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Baseball 101: First things first

Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952.

Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. Credit: AP

What better time is there than Opening Day to consider baseball’s array of “firsts”? That is especially true this year, when first impressions are so fresh in memory.

In 2016, two Yankees homered in their first major-league at-bats, one right after the other. Teammate Gary Sanchez had numerous firsts. Then there was the first wild-card game at Citi Field and the first Mets spring training at a facility named First Data Field.

Looking ahead, 2017 will be the first Los Angeles Dodgers season without Vin Scully and the first time a Cubs world championship banner will be hoisted at Wrigley Field (the last time the Cubs won, they played at West Side Park; that was 1908).

So here is our Baseball 101 presentation for this year. It obviously is not a chronology (dates go back and forth) and it definitely is not a ranking (after No. 1, it’s generally random).

It is a wide-angle look at the sport through the lens of “Firsts.”

1. First Rookie of the Year

The Rookie of the Year Award was established in 1947, and not a moment too soon. All of baseball had a rookie season that year, in a way. Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, and all that followed because of it, made everything new.

It changed the fabric of the sport and, ultimately, American life and society. So it was fitting that Robinson was the inaugural rookie award winner, and the only one in the majors that first year. Everything about his entry into the majors and the toppling of the sport’s racial barrier rates it first among baseball’s firsts.

From 1940 to 1946, rookie honors were presented by the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. But 1947 was the first time the award became national.

Robinson’s selection was not a mere sentimental choice or the result of grading on a curve that took into account the derision he withstood (a few teammates and some opponents initially said they would refuse to take the field with him). Judging from reports at the time, writers were not overwhelmed by the historical significance. In The New York Times’ summary of the year in sports, published on Dec. 21, 1947, Robinson’s debut made it no higher than the fifth paragraph.

His selection, with 15 first-place votes to 13 for New York Giants pitcher Larry Jansen, apparently was based substantially on his performance. The 28-year-old rookie batted .297 with 12 home runs, 48 runs batted in and 29 stolen bases as he helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant.

History subsequently has bestowed more import on his season, given the hurdles that it helped to knock down and the stairways it built. More than 60 years later, President Barack Obama spoke of a direct line from that debut season to his own election to the White House.

As for the Rookie of the Year Award, it was expanded in 1949 to two presentations, one winner for each league. And in 1987, on the 40th anniversary of the first plaque, Major League Baseball officially renamed the honor the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.

So that is the top of the list of firsts. Here, in no particular order, are numbers 2 through 101:

2. A Feast of Firsts at Yankee Stadium

Tyler Austin of the Yankees accomplished one of baseball’s rarest feats last Aug. 13, a Saturday afternoon. It already was an auspicious day at Yankee Stadium; it followed the first official on-field reunion of the 1996 championship team and was the first game after the departure of Alex Rodriguez. Austin made it much more memorable by hitting a home run in his first major-league at-bat.

Then Aaron Judge, the next batter, did the exact same thing. It was the first back-to-back pair of debut homers in major- league history. “What a day,” an overwhelmed Judge said afterward. “That’s all I can say.”

3. You Could Look It Up: First in His Class

Casey Stengel was the first to wear the uniforms of all four New York teams: Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Yankees and Mets. He was the first in baseball history to have his number retired by two teams (No. 37 was enshrined first by the Mets, then by the Yankees). He was the first manager to win five consecutive World Series (1949-53).

He also had a heck of a track record at new ballparks. He hit the first home run at Ebbets Field and the first World Series home run at Yankee Stadium. He managed the first game at Shea Stadium, having been the facility’s greatest herald. Promoting the place during a winter banquet, he said, “It has 57 bathrooms and I need one now.”

All of this is detailed in the new book, “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character,” by Marty Appel, the first Yankees public relations director appointed by George Steinbrenner.

4. The Long-Awaited (and Costly?) First

Fifty years into their existence and on their third home ballpark, the Mets finally achieved their first no-hitter. Johan Santana did that on Friday night, June 1, 2012. The beauty of it was that he knew exactly what it meant to the franchise and its fans. “Amazing,” he said, coincidentally using the team’s favorite epigram. In the clubhouse afterward, he told his teammates, “We all made history.”

But manager Terry Collins was not as joyful, questioning himself on whether it was right to allow his star pitcher to throw 134 pitches — 15 beyond the limit that had been placed on Santana after shoulder surgery. Santana went 3-7 the remainder of that season and never pitched in the majors again.

