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5 Nights that Changed Baseball Forever

Hank Aaron's 715th Home Run.

Hank Aaron's 715th Home Run.

Baseball as we all know is a game based on failure, the stars in the Hall of Fame had to fail 7 times out of 10 and were considered the best players. However, every so often their is a night in the game where something special happens; a record gets broken, a play is made, a run is scored. Its like the game never stops. 200+ nights a year the game has something special that happens and if you're not careful you might miss it.
In this article, we are going to go over 5 particular nights in the game’s long history where something special happened. Each of these played a pivotal role in how we see the game today. Let’s examine each one via, what happened, why its important and the legacy that it has left on the game.

5. “The Iron Man” Breaks “The Iron Horse’s” Record

“The Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr. is known for some other records during his time in the Major Leagues but this is probably his most notable accomplishment during his career. Ripken was a 19x-All Star, A World Series Champion (1983), 2x-MVP, 8x-Silver Slugger and this is what he is known for. Ripken is considered to be one of the best shortstops to ever play the game. He has the most home runs ever hit by a shortstop and one of the highest fielding percentages in history. He is known for his friendly personality on the field but his competitiveness on the field.

Ripken began his campaign for this record in 1982, he second season in the big leagues. The Orioles where a stellar franchise and their rival as the Yankees who had just come off a World Series appearance. RIpken was setting the stage on May 30th, 1982 when he started his first big league game. He played every in every single game until the end of the 1998 season. The Orioles went on to win the World Series in 1983 and would never make an appearance again. However, Ripken just kept on playing. He was from the old school. Players played through injuries and Ripken seemed to love the game so much that he never wanted to stop.

1995 was not a great year for the Orioles either but Ripken was there yet again and on the verge of history. On September 6th, 1995, Ripken started his 2,131st consecutive game. His breaking of the streak that night was only magnified by the fact that he hit .500 and hit a home run but what is always described is the video of him walking around the field tipping his cap to the fans of Baltimore. It was the Orioles last game of the season that year and the Yankees were about to start a dynasty of their own, but that night the show was Ripken. His streak ended at 2,632, an additional 501 games for Ripken. Ripken’s closest active competitor is Second Baseman Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals. He is at 500.

The significance of this night is that Ripken’s record will most likely never be broken. With higher contracts and rise of prima-donna players on teams an “Iron Man” is highly unlikely. Granted, never say never because Ripken broke the record 56 years after Gehrig, the original holder. Ripken retired in 2001 and was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 with 98.53%. He missed less than 400 games his entire career. Ripken’s legacy is for that streak despite his many other accomplishments. He is still hailed as one of the top 100 players ever but even then, this streak changed everything.

4. Barry Bonds - 756

Since Babe Ruth left the Major Leagues in 1935 his legacy above anything else has been for being the first player to hit more than 700 home runs. His career lasted 22 years and frankly it was nothing short of spectacular. Ruth challenged the game as its first long-ball hitter. However, since he became the “Sultan of Swat” his record has been broken 2 time, neither of which he was alive to see. Hank Aaron’s 715 should have made this list (I’ll admit it) but Hank Aaron’s home run was not a game changer but rather a game enhancer. Aaron spent 21 seasons with the Braves and had more hits than Ruth and broke the record faster than Ruth did. However, Barry Bonds’s breaking of the record caused more controversy in how we view the long-ball hitter to date which is why it is so significant to the modern game.

Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer prior to breaking this record. I think anyone that knows baseball would not deny that. Bonds was an excellent fielder and an outstanding hitter. His problem was that the team he played on was always just not good enough to get past the Atlanta Braves. Bonds played with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1986-1992. In that time the Braves where the superior franchise in the game having played in the 1991 World Series and nearly beating the Twins in what may be considered the greatest World Series ever. However, the Braves were just beginning their dominance. Bonds on the other hand was a big part of a team that had many other dysfunctions. Bonds did not take criticism well, he didn’t like the media, he and Jim Leyland, the manager got into multiple altercations. Bonds was only in Bonds’s world. He was not considered a likable teammate and because of this may have been passed over multiple times for Most Valuable Player Awards. Bonds drew a lot of criticism leaving the Pirates to return to his father’s team the San Francisco Giants. Bonds won an MVP in 1992 and 1993 and the crowd loved him. San Francisco was a team that was developing into a contender and would not win a World Series until 2010. Previously they had not won since 1954 when Willie Mays, Bonds’s Godfather, played for them. In 2002, the Giants came close but the miracle Anaheim Angels had something else in store for them. Bonds won the MVP from 2001-2004 a period in which was walked and hit more home runs than any other player in major league history during a three year span. Bonds was a designated hitter but played first base primarily with the Giants. In 2007, Bonds was en-route to becoming the games most villainous player but also was going to break a record that no other player had broken since Aaron. He had already broken the single season home run record in 2001 with 73 and now this was the record he was chasing.

