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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In 1996, Barry Bonds made his 300th home run, and Paul Molitor got his 3000th hit. Here are some of the headlines from the 1996 baseball season:

Alex Rodriguez Posts Stunning Statistics

Alex Rodriguez narrowly missed out on MVP honors, finishing second in voting to Juan Gonzalez by a count of 290 to 287. The Mariners' sophomore star had the greatest offensive season ever by a shortstop: American League-high .358 average, 215 hits, 54 doubles, 36 homers, 141 runs, and 123 RBI. His 15 errors were five fewer than American League Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel committed.

Barry Bonds Joins 300 Club

Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, and Andre Dawson join Bonds's son Barry in celebrating his 300th career home run in 1996. These four greats are the only players in history to amass both 300 homers and 300 steals in their careers. Barry reached 40 of each in 1996, becoming just the second major-leaguer to turn the trick. Dawson retired after the season.

Brady Anderson Smacks 50 HRs

Many pundits cited Brady Anderson as absolute proof that the ball was juiced in 1996. The Orioles center fielder began his ninth major league campaign with just 72 career home runs. He ended it with 122 after being the first leadoff man ever to hammer 50 dingers in a season.

Albert Belle Rings Up 48 HRs and 148 RBI

Moody Albert Belle again rang up MVP numbers in 1996 -- and again was denied the award. In his final season in Cleveland livery, Belle hit 48 homers and set a new Tribe career home run record with 242. He also became only the second Indian to win back-to-back RBI crowns, as he knocked home 148.

Andres Galarraga Nets 150 RBI

In 1996, Andres Galarraga set a new season record for the most RBI by a National League first baseman. Galarraga's loop-leading 150 ribbies broke Don Hurst's old mark of 143. It also topped his own personal high by a margin of 44. Galarraga had just 72 RBI in 1991-1992 combined, his last two seasons before joining the Rockies in mile-high Denver.

Paul Molitor Cracks No. 3,000

Paul Molitor led the American League with 225 hits in 1996. Molitor celebrated his first year with the Twins by setting a flock of season batting records for 40-year-old performers. Among his amazing numbers were a .341 average, 99 runs, 41 doubles, 113 RBI, and even 18 stolen bases. He also collected his 3,000th career hit after being considered an extreme long shot to achieve that pinnacle ten years earlier. Molitor had just 1,203 hits through 1986 (age 30).

Ken Caminiti Claims 1996 National League MVP Award

Ken Caminiti spent his first eight years in the majors with Houston, where he never got so much as a single MVP vote. In 1996, just two years after being dealt to San Diego, he was a unanimous choice for the National League's top prize. Facing shoulder surgery, he nevertheless set a new senior loop home run mark for switch-hitters with 40. He batted .326 with 130 RBI and led San Diego to a division crown.

Roger Clemens Fans Another 20

Roger Clemens becomes only the second hurler in history to fan 20 batters in a nine-inning game on September 18, 1996, against Detroit. Clemens was also the first pitcher to do it, ten years earlier. Despite his 20-K game and loop-leading 257 strikeouts, Clemens was just 10-13 for Boston.

Andy Pettitte Wins 20, Loses 1996 Cy Young

Only a late surge prevented Andy Pettitte from becoming the first American League southpaw since Billy Hoeft in 1956 to win 20 games with an ERA above 4.00. Apparently, sports writers were aware of this dubious distinction when they cast their Cy Young ballots at the end of the regular season. Had the vote waited until postseason action was complete, the Yankees lefty probably would have prevailed after his clutch win in game five of the 1996 World Series.

John Smoltz Bags 1996 Cy Young

John Smoltz owned a so-so 90-82 career record after his first eight seasons, all spent with powerhouse Atlanta. His ninth season, 1996, resulted in 24 wins -- the most by any National League hurler since Dwight Gooden bagged 24 in 1985. Smoltz was also the Braves' top hurler in the 1996 World Series, surrendering just one earned run in two starts against the Yankees. He won game one 12-1 and lost game five 1-0.

Check out more headlines from the 1996 baseball season on the next page.

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Below are more headlines from the 1996 baseball season, including Kirby Puckett's retirement and Eddie Murray's 500th home run.

Juan Gonzalez Named 1996 American League MVP

Juan Gonzalez, who batted .314 with 47 homers and 144 RBI, was nevertheless a surprising American League MVP choice. After a slump-ridden September, Gonzalez seemingly lost the prize to Seattle's Alex Rodriguez, who set a swarm of season batting records for shortstops. Gonzalez's monster slugging performance in the division playoffs against the Yankees, albeit in a losing cause, made the award more palatable to fans -- if no less shocking.

Kirby Puckett Says Good-Bye to Baseball

Kirby Puckett announces his forced retirement from baseball after learning he has glaucoma. The longtime Twins star finished with over 2,000 hits and a .318 career batting average, second only to fellow former Twin Rod Carew among postexpansion-era players who are now retired.

