This Week in Baseball History: Aug. 2-8

Once upon a time, pitchers had to make do without Spider Tack.

Aug. 2, 1881 – First Bases-Loaded Intentional Walk


A bases-loaded walk is the most flattering thing that could happen to any batter. It is so rare that is has happened just six times in almost 150 years. It is literally a once-in-a-generation occurrence.

This most famously happened to Barry Bonds in 1998 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth as the Giants trailed 8-6. The “shocked” Bonds couldn’t believe it. But what was even more shocking is that it actually worked — the Giants lost after the next batter.


The next time it happened was with Josh Hamilton in August 2008, who roughly a month earlier had exploded onto the national scene with his historic Home Run Derby performance at the Old Yankee Stadium. Like Bonds, it was in the bottom of the ninth with two outs as Hamilton’s Rangers trailed 7-3. And again, it worked.


But the most surprising thing is that this strategy usually works. Five out of those six times, the team that issues the bases-loaded walk went on to win the game. The only time that this idea failed was during its first ever occurrence back on Aug. 2, 1881 with Abner Dalrymple.

The National League’s first season happened in 1876, and Dalrymple debuted with the Milwaukee Grays in 1878. He immediately became one of the league’s best hitters, winning the batting title in his rookie season with a .354 average (just five rookies have done this). The next year, Chicago White Stockings’ player-manager Cap Anson bought Dalrymple from the Grays, making him one of the league’s highest paid players.

As the White Stockings leadoff hitter, Dalrymple helped the team dominate the 1880s, winning the team win five pennants in seven seasons. In 1884, Dalrymple clobbered 22 home runs — the fourth highest single-season total of the 19th century.

But let’s go back and talk about what happened on Aug. 2, 1881. Unfortunately, there are very few singular game records from that era of baseball, so we don’t know too much about the exact circumstances leading up to Dalrymple’s bases-loaded walk. But it happened in a game between the White Stockings and Buffalo Bisons. Jack Lynch was on the mound for Buffalo, and his team was trailing 5 – 0 in eighth inning.

Lynch wanted to avoid Dalrymple, known as the “demon batter of his time,” and so he intentionally decided to throw seven straight balls to make the score 6-0. Oh yeah, back then walks required seven balls, not just four.

As noted by John Thorn, the Official MLB Historian, this situation didn’t play out as Lynch had hoped. The next batter, George Gore, hit a bases-clearing double. The White Stockings won this contest by a blowout score of 11-2.


Aug. 3, 1987 – Joe Niekro Caught Doctoring


This year, we saw the “Spider Tack” controversy dominate baseball. It opened up a national dialogue about the use of foreign substances in the game and, most surprisingly, the MLB actually responded to this issue.

Doctoring the baseball isn’t a recent innovation. It has existed for well over a century. Back in the Dead Ball era, pitchers would modify balls with all sorts of substances — from tobacco juice to nail filers — to mask their appearance and induce unpredictable movement. A rule change in 1920 tried to address this issue, and while it did immediately lead to the Live Ball era, pitchers would continue this practice in “secret.”

In reality, this was baseball’s worst kept secret. Even umpires knew that it was a widespread pandemic within the game. However, up until this year, there was barely any enforcement.

Arguably the most notable example of a pitcher caught doctoring a baseball happened with Joe Niekro on Aug. 3, 1987. The 42-year-old veteran loved his knuckleball, and the pitch excelled if it erratically dance its way to home plate. The best way to create this type of movement? Sandpaper and an emery board!

Really, that’s exactly what Niekro used. During that August contest between Niekro’s Minnesota Twins and the California Angels, the umpires strolled out to the mound in the bottom of the fourth. Just watch their interaction:


33 years later, home plate umpire Tim Tschida provided Patrick Reusse from Minnesota’s Star Tribune with an inside scoop of what went down. According to Tschida, the umpires already knew what Niekro was doing. That night, the umpires noticed the baseballs were missing chunks the size of half-dollar coins, and they felt they should do something because as Angeles manager Gene Mauch described it:

“Those baseballs weren’t scuffed; they were mutilated.”

Niekro had a piece of flesh-colored sandpaper glued to his left hand. It was hidden underneath his glove, and Niekro would take off his mitt to rub the baseball with both hands to “improve the grip.” At first, Niekro tried to discreetly remove the sandpaper and place it in his pocket. Then, he tried to distract the umps by taking a photo of his son out of his back pocket and saying that that was the only thing he was carrying. Finally, he emptied both pockets. Out of one flew the sandpaper, and out of the other came an emery board.

“I wouldn’t have thrown him out for the emery board,” Tschida said. “I would have just said, ‘Keep that in the dugout.'”

But the combination of the two objects forced Niekro’s ejection and subsequent 10-day suspension.

As Niekro served his time, he went on “Late Night With David Letterman,” where he brought a power sander, Vaseline and nail care set.


