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Ketel Marte of the Diamondbacks scored from first base on a double by Pavin Smith on Thursday, making baseball history in the process
Bob Watson was remembered, upon his death last year at the age of 74, as the general manager of the New York Yankees at the start of their dynasty in 1996. The obituaries could also have led with his role, more than two decades before becoming the first African-American GM to win a World Series, in one of the most unusual pursuits of baseball history.
It was May 4, 1975. In Cincinnati, Dave Concepcion couldn’t help but notice what was at stake. The scoreboard at Riverfront Stadium displayed the numbers 999,999, signifying how many runs had been scored in Major League history. Concepcion was determined to be the man who scored the next one.
Coming to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves, he swung as hard as he could at a knuckleball from Phil Niekro and watched as the ball soared into the left-field seats. He took off, running faster than he ever did on a home run trot, and crossed home plate for the one-millionth run.
Or so he thought. At the same time, more than 2,000 miles away in San Francisco, Milt May was hitting a home run for the Houston Astros against the Giants at Candlestick Park. Watson, standing on second, started a slow trot but was quickly told to hurry up. The MLB office in New York had to make a decision and ruled Watson touched home plate seconds before Concepcion, awarding him one million pennies ($10,000) and one million Tootsie Rolls, which he donated to charity.
It took baseball 99 years to reach one million runs. It took 46 more to get to two million. Just before 12:30 a.m. ET. on Friday morning, in the bottom of the eighth inning at Chase Field, Pavin Smith of the Arizona Diamondbacks lined a double off the wall in left-center field to score Ketel Marte from first base for the milestone run.
It was Marte’s second run of the game and 302nd of his seven-year career. He slid in under the tag after Smith hit a 96 mph fastball from St. Louis Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos, tying the game at 4-4.
The names of the historic MLB run-scorers are rarely known for sure
Marte’s name is known. So is the player who scored the first run in MLB history, back on April 22, 1876, in a game between the Boston Red Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics. In the second inning, before around 3,000 fans at Philadelphia’s Jefferson Street Grounds, Boston catcher Tim McGinley came home on a bad throw by Athletics’ third baseman Ezra Sutton. McGinley didn’t become famous. He would score just four more runs in his career. After taking a foul tip in the eye during that opening game, he made only eight more appearances before fading into obscurity.
The rules of baseball changed over the years to encourage more offense. In 1893, the mound was moved back to the present distance of 60 feet, six inches. A year later, on Sept. 20, 1894, the 100,000th run was scored, but because there is no accurate play-by-play data available, it is now impossible to tell who actually scored it.
It possibly took place in the Chicago Colts 20-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Jack Schieble, the pitcher for the Phillies, was making his third and last big-league start. He gave up 10 runs while getting only one out. Later that night, he cut his leg getting out of his bathtub and never pitched again. Bill Dahlen, who would play until 1911 and star for John McGraw’s New York Giants in the first decade of the 20th century, scored five runs. Maybe he was the one? But, again, it will never be known for sure.
Run No. 500,000 was scored in the age of Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx, on Sept. 3, 1933. The eventual World Series champion Giants won in 14 innings against the Boston Braves, with Cuban pitcher Dolf Luque driving in the winning run. Ruth, Gehrig, and the Yankees didn’t play that day.
That brings us to the one-millionth run. Watson was given credit for it, but as baseball research has progressed, statistics have become more accurate. The run was actually scored two days earlier, on May 2; Watson did score a run that day, on a Jose Cruz home run in the ninth inning in San Francisco, but since it was a night game on the West Coast, the run had already been scored earlier in the day.
Since 1876, 13,334 players have scored at least one run. Rickey Henderson leads all players with 2,295 runs, representing about 0.11 percent of the total. The Cubs have scored the most runs with 99,729.
There is no word on whether Marte will receive two million pennies and Tootsie Rolls like Watson did in 1975. But he now holds something more valuable: a small place in baseball history.
From McGinley in 1876, all the way to Marte in the present day, Major League Baseball has continued on as the national pastime. The players (some 20,000) come and go, just hoping to leave their little mark on this game that transcends centuries and eras. The milestone of the two millionth run reminds us that baseball has been around a long time and is woven into the fabric of American society.