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Friday, July 19, 2002
Updated: July 26, 3:06 PM ET
Shocking moments in baseball history

Page 2 staff

While Major League Baseball is focused on its 30 greatest moments, Page 2 turns its attention to the 10 most shocking moments in the history of our national pastime.

'Shoeless' Joe Jackson
Fans didn't want to believe "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and seven other White Sox threw the World Series.
After taking a look at our list, users sent in their choices for the most shocking moment in baseball. After checking out our list below, see how the users ranked things and then vote in the poll.

1. Black Sox throw 1919 Series
The 1919 Chicago White Sox were, undeniably, a great team. But as they faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, rumors swirled that a fix was in. The Sox lost the best-of-nine series, five games to three. A year later -- on Sept. 29, 1920 -- Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte told a grand jury that the series was fixed. The Chicago Herald and Examiner reported that after Jackson left the courthouse, "one little urchin in the crowd grabbed him by the coat sleeve.

In the spring of 1921, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended the eight White Sox awaiting trial. In early August, seven of the eight players were acquitted (the eighth, Fred McMullin, didn't go to trial), but Landis banned all eight from baseball for life.

2. Lou Gehrig struck down in the prime of life
Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig pulled himself out of the lineup on May 2, 1939.
On June 1, 1925, Lou Gehrig entered a game as a pinch-hitter, a humble beginning for a games-played streak that would last 14 seasons and 2,130 games. On May 2, 1939, after performing poorly and feeling weak and sluggish, he benched himself to end the streak. It was the last game he would play.

A month later, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare, incurable disease, which would come to be known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Two weeks later, a shocked public learned of his fate. On July 4, 1939, during Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium, Gehrig gave one of the most memorable speeches of the century. He said, in part, "For the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

"I saw strong men weep this afternoon, expressionless umpires swallow hard, and emotion pump the hearts and glaze the eyes of 61,000 baseball fans in Yankee Stadium," wrote Shirley Povich of the Washington Post. "Yes, and hard-boiled news photographers clicked their shutters with fingers that trembled a bit ... the first 100 years of baseball saw nothing quite like it."

On June 2, 1941, exactly 16 years after he became the Yankees regular first baseman, Gehrig died.

3. Giants, Dodgers leave New York
May 28, 1957, was a dark day for New York's baseball fans, as the NL gave the Giants and Dodgers permission to move to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both teams had suffered declines in attendance, but, of course, still had thousands of loyal fans.

The Giants had been in New York since 1883. When they won the World Series in 1954, they drew 1.15 million fans to the Polo Grounds, but only two years later, in 1956, drew a paltry 629,000. On Sept. 29, the Giants played their last game in the Polo Grounds, losing 9-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In attendance were former Giants Carl Hubbell, Rube Marquard, George Burns, Larry Doyle and others. Former manager John McGraw's widow said, "It would have broken John's heart. The Giants have been my life. Why, I don't know what I'll do with myself."

The Dodgers had been in New York since 1884, and in 1956 won the NL pennant. On Sept. 24, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field in front of only 6,702 fans. They beat the Pirates 2-0, as Gil Hodges drove in the final run at the ballpark.

4. Thurman Munson killed in plane crash
Thurmon Munson
Thurman Munson was the heart and soul of the 1970s Yankees.
Munson, the Yankees catcher and first captain since Lou Gehrig, died on Aug. 2, 1979, while trying to land his plane at the Akron, Ohio, airport. The plane crashed and burst into flames, trapping Munson inside. Munson, a seven-time All-Star, the 1976 MVP, and the 1970 rookie of the year, was 32. When Yankees skipper Billy Martin was told of Munson's death, he "cried like a baby," according to a team spokesman.

5. Mets beat 100-1 odds, win 1969 World Series
From the time they first took the field in 1962, the expansion New York Mets were both much beloved and much the laughing stock of major-league baseball. From the start, they seemed doomed to failure, losing their first nine games and finishing their first season with a 40-120 record, one of the worst in major-league history.

Over the next seven seasons, the Mets never finished higher than ninth in the 10-team National League. Former GM George Weiss had said in 1968, "Some days they're terrible, others they're bad. But, as the joke went, 1969 was guaranteed to be their best season ever -- they were guaranteed to finish no worse than sixth because the league had been split into two six-team divisions. Still, oddsmakers gave the Mets only a 100-1 chance of winning the World Series.

