For some reason, baseball, more than any other sport, seems to have many different “clubs.”
There’s the 3,000 Hit Club, 500 Home Run Club, 300 Win Club, and the Fellas Who Were Earholed by Bob Gibson Club. OK, the last one we may have invented, but you get the message and it’s a club you didn’t want to belong to.
Another club nobody wants to be a part of has members like Bill Buckner, Fred Merkle, Don Denkinger and even Babe Ruth. The fate that joins these players in baseball infamy is that their postseason mistakes are seen as some of the worst gaffes in Major League history. Leon Durham’s error may not have been as impactful as some of those listed above, but to a Cubs fanbase that was totally starved for relevancy, it was a crushing miscue that came at time when there was a razor-thin margin for error.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, the error cracked the door for the Padres in the decisive Game 5 in the 1984 NLCS and they took full advantage. The one-out error fueled a four-run come-from-behind rally and sent the Padres to the World Series while Cubs fans spent the offseason wallowing in misery once again. Later it came out that while celebrating earlier in the game, a full jug of Gatorade was spilled in the dugout all over Durham’s glove. To his credit, Durham didn’t blame that and took full responsibility for the error, but it couldn’t have helped.
Before we move on to this week’s edition of The Stud 400, here’s a look at the last five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
330. MLB recognizes Negro League as a Major League (2021)
329. Chris Davis goes hitless for 62 plate appearances (2019)
328. Rocky Colavito becomes first outfielder with 1.000% fielding percentage (1965)
327. The Gashouse Gang wins World Series (1934)
326. Ed Delahanty falls off a train and over Niagara Falls (1903)
And now, here’s Episode XVI of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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Harry Chiti is traded for himself (1962)
For the first decade of his Major League career, Chiti was known as a solid defensive catcher who was adept at handling knuckleball pitchers. He missed two seasons when he served in the military and put together a decent, if somewhat forgettable, career. Fate intervened and gave Chiti a place in baseball history on April 25 when the Indians traded him to the expansion Mets for a player to be named later. Chiti played 15 games for the Mets, but batted just .195 (8-41) before it came time for the Mets to name the player they were sending back to the Indians to complete the original trade. That player turned out to be Chiti himself, who was sent back to the Indians as the “player to be named later,” making him the first player to ever be traded for himself. It has happened three times since. The 1962 Mets can be described in a lot of ways, and now you can add “creative thinkers” to that list.
MLB lockout and subsequent rule changes (2021-2022)
The fact that we’re sitting here today watching baseball wasn’t a guarantee a couple months ago. There were many who postulated that we’d still be in the throes of an angry labor stoppage thanks to the MLB Lockout that began in 2021 and extended into 2022. This was the first work stoppage of the social media age and, as expected, things turned quite ugly very fast. Rumors flew and allegations were made as both sides tried to win in the press, on social media and in the negotiating room. When all was said and done, the lockout lasted 99 days and surprisingly resulted in no games lost off the schedule, although Opening Day was pushed back and Spring Training was shortened. The new collective bargaining agreement included a “Steve Cohen tax” to keep the new Mets owner, and subsequent billionaire owners, from blasting through the luxury tax. It also included expanded playoffs, universal DH, advertising patches, draft lottery along with new finance and International Draft structures and much more. In the end, everyone just hated Rob Manfred even more.
Bob Feller Opening Day no-hitter (1940)
On Opening Day this year, Yu Darvish was ripping through the Diamondbacks without allowing a hit through six innings. He was pulled at 92 pitches and not only did the Padres fail to complete the no-no, they lost the game on a walkoff home run. It would have been the second Opening Day no-hitter if it was completed, but alas, in this day of bubble-wrapping pitchers to the point where they can’t complete games or seasons anymore, it was not meant to be. If this was 82 years ago, Indians manage Ossie Vitt likely would have gotten a swift kick in the nuts if he tried to remove Bob Feller after 92 pitches. There was no pitch count at the time, but the fact that Feller, just 21 years old at the time, walked five and struck out eight means his count was well over 100. It might shock the modern fan who doesn’t know that baseball existed prior to 2000, but Feller’s elbow didn’t explode and he went on to pitch 663 innings over the next two seasons while throwing as hard as just about anyone does today. This game also spurred another curiosity as Feller’s victims, the White Sox, became the first team where every batter ended a game with the same exact batting average as they started with –.000.
Leon Durham’s NLCS error (1984)
Playing in their first postseason since 1945, the Cubs romped to the NL East title and 96 wins. The club boasted the 1984 Cy Young Winner (Rick Sutcliffe), MVP (Ryne Sandberg) and Manager of the Year (Jim Frey) and were relevant for the first time since 1969. The Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Padres in the best of five series and needed just one win to capture their first World Series since 1908. The Padres evened the series at two, but the Cubs were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the seventh in the deciding fifth game. With one out and the tying run on second, Tim Flannery hit a sharp grounder to first that went through Durham’s legs, allowing the tying run to score. The Padres tacked on three more runs after that and their 6-3 lead would stand up, sending them to their first World Series in franchise history. The Cubs would have to wait another 32 years before they made their first World Series since 1945. Durham’s error might not be on the level of Bill Buckner or some of the other infamous postseason miscues, but to Cubs fans, it was a cruel dagger for a franchise that had been mired in awfulness for decades.
Jose Fernandez dies in boat accident (2016)
Anytime an athlete tragically passes while active, it’s always a shock. When baseball fans woke up on September 25, 2016 to the news that Jose Fernandez had died in a boating accident, it just hit different. By the age of 23, Fernandez won the 2013 Rookie of the Year, had a third place Cy Young Award finish and was an All-Star in his only two full seasons. He was the youngest Opening Day starter since 1986 and had bounced back successfully from Tommy John Surgery. More than that, he was the face of the Marlins franchise; a Cuban superstar with an engaging personality who truly looked like the next great workhorse power righty. That all came to an end when Fernandez crashed his boat into a jetty in the middle of the night while under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, killing himself and two passengers. Tragic deaths are an unfortunate part of baseball history and the death of Jose Fernandez was one of the most shocking and impactful the sport has experienced.
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Stay tuned for next week’s episode of The Stud 400 when Stretch shows us that, indeed, baseball is a game of inches. We also check in with a Time magazine cover boy and honor the incredible first decade of the greatest right handed hitter of this generation.