Today in Sports History: July 18th

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(Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance. Three Cubs Fall of Famers)

7/18/1897 - Anson first to 3,000

Cap Anson is the first player in history to collect 3,000 career base hits, which he does for the Chicago White Stockings (later known as the Chicago Cubs). 3,000 hits, as well as 300 wins for a pitcher and 500 home runs for a slugger, would become the paramount statistical milestones in Major League Baseball. Barring any infractions or misbehavior, any player to attain one of those milestones would be assured of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Anson, who finished with 3,418 hits after a record 27-year career, was the first superstar the National League ever had. He was also an unapologetic racist who would refuse to take the field if a black man was in the vicinity. Because of his popularity, his views against blacks were very influential, and he has often been cited as the driving force behind baseball's color barrier in the twentieth century.

7/18/1910 - Baseball's Sad Lexicon

On July 18, 1910, Franklin Pierce Adams immortalized the infield trio of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance in a poem titled "Baseball's Sad Lexicon." A week before, Pierce had happily won a bet that the Chicago Cubs would beat the New York Giants. When he turned in his weekly article to the New York Evening Mail, the paper told him he was eight lines short. Remembering a double play he had seen from the game, Pierce added the following:

These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double --
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

Shortstop Tinker, second baseman Evers, and first baseman Chance were all members of the 1907 and 1908 world champion Chicago Cubs. They were also members of the 1906 team that won a record 116 games. Thanks to the poetics of Adams, the double play combination of "Tinker to Evers to Chance" became a household requiem.

In 1946, all three were elected to the Hall of Fame. Lately, this has been a controversial selection because statistically their numbers both offensively and defensively were average at best. All three were legitimate stars back in the day, but to how far the poem influenced the voting is anyone's guess -- some believe that if not for Adams' poem, all three would be on the outside of the Hall of Fame.

7/17/1921 - Ruth passes Connor

Babe Ruth hits the 139th career home run of his career, officially surpassing Roger Connor as the all-time home run leader. Connor had been the home run king for over 25 years, although no one knew it at the time. In fact, the most notable thing about Babe Ruth's record-breaking homer is that it wasn't notable at all -- the home run record was utterly irrelevant back then, and no one had any idea that Connor had even held the title, let alone that he had lost it.

Years later, when Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds become the first two players to pass Babe Ruth, a gargantuan amount of press was given to the both of them. Connor not only didn't receive anything for his record, it wasn't even mentioned in his obituary. It was a sign of the times if ever there was one.

By the way, in a completely useless bit of trivia, the man who held the all-time home run record before Roger Connor was Harry Stovey, who finished with 122 longballs.

7/18/1970 - Mays tenth to 3,000

Willie Mays becomes the tenth player to join the 3,000-hit club, accomplishing it three months and one day after Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves. Mays finished his career with 660 home runs, the most ever for someone who played in a Giants uniform. He would later become the godfather of Bobby Bonds' son, Barry, who would one day surpass him in career home runs.

7/18/1995 - McDowell flips off Yankee Stadium

In the second game of a double-header, Yankees pitcher Jack McDowell was pulled in the fifth inning, having given up 13 hits, 9 earned runs, and three home runs (to the White Sox, his old team no less). McDowell was already off to rough start with the Bronx Bombers; it had taken him a month and a half just to collect his second win, and with a $5.4 million salary and the pedigree of being the 1993 AL Cy Young winner, his slow start wasn't cutting it. Not in New York.

As McDowell walked off the field, the hometown Yankee fans booed loudly. McDowell then did about the worst thing a player in that situation could do: he gave the New York fans the finger. "They obviously were well-versed in their reaction to my performance," said McDowell, who tried in vain to apologize. "It was a quick little outburst on my part. You can't let that happen."

At the time, the Yankees were in 4th place in the American League East and had a sub-.500 record, while Jack McDowell, one of the highest-paid players in baseball, was just 7-6 with a 4.78 ERA. Jack's middle finger garnered an enormous amount of press, which led to calls for him to be traded. He was not suspended but was handed a $5,000 fine.

No transaction was made, which turned out to be the right decision for the Yankees. New York won their next seven games following the finger game, including 16 of their next 20. McDowell played much better, and finished the season with a 15-10 mark and a 3.93 ERA. The Yankees climbed into second place in the division and barely crept into the postseason with a 79-65 record. However, they lost to the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the playoffs despite holding a 2-0 series lead. McDowell lost twice in the series, giving up seven earned runs in his two starts, along with a series-losing hit to Edgar Martinez in the eleventh inning of Game 5.

In the offseason, McDowell left the Big Apple for Cleveland, where he would stay for two less-than-average years. The next year, under the guidance of new manager Joe Torre, the Yankees returned to prominence and won their first World Series in 18 years.

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(O'Neal during the 2000 finals. Photo by Tom Hauck, Getty Images)

7/18/1996 - Lakers sign Shaq from Magic

The Los Angeles Lakers sign free agent center Shaquille O'Neal to a seven-year, $121 million contract -- then the largest deal in NBA history. The Lakers and Magic had been in the middle of a bidding war for several weeks, and at $121 million -- along with the enticement of future endorsement deals -- O'Neal decided that L.A. was the way to go. Orlando had reportedly offered him a $130 million deal, which O'Neal had turned down.

Ironically, the only reason the Lakers were able to acquire O'Neal was because they had just traded for Kobe Bryant. In order to offer O'Neal more money without exceeding the salary cap, Los Angeles dealt Vlade Divac and his $4.3 million salary to the Hornets for Bryant -- a shooting guard who had elected to forgo his collegial career. The irony, of course, was that Bryant and O'Neal wound up hating each other so much that their schism led to O'Neal's departure from the team in 2004.

While O'Neal and Bryant were together, the Lakers were a major contender in the Western Conference. At first, the Lakers struggled to beat the likes of Houston, Utah, Seattle, and San Antonio. But when Phil Jackson took over in 1999, everything turned around. Los Angeles played in four finals from 2000 to 2004 and won three of them. O'Neal was the finals MVP in all three of their championships.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, O'Neal's departure from Disney World to Disneyland destroyed the Orlando Magic. Orlando had been the Chicago Bulls' toughest eastern opponent since Michael Jordan came back from retirement in 1995. But without the "Big Aristotle," Orlando fell to the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. It took Orlando another dozen years to get out of the first round of the playoffs -- not at all what they expected when they drafted Penny Hardaway to pair with Shaq.

Further reading:

Firing back at Jack [New York Daily News]

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