with responses to their inquiries:
This happened some years ago when a great Chicago Cubs threesome was sitting in the dugout at Wrigley Field prior to Cubs game. Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo were reminiscing about the good ole days when they were three of the top hitters in the National League.
An inquiring reporter asked them about the great pitchers of their era and who was the toughest to hit against. Their memories flooded with stories about Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson and several others. “Competition is what makes this game so special,” Banks said. “It didn’t matter who was on the mound, because every at-bat is a battle and when you go up against the best in the game, it makes it that much more exciting. You think about that as a youngster, batting against the best pitcher with the game on the line. I loved to hit against Koufax, Gibson, Spahn and (Don) Newcombe. You want to compete against the best and it helps you get better. I didn’t always do well, but I always battled and had some success.”
Santo added in on Banks’ words. “It’s about competition and it’s about confidence,” he said. “You have to believe you can hit these guys, even after you had a bad at-bat. You have to believe you can overcome their plan on how they want to pitch to you. Sometimes just a seeing-eye single can boost your confidence if you’ve been struggling. Hitters need to take an approach of confidence against every pitcher they face. Know the pitcher. Know what he throws and how he wants to work you. Know you can beat him. If hitters can do that, then success will follow.”
“I got up for games when guys like Bob Gibson were pitching,” said Williams. “It wasn’t just a competition against the teams, it was a battle of batter against pitcher. And when it’s a close game, those battles become a little tougher and more exciting for fans. I always respected the pitchers I was facing, but when I was at the plate, I was looking to drive the ball right back at ’em if I could.”
With those insightful thoughts, I thought it might be interesting to review how some Hall of Fame batters fared against the Hall of Fame pitchers they faced during their careers.
It is well documented the Hank Aaron hit 17 career home runs against Don Drysdale, but did you know that Drysdale struck out Aaron 47 times and held him to a .267 batting average?
Bob Feller fanned Hank Greenberg 34 times in 107 at-bats and limited him to a .214 batting average, but against Joe DiMaggio, Rapid Robert was blistered for a .342 mark and 11 home runs while fanning DiMaggio only 12 times.
Right-hander Bob Gibson held fellow Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn, Lou Brock, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski and Tony Perez under a .200 batting clip.
Among the 19 Hall of Fame batters Randy Johnson faced during his career, the highest lifetime average belongs to Carlton Fisk, who collected fives hits—including two homers—in 17 at-bats against the Big Unit.
Mike Piazza hit .385 with six home runs against Pedro Martinez, .292 with one homer against Johnson and .343 with six homers against Tom Glavine.
Fans love the one-on-one battles of the best pitchers vs. the best hitters. That’s the essence of this great game—great competition with winners and losers in each match, along with another day to find redemption.
Listed below is how some Hall of Fame batters fared against some Hall of Fame pitchers.
For most Hall of Fame players, recalling the historic moments of their careers is enjoyable. And when they turn back the clock to their first big league hit, the stories are usually recalled with a hearty smile.
In the case of Willie Stargell, it was not only a big smile that appeared on his face, but it followed with light chuckle as he recalled his first hit as a 22-year old rookie September call up. “It was in old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh,” Stargell said. “It was on September 20, 1962. We were playing Cincinnati and Bob Purkey was pitching for the Reds. He was a good right-hander who won 23 games that season. I was batting cleanup and I struck out against Purkey in my first at-bat, but when the Reds were leading, 1-0, in the fourth inning, I came up with no outs and Bob Skinner on second after he hit a double to left field. Purkey came at me with a fastball and I drove it to deep center over Vada Pinson’s head. Once I hit the ball and saw it was going to the wall, I took off running around the bases. As I was coming into third base hard, Frank Oceak, our third base coach, was waving me in to give me a shot at an inside-the-park homer on my first career hit,” Stargell continued. “But Pinson made a good relay throw to shortstop Leo Cardenas, who then made a strong throw to catcher Johnny Edwards for an easy out. An RBI triple for my first major league hit. That was pretty cool.”
