Cleveland becomes first MLB team with numbers on back of jerseys

On April 16, 1929, the Cleveland Indians open the season with numbers on the back of each player’s jersey, the first Major League Baseball team to do so. The numbers make it easier for scorekeepers, broadcasters and fans to identify players. Cleveland wins the game against the Detroit Tigers in 11 innings, 5-4.

The New York Yankees, who had won the World Series in 1927 and 1928, were supposed to debut jersey numbers the same day, but their opener was rained out. Thus fans waited another day to see two of baseball’s greatest players—Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig—sport jersey numbers 3 and 4, which would become famous. Those numbers corresponded with the sluggers’ spots in the batting order. 

Cleveland, which changed its name to Guardians in 2021, experimented with numbers on the sleeves of jerseys for a few weeks in 1916

In 1923, the St. Louis Cardinals also tried sleeve numbers, but found the practice had a negative impact on team morale. “Because of the continuing embarrassment to the players, the numbers were removed,” manager Branch Rickey said.

The Cardinals finished fifth in the National League that season with a 79-74 record.

By the 1937 season, every MLB team had numbers on the backs of jerseys. In 1960, the White Sox were the first team to put names on the back of their jerseys. The Yankees remain the only team without names on the back of jerseys.


MLB commissioner suspends players in drug scandal

On February 28, 1986, Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspends 11 players. including some of the sport’s biggest names, for their involvement with illegal drugs. The suspensions are the most severe in the baseball since the infamous “Black Sox Scandal” in 1919. The commissioner doles out lesser penalties to 14 other players for their use of drugs.

Among those to receive the stiffest penalty, a conditional one-year suspension, were: Dave Parker (Cincinnati Reds), Keith Hernandez (New York Mets), Joaquin Andujar (Oakland Athletics), Lonnie Smith (Kansas City Royals), Enos Cabell (Los Angeles Dodgers), Jeff Leonard (San Francisco Giants) and Dale Berra (New York Yankees), son of Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.

All 21 players played in 1986 after meeting conditions set by the commissioner.

The penalities, the result of an investigation conducted by Ueberroth, came after players testified before a federal grand jury leading up to the September 1985 trials in Pittsburgh of drug traffickers. The scandal, known as the “Pittsburgh Drug Trials,” was one of the biggest in the sport’s history.

While under oath, Hernandez estimated 40 percent of MLB players used cocaine. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mascot, the Pirate Parrott, was implicated for buying cocaine.

By the mid-1980s, major sports leagues realized cocaine use was a major problem.  The same week MLB announced the conditional suspensions, the NBA suspended Micheal Ray Richardson of the New Jersey Nets for life after he failed a third drug test for cocaine.

Ueberroth’s suspensions were much less severe because none of the players had failed drug tests and the abuse seemed to be a thing of the past. “Each player I met with maintains he is currently not using any drugs. I have no reason to doubt this,” he said in a statement following the suspensions.

In 1986, Parker and Hernandez played in the All-Star Game. 

However, several of the players involved in the scandal continued to struggle with substance abuse. Willie Aikens, who played for the Angels, Royals and Blue Jays, served time in prison for cocaine distribution.


Multi-sport star Jim Thorpe signs MLB contract with Giants

On February 1, 1913, 25-year-old multi-sport star Jim Thorpe—who won two gold medals at the  1912 Olympics—signs a Major League Baseball contract with the New York Giants. The signing comes on the same day Thorpe returns his Olympic medals to Sweden for a violation of amateur rules. Years earlier, he was paid to play minor league baseball.

READ MORE: How Jim Thorpe Became America’s First Multi-Sport Star

“The peerless athlete, chaperoned by Glenn Warner, his guide, philosopher and friend, arrived early in the morning from Carlisle [Pennsylvania], and on the same day that his prizes as amateur athlete were being returned to Sweden affixed his name to the document which will give him a fat stipend as a ball player,” The New York Sun reported.

“Pop” Warner coached Thorpe at Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Thorpe didn’t seem upset that he was forced to return his Olympic medals, The Sun reported.

Added the newspaper: “For a greater part of the day the offices of the New York club were filled with fans, rooters, bugs and nuts. Thorpe was the reason.”

