Somebody had to be the opening act in The Show, and it was no coincidence that the honor went to Boston and Philadelphia. As the Red Stockings, Boston had earned an invitation to be part of the National League by earning the 1875 National Association championship with a runaway 71-8 record, while Philadelphia was second. In front of curious onlookers at Philadelphia's Jefferson Street Grounds, Boston held on for a 6-5 win. It was a nail-biter, but Boston manager Harry Wright wasn't able to phone the bullpen for relief help. Sure, the telephone existed -- Alexander Graham Bell had invented it a month earlier -- but there was no bullpen.
As they checked into the new league and began a new era, Boston had changed its nickname to the Red Caps. The Philadelphia boys, however, remained the Athletics -- and it is noteworthy that nickname is the only one of the original eight Major League teams still in use.
They were -- with apologies to the current South Siders -- known as the Chicago White Stockings when they played their first game. The White Stockings defeated the Louisville Grays, 4-0, and would remain undefeated through three more games. The significance of the birth is that the Cubs have played a bigger share of the 200,000 -- 20,086 games -- than any other MLB team. They have even won a few of them.
It did not seem like such a big deal when St. Louis Brown Stockings right-hander George Bradley held the Hartford Dark Blues without a hit in a 2-0 victory. After all, he did it midway through the first season of the National League, the original Major League, without the historical perspective that would lift followers atop a pedestal. Bradley himself mustn't have thought much of it: The man nicknamed "Grin" tossed a total of 16 shutouts that season.
The adage "nobody is perfect" was smashed when left-hander John Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs was precisely that against the Cleveland Blues, needing only an hour and 26 minutes to complete his gem at the Worcester Agricultural Fairgrounds. In addition to perfection, Richmond also helped introduce the notion "baseball is a funny game." Because only five days later, Providence's John Ward would also pitch a perfect game (against Buffalo) -- then the National League would not see another for 84 years, until the Phillies' Jim Bunning did it to the Mets on June 21, 1964.
Of the 200,000 games, a total of 20 have been pitched perfectly, or .01 percent. So you still have a 16-times-better chance of seeing a perfect game in the World Series. Don Larsen (1956) has the only one of those out of 607 Fall Classic games, or .16 percent.
They were known as the Gothams, their nickname through the first two seasons of their existence, when they knocked off the Boston Beaneaters (political correctness clearly was not an issue in 1883), 7-5, in the franchise's first game. But the Giants have had no trouble making up the seven-year head start they had given the rest of the National League: They have more wins (10,519 through Sept. 20) than any other Major League team through the first 200,000.
There is a reason the ultimate pitchers' award is named for him. At the conclusion of the 1909 season, Cy Young had 497 wins, meaning he personally had won 2 percent of all 30,513 games played through that season. The '09 season was the first with Cleveland for Young, who had been Boston's ace through the Red Sox's first eight seasons of existence. During that 1901-08 stretch, he also accounted for 34 percent of Boston's total team wins, 192 of 563.
As Grover Cleveland Alexander was winding down his rookie season with the Philadelphia Phillies, he probably had no premonition that the 100th anniversary of the 27th of his 28 wins of 1911, an 8-2 decision over the Cardinals, would coincide with celebrations of baseball's 200,000th game. "Pete" Alexander would have 373 victories by the time he threw his last pitch in a farewell appearance with the Phillies on May 28, 1930 -- in Game No. 56,446.
George Herman Ruth probably considered it a bad day: He was Boston's ace left-handed pitcher, and he couldn't beat the Yankees, who dumped the Red Sox, 4-3. His home run out of the Polo Grounds in the top of the third inning off Jack Warhop was of little consolation -- although of great historical consideration. The Babe enjoyed his next trip to New York much more: June 2, career homer No. 2, also off Warhop -- but that time, he and the Red Sox were 7-1 winners.
The Iron Horse pulls out of the station -- but not exactly at full steam. Lou Gehrig appears for the New York Yankees as a late-game pinch-hitter for shortstop Pee-Wee Wanninger, an innocuous start to an iconic streak by a legendary player. The ensuing day, New York manager Miller Huggins benches a slumping Wally Pipp and starts Gehrig at first base -- the first appearance of the season at that position by Gehrig, who until then had been used as a spare outfielder.
And Nos. 712 and 713, too. Maintaining, even embellishing, his legend right into the dusk of his career, Babe Ruth bids a signature farewell to the main stage: With only the second three-homer game of his signature career. The circumstances are quite stranger, however, than they were on May 21, 1930, when he launched three for the Yankees against the Athletics. This time, he is with the Boston Braves in Pittsburgh, where only about 10,000 have come to Forbes Field on a Saturday afternoon.
Ruth gives them a Bambino show: In the top of the first, he takes Red Lucas out of the park with a man on; in the third, he connects off Guy Bush with another man on; in the seventh, he again victimizes Bush with the bases empty. Ruth will play five more games, go 2-for-9 in them, then hang up his cleats for the final time.
"I'm benching myself, Joe, for the good of the team." With those words to Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, Lou Gehrig took off New York's May 2 game in Detroit -- and the rest of his career. Two days earlier, an 0-for-4 effort against the Senators dropped his season average to .143.
It had been evident since Spring Training that Gehrig was a physical shell of his former self. Teammates, fans and the press had watched him drag his deteriorating body around in the field and on the bases. No one knew the problem; Gehrig's diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was weeks away.
