Today I got to thinking about baseball moments that stuck out in my mind that I was able to witness in my lifetime. Sure, there are great moments in baseball like “the Catch” and “the shot heard round the world” but to me they are not as meaningful as I wasn’t able to witness them as they happened. So I present to you my personal most memorable baseball moments. Firstly, I am going to preface this list with a warning: this list is Jays heavy. I grew up a Jays fan so that is to be expected. Secondly, the purpose of this article isn’t to throw down a definitive list of the most memorable moments in baseball since 1980, it is to trigger memories that you might have had or had forgotton that you might have found special. So I don’t want anyone to flame me for my choices and that Frank Tanana doesn’t belong on any list. But please feel free to share your own favourite baseball moments that you witnessed growing up and today. Also, I won’t include Joe Carter’s HR because it was so huge it goes without saying it has to be the #1 moment.
Cal Ripken breaks Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak
September 6, 1995 Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak of 2130 games. What I remember most about this game is that for the first time I can ever remember, a baseball game was stopped after the 5th inning just for everyone to celebrate. Cal came out of the dugout and tipped his hat and then was able to find his father, Cal Sr. in the crowd and they shared a moment (I think it is the only time I had ever seen Cal Sr. smile). Then Cal Jr.Â took an impromptu lap around the field, shaking every fan’s hand along the way. It was a surreal moment and to me it was representative of everything that is good about the game of baseball.
Frank Tanana pitches a 1-0 shutout over The Toronto Blue Jays in 1987
Why is this memorable? As a 7 year old boy who still believed dreams can come true and wishing on a star, my heroes the Toronto Blue Jays had to win one of their last 7 games of the season to clinch the division and make it to the playoffs. Not only did they fail to win any of those 7 games, they lost all 7 games by a combined total of 7 runs. Frank Tanana rubbed salt in the wound by shutting out the Jays on the last day of the season thus shattering my dreams and ruining my life. That is until….
Kelly Gruber Hits for the Cycle
On April 16, 1990 Kelly Gruber became the first Blue Jay to hit for the cycle. Kelly Gruber was always my favourite player ever since he broke in as Rance Mulliniks’ platoon partner on the hot corner. I had been preaching to anyone who would listen (still do) as to how good Gruber was and this was the beginning of his most successful season where he won both the silver slugger and the gold glove in the same season while racking up 31 HR, 36 2B’s while driving in 118. Another memorable Gruber moment for me was when he slammed a key HR against the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series while having a bone spur rooted in his spinal cord. Oh and how could I forget the triple play that he completed.
Tony Fernandez Day
Octavio Antonio Fernandez Castro was one of my favourite players to watch growing up as he dazzled defensively at SS for the Blue Jays. In the twilight of his career at age 39, Tony Fernandez signed a minor league deal with the Jays after being released by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2001. A late season call up, the Jays ran a promotion on September 4th for the fans calling the day “Tony Fernandez Day“. In the bottom of the 7th inning, Tony Fernandez was called on to pitch hit for Shannon Stewart vs. Yankees pitcher Ted Lilly with the bases loaded. With every fan in the Skydome on their feet, the rail thin Ferndandez hit a Grand Slam Home Run. I remember this moment because I was bouncing of the walls of my living room when it happened, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.
Roger Clemens back to back Cy Youngs and Triple Crowns
While Clemens was only in Toronto for a short while, he left an indelible mark. Arguably his finest 2 seasons were spent in a Blue Jays uniform in 1997 and 1998. The triple crown in the American League has only happened 14 times by 8 different pitchers. To do it back to back is a momentous feat. Clemens 1997 stats had him sporting a 2.07 ERA with 21 Wins and 292 K’s. A truly dominating performance.
Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire HR race
Say what you will about their association with steroids, but it was a heck of an exciting time to be a baseball fan in 1999. Not only was Roger Maris’ home run record being threatened for the first time since it was set in 1961, but it was set to be broken by 2 players in the same season! In the end they both did eclipse Maris’ mark with McGwire reaching 70, annhiliating the record with Sammy Sosa not far behind with 66. Asterisk or no asterisk, it was fun to watch.
Nolan Ryan beats Robin Ventura like a rented mule
Before the 1993 season, Nolan Ryan announced his retirement, effective at the end of that season. On August 4, after Ryan hit Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox, Ventura charged the mound in order to fight Ryan, who was 20 years his senior. Ryan secured the 26-year-old Ventura in a headlock with his left arm, while pummelling Ventura’s head with his right fist six times before catcher Ivan Rodriguez was able to pull Ventura away from Ryan. Videos of the incident were played that evening and I couldn’t believe my eyes. While Ventura and White Sox manager Gene Lamont were ejected, Ryan – who had barely moved from his spot on the mound in the fracas – was allowed to remain in the game. Ryan gave up 1 hit in the bottom of the 7th and was replaced in the 8th after the incident happened in the 2nd inning.
Nolan Ryan’s very durable arm finally gave out in Seattle on September 22, 1993, when he tore a ligament, ending his career two starts earlier than planned. Briefly attempting to pitch past the injury, Ryan threw one further pitch after tearing his ligament; with his injured arm, his final pitch was measured at 98 miles per hour. Just a total stud.
Team Canada defeats USA at the World Baseball Classic
Yes, I know, despite the win Canada still didn’t make it past the first round. However, for a country with an inferiority complex as big as the one Canada has with the US, it was a huge deal. Despite having a roster of a few stars, fringe players and mostly minor leaguers, Team Canada pitched rookie Adam Loewen against the powerhouse all-star filled team of the United States 8-6.
Dave Stieb Finally Pitches a No-Hitter
Dave Stieb was my favourite pitcher growing up, mostly due to his crazy demeanor. Stieb had a high-strung personality and was known as a fierce competitor on the mound; he was regularly seen having animated conversations with himself during pitches when in difficult situations. I always felt bad for Stieb because he had outstanding stuff but had a brutal supporting cast surrounding him defensively. Stieb entered the league primarily as a power pitcher, relying on a high, inside fastball to strike batters out. The brushback pitch was an integral part of his repertoire to back batters off the plate, and was especially tough on right-handed hitters in this respect. As a result, he led the league in hit batsmen a few years.
Later on in his career he developed his breaking ball repertoire, and he became very effective with a “dead fish” curveball that would break into the dirt as the batter swung. He also had one of the best sliders of all time. On September 2, 1990, he pitched the first (and so far only) no-hitter in Blue Jays history, defeating the Cleveland Indians 3-0. Previously, Stieb had no-hitters broken up with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning in two consecutive 1988 starts. In 1989 he had yet another no-hit bid broken up with two outs in the ninth; this was a potential perfect game. I always thought he would be the first Jays pitcher to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but it hasn’t happened.
The 1994 Strike
Sorry to end this list on a negative tip, but the strike really did hurt your boy and left a scarring memorable moment embedded in his soul for 2 reasons. For one, Padres stud Tony Gwynn was flirting with .400 and I figured if anyone had a shot at it it would have been Gwynn. Most importantly however was that the Montreal Expos were annihilating all comers in their quest for their first World Series. At the time of the strike Les Expos were 34 games over .500 with a 74-40 record. This team included these studs in the primes of their careers:
Wil Cordero, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, Larry Walker, Ken Hill, Pedro Martinez, Jeff Fassero and John Wetteland. As well, the avg team age was 26.1.
“As fans cheered cheered the sight of those standings, a small gathering of 1994 Expos alumni stood on the warning track in left field and pulled back a black curtain to reveal a banner hung on the wall: ‘1994 Meillure Equipe du Baseball / Best Team in Baseball’.” – Sportswriter Dave Sheinin in the Washington Post (09/30/2004)