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GREG MADDUX & JEFF BAGWELL
Leading 8-0 in a regular-season game against the Astros, Maddux threw what he had said he would never throw to Jeff Bagwell -- a fastball in. Bagwell did what Maddux wanted him to do: he homered. So two weeks later, when Maddux was facing Bagwell in a close game, Bagwell was looking for a fastball in, and Maddux fanned him on a change-up away.
-- George Will in Newsweek (April 25, 2006)
Bagwell played in fifteen seasons, which is a long career but doesn't come close to that of Maddux (who has five seasons on Bagwell at the beginning of their careers and, at this writing, two seasons and counting at the end). In all fifteen of Bagwell's seasons he faced Maddux at least once, so we might as well start at the beginning, which was 1991.
One may, with the help of the SABR Baseball Encyclopedia, quickly look up not only the dates of Bagwell's 449 homers, but various other details. But of course he hit a lot more homers than Maddux gave up, so it's easier to check Maddux's log instead. Which I will now do, looking specifically for Bagwell as the hitter and leaving the other details for later.
Bagwell did not homer against Maddux in 1991, 1992, 1993, or 1994. But in 1995, when Maddux gave up only eight home runs all season, Bagwell hit two of them within a week, on May 28 and June 3. Next came single homers in 1996, 1998 (one of three Maddux gave up in one game), 1999, 2004, and 2005. That last bomb is particularly notable; on April 29, Bagwell played his last game until September, and hit his last home run. Maddux gave it up and pitched six otherwise solid innings to beat Roger Clemens.
So we've got (or rather, I've got) the specific dates of each home run, and the play-by-play accounts are just a few clicks away. Remember, we're looking for a game that's in the late innings, with Maddux's team -- the Braves, until 2004 -- comfortably ahead of Bagwell's Astros. Did one of these home runs come in a situation like that? Let's check each of them. First I'll list the date, then the inning, then the score (with Maddux's team listed first), then the number of runners on base...
28 May 1995 8th 2-0 0
3 Jun 1995 5th 0-0 0
18 Sep 1996 6th 6-1 0
2 Sep 1998 2nd 1-0 0
11 Aug 1999 3rd 5-1 1
26 May 2004 3rd 0-1 1
29 Apr 2005 3rd 2-1 0
I enjoy tables. You might not. So let me sum up. In his career, Greg Maddux gave up seven home runs to Jeff Bagwell. None of them came when the score was 8-0, or 7-0. Five of those seven homers came in close games, the two teams within two runs of one another. Leaving aside the specifics of the story, would a competitor like Maddux groove a fastball in a close game? You sure wouldn't think so.
Which leaves two games: September 18, 1996, when the Braves were up 6-1 in the sixth inning; and August 11, 1999, when the Braves were up 5-1 in the third. Neither situation makes a lot of sense, but we'll start with those games and look for the last specific: it's two weeks later -- okay, it's any point later in the season -- and Maddux slips a third strike past Bagwell in a key spot.
Except -- and by now you're probably way ahead of me -- both of these games were relatively late in the season, which means few (if any) chances for Maddux to have struck out Bagwell. In 1996, after September 18 Maddux made only two starts, both against Montreal. In 1999, after August 11 Maddux made eight starts...but none against Bagwell's Astros.
But wait! (And if you're ahead of me here, kudos to you, sir.) What about postseason games? Might Maddux have struck out Bagwell in October? Not in '96; the Astros didn't qualify for the derby that year. But in 1999, the Braves and Astros faced off in a Division Series, and Maddux started the opener.
In the first inning, Bagwell struck out with nobody on base. In the third inning, he flied to center field. In the fifth, he singled. In the top of the seventh, he flied to center. And in the bottom of the seventh, Maddux got bumped for a pinch hitter. Maybe that first-inning strikeout is what we're looking for, though. The game was close; it was zero-zero.
But that's all, folks. There's nothing else to see here. I don't doubt that Greg Maddux, in some fashion or another, set up Jeff Bagwell at some point during their long careers. Or rather, I don't doubt that Maddux believes he did that. And maybe he did. Pitchers have been telling stories like this one for nearly as long as there have been pitchers. But believing you did something and actually doing it are sometimes different things.
Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer
1952 - 1956
BILLY MARTIN & JACKIE ROBINSON
Another reason I enjoyed beating the Dodgers was the competition with Jackie Robinson. There was a black lawyer in Berkeley by the name of Walter Gordon, who helped my mother when I was a kid. He had also helped Jackie, so when we played in the Series, I always wanted to show Walter that I was a better second baseman. That was my real challenge. And always I outhit, and always I outplayed him. Every Series we played in.
-- Billy Martin in Number 1 (Martin & Peter Golenbock, 1980)
Martin played for the Yankees from 1950 through the middle of the '57 season. In those years, the Yankees played the Dodgers in four World Series: 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956. In '52, '53, and '56, Martin was the Yankees' top second baseman during the regular season, and the only Yankee second baseman during the World Series.
In 1954 he was drafted -- for the second time -- and spent all of that season and most of the next stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado, where he played for (and managed) both the base team and a semipro team in Goodland, Kansas. The Yankees' five-year pennant streak got busted by the Indians in 1954. The Yanks won again in '55, but Martin wasn't supposed to be discharged until a few days after the World Series. According to an Associated Press story dated August 29:
Billy Martin's chances of playing in the world series appear slim, even if the Yankees make the grade.