2007 was not a great year for the Giants but Bonds was aging and this was the only record he needed left to confirm his legacy. August 7th, 2007 the commissioner of baseball, Bug Selig was nowhere to be found as Bonds was currently standing at 755. Selig was later found to be in Washington D.C. awaiting a hearing regarding steroid use in the game. The pitcher of the Washington Nationals was Matt Bacsik. He threw a pitch that Bonds swiftly hit to the moon. Well, not quite the moon but 435 feet long. Now, here is a little known nugget of information. Bacsik’s father had faced Hank Aaron not long after he hit 755 to break the record. Bacsik held Aaron to a single that night. Back to 2007, Bonds home run ended up killing him later that year since he ended up with 762. His retirement ended up being shrouded in mystery as that meeting that Selig attended also noted Bonds as one of those suspected of Steroid usage. Bonds would never recover.

Bond’s retired in 2007 and ended up as more of a joke than a home run king. He had a resume that most players would kill for by the end of their career. Bonds went silently into the good night. He recently did not receive enough votes to enter the Hall of Fame and most likely will not ever enter it along with all of those that are accused of using during their playing days. Bonds record was significant in that it showed his prowess as a hitter which is not reflective of his steroid usage but his character is most arguably why he will never be a Hall of Famer. 756 might have been one of the worst things to happen to the game considering it was broken by someone who was not very likable. His greatest accomplishment may have led to his greatest underachievement.

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3. “Charlie Hustle” - Hit King

Like Bonds, Pete Rose was a player that does not need to be introduced and is exposed more so for his vice than his accomplishments. Rose is considered one of the greatest players ever and for his record Rose set himself in a prime position for the Hall of Fame. Prior to this accomplishment, Rose hit number 3000 in 1978 which for sure placed him in the Hall of Fame. The crazy thing was, he kept playing. Rose racked up another 1200 hits before he retired. Rose played most of his career with the Reds was a 3x-World Champion, one of which he won with the Phillies. But 1985 would change everything.
Going into the season Ty Cobb had a record that was thought never to be broken. Cobb had held the record for 59 years at that point and Rose was the only person even close to Cobb. Cobb was considered widely to be one of the greatest hitters ever, the only person that they declared better was Ted Williams. But Ted Williams never hit 3,000 so therefore Cobb would be the superior hitter statistically. Pete Rose was both a player and a manager, the last of his kind. His second stint with the Reds was moderately successful but 1985 was going to be his year. God had blessed him with a gift. He had 107 hits that year and a pretty stellar .395 on-base percentage. We all knew his career was winding down but some suggested that the record was the only thing keeping him playing. After a long dismal campaign in 1985, September 11th, 1985, the Reds where playing the San Diego Padres. Rose currently at 4,191 was tied with Cobb. Pitcher Eric Snow left him a fastball and Rose swung with his usual ferocity. He got on base and that was that. The game was paused for a second to congratulate him. Rose thanked the crowd and entered into the record books happily where he will always remain. Now what is important to note is that in the history books, Cobb allegedly had a hit that was counted twice and so Rose actually beat Cobb before that night but this was not counted until years afterwards.

Rose’s legacy from then on was as the “Hit King.” He broke a record that everyone thought impossible but as usual Rose made it look easy. His retirement ended a little abruptly as it was discovered later that he was betting on games and possibly on games that he was playing or managing in. Rose’s career ended with 4,256 hits the most ever and like our other records, no one active is even close. It was a special night in a country that was beginning to favor the NFL over Major League Baseball. Rose currently appears publicly but is banned from the Hall of Fame because of his gambling.

2. Nolan Ryan’s 5,000 Strikeouts

Nolan Ryan might be the greatest pitcher to ever walk the face of the Earth. He has the most career strikeouts and played in the Major Leagues for 27 years which is tied with Hall of Famer Cap Anson for the most ever. Nolan Ryan, like all of the players mentioned before this section is a once in a lifetime kind of player. However, Nolan Ryan lived during the age of television. You could watch every single strikeout that he ever threw. Ryan was a World Series Champion with the Miracle Mets of 1969 and led the league in strikeouts 11 times. The last time he did in 1990, he was 43. Ryan’s key was that he was not a strong arm pitcher. But he had guts that’s what made him great and stay at the top level for so long. Now, Ryan’s biggest accomplishment may be the 7 no-hitters that he threw which will most likely remain a Major League record forever. However, before getting to that point Ryan was about to have arguably his most important game of his entire career.

