1996 Baseball Season

The 1996 baseball season opened with tragedy and ended in shame. On Opening Day, umpire John McSherry became only the second on-field fatality in major-league history when he succumbed to a heart attack at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The last week of the season was marred by a clash between Baltimore second baseman Roberto Alomar and umpire John Hirschbeck that culminated when Alomar spit in Hirschbeck's face, triggering a threatened postseason walkout by arbiters in both leagues.

In between those events, fans saw more runs scored than in any season ever. Seattle, Cleveland, Baltimore, Texas, Boston, and Colorado each scored more than 900 runs, a feat not achieved by any team since 1953. Six men hit 47 or more home runs. Oakland's Mark McGwire smashed 52 in just 423 at-bats.

Meanwhile, the Indians posted the best record in the majors for the second year in a row. Their reward was to open the first round of the playoffs on the road at Camden Yards against the wildcard Baltimore Orioles, a team that had blasted a Major League-record 257 round-trippers. In the opener, Brady Anderson led off the Orioles' first inning with a home run that put the Indians in a hole from which they never escaped. Cleveland ultimately fell in four games.

Juan Gonzalez
Texas Ranger Juan
Gonzalez leads his team
to victory opening day
at Yankee Stadium.

American League Central champion Texas likewise succumbed in four games. In their first-ever postseason appearance, the Rangers and their league MVP slugger, Juan Gonzalez, surprised American League East titlist New York by winning the opening game at Yankee Stadium. But Texas's shaky bullpen then allowed Joe Torre's men to squirm off the hook by surrendering leads in each of the next three games, thus setting the stage for a Yankees-Orioles battle in the American League CS.

The two National League division playoff matches were dull in comparison. Central champ St. Louis and East repeat titlist Atlanta both needed just three games to dispatch San Diego and Los Angeles, respectively. Perhaps the two West entries were exhausted from their down-to-the-wire chase, which saw the Padres sweep the final three contests of the season at Dodger Stadium to win the West by a single game.

Fans, moguls, and TV executives were disgruntled that all four division playoffs ended early and afforded far too little drama to erase the bad taste left by the Alomar debacle. The two LCSes seemed destined to follow the same pattern when New York laid the Orioles to rest in just five games and St. Louis streaked to a 3-1 lead with game five slated for Busch Stadium.

But Atlanta then staged the most remarkable five-game run in postseason history. After winning games five (14-0) and six (3-1), the Braves humiliated St. Louis 15-0 in the decisive seventh game. Bobby Cox then took his team into Yankee Stadium and likewise embarrassed the Yankees, winning the first two games of the 1996 World Series by a combined 16-1 count.

Given little chance of stopping the Braves' steamroller, Torre got a gutty effort from starter David Cone in a game three victory at Atlanta. In game four, a three-run homer by Jim Leyritz rallied the Yankees from a 6-0 deficit.

The 1996 World Series was suddenly tied at 2-all. In game five, Atlanta's bats were chilled by Andy Pettitte and John Wetteland, and Cecil Fielder's RBI base hit provided all the scoring.

Back in New York for game six, Jimmy Key continued to stymie the Braves' offense, and Wetteland took the hill in the top of the ninth with a 3-1 lead. A last-gasp rally fell a run short when Mark Lemke fouled out to third baseman Charlie Hayes to end the game. Wetteland recorded his fourth Series save and ended the Yankees' longest championship drought since 1903-1922.

The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1996 baseball season.

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