If not for the 1919 White Sox gambling scandal, Shoeless Joe Jackson’s name would have a much different connotation attached to it.
Instead of immediately conjuring his lifetime banishment and the debate about whether or not he helped throw the 1919 World Series, Jackson would simply be associated with the players like Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and the other immortals who shaped the game in the early part of the 20th century. His on-field accomplishments merit inclusion among those legends, but you can’t help but first think of his attachment to the scandal.
Two more of the game’s early icons came pretty close to having a similar reputation as Jackson, but were cleared of serious accusations months after they came to pass. In 1925, pitcher Dutch Leonard accused Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker of throwing baseball games for gambling purposes. Speaker and Cobb were player-managers at the time and American League President Ban Johnson prompted both men to “retire” at the end of the 1926 season. As you may surmise from the fact that both Speaker and Cobb were among the first eight players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, both men were cleared of the charges. It’s enough of a stain on the game that Pete Rose and Joe Jackson, two on-field legends, are banned for life for gambling; could you imagine Cobb and Speaker suffering that same fate? We’d have a much different history of the sport if they did.
Before we move on to this week’s edition of The Stud 400, here’s look at the last five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
305. Stan Musial pitches to Frank Baumholtz (1952)
304. Al Simmons sold to White Sox (1932)
303. Al Benton pitches to Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle (1952)
302. Dock Ellis and his LSD no-hitter (1970)
301. Ted Williams’ Hall of Fame speech (1966)
And now, here’s Episode XXI of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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Eddie Plank is the first lefty to win 300 (1915)
“Gettysburg” Eddie Plank holds a significant place in The Stud 400 as he is the only player on the list to accomplish his defining feat as a member of the outlaw Federal League. One of the star pitchers in the sport at the turn of the 20th century, Plank became the first lefty to win 200 games in 1910 and then became the first lefty to reach 300 wins when hit that milestone in 1915 pitching for the St. Louis Terriers in the Federal League, which is recognized as a Major League. Plank played just one season for the Terriers before returning to the American League with the St. Louis Browns where he tacked 21 more wins onto his total to bring it to 326, good for third all-time among lefties.
Mickey Mantle’s 565 foot home run (1953)
If today’s athletes are bigger and stronger, how come the furthest ball ever hit came nearly 70 years ago? Mantle’s 565-foot blast in 1953 is still the furthest home run that was ever measured. Sure, there’s an element of myth to it and there have probably been other balls that would have traveled further without hitting an obstruction, but Mantle being able to claim this feat fits right with baseball history. The shot came on April 17 and was the first ball hit over the left field bleachers at Griffith Stadium in Washington. The ball caromed off an advertisement and famously came to rest in the yard at 434 Oakdale Street outside of the stadium, where it was picked up by a ten-year-old boy.
Arthur Patterson of the Yankees front office had the presence of mind to grab a tape measure and calculate the distance the ball traveled from home plate to its resting place in the yard and he came up with 562 feet, later amended to 565. Is this entirely accurate? Who knows. The detailed measuring equipment available today was not around, so this was the best they could do. Newspaper coverage of Mantle’s shot was extensive and at the time, it was listed as the second-longest home run ever hit, behind a 600-foot shot by Babe Ruth. Like most of Ruth’s blasts, that was unable to be verified though. Mantle’s homer lives on in legend and also gave birth to the phrase “tape measure home run,” which seems to have been coined by Casey Stengel months later when he complained that Mantle was more concerned with hitting “tape measure home runs” instead of winning games.
Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker cleared of gambling accusations (1927)
Baseball history could have been very different if gambling allegations against Cobb and Speaker proved to be true. The story goes that at the end of the 1919 season, Cobb’s Tigers were battling the Yankees for third place, which came with a $500 bonus for the team that came out ahead. Speaker’s Indians had already locked up second place and allegedly would have rather seen the Tigers finish third than the Yankees. Speaker allegedly told Cobb that he didn’t have to worry about the outcome of the game, and he was right; the Tigers won 9-5. According to Tigers pitcher Dutch Leonard, he Cobb, Speaker and Smoky Joe Wood conspired to fix the game. Leonard claimed that the group was going to bet a total of $5,500 on the game, but their surrogate wasn’t able to find a bookie to take such a large bet, resulting in a $600 wager.
Seven years later, Cobb was Leonard’s manager and after he released the talented but aging hurler, Leonard claimed Cobb told other teams not to sign him. The vengeful Leonard went to American League President Ban Johnson with evidence of gambling and game-fixing that was supposedly so damning, that it was covered up. Leonard went public with his accusations too, though. Speaker and Cobb retired as player-managers from the Indians and Tigers, respectively, bringing an end to the tenures with the teams they’re most associated with, but returned to the A’s the next season when they were cleared. Although they maintained their innocence, they were only cleared when Leonard refused to testify against them in person. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis threw the case away after all of that. Cobb vehemently denied ever throwing a game and said the evidence was misinterpreted. For his part, Johnson was forced out as AL President, bringing an end to the tenure of one of the most influential people in the game’s history. What a mess.
75-year-old Luke Appling hits a home run (1982)
The Cracker Jack Old Timers Game was freakin’ awesome. The brainchild of former Braves Vice President Dick Cecil, it ran from 1982-1990 and featured so many of the game’s legends. The idea was to have a five-inning game that was more competitive than a typical old-timers game. Players that played in these games included Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial and so many more giants. The signature moment in the game’s history came in the very first inning and was televised on ESPN. Luke Appling waddled up to the plate against Warren Spahn and you could see how he got the nickname Ol’ Aches and Pains. Appling played from 1930-1950 and while he was considered a fantastic athletic shortstop, he only hit 45 home runs in his career. Appling, who was 75 years old at the time, incredibly blasted Spahn’s offering over the left field fence at RFK Stadium and ambled around the bases about as fast as a septuagenarian could.
Angels honor Tyler Skaggs by throwing a combined no-hitter (2019)
Major League Baseball history is full of magical moments that make you wonder if there really is a higher power watching over the sport. The combined no-hitter thrown by the Angels on July 12, 2019 exemplifies that as good as anything. Skaggs, the popular lefty, was found dead in his hotel room on July 1 and it was later learned that he had fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system. As when any active player dies, it sent shockwaves through the sport and in particular, the Angels organization. The Angels were on the road and returned to Anaheim on July 12 to take on the Mariners. The team planned on honoring Skaggs that night, and what happened in the game was hard to believe. The night started with Skaggs’ mother throwing out the first pitch while every member of the team wore red Angels jerseys with “Skaggs 45” on the back.
Taylor Cole pitched two hitless innings for the Angels to start the game and was relieved by Felix Pena, who incredibly followed with seven more no-hit innings to complete the amazing performance. After the game, every member of the Angels removed their jersey and placed it on the mound in tribute. The most incredible aspect of all of this? The last time a combined no-hitter had been thrown in the state of California was on July 13, 1991, the day on which Tyler Skaggs was born.
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Stay tuned for next week’s episode of The Stud 400 when we find out who the first $100,000 player was and tattoo some baseballs with the Polar Bear while George Brett schedules the BallNine Time Machine for stops in three decades.