Ten Fun Facts About Baseball Since 1962


Opening Day at Comerica Park, in Detroit, MI where the 2003 Tigers became the worst team in baseball since 1962. Photo source MJCdetroit on en.wikipedia

Each week I set out to research and document ten "fun facts" on a topic loosely based on the two books I've reviewed that week.  "Loosely" being the operative word. 

This week I reviewed 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK, David Krell's well researched but confusingly organized history of American events of 1962, with an emphasis on baseball, and Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger's The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millenniuma fascinating and informative look at what life would have been like in England in the year 1000.

Sports play a large part in many of our lives, whether we participate ourselves or are fans in the bleachers. Baseball, once dubbed "America's pastime" holds a special place in the sports loving hearts of many in the US, Canada and Central America but is not a commonly played sport in the UK, and certainly wasn't around in the year 1000. Cricket, popular in the UK and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, is often thought to be the "ancestor" of baseball. Cricket originated in south-east England, and according to Britannica.com, can be traced back as early as the 13th century.

Baseball fans are prone to nostalgia, and may like to think of the game as ageless and timeless. But like everything else in life baseball changes too, quite a bit actually since the events chronicled in David Krell's 1962.

Here then, are Ten Fun Facts About Baseball Since 1962:

Ten Fun Facts About Baseball Since 1962

  1. Last Negro League Player in the Majors - The Negro Leagues were a memory by 1962. Integration in the Major Leagues caused the quality of players the Negro Leagues could attract to diminish, and forced the Leagues to slowly fade into oblivion. The final Negro American League All Star game was played at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1960. By 1962 there were a handful of former Negro League players still playing in the majors, including Ernie Banks for the Cubs, Elston Howard for the Yankees, and Willie Mays for the Giants. In 1973, with his final play for the Mets in Game 5 of the World Series, Willie Mays became the last of the former Negro League Players to play in the Majors.
  2. Worst Team in Baseball - Bleacher Report ranked the 10 Worst Teams in MLB History in March of last year. Coming in at number 2, and the worst team in baseball since 1962, are the 2003 Detroit Tigers. As Bleacher Report notes, the 2003 Tigers were one of only two teams to win fewer than 27 percent of their games. the other team being the 1962 New York Mets. Considering that the '62 Mets were in their first year as an expansion team and thus didn't have a strong bench, the Tigers failure in 2003 is really something. (By the way, coming in as the worst team were the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics).
  3. I Designate Thee a Hitter - Back in 1962 pitchers in the Majors took their turn in the batting lineup just like all their teammates. But the idea that someone else should bat in the pitcher's place had been kicked around for years, even as far back as 1887. Finally, in 1973, the owners of the American League clubs agreed on the designated hitter (DH) rule for games played within the league. On April 6, 1973 the Yankees' Ron Goldberg became the first DH in the Majors. In 2020, as part of safety protocols for COVID-19, a universal  DH rule was instituted. Whether the National League ever chooses to (or can) revert back remains to be seen.

  4. I'll Trade You a Nolan Ryan for a Mickey Mantle - Baseball cards have been around almost as long as baseball itself. In fact, the history of baseball cards is longer than the history of the National League. But it wasn't until the 1980s that baseball cards began their trajectory as highly valued collectibles. In 1983, collectors went wild for the 1968 Nolan Ryan rookie card, setting of a collecting boom. Though the mania subsided somewhat in the intervening years, with the onset of the pandemic this past year the interest in baseball cards took off again. In January it was revealed that actor Rob Gough had paid $5.2 million for a mint 1952 Mickey Mantle card, the most ever paid for a baseball card.

  5. Popularity Contest - CJ Kelly, writing for How They Play, makes a convincing argument that baseball is no longer the national pastime of the US. Indeed, nationally, it is not the most popular sport anymore, and doesn't get nearly the same amount of national coverage as football and basketball. On the other hand, the New York Times points out that by shear volume of games the MLB sells many, many more tickets annually than the NBA and the NFL. While MLB nationwide coverage may pale compared to the basketball and football leagues, Nielsen ratings in 2019 show that 12 of the 29 US-based major league baseball teams had the most popular prime time broadcasts in their local markets.

  6. He's Got the Slows - One of the things that many point to for baseball's purported lack of national popularity is that the games go on for too long. Indeed, the average length of the game has risen, hitting a record high for the pandemic shortened 2020 season of 3 hours and 7 minutes on average. This is despite the rules imposed to limit mound visits, and to set a "minimum number of batters faced" rule for relief pitchers.  Check out the chart from Beyond the Boxscore on this Bleed Cubbie Blue page and you'll see it's true - Major League games are longer now than they have ever been.

  7. It's Outta Here - In 1962, Babe Ruth's home run record had already stood for 27 years. It stood for twelve more years, finally falling on April 8, 1974 when Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hit a home run off of Al Downing of the LA Dodgers for his 715th career home run. Aaron ended his career with 755 home runs. Aaron's own record then fell on August 7, 2007 as Barry Bonds hit his career 756th home run off Mike Bacsik of the Washington Nationals. Bonds finished his career with 762 home runs. His record is not without controversy, however, given that Bonds was a central figure in the MLB's steroids scandal.

  8. Baseball Dopes - Athletes in baseball, as in other sports, have a long history of turning to drugs and supplements to gain competitive advantage. Rumors of rampant steroid use among baseball players were surfacing around the turn of the millennium, and gained credence in 2005 when former major leaguer Jose Canseco released his book Juiced, in which he admitted to his steroid use and named several other players who also used steroids. Baseball began random drug testing, and a congressional hearing on doping in baseball was held, at which Mark McGuire famously refused to discuss whether or not he used steroids. Also in 2005 the BALCO scandal arose (BALCO was a provider of steroids to several players.) Many players reputations and careers were negatively impacted, including Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, and Curt Shilling. Since the BALCO scandal, the MLB has banned steroid use and began testing for it. Under MLB rules since 2014, a first positive steroid test means an 80 game suspension, a second leads to a 162 game suspension and a third leads to a ban from baseball for life.

  9. Best Baseball Player Since 1962 - According to Baseball Scholar's list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All-Time, only one player, Barry Bonds (1986 - 2007), who comes in at #2 overall, played his career entirely after the 1962 season. Four others had careers that straddled 1962 - Willie Mays (1951 - 1973) at #3, Mickey Mantle (1951 - 1968) at #8, Hank Aaron (1954 - 1976) at #9, and Stan Musial (1941 - 1963) at #10. 

  10. Expansion - In 1962 the National League expanded by two teams - the Houston Colt-45s (later Astros) and the New York Mets. This was a catch-up play following the American League's expansion in 1961, also adding two teams - the Washington Senators and the LA Angels. MLB expanded again in 1969, 1977, and 1998. With the expansions came league divisions, and the resulting Divisional Championships. Divisions started with two per league in 1969. Today's three divisions in each league came about in 1994.  In 1962 there were a total of 20 major league baseball teams in two leagues with no divisions and no Divisional Championships. Today, there are 30 teams in two leagues with three divisions each, and both Wild Cards and Divisional Championships. Confusing? Brian Lokker explains the whole history in detail, including which teams have switched leagues, for How They Play.
So there you have it. Are you a baseball fan? What fun baseball fact(s) have I left out? Leave a comment below.