5. Who’s on First?

Baseball was the basis of the Abbott and Costello routine named by Time magazine as the greatest comedy sketch of the 20th century. Its first national performance was on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938. It later was incorporated into the movie, “The Naughty Nineties.” A clip of the latter runs continuously at the Hall of Fame. Of course, you know it:

Costello: Well, then, who’s on first?

Abbott: Yes

Costello: I mean the fellow’s name

Abbott: Who

Costello: The guy on first

Abbott: Who

Costello: The first baseman

Abbott: Who

Costello: The guy playing . . .

Abbott: Who is on first

Costello: I’m asking YOU who’s on first

Abbott: That’s the man’s name

Costello: That’s the man’s name?

Abbott: Yes

Costello: When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?

Abbott: Every dollar of it

6. Dave Eiland, pitching for the Yankees in Milwaukee on Aug. 3, 1988, allowed a home run to the first batter (Paul Molitor) he faced in the major leagues. Having moved to the National League and the Padres in 1992, Eiland hit a home run in his first major-league at-bat (against Bob Ojeda on April 10).

7. The first major league game on radio was Aug. 5, 1921, Phillies vs. Pirates, broadcast by KDKA in Pittsburgh. The play-by-play was done by Harold Arlin, whose grandson Steve eventually pitched for the Padres.

8. W2XBS, a station later renamed WNBC in New York, was the first to televise a major league baseball game, between the Reds and Dodgers from Ebbets Field on Aug. 26, 1939. Red Barber was the announcer.

9. In 2016, the Cubs became the first team to win the World Series after having gone 107 years without doing so.

10. Francisco Cabrera’s two-run, two-out single in the bottom of the ninth of the 1992 National League Championship Series won the pennant for the Braves over the Pirates and marked the first time a team went from trailing to winning on the final play of a deciding postseason game.

11. In 1929, the Yankees were the first to wear numbers on their uniforms, reflecting the batting order (Lou Gehrig, the cleanup hitter, wore No. 4).

12. The 1969 Mets were the first expansion team to win the World Series.

13. Derek Jeter’s walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series occurred after midnight, marking the first time the Fall Classic stretched into November.

14. Mel Ott of the New York Giants was the first to lead a team in home runs 18 years in a row.

15. Jay Hook was the first Met to have a master’s degree in thermodynamics and the first pitcher in team history to win a game, at Pittsburgh on April 23, 1962.

16. William Howard Taft, in 1910, was the first U.S. President to throw a ceremonial first pitch.

17. “Smiling Mickey” Welch was the first pinch hitter in major-league history, striking out for the Giants on Sept. 10, 1889.

18. Ron Blomberg of the Yankees was the majors’ first designated hitter on April 6, 1973.

19. Margaret “Midge” Donahue was the first woman executive in Major League Baseball. Having started with the Cubs as a stenographer in 1919, she was promoted to the front office in 1924, introduced the concept of season tickets in 1929 and worked for the team through 1958.

20. John Miller in 1966 became the first Yankee to homer in his first at-bat. He also homered in his final at-bat, for the 1969 Dodgers, and had no home runs in between.

21. Catcher Roger Bresnahan of the Giants became the first to wear shin guards, on Opening Day in 1907.

22. Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. became the first father and son to play together when they appeared for the Mariners on Aug. 31, 1990.

23. Having missed three seasons because of military service during World War II, Ted Williams swung at the first pitch he saw in spring training of 1946 and hit a home run.

24. Hall of Fame baseball writer Charles Dryden was, according to The New York Times, the first to use the phrase “ball yard.” He is best known for his identification of the 1904 Washington Senators, paraphrasing an epigram about George Washington: “First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.”

25. Babe Ruth is first in WAR—the all-time leader in the statistic Wins Above Replacement.

26. Baseball’s first concession stand opened in 1914 at Chicago’s Weeghman Park, which was renamed Wrigley Field 12 years later.

27. Joe DiMaggio singled in the bottom of the first against the White Sox on May 15, 1941, the first of 56 consecutive games in which he would get a hit.

28. Bert Campaneris became the first to play all nine positions in one game, on Sept. 8, 1965.

29. Joe Coleman made his debut Sept. 19, 1942, becoming the first member of the majors’ first three-generation family (followed by son Joe and grandson Casey).

30. Keith Hernandez, author of the book “If at First,” has the most Gold Gloves (11) among first basemen. He and Willie Stargell were the National League’s first co-Most Valuable Players in 1979, when Hernandez finished first in batting.

