Every campaign unveils new story lines, like Alex Rodriguez battling for his baseball life or the greatest closer of all time hanging up his cleats.
But sometimes legends stick with the sport for centuries. Could baseball provide a moment in 2014 that not only dominates this year’s headlines, but cements itself in history?
Though they may never entirely surface as fact or myth, the top five urban legends in baseball history set the bar for the players and coaches of today.
5. The Curse of the Billy Goat
Are the Chicago Cubs of the past 68 years simply perennial underachievers, or did an unpleasant odor from 1945 doom each season by means of a powerful curse?
The last Cubs team to play in the World Series did so in 1945 under billy goat tavern owner Billy Sianis. Ballpark officials reportedly asked Sianis to leave game four of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers because the smell of his pet billy goat was bothering fans.
Chicago’s grisly manager took the insult to heart and insisted that the Cubs would never win a World Series again because of the insensitive remark directed towards his beloved goat.
Though they led the series 2-1 at the time of the incident, the Cubs lost game four, and ultimately, the series. Sianis’s goat continues to haunt the lovable losers, as they haven’t reached the big stage since.
Could the rancid stench of coach Sianis’s billy goat really explain the Cubs’ woes? Either way, the Cubs keep losing and the organization’s attempts to tame the curse’s wrath continue to come up short.
4. Gaylord Perry’s Moonshot
With career totals of 314 wins, 3,534 strikeouts and a 3.11 ERA, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry dominated the game of baseball from the mound. But like many other pitchers, when it came to performance at the plate, the alleged spit-balling, Vaseline-using righty looked utterly lost.
Perry finished his 22-year Major League career with a .131 batting average and over twice as many strikeouts (369) as hits (141). The lanky pitcher failed to hit a home run in his first seven seasons, and at least one reporter noticed.
Sportswriter Harry Jupiter apparently approached Giants Manager Alvin Dark while Perry took batting practice one day and joked that the star pitcher had some power. Dark famously responded with something along the lines of “there will be a man on the moon before he hits a home run.”
Most reports place Dark’s quote in the 1964 season, but not until July 20, 1969, did Neil Armstrong become the first man to land on the moon. Just hours later, in a game against the Dodgers, Perry clubbed his first home run off of Claude Osteen, turning his former manager into a proverbial prophet.
3. Dock Ellis’s LSD No-Hitter
Many of baseball’s greatest pitchers retired without adding a no-hitter to their terrific resumes. Grover Cleveland Alexander, Pedro Martinez and Lefty Grove combined for over 1,000 career wins, but never recorded a no-hitter.
Yet despite notching just 138 wins during his 12-year career, Dock Ellis no-hit the San Diego Padres on June 12, 1970. Though Pirates fans tab this game as one they’ll never forget, Ellis said he barely remembers.
In fact, he said he nearly forgot about the game because he was tripping on LSD.
The facts support Ellis’s claim that he threw the no-hitter under the influence of LSD. Catcher Jerry May allegedly wore reflective tape on his fingers so the acid-influenced pitcher could see the signals. Ellis also walked eight hitters during the game, and said:
“I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I had a feeling of euphoria…The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes, I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder.”
Ellis’s description of celebrities joining the game leaves little doubt about the authenticity of his LSD trip.
“I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate,” Ellis recalled. “I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn’t hit hard and never reached me.”
If Dock Ellis can strike out a guitar-swinging Jimi Hendrix on LSD, then baseball fans can only hope studs like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander give the drug a try.
2. Did Shoeless Joe Jackson Throw the 1919 World Series?
Shoeless Joe Jackson’s teammates victimized the slick-hitting outfielder when they threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson regularly suffers from the label earned by the “Black Sox,” who accepted bribes from gamblers in exchange for losing the series.
But Jackson’s numbers in the series suggest an alternate truth. The veteran hit .375 with six RBI in the series and denies taking part in the scandal. In fact, reports suggest that Jackson even told manager Kid Gleason about the dilemma, but his story fell on deaf ears.
Jackson recorded the most hits in the 1919 World Series, and led his team in batting average, RBI, runs and OPS. Jackson clubbed the only home run for the White Sox in the entire series.
1. Babe Ruth’s Called Shot
Perhaps the most famous moment in baseball history is the Great Bambino’s “called shot” in game three of the 1932 World Series. Pictures and videos confirm that Ruth pointed during the at-bat, but the controversy lies in what, exactly, he pointed at.
Heckling from the Cubs’ bench players reportedly caused Ruth to point towards the center field bleachers, which fans interpreted as a confident prediction for where his next ball would land. The second pitch hardly stood a chance, as the slugger sent it screaming over the center field wall.
Critics insist that Ruth pointed towards his hecklers on the Cubs’ bench, or even the pitcher Charlie Root. The first gesture came before a called strike, but after repeating it a second time, Ruth made history.
Whether Ruth prophesied the most famous home run of all time, or the gesture represented an incredible coincidence, every fan in the world knows about that moment; and the rotund Hall of Famer birthed the greatest urban legend in baseball history.
Unpredictable moments like these come around just once in a lifetime. Nobody knows if 2014 could host the next great urban legend; and that’s one of the many qualities that makes baseball worth the wait.