But they did so much more, winning the first NL East title over the tough Chicago Cubs and winning 100 ballgames in the process. Then they defeated the Braves in the NLCS, and, defying odds yet again, beat the Orioles, four games to one, in the World Series. Amazin'.

6. Mike Kekich, Fritz Peterson swap lives
The big story of spring training, 1973, was that Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, who had been teammates and friends since 1969, had gone the free-swinging '60s sexual revolution one better -- they had not only swapped wives, they had, as Kekich said, swapped lives.

It began in 1972, when the couples, on a double-date, joked about wife-swapping. A while later the joke became reality, as Marilyn Peterson and Susan Kekich sometimes switched beds. Finally, during the offseason, Mike moved in with Marilyn, and Fritz moved in with Susan. They had swapped it all -- wives, houses, cars and kids. "We didn't do anything sneaky or lecherous," explained Susan. "There isn't anything smutty about this."

Before long, Mike and Marilyn split, but Susan and Fritz got married in 1974.

7. Eddie Waitkus shot by obsessed fan
Road trips are often filled with surprises, but nothing could have prepared Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus for what awaited him when he arrived in Chicago for a series against the Cubs in June 1949. Her name was Ruth Ann Steinhagen, and when she sent a note inviting him to her room, he thought the 19-year-old was just a good, old-fashioned, willing groupie. But when he entered her room, she told him to go to the window, said, "For two years you've been bothering me, and now you're going to die," and then shot him in the chest.

Steinhagen called the front desk and told them what she had done. Waitkus was rushed to the hospital and, miraculously, saved -- the bullet had just missed his heart. Steinhagen was arrested and charged with attempted murder, but got off with three years in a mental institution, after being diagnosed with a split personality. She didn't know Waitkus, but had been obsessed with him for years.

Waitkus returned to baseball in 1954 and was named comeback player of the year.

8. Red Sox World Series win goes between Buckner's legs
Bill Buckner
Bill Buckner's name will long symbolize screwing up.
Shea Stadium. Oct. 28, 1986. Red Sox vs. Mets, World Series, Game 6. Red Sox up three games to two, and lead 5-3 with two out in the bottom of the 10th. Boston fans anxiously await their first World Series title since 1918. Then, disaster: three Mets singles and a Bob Stanley wild pitch tie the game at 5-5. Mookie Wilson hits a soft grounder to Bill Buckner at first, and the ball goes through his legs, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run. "I can't remember the last time I missed a ground ball," said Buckner. "I guess I'll remember that one." So will Boston fans. The Mets went on to win Game 7 and the Series, and Red Sox rooters are still reeling ... and waiting.

9. Darryl Kile found dead in hotel room (2002)
On Saturday, June 22, Fox was set to broadcast the Cardinals vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field as its game of the week. Joe Buck, whose father, the legendary Jack Buck, died just four days earlier, was Fox's lead broadcaster. During the pregame show, viewers were told the game was delayed -- but not why. Fox switched over to the Red Sox-Dodgers game, and then, a while later, Buck took to the air, and relayed the shocking news: Cards veteran pitcher Darryl Kile, 33, was dead.

The game was canceled, and St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, tears in his eyes, said it all: "Our club is just totally staggered. I mean devastated." The autopsy revealed that Kile, husband, father of three young children, and in his prime as a pitcher, had died from massive blockage of his coronary arteries.

10. Disco Demolition Night
On July 12, 1979, the White Sox celebrated the decline of the disco era by letting fans in for 98 cents and a disco record. The plan was to destroy the records between games of a doubleheader against the Tigers. Mike Veeck's promotion succeeded in drawing 49,000 fans to the park, but the fans went wild, burning and throwing their records. Between games, they overwhelmed security, stormed the field, and destroyed it before riot police arrived. The umpires called off the second game, saying the field was unfit for play. The game was ruled a forfeit.

"These weren't real baseball fans," said owner Bill Veeck, Mike's father. "All I know is we won't try anything like this again. I was amazed. I wish I wasn't."

Also receiving votes:
  • Pete Rose banned for betting on baseball (1989)
  • Roberto Clemente dies in plane crash (1972)
  • Wade Boggs reveals affair, "sex addiction" (1990)
  • Ray Chapman killed by Carl Mays beanball (1920)
  • Fans riot in Cleveland during 10-cent beer night (1974)
  • Lyman Bostock murdered (1978)
  • Dwight Gooden tests positive for cocaine, enters rehab (1987)
  • Donnie Moore commits suicide (1989)
  • Earthquake rocks 1989 World Series