31. Pete Rose, after an 0-for-12 start, tripled on April 13, 1963. It was the first of his record 4,256 hits. He moved past Ty Cobb into first place on the all-time hits list on Sept. 11, 1985.

32. Frank Robinson became the majors’ first African-American manager on Opening Day in 1975. He still was a player for the Indians and hit a home run in the game. He became the National League’s first black manager with the Giants in 1981.

33. The first Bill James Baseball Abstract was self-published in 1977, ushering in the era of Sabermetrics, a term James first used in 1980.

34. The first time an earthquake postponed a World Series game was Oct. 17, 1989, in Oakland.

35. Yogi Berra had the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history, in Game 3 of 1947. It was the first of his 12 World Series homers.

36. Bob Ferguson of the Hartford team was the first manager reported to use a defensive shift, in 1877, the second year of the National League, according to a story at the time in the Louisville Courier Journal.

37. Larry Doby was the first African-American in the American League, debuting for the Indians on July 5, 1947. He suffered many of the same indignities as did Jackie Robinson (who debuted in April).

38. Hiram Bithorn was the majors’ first player from Puerto Rico, making his debut for the Cubs in 1942. Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan hosted the first major league game in Puerto Rico, Rangers vs. Blue Jays on April 1, 2001.

39. The first Hall of Fame class, elected in 1936: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner.

40. Bob Sheppard’s first game as public address announcer at Yankee Stadium was on April 17, 1951. It also was Mickey Mantle’s first game.

41. Tom Seaver was the winning pitcher in the first National League Championship Game in 1969, the first season of divisional play.

42. Harry Chiti was the first player traded for himself. (Dealt by the Indians to the Mets for a player to be named in 1962, he returned as the unnamed player.)

43. Joel Youngblood was the first to have two hits for two teams in two different cities on the same day, Aug. 4, 1982 (with the Mets in Chicago and Expos in Philadelphia).

44. The Milwaukee Braves, playing in Cincinnati on June 8, 1961, became the first team to hit four home runs in a row. The batters were Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas.

45. The Toronto Blue Jays became the first team to draw more than 4 million fans in a season. They did it in 1991, a year before they became the first non-U.S.-based team to win the World Series.

46. The Yankees and Rockies were the first to reach the postseason as wild cards (1995).

47. Gary Carter ended his first home game as a Met with a 10th-inning home run on April 9, 1985.

48. Soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee Tim Raines was the first to steal 70 bases in six consecutive seasons.

49. Jeff Bagwell, another 2017 inductee, was the first first baseman to hit 40 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season (he did it twice).

50. Ivan Rodriguez, also in the Hall’s 2017 class, was the first catcher to hit 500 career doubles.

51. When Willie Mays hit his first home run, against Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves at the Polo Grounds in 1951, it was such a blast that announcer Russ Hodges said, “If it’s the only home run he ever hits, they’ll still remember him.” Mays would hit 659 more.

52. Last October, David Ross of the Cubs became the first player 39 or older to hit a home run in a World Series Game 7.

53. With a scoreless inning at Shea Stadium on Sept. 1, 1964, Masanori Murakami of the Giants became the first Japanese player to appear in a major league game.

54. Cy Young was the first 500-game winner.

55. Bob Feller threw the first Opening Day no-hitter (April 16, 1940)

56. Don Larsen pitched the first World Series perfect game (Game 5 in 1956).

57. The first Tommy John surgery was performed in 1974 by Dr. Frank Jobe . . . on Tommy John.

58. John Smoltz (in 2015) was the first pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame after having had Tommy John surgery.

59. Ozzie Virgil Sr. was the first player from the Dominican Republic to reach the major leagues (1956). Juan Marichal became the country’s first Hall of Famer in 1983.

60. In 1977, Dave Kingman became the first to play in four divisions during one season, with the Mets, Padres, Angels and Yankees.

61. Roger Maris in 1961 became the first to surpass Babe Ruth’s record 60 home runs in a season, and the last to do it without a subsequent controversy over suspected use of steroids.

62. Bucky Dent hit the deciding home run in the first one-game playoff for a division title on Oct. 2, 1978.

63. Ichiro Suzuki was the first player from Japan to have 3,000 hits in the major leagues (after having more than 1,000 in his home country).

64. Sandy Koufax pitched the first of his four no-hitters on June 30, 1962, against the Mets at Dodger Stadium.

65. Nolan Ryan, who threw seven no-hitters, became the first player to make $1 million a year when he signed with the Astros in 1979.

