By Max Toth
The 2021 MLB season is only about a week away from opening day and to get you ready for another season of baseball, here are some of the best and most batty stories from seasons past.
The 1934 MVP Race: Since 1930, ten players have led their league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. One of those players was the legendary Lou Gehrig, who not only pulled off the ‘triple crown’ but did it in style, smacking 49 home runs, 165 RBIs and batting .363. But despite having arguably the greatest season in triple crown history, the ‘Iron Horse’ didn’t win AL MVP.
Gehrig didn’t come second, either.
He came fifth.
So who did win? Maybe a pitcher with a miniscule ERA? Or maybe Gehrig's Yankees teammate, the incomparable Babe Ruth, once again shattered his own home run record and walked away with the award?
Instead, the 1934 AL MVP was Mickey Cochrane of the Detroit Tigers. Now, Cochrane was a very good player and his two MVP awards and three World Series championships earned him a deserved trip to Cooperstown.
The '34 season, however, wasn’t exactly his best work.
Cochrane racked up 75 RBI and hit a measly 2 home runs, which, in case you don’t know, aren’t exactly MVP-type numbers. So I assume you’re even more confused now than you were at the start of the story.
But let me explain.
Back in 1934, MVP voters didn’t just choose the player with the best season - like is commonly the case in today's game. Instead, they focused on the player they thought was truly most valuable to his team. Cochrane wasn’t just a player, but also a manager who led the Tigers to an American League best 101-53 record - something which likely gave him the advantage with MVP voters.
Still, it's hard to believe that Gehrig's sensational season was virtually ignored. Fortunately, however, the player/manager role is a thing of the past so hopefully we never see an MVP race as confusing as the 1934 iteration.
Gaylord Perry and the Moon Landing: Before a 1964 game, a San Francisco baseball writer noticed the Giants star pitcher, Gaylord Perry, hitting multiple batting practice home runs. The scribe remarked to Giants manager Alvin Dark that Perry might soon transfer his power surge into an actual game and smack his first ever MLB home run. Dark, ever the pessimist, made a remark that would later go from hyperbole to prophecy.
“Mark my words," said Dark. "A man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.”
Skip to July 20th, 1969 and Perry is getting set to start against the L.A Dodgers. History buffs will know that on the opposite end of the Earth's atmosphere, one of the most important events in human history was occurring: the moon landing. Meanwhile, just a half-hour after fans at San Francisco's Candlestick Park rose for a moment of silence to honour Neil Armstrong and the rest of the Apollo 11 crew, Gaylord Perry came up to bat.
And wouldn’t you know it?
Perry took a big swing and, you got it, hit a ‘moonshot’ for his first career MLB home run.
Alvin Dark managed almost 2,000 games in the MLB but, as it turns out, he may have had an even better career as a clairvoyant.
'Awful Night' and other Awful Promotions: Most baseball promotions are designed to either give fans a better ballpark experience or get more people out to the game in the first place.
But a couple of minor league teams were quick to toss both those ideas right out the window.
Exhibit number one is the double-A Altoona Curves annual ‘Awful Night,’ which is dedicated to making the fan experience as miserable as humanly possible.
How's this for an awful menu?
Fans are encouraged to wear the most hideous outfits they can muster.
Horrible covers of popular songs are blared over the loudspeakers.
A between-innings promotion features a few poor souls participating in a Spam-eating contest.
Is 'Awful Night' a little too unusual for you?
Well then, how about a promotion that’s actually become the norm over the past year since the pandemic put a pause on in-person spectating?
Welcome to 'Nobody Night.’
In July of 2002, the Charleston RiverDogs deliberately locked fans out of their stadium in an attempt to break the record for lowest attendance at a pro baseball game.
Sounds a little cruel, doesn't it?
But most of the two thousand or so locked out fans were in on the gag, as they were treated to a huge tailgate party outside the park. Once the game was declared official in the fifth inning and attendance was recorded as 'zero', the gates flung open and everybody rushed in.
It's a pretty good metaphor for the upcoming baseball season.
Some Major League teams have been given the health code authority to allow a few spectators into their ballparks.
But once COVID finally bites the dust, you can expect a flood of fans to get back to watching the boys of summer do their thing.