Warner, a legendary football coach, said the popular Thorpe wasn’t a “freak attraction” for the Giants. 

“I haven’t any doubt that he will develop into a first class ball player,” he told The Sun. “He has the ability, mental and physical. He’d rather have played baseball at Carlisle than gone to the track team and was always at me to let him play ball, but he was too valuable on the track team and so played baseball only occasionally.”

In addition to competing in track, football and baseball, Thorpe was adept at basketball, boxing, lacrosse, swimming, hockey, handball and tennis. He even won an intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. 

In his first MLB season, Thorpe—an outfielder and pinch-hitter—played only 19 games, batting .143. He played six seasons in the big leagues, finishing his career with the Boston Braves in 1919. Thorpe’s career batting average was .252.


American League is founded

On January 28, 1901, professional baseball’s American League is founded in Chicago. The league plans for a 140-game schedule, 14-man rosters and a players’ union. Franchises are in Baltimore (Orioles), Boston (Americans), Chicago (White Stockings), Cleveland (Blues), Detroit (Tigers), Milwaukee (Brewers), Philadelphia (Athletics) and Washington (Senators).

The American League’s formation came shortly after professional baseball’s other major league, the National League, contracted from 12 to eight teams. Formed in 1876, the NL had been professional baseball’s most stable league for decades. 

Other leagues, such as the American Association (established in 1881), the Union Association (1884) and the Players League (1890), struggled to complete with the NL.

The American League’s attempt to disrupt the National League’s monopoly on baseball was led by its commissioner, Bancroft Johnson. He had renamed the Western League, a minor league, the American League in 1899. Johnson also withdrew from the National Agreement—a pact governing relations between the baseball leagues at the time—and, in 1901, declared the American League to be a major league. 

The move was resisted by the National League, which wanted to maintain its monopoly on Major League Baseball.

“The National League is forcing this war on us,” Johnson told the Chicago Tribune. “All we ask is a chance for good, healthy rivalry and competition, but if the National League insists on fighting we shall be able to take care of ourselves.”

Eventually, the National League realized it needed to co-exist with the American League. In 1903, the leagues agreed each was a major league and that their champion would meet annually in the World Series.

READ MORE:  7 of the Most Memorable World Series in Baseball History


MLB owners approve interleague play

On January 18, 1996, Major League Baseball owners unanimously approve interleague play for the 1997 season. The owners’ vote, which called for each team to play 15 or 16 interleague games, breaks a 126-year tradition of teams only playing games within their league during the regular season.

In defending the move, acting MLB commissioner Bud Selig told reporters: We have the greatest tradition in the world, but tradition shouldn’t be an albatross. This will be a tremendous success.” He added he wasn’t concerned if the World Series featured teams that had played each other during the regular season. 

READ MORE: Who Invented Baseball?

“There’s nothing in the Constitution that forbids that,” he said. “I remember sitting at the Super Bowl last year and watching San Francisco play San Diego, and somebody said they played last November. There was no less interest.”

Some owners were initially skeptical of breaking tradition, but they all were swayed to make the big step. The MLB Players Association subsequently gave its approval. “[I]nterleague games deserve a hard look,” MLB Players Association leader Don Fehr said.

Interleague play was proposed as early as 1933, by Chicago Cubs owner Bill Veeck. It was proposed again in 1973, when the American League adopted the designated hitter, but the plan was rejected by the National League.

On June 12, 1997, the San Francisco Giants beat the Texas Rangers, 4-3, in the first interleague game.


Carter homers to win World Series

On October 23, 1993, Toronto Blue Jay Joe Carter does what every kid dreams of—he wins the World Series for his team by whacking a ninth-inning home run over the SkyDome’s left-field wall. It was the first time the World Series had ended with a home run since Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski homered to break a 9-9 tie with the Yankees in the seventh game of the 1960 series, and it was the first time in baseball history that a team won the championship with a come-from-behind home run.

The Blue Jays were leading the series three games to two, but thanks to a five-run seventh inning (punctuated by a three-run blast from outfielder Lenny Dykstra), the Philadelphia Phillies were ahead 6-5 in the ninth. It looked like the Phils would tie the series and force a seventh game—but then they brought reliever Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams out of the bullpen. Though Williams had saved an impressive 45 games that season, he’d earned his nickname by throwing wild pitches when his team was in a tight spot, and he’d already blown a 14-9 lead for the Phillies in Game 4.