But everyone knew they had witnessed a special man doing special things for 14 years and 2,130 consecutive games. Particularly the 11,379 fans in Briggs Stadium who gave Gehrig a standing ovation as he took into the pregame meeting with umpires the Yankees' lineup that did not contain his name.
Joe DiMaggio goes 1-for-4 against the White Sox, and nobody pays attention to it, inasmuch as the Yankees are otherwise busy getting buried by Chicago, 13-1. Those who do take note that DiMaggio at least got a hit following two hitless games are hoping it might be a sign that he is emerging from his slump: The Yankee Clipper had hit at a .195 clip in his last 11 games.
Two weeks after breaking the existing Major League record for hitting in consecutive games -- 41, by the 1922 St. Louis Browns' George Sisler -- Joe DiMaggio extends his streak to 56 with a 3-for-4 effort in Cleveland. Ho-hum: This is his ninth game with three or more hits in the streak, during which he is hitting .408 with 15 homers and nearly an RBI (55) a game.
The following day, DiMaggio's streak will end as he goes 0-for-3 while being robbed twice of base hits by Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner -- who thereby prevents a 73-game hitting streak, because DiMaggio will go on to hit safely in his next 16 games.
Ted Williams is already a .400 hitter: his .39955 average would officially round up to that elusive number. But rather than join an exclusive club on a technicality, Teddy Ballgame decides to break down the door with his bat. He goes 6-for-8 in the season-ending doubleheader in Philadelphia against the Athletics to finish at .406.
Williams thus becomes Major League Baseball's 28th .400 hitter through 70,951 games. The unanswered quest to join them is at 129,049 games and counting.
It is the most seminal of all the Major League moments. When the Brooklyn Dodgers dash out of their dugout for the start of the Opening Day game against the Boston Braves, taking Ebbets Field with them is first baseman Jackie Robinson, who in crossing the foul line also crosses the game's color line. Robinson goes hitless in the 5-3 victory, but that is totally incidental to the historic significance and consequence of the resolve of Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey, who had hand-picked the multi-sport Californian to be the Majors' first African-American ballplayer.
The dignity, perseverance and performance -- he led the National League with 29 stolen bases and hit .297 to earn Rookie of the Year honors -- with which Robinson obeyed his destiny is celebrated nationally with the designation of April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. As an aside -- on Sept. 1, 1971, in Game No. 112,738, the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded the Majors' first all-Black lineup, in Three Rivers Stadium against the Phillies.
Batting second in the Cincinnati Reds' lineup, second baseman Pete Rose draws a first-inning walk off the Pirates' Earl Francis, flings away his bat -- and runs, hard, to first. Charlie Hustle won't stop hustling until he has played in more games than anyone in Major League history -- on Aug. 17, 1986, his No. 3,562 is overall No. 142,449.
That this was Game 100K can be confirmed by crunching some numbers: There were 99,994 games through July 15; on this day, five afternoon games preceded the Orioles-Yankees game, which was the only East Coast affair of the four night games. There exist some references citing Sept. 6, 1963, as the date of Game No. 100,000, but that timeline includes games in the National Association, which are not recognized in the official MLB count.
There were no radar guns at the time, but even without flashing LED numbers, the Atlanta Braves could feel the triple-digit heat whizzing by them when the Mets' Nolan Ryan made his first Major League appearance. Relieving Dick Selma in the sixth inning at Shea Stadium, Ryan faced eight batters and struck three of them out.
That thus began the most accomplished pitching career ever can at least be debated; after all, the mound has showcased a lot of star power through the decades. That it was the beginning of the longest career, however, is uncontested. The Express made his Major League farewell on Sept. 22, 1993 -- in Game No. 157,769. So not only did Ryan have a record 27-season career, he also had a record 53,952-game career.
Unlike the original Ironman, Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr. was already established before he became a fixture. The infielder had made 65 appearances for the Baltimore Orioles in 1981-82 before manager Earl Weaver inserted him into his lineup at third base on this day. To list Ripken in the batting order, Weaver, as usual, put pen to paper; he might as well have put chisel to granite.
Ripken wouldn't leave that lineup for 2,632 consecutive games, adding the last pearl to the string on Sept. 19, 1998 -- in Game No. 168,265. The 35,188 games spanning the beginning and the end of Ripken's streak equalled the total played by all teams through the first 37 1/2 seasons of Major League ball.
In its 107th season and after 134,070 games, Major League Baseball finally has a 300-save reliever as Milwaukee’s Rollie Fingers closes out the Mariners in the Kingdome, 3-2. While the save does not become an official statistic until 1959, the biggest reason for this delayed milestone is the dramatically evolved use of bullpens in the modern game.
For further proof, consider that the next 65,928 games would see 22 other closers join the founding member in the 300-Save Club -- not to mention that two of them, Mariano Rivera (602) and Trevor Hoffman (601), would more than double Fingers' record for career saves.
Even after all these years and tens of thousands of games, baseball reminds us of its charming ability to furnish the unprecedented. The most recent agents of that reminder are the New York Yankees, who accomplish in No. 199,585 something not done in the first 199,584: They become the first team to slug three grand slams in one game.
Robinson Cano (fifth inning), Russell Martin (sixth) and Curtis Granderson (eighth) do the honors against the A’s in the process of a 22-9 victory at Yankee Stadium -- where previously the Bombers had never even hit two grand slams in one game.
The Rockies needed 13 innings to complete the 200,000th regular-season game in Major League history. Chris Nelson's bases-loaded walk forced home the go-ahead run before Rafael Betancourt closed it out against the Astros with a perfect inning.