This Week in Baseball History: May 10 – 16

Before there was Zack Greinke, we witnessed Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.


May 11, 1977 – Ted Turner Tries to Manage


The 1970s Atlanta Braves struggled. In seven separate seasons, they finished in last or second-to-last. In 1976, they had the fourth-worst record in all of baseball (70 – 92). 1977 didn’t fare much better.

In the first two weeks, the Braves went 8 – 5 and found themselves in second place in the NL West. But then, they went through a brutal 16-game losing week with some rough losses. On April 24, they lost to the Dodgers 16 – 6. The very next day, they lost to the Reds 23 – 9.

Braves owner and CNN founder Ted Turner felt that he had to do something. But the thing was, Turner, as he himself described, didn’t “know as much about baseball as [he] should.” He had initially bought the Braves as a profitable business decision that could also improve the image of Atlanta. His baseball experience… well, he didn’t have any.

That didn’t stop Turner from taking a hands-on approach to solving the Braves’ losing skid. Turner told manager Dave Bristol that he was taking a two-week sabbatical while Turner handled managerial duties. Bristol’s response?

“You’re crazy,” Bristol said. “But go right ahead. It’s your team.”

On May 11, Turner dressed in uniform. For the first time since Connie Mack, baseball had an owner-manager.

There were two problems. One: Mack knew baseball. Two: MLB explicitly prohibited this.

Rule 20-E (page 144): “No manager or player on a Club shall, directly or indirectly, own stock or any other proprietary interest or have any financial interest in the Club by which the manager or player is employed…”

Turner didn’t know this as he suited up for the game. Braves 38-year-old pitcher Phil Niekro asked Turner where he was hitting in the lineup. Turner responded, “Hell, I don’t know. … You’ve been around here long enough. Hit wherever you want to.” Niekro smartly said he would bat ninth.

For most of what turned out to be a relatively uneventful game, Turner relied on his coaches for decision making. Turner seemed to copy Pirates manager Chuck Tanner’s mannerisms when he was trying to look like an actual manager.

“Every time Tanner would cross his legs, Turner would cross his legs,” Braves infielder Darrel Chaney said. “Like he was trying to figure out what to do.”

Despite Turner’s addition to the team, the Braves lost 2 – 1. The next day, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn gave Turner a ring to let him know that he was kind of violating the rules and couldn’t do that again.

But the message had already been made. The next day, the Turner-less Braves broke their losing streak with a 6 – 1 win. Finally, their fortune had changed!

Well, not really. The Braves finished the year 61 – 101—the worst record in the National League.


May 13, 1958 – Stan Musial’s 3,000th Hit


A batting average higher than Wade Boggs. More triples than Rogers Hornsby. A strikeout rate better than Ted Williams. This is Stan Musial.

In the realm of history’s greatest hitters, Stan the Man stands in the inner circle. If he didn’t miss a year of his prime due to WW2 service, there is a chance that Musial would’ve been the first player ever to reach 3,000 hits and 500 HRs. Nonetheless, he retired with 3,630 hits and 475 HRs. Oh, and 128.3 bWAR/126.8 fWAR.

From 1941 to 1957, and as Musial wracked up 2,957 career hits, he never had lower than a 135 wRC+. The 36-year-old lifetime Cardinal seemed absolutely unstoppable year in and year out.

He began the 1958 needing just 43 hits for No. 3,000. Over the first month, Musial went on a torrid start. He recorded 28 hits in 61 PAs. May was the same story: 14 more hits in 42 PAs. Entering the Cardinals’ May 13 game at Wrigley Field, Musial was batting .483/.553/.782 and just one knock away from 3,000.

Musial had wanted to achieve the milestone in front of his St. Louis family. Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson was fine with this and planned to give Musial the day off. He would only be called upon in case of an emergency.

The Cardinals found themselves in a hole from the get-go. Ernie Banks gave the Cubs a 1 – 0 lead in the first on a sac fly. The Cardinals responded with a run of their own in the top of the third, but Chicago took the lead right back in the bottom of the inning. As the sixth began, the Cubs were leading 3 – 1.

St. Louis’ Gene Green slapped a leadoff double to right, and the next batter grounded out. With the pitcher due to come up in a critical situation, Hutchinson called upon Musial to pinch-hit.

However, Musial wasn’t in the dugout. He was just vibing out while “sunning himself in a green folding chair in the Cardinals’ bullpen.”

Musial interrupted his tan and went to bat. He worked a 2 – 2 count, fouling off a couple of pitches. Then, on the sixth pitch, Musial made history.


With that RBI double to left, Musial became the eighth member of the 3,000 hit club and the only batter to reach that mark with a pinch-hit at-bat. Play stopped as the less than sold-out Wrigley Field crowd applauded their rival, while photographers crowded around second base to capture this moment.

Musial’s at-bat proved to be a difference-maker as it began a four-run rally that gave the Cardinals a winning 5 – 3 lead.

For five more seasons, Musial would continue mashing at the plate, retiring with the second most hits of all-time (he would later be surpassed by Pete Rose and Hank Aaron). Here’s one fun fact to show Musial’s consistency: 1,815 hits at home, 1,815 on the road.


May 15, 1912 – Ty Cobb Fights a Fan


Much of Ty Cobb’s legacy is influenced by Al Stump, a ghostwriter responsible for Cobb’s biography “My Life in Baseball.” The book was released just two months after Cobb’s death, and Cobb passed away in the midst of fighting the publication of this book due to its reported factual inaccuracies.

