Today in Sports History: September 23rd

9/23/1908 - Merkle commits bonehead error

The first famous gaffe in MLB history occurs as Giants first baseman Fred Merkle fails to tag all the bases in a critical game with the Chicago Cubs. Merkle's mistake would wind up costing the New York ball club, and would make his name one of the most infamous in all of sports.

To read more about Merkle's error, click here for an in-depth Inhistoric article:

9/23/1978 - Bostock dies in shooting

Lyman Bostock was already a star baseball player when he perished in a shooting at age 27. Through almost four complete seasons, Bostock was a lifetime .311 hitter. He had signed one of the largest contracts in history with the California Angels not a year earlier, and when he began the '78 season in a horrendous slump, he offered to give back his contract and play for free. Angels owner Gene Autry declined (regulations prohibited it anyway), but Bostock instantly became a fan favorite.

Bostock had risen his batting average to .296 when he visited his uncle in late September. In a terrible act of misfortune, Bostock decided to meet up with an old friend who he hadn't seen in years. The woman he saw was having her sister over, because she needed to get away from her husband, Leonard Smith. Bostock gave the two girls a ride, and when their car stopped at an intersection, Smith, who had been following them, fired a shotgun into their automobile. His intent was to kill his wife; he instead killed Bostock, who died at the short age of 27.

Smith was found innocent by reason of insanity and was set free less than two years after the murder. The ruling was a controversial one and Indiana homicide laws were altered because of it; now when a mentally insane person kills someone, he/she can still go to jail after he/she has been released from psychiatric care. As for Bostock, he is one of the greatest what-ifs in baseball history.

9/23/1983 - Carlton reaches 300

Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton wins the 300th game of his Hall of Fame career. From 1963 to 1982, there was a huge gap where there wasn't a single 300-game winner to emerge; the 80's however were the decade of the 300, as five players (Gaylord Perry, Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton) all reached the historic milestone.

Carlton would finish with 329 wins, second only to Warren Spahn among left-handed pitchers. By the end of his career, he had totaled a then-record four Cy Young Awards, later broken by Roger Clemens, and 4,136 strikeouts, a record among lefties until Randy Johnson broke it. For a very brief time, Carlton and Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan had a neck-and-neck duel to see who would retire with the all-time strikeout lead -- both had broken Walter Johnson's strikeout record of 3,508, and it was only a matter of who would last longer.

Ryan ultimatley won out, playing into the early 90's and ammassing more than 5,000 total strikeouts; Carlton spent the final three years of his career with the Phillies, Giants, White Sox, Indians, and Twins before retiring. For comparison's sake, Carlton won two more games and four more MVP's than Ryan, who in turn pitched five more no-hitters and had a lifetime ERA just three percentage points lower.

9/23/1992 - Woman plays in NHL exhibition

The National Hockey League was never known for being diverse, but on this day in 1992, the sport did something rather dynamic: a girl played in it.

Manon Rheaume, a 20 year-old Canadian woman, played goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues. Rheaume allowed two goals on nine shots and was lifted in the first quarter with score tied at two. She would play in another NHL exhibition game in 1993, again playing for the Lightning. These were her only two game appearances.

Rheaume continued to play in the independent hockey circuit and was the goalie on the Canadian woman's hockey team in 1998, which won a silver medal. She never played in a regular season NHL game however. The Lightning were an expansion team when Rheaume first played for them, and Tampa Bay general manager Phil Espesito readily admitted that her preseason appearance was mostly for publicity.

Although Manon never got in a real game, she went further than any woman had ever gone in the four major sports leagues. No woman has ever played in an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL game.

Further reading:

Fifth and Jackson [ESPN Magazine]

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