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Today in Baseball History: the early January edition

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Jacob Ruppert and Judge Kenesaw Landis

Baseball broadcasters and fans alike love the idea of “Today in Baseball History.” It’s the perfect middle-inning diversion during a mundane game, and a perfect diversion for fans. But that about the baseball events in the offseason? Jesse Goldberg-Strassler shares key events in baseball history for the beginning of January.

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Earlier in the day, amidst our game preparation, we’ll check in with Baseball-Reference (or a similarly reputable website) and highlight several key moments to discuss later if the occasion warrants. The anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s poignant address at Yankee Stadium arises each July 4; on the other end of the spectrum, the tale of Babe Herman doubling into a double play will invariably be mentioned on August 15.

But as a broadcaster’s career goes along, the “Today in Baseball History” starts becoming repetitious. After all, the season takes place during the same days of the year, every year, and so we either have to retell the same old stories from prior seasons or omitting them entirely.

What of the other days of the year, though? Yes, the offseason does not present true in-game baseball feats, but it certainly has seen its remarkable events through the decades -- and these stories most certainly have not been run into the ground via overtelling.

Here, for your enjoyment, is January 1-15 in Baseball History:

Jan. 1: Happy birthday, Hank Greenberg, born in New York City in 1911. In a related note, Briggs Stadium is renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961. The venerable ballpark was originally known as Navin Field (for owner Frank Navin) upon its 1912 erection. Walter Briggs then purchased the team and named its home after himself in 1938, but John Fetzer did not follow suit upon obtaining majority interest twenty-three years later.

Jan. 2: Happy birthday, Edgar Martinez, born in New York City in 1963, patron saint of the DH. Twenty-three years later, iconic and iconoclastic owner Bill Veeck passes away in Chicago; Vecck integrated the American League, signed 3’7" Eddie Gaedel, introduced the exploding scoreboard, and made a lasting impression on the national pastime.

Jan. 3: In 1920, it’s officially announced to the public -- the New York Yankees have purchased Babe Ruth from Boston in exchange for $125,000, plus a $350,000 loan. (The acquisition was finalized a day after Christmas.) Speaking of landmark decisions for a franchise’s future, in 2005, the Anaheim Angels change their name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Jan. 4: Happy birthday, All-Star outfielder George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk, born in Ontario in 1908 -- the man who replaced Babe Ruth in the Yankees’ outfield. In 1977, Mary Shane is hired by the Chicago White Sox as a broadcaster, becoming baseball’s first female play-by-play commentator. It is her only season with the team.

Jan. 5: In 1931, Lucille Thomas buys the Topeka Senators, a franchise in the Class-A Western League, becoming baseball’s first female owner. In 1957, Jackie Robinson announces his retirement in reaction to being traded to the New York Giants. (Do you remember the fantastic “Brooklyn Bridge” episode about this? Superb television.)

Jan. 6: Can you imagine the Athletics in Louisville? In 1964, owner Charlie Finley inks a two-year contract to relocate the A’s from Kansas City, but the move is blocked. Three years later, Finley receives permission to take his franchise to Oakland instead.

Jan. 7: In 1945, “the most violent incident in Cuban baseball history,” as Almendares outfielder Roberto Ortiz beats home plate umpire Bernardino Rodriguez into unconsciousness. In 1962, the proud Three-I League closes its doors and its teams disperse; the league dates back to 1901.

Jan. 8: Ground-breaking news from N.L. President (and Civil War veteran) Nick Young in 1898: With the addition of a second umpire to each game, the umpire in charge of calling balls and strikes will now be stationed entirely behind home plate (as opposed to behind the pitcher’s mound with runners aboard).

Jan. 9: Happy birthday to Gastonia Rangers second baseman Tyrone Curtis “Muggsy” Bogues, born in Baltimore in 1965. The Rangers and Bogues’ Charlotte Hornets were each owned by George Shinn, and so Bogues joined backcourt mate Dell Curry on the baseball field for a game in 1991. There’s even a Muggsy Bogues Gastonia baseball card to mark the occasion.

Jan. 10: All hail the “Little Napoleon”! In 1907, New York Giants manager John McGraw (also, coincidentally, nicknamed “Mugsy”) “prevents a team of horses from injuring two women” in Los Angeles. In 1991 -- look away, Baltimore Orioles fans -- the O’s acquire Houston Astros power-hitter Glenn Davis in exchange for youngsters Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch, and Curt Schilling. All three blossom elsewhere while Davis suffers through a rash of increasingly random injuries.

Jan. 11: In 1881, a group of Chicago baseballers, both pro and amateur, play a baseball game on ice. The event is successful and becomes a regular occurrence in the Windy City. In 1915, Frank Farrell and Bill Devery sell the New York Yankees to the pair of Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston and Colonel Jacob Ruppert. Does it go well? So well that Ruppert was just elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in early December 2012. (That's him to the right in the photo at the top of the page; beside him is former MLB Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Landis throwing out the first pitch at a 1922 New York Yankees game.)

Jan. 12: Ice baseball catches on! In Brooklyn in 1884, an ice-skating team put together by Henry Chadwick and starring Chicago’s Larry Corcoran triumphs against professionals, 41-12. In 1999, anonymous-bidding Todd McFarlane pays $2.7 million for Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball. The passing of time and perspective can be a fickle thing.

Jan. 13: In 1972, Bernice Gera triumphs in court in her pursuit to become the first woman to ever umpire a professional game, defeating the National Association of Baseball Leagues in a civil rights lawsuit. She works one contest in the New York-Penn League during the ’72 season, the opener of a doubleheader, and retires between games.

Jan. 14: In 1954, Joe DiMaggio marries Marilyn Monroe at San Francisco City Hall. It is the second marriage for each -- and it lasts precisely 274 days (202 longer than Kim and Kris), with divorce finalized in October. Jan. 15th: In 1942, the “Green Light letter,” President Franklin Roosevelt’s written request to Commissioner Landis that baseball continue to be played despite World War II, is sent. Additionally...perhaps you’ve heard the new idea, particularly among pitchers, that four wide pitches shouldn’t have to be thrown for an intentional walk. Instead, the defending team should be able to have the option to simply send the batter down to first base. It turns out this isn’t such a new idea after all. On January 15th, 1959, the Texas League formally adopted the “automatic intentional walk,” saving the pitcher those four wide pitches.

Image courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-B2- 5562-11.

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is a Ballpark Digest contributing editor, the author of The Baseball Thesaurus and the Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts. You can reach him at jgoldstrass@hotmail.com.

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