The Longform Guide to Baseball History

Joe DiMaggio, Sandy Koufax, and the time Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter tripping on acid.

Baseball legend Ted Williams
Baseball legend Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox swings a bat at a ball during a pre-game practice, circa 1945.

Photo by Getty Images

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The Interior Stadium
Roger Angell • The New Yorker • February 1971

Baseball’s greatest writer, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend, on the joys of watching the game.


Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our fathers’ youth, and even back then—back in the country days—there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped. Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.


The Silent Season of a Hero
Gay Talese • Esquire • July 1966

The post-retirement life of Joe DiMaggio.

Joe DiMaggio now spends most of the year in San Francisco, and each day tourists, noticing the name on the restaurant, ask the men on the wharf if they ever see him. Oh, yes, the men say, they see him nearly every day; they have not seen him yet this morning, they add, but he should be arriving shortly. So the tourists continue to walk along the piers past the crab vendors, under the circling sea gulls, past the fish-’n’-chip stands, sometimes stopping to watch a large vessel, steaming toward the Golden Gate Bridge, which, to their dismay, is painted red. Then they visit the Wax Museum, where there is a life-size figure of DiMaggio in uniform, and walk across the street and spend a quarter to peer through the silver telescopes focused on the island of Alcatraz, which is no longer a federal prison. Then they return to ask the men if DiMaggio has been seen. Not yet, the men say, although they notice his blue Impala parked in the lot next to the restaurant. Sometimes tourists will walk into the restaurant and have lunch and will see him sitting calmly in a corner signing autographs and being extremely gracious with everyone. At other times, as on this particular morning when the man from New York chose to visit, DiMaggio was tense and suspicious.


Koufax on Koufax
Jack Olsen • Sports Illustrated • December 1965

An interview with Sandy Koufax.

How do you work on the temper problem?

I don’t know. Mostly it’s just the realization of what the problem is that helps you. You begin to understand how temper works: you start getting madder and madder and throwing harder and harder, and the harder you throw the madder you get. That’s why I don’t believe in giving 100% effort physically. Somewhere you’ve got to save just a little bit for thinking. Maybe you can give 100%, physically on the last pitch of a ball game, if you’ve got good stuff. But if you’re giving 100% all through the game, you’re not thinking.


The Yankees
Fortune • July 1946

A profile of the postwar Bronx Bombers.

The New York Yankees’ dramatic victory–with all its attendant commotions–meant many things to many men. To the sharp-eyed sports writers, it meant the “pros” were back from the wars with their superb skills apparently intact, restoring thereby the highest standards of big-league play. To Joseph Vincent McCarthy, closemouthed little Irishman who manages the team on the field, it meant a good night’s sleep, for after forty years in baseball he still frets for endless hours over the loss of a game. To Leland Stanford MacPhail, ebullient president of the club, it meant that he could circulate among his prosperous, postgame Stadium Club guests like a conquering hero and confidently congratulate himself and his millionaire associates, Dan Topping and Del Webb, on their $3-million flyer into the baseball business a year ago. For baseball is a cult as well as a business and a game, and any qualified baseball mystic could tell from the vibrations current in the Stadium this day that the Yanks were in for a whopping year at the gate. The next day, Saturday, 38,698 fans trooped up to the Bronx for the game; on Sunday, 42,749 admissions were paid. As of FORTUNE’s press time, the Yankees were in a fair way to equal, or exceed, their 1928 all-time high for home admissions–1,250,000. A dollar sign before that figure gives an approximation of the take.


Swing Away
Erik Malinowski • Fox Sports • July 2014

The untold story of the first Home Run Derby.

The idea of the Home Run Derby certainly was not new, but this was the first time Major League Baseball had seen fit to bring back the contest that had once been made for TV in the early 1960s. And since its resurrection, the Home Run Derby has become the most TV-minded spectacle of baseball’s calendar year. Everyone has a favorite memory by now: Mark McGwire making Fenway Park his personal sandbox, Josh Hamilton giving old Yankee Stadium a taste of the Babe’s days, or maybe Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes flipping his bat into our hearts last year.


And yet, the first Home Run Derby never aired on television. Even MLB’s official archives, with their millions of hours of history, do not have the footage. The only known existing tape has long been buried in the morgue of a TV station in Minneapolis.


The Cup of Coffee Club: The Ballplayers Who Got Only One Game
Rick Paulas • Awl • May 2012

It’s a club “filled exclusively with people who do not want to be members.”

The most famous Cup of Coffee player of all time, due exclusively to his appearance in W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe and its subsequent film adaptation Field of Dreams, has to be Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. His story is now well known: He entered a 1905 game for the New York Giants as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. Three outs later, he trotted in from right field and picked up a bat. He was due up fourth, meaning the team would just have to muster up one base-runner for him to see a Major League pitch. But, alas, his teammates failed him and he was left in the on-deck circle when the umpire called the final out. He never got to take a single hack at the ball.


No Place in the Shade
Mark Kram • Sports Illustrated • August 1973

On Cool Papa Bell and life in the Negro leagues.

Papa Bell is 70 now. He lives on Dickson Street in North St. Louis, a neighborhood under siege: vacant, crumbling houses, bars where you could get your throat cut if you even walked in the wrong way, packs of sky-high dudes looking for a score. They have picked on Papa’s house a couple of times, so now when he feels something in the air, hears a rustle outside of his door, he will go to the front window and sit there for long hours with a shotgun and a pistol in his lap. “They don’t mess with Papa anymore,” says his friend Tweed, looking over at Papa sitting in his city hall retirement chair. “It’s a reclinin’ one,” says Tweed. “Show ‘im how it reclines, Papa.”


Just What the Doctor Ordered
Kliph Nesteroff • WFMU Blog • September 2009

Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter in the middle of a multiday acid bender.*

“I didn’t see the hitters. All I could tell was if they were on the right side or the left side. The catcher put tape on his fingers so I could see the signals. We had a rookie on the team at that particular time named Dave Cash and he kept saying after the first inning, ‘You got a no-no going,’ a no-hitter. I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ Around the fourth inning he’d say it again … I’d look, ‘Yup.’ But I could also feel the pressure from other players wanting to tell him to shut up. It’s a superstition thing where you’re not supposed to say nothin’ if somebody’s throwing a no-hitter. There were times when the ball was hit back at me. I jumped because I thought it was coming fast but the ball was coming slow. Third baseman would come by and grab the ball and threw somebody out … I thought there was a big old ball and then sometimes it looked small … I covered first base and I caught the ball and I tagged the base all in one motion and I said, ‘Ooh, I just made a touchdown.’ “


Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu
John Updike • The New Yorker • October 1960

The last game of Ted Williams.

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.

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Correction, Aug 2, 2014: This story originally misspelled Dock Ellis’ first name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)