This Week in Baseball History: August 17-23

Tommy Lasorda really hated mascots...

This week has the most unique selection of events featured so far in this series. From a spectacle in St. Louis to a marathon in Montreal to a tragedy in Boston, let’s start off with a homer in Queens.


August 17, 1973—Willie Mays Hits Final Home Run


On August 17, 1973, 36,803 people filled Shea Stadium, unaware that they were about to witness history. This date saw a matchup between the Cincinnati Reds, who were 2.5 GB from the division-leading Dodgers in the NL West, and the New York Mets, who were 7.5 GB and in last place in the NL East with a 53-65 record. 

While the Mets had the fourth-best pitching staff by fWAR (19.0), they did not have a good lineup, finishing the year with the fourth-worst team wRC+ (85). What the lineup did have, however, was a legend in his last, twilight years: Willie Mays.

Mays was traded by the Giants to the Mets one year prior for some extra pitching help. A lot of Mets fans loved Mays because they had once been fans of the New York Giants before they moved to San Francisco (and before the Mets even existed as a franchise). Mays led the Giants to a championship in ’54 in his first MVP season.  The departure of the Giants in ’57 left a hole in the hearts of many fans, but they had not forgotten about Mays.

Lone gone were the days of 30 steals, 30 homers and a .300 average each year, as the 42-year-old Mays was just a shell of his former self. While he did lead the league in OBP just two years prior, he entered this August game hitting .212/.291/.352 on the year with just five home runs over 53 games.

In this matchup, Mays faced off against Reds ace Don Gullet, who got Mays to fly out to right field in his first at-bat. Mays came up to the plate again in the bottom of the fourth inning, and he put the Mets up 1-0 with a line drive to right-center field for a home run, No. 660.

While this wasn’t a big milestone at the time as no one knew this would be his final homer, Mets fans still thunderously applauded Mays.

Although the Mets would go on to lose this game 2-1, something miraculous happened the rest of the season.

On Aug. 30, the Mets were 6.5 GB, still in last place with a 61-71 record. About three weeks later on Sept. 21, the Mets were 77-77 and in first place. They would ultimately finish the season winning the NL East with an 82-79 record (every other team in the division finished .500 or worse). Meanwhile, the Dodgers were 95-66 and didn’t even make the playoffs! The Mets then won the pennant after beating the NL West-winning Reds (99-63).


Mays went 2-for-7 with one RBI in the World Series, and the Mets ended up losing to the Athletics in seven games.


August 18, 1967—Tony Conigliaro Gets Hit By Pitch


Tony Conigliaro is one of the biggest “what if” stories ever in baseball. He was a fan favorite of the Red Sox, born and raised just outside of Boston. Conigliaro made his debut at 19 and hit home runs at a historic pace. He led the American League in homers during the ’65 season at only 20 years of age. In fact, Conigliaro is the youngest player in American League history to reach 100 home runs (22 years, 197 days old). There are only four players that hit at least that many home runs through their age-22 season:

  1. Mel Ott – 115
  2. Eddie Mathews – 112
  3. Alex Rodriguez – 106
  4. Tony Conigliaro – 104

There was a chance that Conigliaro could’ve claimed the first place spot from Ott, but he only played 95 games in the ’67 season as it was tragically cut short for him on August 18.


On that date, the Red Sox faced off against the California Angels starter Jack Hamilton. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Hamilton threw a pitch high and inside that hit Conigliaro in the face, fracturing his left cheekbone, dislocating his jaw and severely damaging his retina.

His playing career was in serious jeopardy. He missed the rest of the ’67 season and did not play at all the next year either. Conigliaro returned in ’69, earning Comeback Player of the Year honors with 20 home runs and 82 RBI, hitting .255/.321/.427 with a 103 OPS+. He improved even more the next year, setting career bests in home runs (36), RBIs (116) and runs (89).

This renaissance was short-lived as the hit by pitch permanently damaged his vision. Conigliaro would play 74 games with the Angels in ’71, and he briefly retired before returning to the Red Sox as a designated hitter in ’75. Conigliaro permanently retired after that season.


August 19, 1951—Eddie Gaedel Draws a Walk


Bill Veeck has arguably the most interesting and storied history of any baseball executive. His father was the president of the Chicago Cubs from 1919 to 1933, and Veeck worked as a vendor. Through his father, Veeck created multiple ideas that became defining qualities of Wrigley Field, such as the ivy that adorns the outfield walls and the design of the scoreboard. Veeck would later become owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (who were in the American Association, not the MLB at the time), Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox. As owner of the Indians, Veeck pushed for integration within baseball by signing Larry Doby, the first African-American player ever in the American League, and Satchel Paige, who became a 42-year-old rookie seeing as he never played in the MLB before.

Veeck was a man of many talents, but above all else he always strived to create a spectacle. Perhaps the most notorious example of this happened on August 19, 1951 in a doubleheader between Veeck’s St. Louis Browns and the Detroit Tigers.

