Today in Sports History: May 15th

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(The Clippers moved to L.A. on this day in '84. Photo by Noah Graham, Getty Images)

5/15/1912 - Cobb beats up heckler

Ty Cobb left the game of baseball as the most respected player in the sport. He retired with more hits, runs, stolen bases, and a higher batting average than anyone in history, and in 1936, he was elected to the Hall of Fame and received more votes than Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. But while Cobb was revered on the field, the legacy of his personal life and temperament was not nearly as spotless.

The most famous incident involving Cobb occurred on this day in 1912. Claude Leuker, a printer who had lost all of one hand and three fingers on another in an accident, sat in an alpaca coat and began to heckle the Georgian ballplayer. Cobb had endured Leuker's taunts in previous games and was getting fed up him. The two traded insults throughout the game, with Cobb at last insulting the man's sister. Lueker then responded by calling Cobb a "half-nigger."

Cobb had been pushed too far. Encouraged by his teammates to respond, he jumped over the railing, ran through the stands, approached the heckler and began to beat him senselessly. As the horrified spectators informed him that the man didn't have any hands, Cobb yelled back, "I don't care if he has no feet!"

"Everybody took it as a joke," Cobb later stated. "I was only kidding that fella and I frightened him to death. But I would not take from the United States Army what that man said to me. And fans in New York cheered me to the echo when I left the field. I don't look for applause but for the first time in my life, I was glad that the fans were with me."

American League president Ban Johnson had witnessed the entire ordeal and suspended the Detroit Tiger indefinitely. Cobb's teammates had his back. Though many of them couldn't stand him, they agreed that being called a half-nigger was too much of an insult to bear -- even from a handicapped man -- and when Johnson refused to overturn his decision, the Tigers staged the first walkout in MLB history.

5/15/1941 - Joe begins 56-game streak

The Chicago White Sox go into Yankee Stadium and destroy the "Bronx Bombers" 13-1. The one bright spot for the Yankees, although no one knew it at the time, was that Joe DiMaggio got a base hit against pitcher Eddie Smith.

It was the first step in what would become a record-setting performance. From May 15 to July 16, DiMaggio got a base hit in all 56 games he played in -- breaking George Sisler's American League record of 41 games and Willie Keeler's major league record of 44 games. DiMaggio's streak captured the hearts of the nation and made him one of the most revered baseball players of all time. Reporters intently followed his every at-bat and singer Les Brown immortalized him with the song: "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio."

DiMaggio finished the season with a .357 batting average, 30 home runs, 125 RBI, and remarkably just 13 strikeouts. And although his season totals paled in comparison to Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, who batted an awesome .406, Joe's Yankees finished 17 games ahead of the Red Sox and won the pennant. In a vote of 291-254, DiMaggio would come away with the American League MVP in a narrow victory over the "Splendid Splinter." Later that year, the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers 4-1 in the World Series. It was one of nine titles DiMaggio would win in his Hall of Fame career.

5/15/1984 - Clippers move to the city of angels

Only six after the team moved from Buffalo, New York, the San Diego Clippers announce that they are moving to Los Angeles, where they would play in the footsteps of the Lakers. When Donald Sterling purchased the team a couple years earlier, he had tried to move the team to L.A., but was rebuffed by the NBA. After signing a 10-year lease with the city of Los Angeles, there was no question they were moving for good this time. The Clippers were the second NBA franchise the city had lost; the Rockets played there for four years before moving to Houston.

Sterling, a real estate mogul, admitted that he planned on moving the team the moment he purchased them. "We are delighted to bring our team of the future to the greatest community in the world -- our home, Los Angeles," Sterling said.

In Los Angeles, fans quickly realized that the "team of the future" had no future whatsoever. It was in Los Angeles that the Clippers became known as one of the worst franchises in all of American sports. From 1980 to 2005, the team had just one winning season and continually placed near the bottom of the league in the standings. Sterling, whose sole intention was to keep the team profitable, became extremely disliked for his hands-off approach that allowed many allowed great players to slip through their grasp, particularly on draft day -- the only day of the year that the Clippers were relevant.

5/15/1991 - Queen sees Orioles game

During their visit to the United States, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip take in a Baltimore Orioles game with President George H.W. Bush. For two innings, the Queen, who had never seen a baseball game, sat with the president, his wife Barbara, MLB commissioner Fay Vincent, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Maryland governor William Donald Schaefer, and White House chief of staff John H. Sununu.

Michael Price, a spokesman for the British Embassy, said that the Queen was given a "straightforward brief on the game of baseball, the object of the game and a bit about the teams, the purpose and the rules of the game." The Queen was also given a buffet that included crab cakes and smoked turkey, quite different from the regular food at Memorial Stadium: overpriced hot dogs and beer.

After two event-less innings, with the A's leading the last-place Orioles, the Queen and her delegation were escorted out of the ballpark. The Oakland Athletics won, 6-3.

By the way, here is the protocol when it comes to talking with the Queen:

  • You can only shake hands with her if she puts her hand out first
  • You can only speak to her if she speaks to you first
  • You cannot, with the exception of a handshake, make contact with her
  • You must address her as "Your Majesty" or something like it
  • You must either curtsy or nod to her, depending on your sex
  • The Queen eats first and leaves the room first
  • You must never turn your back to the Queen

Those are pretty stringent rules for a person who doesn't actually decide anything.

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