At the 1990 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, inquisitive reporters surrounded Ted Williams during a rain interruption and he got on the topic of hitting before one writer asked about the memories he had regarding his first major league hit.
“I was nervous as hell in my first at-bat,” he said. “I knew I belonged and could hit major league pitching. But in that first at-bat, I was a little nerved and struck out against Red Ruffing. My next time up, I was ready for a fastball and when I got it, I hit it to deep right-center field at Yankee Stadium for a double. I knew then and there, I belonged.”
For Willie Mays, he went 0-for-12 before he could experience the joy of getting a hit against a major league pitcher. And for the young, fleet-footed center fielder his first hit didn’t come against just any big league hurler, it came off one of the top pitchers in the game in Boston Braves left-hander Warren Spahn at the Polo Grounds.
“He got the first two hitters in the first inning, and then I was up,” Mays recalled in his autobiography “Say Hey” published by Simon & Schuster. “What did he throw me? I don’t think I ever knew. All I know is I swung at it and hit it to the top of the left field roof. Finally, my first major league hit, and a homer at that. My slump was over.”
Unlike Mays, recently elected Hall of Famer Mike Piazza didn’t have to wait long for his first major league hit, or for that matter his first three. In his big league debut on Sept. 1, 1992, the right-handed slugging catcher went 3-for-3 with a walk. His first hit was a double in his second plate appearance off Cubs pitcher Mike Harkey at Wrigley Field.
In his book “Long Shot” by Lonnie Wheeler, Piazza described his first game in The Show.
“Determined not to make an out on the first pitch I ever saw in the major leagues—which came with one out in the second inning and (Eric) Karros on first base with a single—I took strike one right down the middle. Ended up walking, anyway. The next time up, I did swing at the first pitch, and stroked a double to right-center. I followed that with two singles; I was three for three altogether, until Eric Young pinch-ran for me in the eighth. Before Eric got out there, Mark Grace, the Cubs’ first baseman, leaned toward me and said, “Hey, it ain’t that f___in’ easy.”
Following is a chart listing the first major league hit by 113 Hall of Fame players. Among this group, five hit home runs, 10 raced around the bases for a triple, 17 registered a double and the remaining 81 were credited with a single.
There are eight pitchers who surrendered the first major league hit to two future Hall of Famers—Vinegar Bend Mizell (Ernie Banks/Frank Robinson), Robin Roberts (Lou Brock/Willie McCovey), Dave McNally (Rod Carew/Robin Yount), Elam Vangilder (Lou Gehrig/Heinie Manush), Si Johnson (Billy Herman/Duke Snider), Dana Fillingim (Sam Rice/Pie Traynor), Jesse Barnes (Bill Terry/Hack Wilson) and one of the more interesting anecdotes is that Hall of Fame brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner of the Pirates collected their first major league hit almost one year apart for the same team in the same ballpark and against the same pitcher.
Paul collected a single off Reds pitcher Pete Donohue at Cincinnati’s Redland Field on April 17, 1926. Lloyd did the same on April 12, 1927.
New York Giants teammates Bill Terry and Hack Wilson collected their first career hits on the same day—Sept. 30, 1923 against the Boston Braves. Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers duplicated the feat on April 17, 1947 also against the Braves.
For any player, the first hit in a major league career is special and for Hall of Famers, it becomes the first of many memorable achievements.
For any avid fan, testing your knowledge regarding sports is often challenging. But for baseball followers, trivia is a part of the history of the game and helps educate our minds on the important and sometimes meaningless facts about MLB’s treasured history of players, events and numbers.
The information found in stimulating questions about the game helps preserve baseball’s appeal to the masses.
Fans know the significance behind numbers that are linked to players who chiseled those digits to unforgettable achievements.
• .406—Ted Williams’ batting average in 1941 to become the last player to hit .400 in a season.
• 56—Joe DiMaggio’s record-setting consecutive game hitting streak.
• 42—The uniform number worn by Jackie Robinson and retired by all big league clubs in remembrance of Robinson’s legacy.
• 714, 755, 762—The career home run totals of the all-time leaders Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
• 130—The single-season stolen base mark set by Rickey Henderson in 1982.