Kevin Brown Posts a 1.89 ERA

In the 1996 National League Cy Young voting, Kevin Brown was picked No. 1 on two ballots and No. 2 on the remaining 26. Some experts claimed that Brown was the majors' most impressive performer in a season when offensive records fell by the truckload. His 17 wins and glossy 1.89 ERA (0.83 better than anyone else) enabled the Florida Marlins to make a late dash at a .500 finish before ending two games under the break-even mark.

Eddie Murray Hits 500th Homer

Eddie Murray reached his coveted 500th home run in 1996. He had the pleasure of hitting both his first and his 500th career homers in Baltimore livery. In between, he was with three other teams. Murray, who had collected his 3,000th hit in 1995, became only the third player in major league history (after Willie Mays and Hank Aaron) to reach both magical marks.

Juan Gonzalez Can't Save Texas

The Rangers won 6-2 at Yankee Stadium, then took an early lead again the following night on another Juan Gonzalez bomb before their bullpen faltered. The same pattern was repeated three games in a row, leading to the Rangers' early exit in their first-ever postseason appearance. As for Gonzalez, he homered in each of the four games, including two dingers in game two. He finished with a .438 batting average and 1.375 slugging mark.

1996 Braves Club Cardinals in NLCS

Cards catcher Tom Pagnozzi helplessly watched Javier Lopez score for the Braves in game six of the 1996 National League Championship Series. St. Louis took a stunning three-games-to-one lead over the defending champs, but then Atlanta really poured it on in the last three contests. The Braves won game five 14-0 (on 22 hits), game six 3-1, and game seven 15-0. Lopez wound up the series with 13 hits and a .542 average, while the Braves posted a 1.92 ERA to the Cards' 6.60 mark.

Momentum Shifts in Game Three

Braves rookie Andruw Jones upends Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter at the front end of an attempted double play in game two of the 1996 World Series. Atlanta won the fray 4-0, thereupon taking a seemingly commanding 2-0 lead in games. But Jeter, the American League Rookie of the Year, helped mount a comeback that saw the Yankees sweep the next four games.

1996 Yankees Pile Up Playoff Road Wins

A Yankee win was a familiar sight in the 1996 postseason. Skipper Joe Torre led a victorious charge out of the Yankees dugout 11 times over a three-week period. Just three of the Bombers' victories came at home, though, as Torre's men shattered all such postseason records by winning eight out of eight games on the road, including three in the 1996 World Series.

The next page highlights key events and details from the 1996 baseball season.

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The 1996 baseball season was a year on fire for bats. Seattle, Cleveland, Baltimore, Texas, Boston, and Colorado each scored more than 900 runs, a feat not achieved by any team since 1953. The year culminated in an exciting win for the New York Yankees at the 1996 World Series. Below, you will find the highlights from the 1996 baseball season:
  • New York, Texas, and Cleveland win their American League divisions, while Baltimore makes the playoffs as a wildcard.

  • New York defeats Texas in four games in the American League division playoffs.

  • In the division playoff against New York, Texas's Juan Gonzalez becomes the first man to homer in each of his first four postseason games.

  • Baltimore beats Cleveland in four games in first-round action.

  • New York defeats Baltimore in five games in the ALCS.

  • Twelve-year-old Jeffrey Maier helps the Yankees win game one of the ALCS when he interferes with a long fly by Yankee Derek Jeter.

    Bill Foster
    Bill Foster was elected to
    the Hall of Fame in 1996.

  • Earl Weaver, Ned Hanlon, Jim Bunning, and Bill Foster are elected to the Hall of Fame.

  • Needing just one win in their final three games of the season to clinch the National League West, the Dodgers fall prey to a San Diego sweep that gives the Pads the crown.

  • Atlanta and St. Louis are National League division winners, while the Dodgers make it as a wildcard.

  • For the second year in a row, the Dodgers are humiliated in the National League division playoffs, bowing in three straight games to Atlanta.

  • The Cardinals sweep San Diego in three division playoff games.

  • Atlanta rallies to win the NLCS after trailing St. Louis three games to one.

  • The Yankees defeat Atlanta four games to two in the 1996 World Series.

  • Atlanta rookie sensation Andruw Jones, age 19, slugs two homers in game one of the 1996 World Series.

  • Yankees closer John Wetteland becomes the first hurler to bag four saves in a World Series.

  • Ken Caminiti of the Padres wins the National League MVP Award.

  • Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez edges Alex Rodriguez to win the American League MVP.

  • John Smoltz of Atlanta bags the Cy Young Award.

  • Blue Jays bulwark Pat Hentgen wins the American League Cy Young Award.

  • Todd Hollandsworth of the Dodgers is the National League ROTY.

  • Derek Jeter is a unanimous winner of the American League ROTY Award.