The Army granted today a request by the 27-year-old second baseman for a thirty-day furlough, effective at once. This furlough, however, will expire at midnight Sept. 28 -- the day the world series is scheduled to open.
Authorities at Fort Carson, where Martin is winding up his military duty, made it plain they would expect the baseball star back on time -- world series or no world series.
Martin, a corporal, is due for final training and processing for discharge. His separation date from the Army is Oct. 8, and the world series will end Oct. 4, even if it goes the full seven games.
The fort's information officer, Capt. W.G. Newkirk, said that so far as he knew "There is no way to get out of" the final processing and completion of training.
"I don't see much chance of Martin getting to play during that period," he said.
Somehow, though, Martin eventually was excused from duty during the World Series (so were five of his buddies from Fort Carson, who attended the Series as guests of the Yankees). Running through each of the Martin-Robinson matchups...
In 1952, Martin's first Series as more than a bench player -- he'd appeared just briefly in the '51 Series -- he played in all seven games and batted .217. He did hit a three-run homer in the Yankees' 7-1 win in Game 2. Robinson also homered, but hit even worse than Martin, going just 4 for 23 (.174). But the most famous moment of the Series came in Game 7 and involved both men. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Yankees led 4-2 with two outs, but the Dodgers had the bases loaded. Robinson lifted a soft pop between the mound and first base, and it looked as if the ball would drop when first baseman Joe Collins lost the ball in the sun. Martin, though, dashed over to make the catch, and the Dodgers never threatened again.
In '53, Martin was the big star of the Series. He tripled twice, homered twice, and batted .500. In the ninth inning of Game 6, his twelfth hit of the Series -- which tied the all-time World Series record -- drove in Hank Bauer with the game- and Series-winning run. And Robinson? He played well, tying for the team lead with eight hits.
In '55, of course, the Dodgers finally broke their long jinx against the Yankees. Didn't have much to do with Jackie, though; he scored five runs, but his .182 batting average was the worst on the club. Meanwhile, Martin batted .320.
In '56, as usual, Martin and Robinson both started every game. And as usual, Martin outplayed Robinson. Robinson batted .250 with one home run; Martin batted .296 with two home runs. So Martin undoubtedly was right: he did outplay Robinson every time they met.
Before Martin reached the majors, Robinson did play in two other World Series, both against the Yankees. In 1947, he batted .259 and scored three runs in seven games. In 1949, he batted .188 and scored two runs in five games. The Dodgers, of course, lost both Series.
In his career, Robinson played in thirty-eight World Series games. He batted .234, scored twenty-two runs, and drove in twelve. But Robinson's got a lot of good company. Willie Mays, for instance. Mays played in twenty-five postseason games and batted .247 with just one home run, scoring twelve runs and knocking in only ten. It happens.
Copyright © 2008 by Rob Neyer
LOU BOUDREAU & RON SANTO
One of the first moves I made was to recall Ron Santo. He'd been a catcher in the minors, but I moved him to third base. Don Zimmer, who was nearing the end of his playing career, had been playing that position and helped Santo make the switch -- and in effect, helped Santo take Zim's job.
-- Lou Boudreau in Covering All the Bases (Boudreau with Russell Schneider, 1993)
At this ...
Rob Neyer continues to be the best baseball writer and researcher around.
Either way, the book is still a very good read, and whether a story is validated, somewhat validated, or plain shot to heck, the stories can still be enjoyable.
As it turns out, most of the stories he checks were at least roughly true, with only a relatively few apparently having been made up out of whole cloth.
Can't say there's been a baseball book quite like this one before.
"Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends" is sort of like reading the diary of a fact... Read more
A nice book about baseball stories. Not in depth enough for me. Too abbreviated. Nothing to tie them together. Get a different book if you want something special.Published 12 months ago by roseramsey
This book while being somewhat humorous was really just a collection of useless trivia about our national game.
I was definitely not overwhelmed.
Rob Neyer has really hit on a winning format. Anecdotes are either famous episodes and we learn something we didn't already know (like they're completely bogus) or the anecdotes... Read morePublished on April 5, 2011 by jason hirsch
Without a doubt, this book is Rob Neyer's weakest. Time is lost reading about how he did some research on baseball facts, and time and time again he share the same tale of... Read morePublished on May 8, 2010 by Marc Ranger
While i really enjoyed Rob's book on Baseball Blunders, this one was not nearly as engaging. It is organized like his other books in what seems to be a series of articles and it... Read morePublished on April 16, 2010 by Patrick M. Carroll
My favorite ESPN writer - love his books as well. This book is broken up into short chapters - best to read them in small sections rather than all at once. Read morePublished on January 8, 2010 by Jaytodd13
Should be required reading for all citizens to demonstrate what my mom always said "don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see". Read morePublished on January 2, 2010 by William Dean
ROB NEYER DOES COVER MANY BIG AND SMALL STORIES AND MADE UP STORIES IN THIS COLLECTION OF BASEBALL TALES. Read morePublished on October 18, 2009 by COOL JEWEL