Williams did just what the Blue Jays were hoping he’d do. First he walked leadoff batter Rickey Henderson in four straight pitches. Then, after Devon White finally popped out to left field after nine pitches, Williams gave up a single to Series MVP Paul Molitor. With Henderson on second and Molitor on first, Joe Carter stepped up to the plate.

Carter took two balls, then two strikes. Then he cracked a low slider hard toward the left-field pole. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred,” he said later, “I hook that pitch way foul.” But this time, he didn’t. The ball swerved right and disappeared over the wall.

“It was the ultimate sports fantasy,” Carter said. His memorable homer won the game and the series, the highest-scoring in history (81 runs in all) and the Blue Jays’ second championship in a row. And it put Carter alongside celebrated hitters like Bobby Thomson, whose immortal “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” won the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants.

On that same day the next year, the French sailor Isabelle Autissier set a record in the first phase of the famous BOC round-the-world yacht race: She made it to Cape Town from Charleston in 35 days, 8 hours and 52 minutes. The second-place yacht was 1,200 miles behind her. Later in the race, a huge wave overturned Autissier’s yacht when she was nearly 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia. She was stranded in the ocean for four days until an Australian Navy helicopter rescued her from the deck of her damaged ship.


Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier

Month Day
April 15

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, age 28, becomes the first African American player in Major League Baseball when he steps onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson’s groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Robinson’s was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league.

READ MORE: Jackie Robinson’s Battles for Equality On and Off the Baseball Field

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, to a family of sharecroppers. Growing up, he excelled at sports and attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was the first athlete to letter in four varsity sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. After financial difficulties forced Robinson to drop out of UCLA, he joined the army in 1942 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After protesting instances of racial discrimination during his military service, Robinson was court-martialed in 1944. Ultimately, though, he was honorably discharged.

After the army, Robinson played for a season in the Negro American League. In 1946, he spent one season with the Canadian minor league team the Montreal Royals. In 1947, Robinson was called up to the Majors and soon became a star infielder and outfielder for the Dodgers, as well as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. In 1949, the right-hander was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player and league batting champ. Robinson played on the National League All-Star team from 1949 through 1954 and led the Dodgers to six National League pennants and one World Series, in 1955. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.

READ MORE: 11 Things You May Not Know About Jackie Robinson 

Despite his talent and success as a player, Robinson faced tremendous racial discrimination throughout his career, from baseball fans and some fellow players. Additionally, Jim Crow laws prevented Robinson from using the same hotels and restaurants as his teammates while playing in the South.

After retiring from baseball in 1957, Robinson became a businessman and civil rights activist. He died October 24, 1972, at age 53, in Stamford, Connecticut.


Major League Baseball’s first All-Star Game is held

Month Day
July 06

On July 6, 1933, Major League Baseball’s first All-Star Game took place at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The brainchild of a determined sports editor, the event was designed to bolster the sport and improve its reputation during the darkest years of the Great Depression. Originally billed as a one-time “Game of the Century,” it has now become a permanent and much-loved fixture of the baseball season.

Between 1930 and 1933, attendance at major league baseball games, which had skyrocketed during the 1920s, plummeted 40 percent, while the average player’s salary fell by 25 percent. Fans who could still afford tickets migrated from the more expensive box seats to the bleachers, which cost 50 cents. Owners of baseball teams across the country economized by shrinking their rosters, firing their coaches and slashing wages. Many teams also experimented with discounts and other innovations designed to woo back fans, including free admission for women, grocery giveaways and the first night games in baseball history.

Surprisingly, the most enduring promotional event to emerge during this period—the midseason All-Star Game between the American and National Leagues—was the brainchild of several people with no direct connection to baseball. In 1933, Chicago hosted a World’s Fair known as the Century of Progress International Exposition, an event devised to celebrate the city’s centennial while cultivating a sense of optimism during the depths of the Depression. Mayor Edward Kelly, newly elected and intent on making the fair a success, approached Colonel Robert McCormick, the powerful publisher of the Chicago Tribune, with the idea of holding a major athletic event in conjunction with it.