  • San Diego's Tony Gwynn hits .353 to win his seventh National League batting crown.

  • Rodriguez hits .358 to become the first American League shortstop since 1944 to win a batting title.

  • Barry Bonds of the Giants is the first in National League history to bag 40 stolen bases and 40 homers in the same season.

  • Bonds sets a new National League record when he collects 151 walks.

  • The Indians (99-62) compile the best regular-season record in the major league two years in a row.

  • Mark McGwire of Oakland becomes the first player in major league history to compile 50 home runs in a season before collecting his 400th at-bat.

  • McGwire leads the major league with 52 homers, a .730 SA, and a .467 OBP.

  • Colorado's Andres Galarraga leads the National League in homers (47) and RBI (150).

  • Ellis Burks of Colorado tallies 142 runs to pace the majors.

  • The American League leader in runs scored is Rodriguez with 141.

  • Rodriguez leads the American League in runs (141) and sets new all-time shortstop marks for SA (.631), doubles (54), and hits (215).

  • Albert Belle of Cleveland paces the American League in RBI with 148.

  • Minnesota's Paul Molitor, age 40, tops the American League with 225 hits.

  • Molitor becomes the first member of the 3,000-hit club to have a higher career batting average at age 40 than he did at age 30.

See the next page for more highlights of the 1996 baseball season.

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See below for more highlights of the 1996 baseball season, including several records set by catchers and Roberto Alomar's near-suspension for spitting -- at an umpire.

  • Cleveland's Kenny Lofton tops the American League in steals (75) for the fifth straight season.

  • Baltimore's Eddie Murray becomes only the third major leaguer ever to collect both 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

  • The Mets' Todd Hundley sets an major league record for homers by a catcher (41).

  • The Rangers' Ivan Rodriguez sets a new major league record for the most doubles in a season by a catcher (47).

  • Lance Johnson sets a new Mets franchise record as he leads the majors in hits with 227.

  • Johnson paces the major league with 21 triples, the most by an National Leagueer since 1949.

  • John Wetteland of the Yankees tops the American League with 43 saves.

  • The major league leaders in saves are Jeff Brantley of Cincinnati and Todd Worrell of LA with 44 each.

  • Cincinnati owner Marge Schott is suspended by her fellow owners for her insensitive racial remarks.

  • Umpire John McSherry suffers a fatal heart attack on Opening Day at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium.

  • Brady Anderson of Baltimore is the first leadoff man in major league history to compile 50 home runs in a season.

  • Helped by Anderson, Baltimore rips a major league record 257 home runs.

  • Two other American League teams, Seattle (245) and Oakland (243), also shatter the 1961 Yankees' old major league season mark of 240 home runs.

  • Colorado ties the National League record for home runs in a season with 221.

  • Baltimore sets a new major league record for the highest team ERA (5.14) by a postseason qualifier.

  • Roberto Alomar is almost suspended for the postseason when he spits in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck near the end of the regular season.

  • Major league umpires threaten not to work postseason games when American League president Gene Budig delays acting against Alomar after the spitting incident.

  • Smoltz leads the majors with 24 wins.

  • The Yankees' Andy Pettitte tops the American League in wins (21).

  • Detroit loses a franchise-record 109 games.

  • Detroit batters collect a major league record 1,268 strikeouts, led by Melvin Nieves with 158.

  • Detroit's 6.38 staff ERA sets a new mark for the highest in American League history.

  • The Mariners have three players who tally 120 or more runs -- Rodriguez (141), Ken Griffey Jr. (125), and Edgar Martinez (121) -- as Seattle scores 993 runs, most in the majors since 1950.

  • Cleveland leads the majors in batting (.293).

  • Smoltz tops all major league hurlers with 276 strikeouts.

  • Boston's Roger Clemens leads American League hurlers in Ks with 257.

  • Kevin Brown of Florida registers the finest ERA in the majors by far when he finishes at 1.89.

  • After rebounding from throat cancer to return to action in September, LA's Brett Butler suffers a season-ending injury within days of his return.

  • Hentgen tops the majors in both innings pitched (266) and CGs (ten).

  • Twins star Kirby Puckett is forced to retire when he learns he has glaucoma.

  • Joe Torre sees his record for the most games as either a player or a manager without making a World Series appearance come to a halt when his Yankees win the American League flag.

  • Frank Thomas hits the first-ever regular-season home run in March during the White Sox-Mariners opener at the Kingdome on March 31.

  • On August 16, 1996, in Monterrey, Mexico, San Diego beats the Mets 15-10 in the first major league game ever played outside the U.S. or Canada.

  • Al Leiter notches the first no-hitter in Florida Marlins' history when he beats Colorado 11-0 on May 11.

  • Following a heart attack, Tom Lasorda steps down as Dodgers pilot after 20 years at the helm.

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