Just a Day: May 23, 19091981

So, last week was my wedding anniversary, and I took the opportunity to write about all the stuff that happened on that particular day. It was fun! So I thought that today, I’d look at some other random day in baseball history. I went to this site and had it pull random numbers: between 4 and 10 for the month; between 1 and [30 or 31] for the day; and between 1953 and 2008 for the year. Here’s what I got this time:

May 23, 1981.

(Okay, so I originally entered 1901 to 2008, and it came up with 1909. Which would be great…except that as you probably know, Retrosheet and Baseball Reference only have boxes from 1953 on [and from 1920-1930, which I’ll have to wade into sometime], and without that it’s really hard to come up with enough to say unless you happen to fall on a really momentous day, which isn’t the point. So 1981 it is!)

Anyway, on Saturday, May 23, 1981…

  • The Dodgers beat the Reds, 9-6. Rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela (hey, check out the sponsor of that page!) has his second poor-ish start in a row after going 8-0 with 8 CG and an 0.50 ERA in the first 8 starts of his career. He still goes 8 innings, but gives up five runs, four earned, with six walks. Another notable rookie, Dave Stewart, bails him out by striking out two in a perfect ninth, and the Dodgers score four in the top of the tenth to give Stew the win. Ron “The Penguin” Cey belts his ninth home run of the young season, but he’s only got four more in him in this injury- and strike-shortened year. The win put the Dodgers at a MLB-best 29-11 (.725), already 6.5 games up on the NL West. Quite similar to 2009, when the Dodgers were 30-14 (.682) on May 23 and 8.5 games up on the (smaller and weaker) West.

    The 1981 squad would go on to finish first in the West for the first half, but play 27-26 ball and finish 4th in the second half, giving them a second-best-in-the-West record that would have kept them out of the postseason in any other year in history. The Reds, meanwhile, finished with the best overall record (66-42, .611) but didn’t win either half. The Dodgers won the World Series, while the division-best Reds watched the entire playoff run from their couches. Weird, weird year.

  • Gene Green passed away at just 47. He had one very solid year with the bat, in 1961, while with the hundred-loss Senators (though he did lead the league in GIDP). Oddly, I can’t find any indication anywhere of how it happened that he died so young.
  • Mike Schmidt hit his 14th home run of the season in the Phillies’ 6-4 comeback win over the Pirates. That put him on pace for 58, assuming a 162-game season. He finished the year with 31 in just 107 team games, a 47-HR 162G pace. He ended the short season leading the national league in HR, OBP, SLG, R, RBI, total bases, extra-base hits, walks, times on base, and OPS+ (199). And the career .267 hitter even finished fourth in the league in batting average at .316, the only time in his career he went over .293. Those extra 55 games might have given him a real chance at the majors’ only triple crown since 1967. Or (certainly more likely) he might have fallen back toward his career norms. Just too bad we didn’t get a chance to find out.
  • This was a big day for multiple-extra-inning games. The Rangers manage just seven hits in 12 innings, but also draw ten walks in beating the Mariners 6-4. Bill Stein pinch-hits in the 9th and ends up the star, going 2-for-3 with 3 RBI. The Rangers had been down 4-0 before scoring four in the ninth to tie, and added two in the twelfth to win.
  • That wasn’t even the longest game of the day…and neither was this one, though it came just one out shy. Rickey Henderson’s sacrifice fly plates Mitchell Page, and the Athletics beat the Blue Jays 3-2 in 15 innings. Henderson, in his second of four consecutive years leading the league in both stolen bases and caught stealing, goes 3-for-6, but is caught stealing for the 10th time after leading off the first with a single. Interestingly, this game featured a matchup of the very best and the fourth-worst leadoff hitters of all time: Rickey for the A’s, Alfredo Griffin for the Jays. Thankfully, the not-insane team won this one. Future A’s manager Ken Macha came in on defense in the 9th and went 3-for-3 against his future employer.
  • This was the longest game of the day — in outs, though almost certainly not in minutes. The Royals beat the Twins in 15 innings, 1-0. Paul Splittorff goes 11 shutout innings (six hits, two walks, two Ks…no pitch counts available, sadly), and Roger Erickson matches him for 9.1 of those innings (seven hits, one walk, seven Ks). It ends when Willie Wilson singles home pinch runner Danny Garcia, who played 12 games in ’81 and was never heard from again.

What I love about this, based on the inadequate sample of the two I’ve done so far, is that when I first start looking at the chosen day, it looks kind of boring and uninspiring, but as I dig into it, there’s always something. Like the Dodgers-Reds, and the three games that totaled 42 innings. I hope you enjoyed reading it some tiny percentage of as much as I enjoyed researching it…

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One Response to “Just a Day: May 23, 19091981”

  1. lar Says:

    I do enjoy the pieces, Bill. A nice little look into the middle of a random season.

    I tried looking for a little more detail on the Splittorff game (11 innings!), but the game story in the paper the next day wasn't as interesting as you'd expect. bummer.

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