The result, as detailed in this article by Anthony Castrovince with MLB.com, is that Cobb has been unfairly mischaracterized by Stump’s sensationalism. While some of these reports detailed Cobb as a bigot and racist, Charles Leerhsen, author of “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” said that Cobb was not only descended from a long line of abolitionists, but he was also a strong proponent of integration in baseball.

Many of the critiques against Cobb, such as his rough play style, were not out of place in the baseball of that era. In fact, on May 15, 1912, when Cobb fought a fan, that wasn’t a one-of-a-kind thing—Babe Ruth fought a fan for calling him “a big piece of cheese” (although SABR.org notes the fan may have said something slightly different).

Anyway, yes on May 15, Cobb leaped into the Hilltop Park stands in New York to go to battle. As Cobb described in his memoirs, one fan, Claude Lueker, had been incessantly berating Cobb constantly during their previous games against the Yankees.

Cobb finally reached his breaking point. Sam Crawford asked Cobb what he was going to do, and Cobb jumped the railing and marched up the steps to Lueker. Cobb began punching and kicking Lueker, which prompted another fan to exclaim, “that man has no hands!” (Lueker had lost all but two fingers in a printing press accident).

“I don’t care if he has no feet!” Cobb responded.

Police eventually separated Cobb from the fan. AL president Ban Johnson, who was in attendance and witnessed this, indefinitely suspended Cobb. His teammates launched baseball’s first unofficial player strike in support of Cobb, arguing “if the players cannot have protection, we must protect ourselves.”

The Tigers manager and owner then had to assemble a hodge-podge roster that featured current coaches, semipro players, and an amateur boxer. On May 18, this team lost 24 – 2 to the Philadelphia Athletics. The Tigers recruited seminarian Allan Travers, who decided to pitch instead of play right field because it paid $50 instead of $25.

He only threw curveballs because he was afraid of what would happen if he threw fastballs. His final career stats: 1 G, 8 IP, 26 H, 24 R (14 earned), 7 BB, and 1 K.

10 days later, Johnson lifted Cobb’s suspension and everything returned to normal in Detroit.


May 15, 1976 – Mark Fydrich’s First Start


Zack Greinke fascinates modern baseball fans. No contemporary shares Greinke’s combination of pitching excellence and unique mannerisms. But decades before Greinke, there was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. A rookie whose unexpected rise to fame, eccentric antics, and utter dominance turned him into one of history’s most fascinating pitchers.

Fidrych made the mound his own sanctuary. He would get down on his knees to carefully manicure the dirt. He liked talking to the baseball and sometimes would reject fresh baseballs if he thought they were imperfect. After each strikeout, he would strut around the infield grass as he applauded his teammates. For some hitters, he was an annoying distraction. For every fan, he was a one-a-kind attraction.


The Detroit Tigers drafted Fidrych in the 10th round of the 1974 draft as an unheralded prospect. But once in the minors, Fidrych ascended quickly due to his strong fastball. In ’74, Fidrych pitched just 34 innings with the rookie affiliate Bristol Tigers, posting a 2.38 ERA, 1.176 WHIP, and 10.6 K/9. His coach, Jeff Hogan, gave Fidrych the nickname “The Bird” because his lanky 6’3″, 175-pound frame and long, curly blond hair reminded Hogan of Big Bird on Sesame Street.

In 1975, Fidrych constantly improved as he jumped from A (3.77 ERA, 1.376 WHIP, 5.6 K/9 in 117 IP) to AA (3.21 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 in 14 IP) to AAA (1.58 ERA, 0.900 WHIP, 6.5 K/9 in 40 IP). After that season, the last-place Tigers (57 – 102) traded away their best pitcher, Mickey Lolich, leaving open a spot in the rotation.

However, Fidrych’s first two appearances in 1976 came out of the bullpen, throwing just one scoreless inning and facing six batters total. On May 15, Tigers starter Joe Coleman came down with the flu, paving the way for Fidrych’s first major-league start against the Cleveland Indians.

There wasn’t much hype surrounding this game. 14,583 fans filled Tiger Stadium to watch these two basement-dwelling teams. Fidrych didn’t make much of an impression on fans as he struck out the first batter he faced. The next two hitters grounded out to end the inning. The second played out similarly: the Indians went down 1-2-3 as no ball left the infield. The third? 1-2-3 again. All outs recorded in the infield as well. The first time the Indians hit the ball to the outfield happened in the fourth as Buddy Bell popped out to center.

It didn’t dawn on many people what was happening as Fidrych worked so quickly. But through six innings, he was throwing a no-hitter. The only batter that reached base in that time was Alan Ashby on a fifth-inning walk.

But in the seventh, the Indians finally spoiled Fidrych’s incredible start with back-to-back leadoff singles and fielder’s choice to score a run. No Indian would reach first again.

Fidrych retired the next eight batters in a row to win the game 2 – 1. His final line in his first career start: 9 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, and 5 K. He was marvelous besides that seventh inning. A notoriously fast worker, Fidrych helped the game go by in under two hours.

This would be just the start of a truly sensational season. As the year went on, more and more baseball fans became fans of the Bird. On June 28, a nationally broadcasted game against the Yankees propelled Fidrych to superstardom.


He became the second rookie pitcher to start the All-Star game and finished ’76 as the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young runner-up. His stats: 19 – 9, 2.34 ERA/159 ERA+, 1.079 WHIP, 97 K:53 BB in 250.1 IP.

Unfortunately, Fidrych suffered multiple serious injuries, including an undiagnosed rotator cuff tear, that completely derailed his career. He would start just 27 more times with his last major-league appearance in 1980.


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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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