The Browns were last in their division and struggling to draw a crowd. Veeck wanted to do something to drum up interest, and he came up with the idea to sign a little person to a one-game contract and have them make a surprise pinch-hit appearance. Veeck dispatched his staff to find the right candidate, and they picked Eddie Gaedel, who measured in at 3 foot 7 inches and weighed around 65 pounds.

Veeck kept this plan extremely secret. He did give some hints as to his intentions. For example, Veeck had on-field entertainment in the intermission between the games of the doubleheader. This featured a cake being wheeled onto the field, which Gaedel jumped out of, a routine by Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, and a live music performance that saw Satchel Paige on drums.

He fully revealed his plan during the second game when the Browns’ leadoff hitter was at the plate in the bottom of the first.

They called back the hitter, and out walked Gaedel, wearing a jersey with the number 1/8 on the back. Everyone in the stadium was in disbelief. Umpire Ed Hurley, who yelled “what the hell” when he saw Gaedel walking to the plate, reviewed the Browns’ roster and Gaedel’s contract to make sure that it was technically allowed. Once Hurley approved it, Gaedel took his stance in the batters box, slightly crouching and creating a strike zone that measured around 1.5 inches.

Veeck told Gaedel not to swing. Veeck had actually taken out a $1 million life insurance policy on Gaedel, and Veeck told the “rookie” that he had hidden a sniper in the stadium that would shoot Gaedel if it looked like he was going to swing.

Gaedel ended up working a four-pitch walk, and he was pulled from the game once he got to first base. Gaedel acknowledged the crowd as he walked to the dugout.

His 1.000 career OBP is tied with many players like Kei Igawa and John Means for the best ever (minimum 1 PA).


August 21, 2013—Ichiro Hits No. 4,000 


The 4,000 hit club is maybe the most exclusive group in professional baseball.

Well, besides the 500 home run/500 steals club since Barry Bonds is the only member of that. He is also the only person in the 400/400 club (just had to throw in some freaky Bonds facts).

There are only nine players who have reached 4,000 hits in the MLB/NPB/Negro Leagues/Minor Leagues/etc. The group is filled with some of the best players ever, from Ty Cobb to Stan Musial, and on August 21, 2013 Ichiro joined this elite company.

In ’13, Ichiro was no longer a regular .300 hitter, but he was still a good defender and baserunner. When you compare him to the rest of the Yankees lineup that year, which featured the aging corpses of Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, and Jayson Nix, it was a pleasure to see Ichiro at the plate. He actually began the August 21 game against the Blue Jays with a .274 average, the second-best mark on the team.

Ichiro entered the game with 2,721 hits in the MLB and 1,278 in the NPB, and he wasted no time with crossing No. 4,000 off his list.

In the bottom of the first inning, with the crowd chanting “I-chi-ro!,” R.A. Dickey floated a 78 MPH-er that hung in the middle of the plate. Ichiro slapped that pitch right past the third baseman, causing the crowd to erupt.


That hit was textbook Ichiro, a classic swing that we have literally seen thousands of times before.

Less than two years later, Ichiro would pass Ty Cobb’s major league total with hit 4,192. A year later, he hit No. 4,257 to pass Pete Rose.


August 23, 1989—Youppi! Gets Ejected


Famous Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda has a knack for getting into fights with mascots. This includes that brawl where Lasorda wielded and struck the Phillie Phanatic with a stuffed mannequin and that time where Lasorda threatened to kill the San Diego Chicken after the mascot stomped on some Dodger hats.

As you can see, mascots get on Lasorda’s nerves pretty easily. This was on full display during the August 23, 1989 matchup between the Dodgers and Expos in Montreal.

The Expos were in the hunt for a playoff spot, just two games behind the division-leading Cubs. The Dodgers, on the other hand, had a 59-67 record and were 13 games back. But their starter for the day was Orel Hershiser, an ace who won the Cy Young the previous year and entered the game with a 2.45 ERA on the season. Hershiser faced off against Pascual Perez, who was a great pitcher with a 2.88 ERA over 415 IP since joined Montreal in ’87.

This was a historic game in a few ways. It lasted 22 innings—tied for the ninth-longest game ever. The final score? 1-0. Meaning that for 21 innings, fans saw two offenses utterly choke away every opportunity they had. The two teams combined for 33 hits, but they were 0-for-23 with RISP.

Frustration was brewing everywhere inside Olympic Stadium, but Expos mascot Youppi was still as energetic as ever. To get the crowd riled up, Youppi would hop on the metal dugouts, causing a loud banging sound that echoed throughout the Dodgers bench. This irritated Lasorda, and his patience had probably all-but-disappeared after 11 scoreless innings. Lasorda then filed a complaint and got third base umpire Bob Davidson to eject the furry funny fella.


Poor Youppi, he looks so dejected.

At least he made history that night by becoming the first and only mascot ever ejected from a game.

You may be asking yourself, what happened to Youppi when the Expos moved to Washington D.C.? Well, Youppi switched sports, becoming the official mascot of Montreal Canadiens, the first one to ever work in two different professional sports. Youppi’s long and storied career was recognized this June when he was inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame.


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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