The year was 1989. Ryan was playing with the Texas Rangers where he would remain until 1993. Coincidentally, 89 was also a year that he led the league in strikeouts. The favorite to win the World Series was probably the most dynamic team of the decade. The “Bash-Brothers” of the Oakland Athletics were putting on a show. The Athletics were the hottest team and ended up playing in the World Series in 1987, 1989 and 1990. The Rangers were not a good team at all. They were a little better than usual since Ryan had been added to the roster but to say they were World Series caliber would be an overstatement. Ryan was having a splendid game. He finished with 13 strikeouts, allowed 5 hits and 2 walks. Top the 5th and Ryan was going to face future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. Henderson is the all-time stolen base leader and remains one of the game’s best hitters. Henderson had already struck out once and was casualty 4,998. Henderson worked the count 7 pitches worth. The count was full at 3-2. Ryan gave a nice low 96mph fastball and Henderson swung and missed. Ryan was now in the history books as the first and only pitcher to ever reach 5000 strikeouts. Henderson stated after the game that he felt honored to be struck out by Ryan and that “if you ain’t struckout to him, you ain’t nobody.” The game did not stop to honor him and he kept pitching. The Rangers lost that night 2-0 and Ryan finished the season with 301 strikeouts. Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson struck out 4875 batters and he is in second all-time. Nolan Ryan played another 4 seasons and struck out another 714 batters giving him a grand-total of 5714.

That night changed the game because it proved that Nolan Ryan wasn’t only lucky, but he was good. Lest we all forget, Ryan is in the Hall of Fame and he never pitched a perfect game or won a Cy Young. Ryan left the game that night with a legacy that already had. Striking players out was his legacy. Ryan was feared because of that. Nolan Ryan was not a hard ball thrower but used his head games to beat batters in the box. Ryan’s one night in 1989 left an effect on the game we love because he achieved what we all thought was impossible.

1. 2016 World Series - Cubs Break the Curse

Let's just say that 2016 in sports was an unreal year. The Cavaliers broke a Cleveland Championship drought that lasted nearly 50 years. Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl, Kobe Bryant retired from the NBA, Villanova won the NCAA tournament with a buzzer beater for the ages, and the Chicago Cubs lifted themselves above a curse that it seemed sports would never forgive them for.

The Cubs won the World Series in 1907 and 1908, they had played in the World Series 7 times since they had last won one. In 1945 the Cubs appeared in their last World Series until 2016. Thus started “The Curse of the Billy Goat.” A man named William Sianis had a pet goat named Murphy. Now in 1945 the Cubs had a chance to win the Series. The goat was said to have been bothering other fans and Sianis was removed from the grounds at Wrigley Field. He placed a curse on them by saying “y’all ain't going to win no more.” Sianis was right. The Cubs were mediocre at best until 2003 when they would come within 3 innings of clinching their first pennant in a half-century. Enter Steve Bartman who interfered with a fly-ball that was heading for the left-field wall and then the Cubs ended up losing the game and the series. 2016 was yet again another year where the Cubs had talent and were ready to break the curse but no one believed it because since they had last appeared in one, the Bears had won a Super Bowl, The White Sox had won the World Series twice, the Blackhawks had won 4 Stanley Cups and the Cubs hadn’t done anything close. With young talent like Anthony Rizzo at 1st, Kris Bryant at 3rd, Javy Baez at Shortstop the Cubs had an infield full of All-Stars and where on their way to greatness. Well, so was another club that had a drought for just as long. The Cleveland Indians had not played in a World Series since 1997 but hadn’t won one since 1948. The Indians where performing their own miracle of sorts only to meet up with the Cubs in the World Series. The series went all the way to a Game 7. It was not an offensive showdown at all. The Cubs had 3 errors to the Indians 1, 13 hits to the Indians 11. The Indians tied the Game in the 8th with a 3 run homer hit by Rajai Davis who was going to become a legend in Cleveland if what happened next had not happened. The game was tied 6-6 going into the 9th and unfortunately no one scored. The game went late into the night in the 10th Inning where the Cubs scored 2 runs to take the lead off of base hits. The Indians scored 1 and the final out is something that will live forever in our minds as Michael Martinez sent a shot to 3rd base which was fielded by Kris Bryant and thrown immediately to Anthony Rizzo at first. The Cubs had done it and broken the curse.

Now the legacy of this moment need not be explained but we are going to. Like the Boston Red Sox who had felt so much heartache for 86 years without winning, the Chicago Cubs were a cinderella tale that will never be forgotten because it took 108 years of heartache and suffering for a team to come together and achieve victory. The Cubs to date have not returned to the World Series and the team has since been gutted. But Chicago will always remember those who won forever. Cubs fans may never see it again in their lifetime but for those that lived long enough to see it, i’m sure it was special.

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