66. Rickey Henderson secured the first of his record 1,406 stolen bases on June 24, 1979.

67. Noah Syndergaard’s first World Series delivery was a purpose pitch, over the head of noted first-pitch swinger Alcides Escobar to start Game 3 in 2015.

68. On May 30, 1982, Cal Ripken played the first of his 2,632 consecutive games.

69. The Red Sox, in the 1986 American League Championship Series against the Angels, were the first team to win a postseason game after having trailed by three in the ninth inning. The Mets became the second team to do so, against the Astros, three days later.

70. Roberto Clemente was the first to reach 3,000 with his final hit, in 1972. He died months later in a plane crash during a charitable mission.

71. Johnny Vander Meer was the first to throw consecutive no-hitters, June 11 and 15, 1938.

72. Charlie Sweeney of the Providence Grays in 1884 was the first to strike out 19 batters in a game. The feat was tied, but never surpassed until Roger Clemens of the Red Sox struck out 20 in 1986.

73. Al Leiter of the Mets in 2002 became the first pitcher to have defeated all 30 teams.

74. Maury Wills was the first to steal 100 bases in a season, reaching 104 for the 1962 Dodgers.

75. Yankees relief pitcher Joe Page was the first World Series Most Valuable Player in 1949, the year the award was established.

76. The 1994 World Series was the first one canceled (by a strike).

77. Claire Smith was the first woman to win the Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award. The former beat writer and columnist for the Hartford Courant and New York Times will be honored during induction weekend in Cooperstown this July.

78. The first time both Most Valuable Player Awards were won by pitchers was in 1968: Denny McLain in the American League, Bob Gibson in the National League. They went head-to-head in the World Series that year, with Gibson winning both games.

79. Gary Sanchez in 2016 became the first Yankee to hit eight home runs in his first 19 games, on his way to tying an 86-year-old major-league record with 20 home runs in his first 51 games.

80. The Reds beat the Phillies, 2-1, at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field in the major leagues’ first night game, May 24, 1935.

81. The first World Series night game was Oct. 13, 1971, at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Game 4 between the Pirates and Orioles.

82. An exhibition game between the Yankees and Astros on April 9, 1965, opened the Astrodome and was the first indoor major league contest. Mickey Mantle hit the first home run. President Lyndon Johnson and first lady Lady Bird Johnson were present.

83. The Boston Pilgrims won the first best-of-nine “World’s Championship Series” over the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-3, in 1903. The event later was trimmed to best-of-seven and called the World Series.

84. In 1923, the first year of Yankee Stadium, the Yankees beat the Giants for their first World Series title.

85. In 2009, the first year of the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees beat the Phillies for their 27th World Series title.

86. Emmett Ashford became the first African-American umpire in the major leagues when he worked third base at Washington on April 11, 1966.

87. Joe Torre hit the first home run by an Atlanta Brave (after the move from Milwaukee) on April 12, 1966.

88. Jose Canseco was the first to have 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in the same season, with the A’s in 1988.

89. Mike Scott of the 1986 Astros was the first to clinch a division title with a no-hitter.

90. Fernando Valenzuela was the first to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards in the same season (1981).

91. The Mets and Cubs played the first regular-season game in Japan on March 29, 2000. For the Mets, it was the first game in a season that ended with their first World Series matchup against the Yankees.

92. In the wake of the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was signed as the first baseball commissioner on Jan. 21, 1921.

93. Marvin Miller became the first full-time executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.

94. In 1952, the Pirates became the first team to provide batting helmets for all of their players.

95. The infield fly rule was established in 1895 in response to infielders deliberately dropping short pops to induce double plays.

96. The first official save was credited to Bill Singer of the Dodgers on Opening Day in 1969, the first year the statistic was recognized.

97. Gino Cimoli of the Dodgers struck out against Ruben Gomez of the Giants at Seals Stadium on April 15, 1958, beginning the first-ever game in California.

98. Chicago’s Comiskey Park hosted the first All-Star Game, originally scheduled as a one-time-only event, in 1933.

99. Bill Mazeroski hit the first home run that ended a World Series, doing so in Game 7 in 1960, for the Pirates against the Yankees at Forbes Field.

100. Felipe, Matty and Jesus Alou were the first to form an all-brothers outfield, playing for the Giants on Sept. 15, 1963.

101. Billy Loes of the Dodgers was the first pitcher to report having lost a ground ball in the sun (Game 6, 1952 World Series against the Yankees).

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