• 383—Nolan Ryan’s one-year strikeout record established in 1973.
• 1.12—Bob Gibson’s miniscule ERA in 1968 covering 304.2 innings.
• 59—Orel Hershiser’s consecutive scoreless inning streak that led him to a Cy Young award in 1988.
• 191—Hack Wilson’s RBI total in 1930, the most by any player in one season.
• 4,256—Pete Rose’s final career hit total.
Because fans are so enamored by the history of the game and the events that create such memorable numbers and the feats behind them, we welcome any challenges that test our baseball intellect.
So gear up folks, here is a baseball quiz to separate you from the average fan into the category of baseball trivia buff.
1. Hank Aaron won a home run title with the Braves when they played in Milwaukee and Atlanta. Name the two other players to lead his league in home runs with the same franchise in two different cities.
2. Who is the only player to hit 40 or more doubles, 20 or more triples and 30 or more homers in the same season: Jimmy Rollins, George Brett, Jim Bottomley or Willie Mays?
3. Who are the four pitchers in major league history to register a 300-strikeout season with two different teams?
4. There have been 15 batters who have won the Triple Crown—leading their league in batting average, home runs and RBI in the same season. Who are the only two players to have two Triple Crown seasons?
5. The pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts) has been won by 29 different pitchers. Among those 29, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander, Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez, Sandy Koufax and Roger Clemens won multiple Triple Crowns. Who are the only two hurlers to capture the honor three or more times?
6. Who are the only two pitchers to win four consecutive Cy Young Awards?
7. Who are the five players with more than 500 career home runs and 3,000 lifetime hits?
8. What player set the single-season mark for most triples in a season with 36: Joe Jackson, Owen Wilson, Ty Cobb or Sam Crawford?
9. In 1966, Tim McCarver of the St. Louis Cardinals became the first catcher since 1900 to lead his league in triples. Who is the only other catcher to top his league in triples: Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, John Wathan, Craig Biggio?
10. Who are the only two managers to win a World Series title in both the American and National league?
11. Which pitcher holds the record for most career shutouts with 110: Grover Alexander, Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson or Cy Young?
12. Who are the two players to have a 40-homer season with three different major league teams?
13. Name the three major league pitchers to record 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.
14. When Bill Veeck used midget Eddie Gaedel as a pinch hitter on August 19, 1951 with the St. Louis Browns, what number did Gaedel wear on the back of his uniform: 0, 1, 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8?
15. True or False. Mark McGwire is the only rookie to club 40 or more homers in a season when he hit 49 in 1987.
16. What are the only two franchises to win three or more consecutive World Series titles?
17. Who was the youngest pitcher to win the Cy Young Award: Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen, Fernando Valenzuela or Tim Lincecum?
18. Since 1900, the most stolen bases in one month are 33 held by which player: Lou Brock, Maury Wills, Rickey Henderson or Vince Coleman?
19. Cecil and Prince Fielder are the only father and son major leaguers to hit 50 homers in a season. What pitcher did they both homer against during their 50-homer campaign: Tom Gordon, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson or Jamie Moyer?
20. True or False. Despite clubbing 563 lifetime home runs, Reggie Jackson never had consecutive seasons with 30 or more homers.
21. In 1975, Fred Lynn became the first player to win Rookie of the Year honors and a league MVP Award in the same season. Who is the only other player to accomplish this feat: Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki or Mike Piazza?
22. Who are the three players to hit a home run for their 3,000th career big league hit?
23. Who is the only pitcher to toss six consecutive shutouts: Bob Gibson, Orel Hershiser, Don Drysdale or Walter Johnson?
24. Who is the only player to hit a World Series home run with three different teams: Manny Ramirez, Eddie Murray, Matt Williams or Gary Sheffield?
25. Besides Reggie Jackson, who is the only other player to hit five home runs in one World Series: Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Gene Tenace or Chase Utley?
Answers to trivia appear on baseballbullpen.com site Trivia Answers Tab at top of page.
Bob Kuenster is editor of Baseball Digest and has worked for the publication since 1987 and is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.