“I can’t say I’ve never thrown one,” Niekro said when asked if he had thrown a doctored baseball. “I think every pitcher fools around with one.”


Aug. 3, 2015 – Mike Hessman Sets MiLB HR Record


Have you ever heard of Mike Hessman?

His career MLB stats are lackluster: 250 PAs, 29 R, 14 HR, 33 RBIs, 21 BB, 79 K, .188/.272/.422 and 0.1 bWAR. But in the minors, Hessman is the home run king.

Originally drafted by the Braves in the 15th round of the 1996 MLB Draft, Hessman had just 1 HR in 53 games during his first season of professional baseball. In 1997, Hessman’s sophomore season, those figures jumped to 21 HR in 122 games. From that point on, he just kept mashing home runs for the next two decades.

Like Hank Aaron, Hessman never had an exceptional single-season total — he peaked at 35 in 2012. But he was consistent. And Hessman kept toiling in the minors because he never earned an extended shot in the majors despite having a few successful cups of coffee.

Hessman made his MLB debut with the Braves on Aug. 22, 2003, and he slashed .286/.423/.667 in 26 PAs for the rest of the season. The next year, Hessman made the Opening Day roster, but went back to the minors after hitting just .130/.155/.261 in 71 PAs. He had another solid stretch with the Tigers from 2007 to 2008 (.256/.330/.615 in 88 PAs), but the addition of another big power righty bat named Miguel Cabrera made Hessman a bit redundant, so he found himself relegated to the minors once again.


In the minors, Hessman had 2,094 games and 8,566 PAs — more time than Adam Dunn (2,001 games and 8,328 PAs) or Mark McGwire (1,874 games and 7,660 PAs) spent in the majors. With that much playing time, you are going to push up your counting stats.

On May 20, 2014, Hessman became the sixth minor leaguer to record 400 homers. A bit over a month later on June 30, he hit his 259th career home run in the International League, breaking a mark set 69 years earlier by Ollie Carnegie.


After one more year of crushing dingers, Hessman got the opportunity to channel his inner Bull Durham and become the all-time minor league home run king.

That opportunity came on Aug. 3, 2015, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. Hessman’s Toledo Mud Hens trailed 6-4. The pitcher delivered a 2-0 fastball, and seconds later that ball went over the left field wall for No. 433.


This bomb passed Buzz Arlett’s record established in 1936. Hessman, now in possession of the MiLB HR crown, decided to retire at the end of the 2015. His career stats in the minors: 8,566 PAs in 19 seasons, 1,085 R, 1,758 H, 433 HR, 1,207 RBIs, 815 BB and 2,374 K while slashing .233/.316/.466.


Aug. 5, 1999 – Mark McGwire’s 500th HR


Who hit home runs at the quickest rate ever? It wasn’t the Great Bambino nor Barry Bonds, but rather a powerful righty from Pomona, Calif. nicknamed Big Mac.

Of course, as you can tell by this section’s title, I mean Mark McGwire.


Just how far and beyond was McGwire’s home-run hitting ability? Every 10.61 at-bats, he hit a dinger. Second place belonged to Ruth at 11.76 AB/HR. Bonds had third place at 12.92 AB/HR. The difference between McGwire and Bonds is the same as the difference between Bonds and Jimmie Foxx (15.23 AB/HR) who has the 20th best rate of all time.

How does Mike Trout compare to McGwire? Trout currently has 310 HR in 4,656 ABs. On April 11, 1998, McGwire recorded his 4,656th AB. He already had 391 HRs at that point. He went on to clobber another 66 dingers that same year.

By the end of the historic ’98 home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Big Mac had 457 HRs. It seemed like a real possibility that he would reach 500 the next year, which would be just his 14th season.

McGwire hit extremely well in the first half of 1999, notching 28 bombs in 85 games before the All-Star break. But in the second half, he turned things up a notch.

He finished July with 16 home runs — tied with Albert Belle for most ever in that month. He began August needed just four homers to reach 500.

On Aug. 1, he hit 497… the next day came 498 … the day after that he went homerless … but the day after that he had 499. From July 10 to Aug. 4, McGwire had 15 HR in 20 games to put him just one away from history.

Then came Aug. 5.

In his first at-bat of the evening, McGwire hit a long to fly out to center field. Then in his second opportunity, with 45,106 fans filling up Busch Stadium, McGwire hit the ball a little bit farther.


McGwire wasn’t done yet though. In the eighth inning, he crushed No. 501 to deep left-center.

17 HR in 21 games.

By the end of 1999, McGwire had 65 HR for the season and 522 HR for his career. It’s hard to believe that just three years later McGwire would be done in the majors, retiring with 583 HR.

I guess that’s baseball, Suzyn.


Photo By John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)

Alex Kleinman

Journalist who loves the Yankees and the Bears. One gives me strength, the other leads me to existential dread. When I'm not obsessing over baseball, you can find me at a concert, hiking in a National Park or chasing my dog, Frankie, who has probably stolen one of my socks.

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