The Grand Slam Single and Other Home Runs That Didn't Count

Harry How, Getty Images
Harry How, Getty Images

After Nelson Cruz’s dramatic walk-off grand slam on Monday, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not it was really the first walk-off slam in postseason history. You see, Robin Ventura also hit a home run with the bases loaded to end Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, in the 15th inning no less. However, he was never credited with a home run because as he rounded first base, teammate Todd Pratt (who had been on first base) turned around and hugged Ventura. As the rest of his Mets teammates poured onto the field, it became clear that Ventura would not finish rounding the bases.

Officially, he was only credited with an RBI single, leading to the play being called a “grand slam single.” Luckily, Ventura’s hit still won the game, albeit by a score of 4-3 rather than 7-3. For some other ill-fated hitters, a rain delay, bad call or even a paper airplane led to home runs being called back, sometimes with serious consequences.

In fact, two other grand slams have been downgraded to singles, both because of a rule that forbids runners to pass any teammate ahead of them on the base path. Both hits – one in 1970 by Dalton Jones of the Tigers, the other in 1976 by Tim McCarver of the Phillies – went over the fence, but saw the hitter run past the runner that had been on first base. Only the hitter was called out, so in both plays they got three RBIs and were credited with a single, but no grand slam.

In 1965, a lost home run gave us one of Yogi Berra’s greatest quips. The Mets were playing in Cincinnati, where construction near Crosley Field meant that the outfield wall was concrete, but topped with plywood in an attempt to keep balls in the park. According to officials, the concrete was in play, but any ball that hit the plywood would be a home run. With the bases loaded, outfielder Ron Swoboda hit a ball that bounced off the plywood and back onto the field, where the umpires erroneously ruled it in play. Coach Yogi Berra was ejected for protesting the call and later told reporters "Anyone who can’t hear the difference between wood and concrete must be blind."

In 1929, Tigers third baseman Frank Sigafoos hit his first ever home run in a road game against St. Louis. However, the umpire had actually called a balk on the pitcher and declared a dead ball, thus nullifying the home run. It would turn out to be the only time Sigafoos would ever hit the ball out of the park, and he finished his career with no official home runs.

In 1978, a paper airplane of all things erased a John Lowenstein home run. A fan threw a paper airplane onto the field just as Angels pitcher Paul Hartzell was winding up. The umpire called time because of the interference, but Hartzell finished pitching and Lowenstein ended up taking the ball over the right field fence. However, the hit was called back because of the time out. Lowenstein would eventually walk and ended up scoring in the inning.

St. Louis outfielder Joe Medwick ended the 1937 season tied with Mel Ott for the National League lead in home runs with 31, although he still won the batting triple crown thanks to a dominating season. However, were it not for one rained out game, he would have secured the outright home run lead. In a double-header against the Philadelphia Phillies, Medwick hit one out in the first inning en route to a 10-2 Cardinals lead. Thanks to an earlier rain delay, it was getting dark and officials were worried the stadium would have to close. The Phillies started slowing the game down by taking repeated trips to the mound and requesting ball changes in a bid to force the teams off the field before the game became official in the fifth inning. The tactics worked and the umpires called the game off in the fourth inning, erasing all of the official stats and the home run that Medwick could have used to break his tie with Ott.

Interestingly, a rain-out also erased a Stan Musial home run in 1948, which ended up eliminating his chance to become the first NL triple crown winner since Medwick.

For more lost home runs, check out this exhaustive list from Retrosheet.org. And for a good laugh, check out this Onion article about Hank Aaron’s 50 lost home runs, conveniently restored as Barry Bonds was nearing the home run record.

Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?

Elsa, Getty Images
Elsa, Getty Images

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team was founded in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions will host the Chicago Bears.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Washington Redskins on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?

In 2006, because six-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the New Orleans Saints will welcome the Atlanta Falcons.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

Why Are Marathons 26.2 Miles Long?

iStock/ZamoraA
iStock/ZamoraA

What's the reason behind the cursed distance of a marathon? The mythical explanation is that, around 490 BCE, the courier Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news that the Greeks had trounced the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The trouble with that explanation, however, is that Pheidippides would have only covered a distance of approximately 25 miles. So what accounts for the extra 1.2 miles?

When the modern marathon appeared in the late 19th century, the race distance was inconsistent. During the first Olympic games in 1896, runners jogged along Pheidippides’s old route for a distance of 40,000 meters—or 24.85 miles. (That race, by the way, was won by a Greek postal worker.) The next Olympic games saw the distance bumped to a pinch over 25 miles. And while subsequent marathons floated around the 25 mile mark, no standard distance was ever codified.

Then the Olympics came to London. In 1908, the marathon, which stretched between Windsor Castle and White City Stadium in London, lasted 26.2 miles—all for the benefit of England's royal family.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. Like previous races, the original event was supposed to cover a ballpark of 25 miles. The royal family, however, had other plans: They wanted the event to start directly in front of Windsor Castle—as the story goes, the royal children wanted to see the start of the race from the castle nursery. Officials duly agreed and moved the starting line, tacking on an extra mile to the race.

As for the pesky final 0.2? That was the royal family’s fault, too. The finish line was extended an extra 385 yards so the race would end in front of the royal family’s viewing box.

Those extra 1.2 miles proved to be a curse. The race’s leader, an Italian pastry chef named Dorando Pietri, collapsed multiple times while running toward the finish line and had to be helped to his feet. One of the people who came to his aid was a journalist named Arthur Conan Doyle. Afterward, Conan Doyle wrote about Pietri's late-race struggles for the Daily Mail, saying, "Through the doorway crawled a little, exhausted man ... He trotted for a few exhausted yards like a man galvanized into life; then the trot expired into a slow crawl, so slow that the officials could scarcely walk slow enough to keep beside him."

After the London Olympics, the distance of most marathons continued to hover between 24 and 26 miles, but it seems that Conan Doyle's writing may have brought special attention to the distance of 26.2, endowing it with a legendary "breaker-of-men" reputation. Indeed, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation convened to standardize the marathon, they chose the old London distance of 26 miles and 385 yards—or 26.219 miles.

Writing for Reuters, Steven Downes concluded that, "the marathon race may have been as much a Conan Doyle creation as Sherlock Holmes."

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