One of the best investments I’ve ever made, at least relative to cost, is in Johnson and Wolff’s Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (2nd ed.), which I purchased at a used bookstore in Phoenix some years ago during a jaunt to the Arizona Fall League. I often find myself flipping through its pages and coming away with a tasty morsel or three of knowledge.
The Encyclopedia includes a feature titled “This Date in Minor League History” that covers every year from 1883 to 1996. I thought it might be fun to look back at some of those events…
1939: Ed Stewart of the Vancouver Capilanos “knocked himself unconscious when he swung and missed at a pitch and hit himself in the head with his bat.” Stewart finished sixth in the Western International League with a .552 SLG, so that must have been quite the swing.
1958: Pedro Perez, a Cuban-born right-hander toiling for the Wellsville Braves, “pitched his third consecutive nine-inning shutout in defeating Batavia, 10-0.” Perez, who was either 18 or 19 at the time, finished sixth in the New York-Penn League with 176 IP. Workloads weren’t monitored real closely back then, and Perez was out of baseball by age 22.
1988: Pat Hentgen, Willie Blair, and Enrique Burgos of the Dunedin Blue Jays combined to no-hit the Osceola Astros. All three pitchers would eventually reach the big leagues, combining for 191 wins (131 for Hentgen, 60 for Blair, 0 for Burgos). Hentgen won the American League Cy Young Award in 1996.
1896: Napoleon Lajoie “drew parental wrath when he quit his job as a hack driver… to play baseball for Fall River of the New England League for $70 a month.” Lajoie ended up in the Hall of Fame — of baseball players, not hack drivers — so that worked out okay.
1923: Pete Schneider, who pitched for the Reds and Yankees from 1914 to 1919, hit five homers (including two grand slams) for the Vernon Tigers in a 35-11 rout of the Salt Lake City Bees. Schneider hit “only” 19 home runs that year, but his .360 batting average ranked third in the Pacific Coast League, behind Paul Strand (.394) and 20-year-old Paul Waner (.369).
1925: Hall of Fame right-hander Joe McGinnity, then of the Dubuque Ironmen, defeated the Ottumwa Cardinals. McGinnity, who won 246 games over the course of a 10-year big-league career, didn’t reach the minors until age 38. He ended up with 207 more wins there, including six in this, his final season, at age 54.
1960: Palatka Redlegs right-hander Michael Mattiace “hurled his second no-hitter of the season,” giving him two in his first four professional starts. Mattiace never reached the big leagues, finishing his minor-league career at age 25 with a 48-49 record and 4.34 ERA.
1962: Left-hander Al Downing of the Richmond Virginians no-hit the Syracuse Chiefs. Downing went on to win 123 games in the big leagues but is best known today as the man who served up Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run.
1951: Willie Mays, then of the Minneapolis Millers, experienced a two-week stretch in which he went 34-for-56, for a .607 batting average. Mays, age 20, played just 35 games in the American Association before being summoned to New York, and for good reason: He was hitting .477/.524/.799.
1952: Right-hander Ron Necciai, pitching for the Bristol Twins, no-hit the Welch Miners, striking out 27 batters in the process. He would fan 24 in his next start, against Kingsport. Later that season, Necciai pitched briefly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, going 1-6 with a 7.08 ERA.
1972: Arkansas Travelers right-hander Bob Forsch no-hit the Memphis Blues. Forsch went 8-10 with a 4.35 ERA in the Texas League that year before going on to win 168 big-league ballgames (including two more no-hitters).
1975: Right-hander Bill Caudill of the St. Petersburg Cardinals no-hit the Winter Haven Red Sox. Then 18 years old, Caudill would be traded three times before reaching the big leagues in 1979. After flaming out as a starter for the Cubs, he was shipped to Seattle, where he blossomed as a closer. Caudill called it quits in 1987, with a 35-52 record, 3.68 ERA, and 106 saves to his credit.
1966: Right-handers Dick Drago and Darrell Clark of the Rocky Mount Leafs each threw seven-inning no-hitters against the Greensboro Yankees in a doubleheader. Drago, age 21, finished his stint in the Carolina League with a 15-9 record and 1.79 ERA (only fifth best in the circuit). He would go on to enjoy a successful big-league career, winning 108 games over the span of 13 seasons, primarily with the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox. Clark would pitch one more year professionally, for San Jose in the California League, before retiring.
1883: Baseball was played in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, “under artificial light… The score of the contest is not known, but the light was supplied by a portable dynamo which rested on a flat car.” Man, that is so punk.
1948: Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder who played briefly for the St. Louis Browns in 1945, attempted a comeback with the Eastern League’s Elmira Pioneers. In his first start with the Pioneers, the 33-year-old Gray singled twice, stole two bases, and scored the winning run. He hit .290 for the Pioneers that year before dropping to .214 in 45 games with the Dallas Eagles in 1949 and subsequently retiring.
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That’s all for this week. Enjoy…