McCormick turned the matter over to his sports editor, Arch Ward, who proposed a one-time “Game of the Century” that would pit the finest players of the American and National Leagues against each other at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. As an added twist, fans would have the opportunity to vote on the lineup. Ward was so certain the game would be a hit that he told McCormick to take any losses out of Ward’s own paycheck. With his boss on board, Ward made his case to the presidents of both leagues and the various team owners, assuring the skeptics among them that the event would help pull baseball out of its slump. By donating all proceeds to a charity for retired players, he argued, they could show the country that Major League Baseball was not, as some had suggested, embracing a culture of “decadence” while ordinary Americans suffered financial ruin. Eventually, the persuasive editor’s lobbying won over the baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the game was set for July 6, 1933.

As the date drew near, Ward wrote story after story in the Tribune, hyping the game and encouraging the public to participate. Ballots were printed in 55 newspapers across the country, and fans cast several hundred thousand votes for their favorite players, with Babe Ruth drawing 100,000. Along with the Bambino, fans elected the likes of Lefty Grove, Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin to the roster.

On July 6, 47,595 fans packed into Comiskey Park, where some of baseball’s most historic moments had taken place. This would be another. The game, which ended in a 4-2 victory by the American League, did not disappoint, thrilling the crowd with its star-studded roster, built-in drama and unprecedented matchups. Indeed, for many of the players, this was their first chance to meet and compete with their counterparts from the other league.

Arch Ward’s All-Star Game proved so popular that its organizers held another “midsummer classic” the following year. Since then, it has become an annual fixture of the baseball season, bringing together the sport’s most talented and beloved players every year with the exception of 1945, when it was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions.


Babe Ruth dies

Month Day
August 16

On August 16, 1948, baseball legend George Herman “Babe” Ruth dies from cancer in New York City. For two days following, his body lay in state at the main entrance to Yankee Stadium, and tens of thousands of people stood in line to pay their last respects. He was buried in Hawthorne, New York.

Ruth, who had a colorful personality and an unmistakable physical presence, began his major league career in Baltimore in 1914. That same year, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox and during the next five years proved himself to be a formidable left-handed pitcher and batter. In 1919, he was sold to the New York Yankees, where he played outfield to better exploit his phenomenal hitting talents. At a time when baseball was suffering through the disgrace of the Black Sox scandal, Ruth almost single-handedly salvaged the sport’s popularity, hitting a record 60 home runs in the 1927 season and leading the Yankees to seven pennants. Yankee Stadium, opened in 1923, came to be known as “the House that Ruth Built.”

However, the Babe also made headlines by his charitable actions, such as visiting sick children in hospitals. In 1935, he retired from baseball, having hit a record 714 home runs in his career. In 1946, Ruth was diagnosed with throat cancer, but doctors could do little. Early the next year, treatment ended. On June 13, 1948, a uniformed Ruth appeared at Yankee Stadium one last time to retire his number. On August 16, he died of cancer at the age of 53.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Babe Ruth 


U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects first members

Month Day
January 29

On January 29, 1936, the U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects its first members in Cooperstown, New York: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson.

The Hall of Fame actually had its beginnings in 1935, when plans were made to build a museum devoted to baseball and its 100-year history. A private organization based in Cooperstown called the Clark Foundation thought that establishing the Baseball Hall of Fame in their city would help to reinvigorate the area’s Depression-ravaged economy by attracting tourists. To help sell the idea, the foundation advanced the idea that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown. The story proved to be phony, but baseball officials, eager to capitalize on the marketing and publicity potential of a museum to honor the game’s greats, gave their support to the project anyway.

In preparation for the dedication of the Hall of Fame in 1939—thought by many to be the centennial of baseball—the Baseball Writers’ Association of America chose the five greatest superstars of the game as the first class to be inducted: Ty Cobb was the most productive hitter in history; Babe Ruth was both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game; Honus Wagner was a versatile star shortstop and batting champion; Christy Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history; and Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers to ever have taken the mound.

Today, with approximately 350,000 visitors per year, the Hall of Fame continues to be the hub of all things baseball.