Today in Sports History: October 12th

10/12/1979 - Ford hits first three-pointer

In a game versus the Houston Rockets, Celtics guard Chris Ford hits the first three-pointer in NBA history. The game was also the professional debut of Larry Bird, who won three titles and three straight MVP's with the Celtics. "Don't think Larry hasn't been pissed over the years that it wasn't him who made [the first one]," Ford told Sports Illustrated 25 years later.

The three-point line was first implemented by rival leagues to the NBA, such as the American Basketball League, the Eastern Professional Basketball League, and American Basketball Association, who made it popular. It took a while for teams to fully embrace the three-point shot; in the late 80's, you'd be likely just to see ten threes get attempted in a game. The league even shortened the three-point line from 1994 to 1997, which resulted in a boom of attempted three-point shots. As it stands today, the three-pointer has been ingratiated into the fabric of the game, although some purists question if it's made it better or worse.

10/12/2005 - A.J. steals first, Sox steal Game 2

Having split the first two games of the ALCS, the Anaheim Angels should have left the windy city in high spirits -- after all, they had just taken home field advantage away from the Chicago White Sox, the best team in the American League. However, the way they lost Game 2 was so controversial that it was the White Sox who flew to California with all the momentum.

The moment in question occurred with the game tied at 1 with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Kelvim Escobar's low 3-2 pitch was swung on and missed by Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings signaled that A.J. was out on strikes, and the Angels began to walk off the field.

However, Pierzynski thought the ball hit the ground before it reached the catcher's glove and wisely jolted to first base. Asked later if the ball really hit the dirt, Pierzynski answered, "I don't know if it did or not, but I'll take it."

Seconds after Pierzynski crossed first, with many of the Angels almost at the dugout, Eddings slowly motioned that A.J. was safe and that the inning would continue. A perplexed and upset Mike Scioscia raced out of the dugout and demanded an explanation. Eddings told the Angels skipper that the play was ruled an uncaught strikeout. And because catcher Josh Paul didn't tag him out or throw to first, having tossed the ball back to the pitcher’s mound, Pierzynski was ruled safe.

The instant replays from FOX told an entirely different story. There was no conclusive proof that the ball hit the dirt, which meant that Pierzynski should have been retired. But since major league umpires lacked the approval of instant replay, no reversal was made, and the game continued nonetheless.

Murphy's Law then handed the Angels a particularly painful defeat. Pablo Ozuna, pinch-running for Pierzynski, stole second a few pitches into Joe Crede's at-bat. Seconds later, Crede belted an Escobar pitch off the left field wall, driving in Ozuna and giving the White Sox the victory.

Afterwards, everyone was talking about the faux-strikeout call that let the game continue. Eddings’ defended his ruling by saying that the ball changed direction enough that it had to have hit the ground. But if you watch the final replay of the pitch, you’ll see that the ball clearly never hits the dirt. It was all glove. Whether it changed directions or not is pointless: A.J. swung and missed, Paul caught it; there should have been a 10th inning.

For years and years, fans and columnists had petitioned baseball to adopt instant replay for contentious calls such as this. Because this miscue occurred in such an important game, many believed this grievance would force baseball to jump on board. The NFL embraced instant replay when a false Vinny Testaverde touchdown kept the Seattle Seahawks from the postseason; the NBA followed suit when Reggie Miller extended an elimination game on a shot that he didn't get off in time.

Despite the most convincing proof yet that instant replay was necessary, Bud Selig and baseball turned a blind eye. Baseball's adoration of the past made it incompatible to support new-age technology. It would be a few years before baseball accepted replay into its structure, and when they did, it was a move supported by virtually everyone.

Had the game gone to extra innings, and had the Angels won and taken a 2-0 lead, the series might have ended differently. Instead, the White Sox won all three matches in Anaheim and finished the series in five games. The White Sox then went on to sweep the Houston Astros in the World Series, thus giving them their first championship in 88 years.

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