Mark Clark: Strange but true stories of baseball

Mark Clark: Strange but true stories of baseball

I love good baseball stories, especially those that can be seen as a bit strange but true. So, wanting to find something to read last week, I decided to scan a few Internet sites to see what stories I might could find that fall into that category.

The first such story was sad, but true and very strange. And it just happened that the story occurred almost a month after my birth – August 17, 1957 was the date the story happened. Here is the short version of that story.

“Future hall-of-fame centerfielder Richie Ashburn of the Philadelphia Phillies hit spectator Alice Roth with a foul ball, breaking her nose. As Roth was being carried off the field on a stretcher, Ashburn hit her with another foul ball, breaking a bone in her knee. The odds of a fan being hit by a baseball are 300,000 to one. The odds of the same fan being hit twice during the same at-bat, and breaking bones both times, are beyond astronomical.”

I think you would place that story among the strange but true. Wouldn’t you?

Well, here is another I enjoyed reading. I will try to keep the story – and all the others I share today – as short as possible.

“Dave Winfield, a hall-of-fame outfielder playing for the Yankees in 1983, was arrested for killing a seagull with a thrown ball. The cop who arrested him and fans who witnessed the event claimed that Winfield hit the bird deliberately. But Yankees manager Billy Martin questioned whether Winfield possessed the necessary accuracy: ‘Cruelty to animals? That’s the first time he hit the cut-off man all year!’”

Yes, Billy Martin threw a few zingers in his time as a manager. Too bad Billy died way before his time.

Maybe you will find this story interesting. You may be familiar with it already.

“A young boy named Tim Smith had Tug McGraw’s baseball card taped to his bedroom wall. One day he found his birth certificate and learned that Tug McGraw was his father. The boy then changed his last name. He grew up to become country music superstar Tim McGraw. As a bonus, he got to marry Faith Hill.”

I think the bonus is the strange but true portion of Tim McGraw’s story. He was fortunate to get to meet his father before Tug died.

My favorite modern-day baseball player is the subject of this next story. 

“George Brett once hit a game-losing home run. How is that even possible? Brett’s apparent game-winning two-run homer against the Yankees with his Royals trailing 4-3 with one on and two outs in the top of the ninth inning in a road game on July 24, 1983 was reversed during the famous “pine tar” incident. Brett was declared the last out for having too much resin on his bat, so he managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Since the home team Yankees didn’t have to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the lead, Brett’s homer was the last out. The game was appealed and the ruling overturned, but at the time it seemed Brett had implausibly hit a game-losing homer.”

Thank goodness the umpire’s ruling was overturned by the league office. If it had not have been, George would hold a place in baseball lore all by himself forever. And Billy Martin would have gotten away with pulling out one of the most egregious rules ever.

The next story is one straight out of the movie “The Natural.” It deals with baseball and lightning.

“On July 17, 1914, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates were engaged in a marathon 21-inning game. Having scored two runs to break a 1-1 tie, the Giants took the field hoping to end the drawn-out affair. The skies were dark and threatening. Giants outfielder Red Murray camped under a fly ball that would finally end the game! But after making the catch, Murray was struck by a bolt of lightning which rendered him unconscious. He apparently hung on to the ball.”

There are a lot of Babe Ruth stories that fall into the category of strange but true. This is not strange, but it is true and well worth sharing. Babe was a man far ahead of his time.

“Babe Ruth was subjected to racist epithets because of his dark complexion, big lips and wide nose. During a 1922 World Series game at the Polo Grounds, a Giants bench warmer shouted racial slurs “in a voice loud enough to be heard on the other side of the Harlem River, where construction on Yankee Stadium was under way.” The famous “called shot” home run in the 1932 World Series came after Ruth was jeered mercilessly about his ancestry by the Cubs bench and crowd. Ruth was called “the big baboon” behind his back and stories of his prodigious appetites—whether for food, sex, or fun—smacked of racial stereotyping. To his credit, the Babe defied racist baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis by participating in barnstorming exhibition tours with Negro Leaguers who deeply appreciated the respect he paid them and the extra money he helped them earn with his box office appeal. Julia Ruth Stevens is on the record saying her father was blackballed from managing because he would have lobbied to bring in black players.”

All these stories are true. None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. In fact, no one mentioned is innocent. They are just a part of baseball history.


Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.