Tim Kurkjian Baseball Fix: The history of the sacrifice fly is fascinating

Kurkjian explains his fascination with sacrifice flies (1:41)

On May 3, 1986, Don Mattingly tied the MLB record with three sacrifice flies in a game, which causes Tim Kurkjian to break down several notable sac fly stats. (1:41)

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1986, Don Mattingly became the sixth player ever with three sacrifice flies in a game.

They are fascinating. You don't have to hit a ball in fair territory to get credit for a sacrifice fly.

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You can get a sacrifice fly while hitting into a double play. You can reach base, and be credited with a sacrifice fly. Sacrifice flies have a long, strange history; they were recognized as an official statistic from 1908 to 1930, then again in 1939, but not continuously until 1954. For today's installment, we are recognizing sacrifice flies after 1953:

  • In 1954, the first year sacrifice flies were counted continuously, the Dodgers' Gil Hodges had 19 sac flies, which, 66 years later, remains the record.

  • Eddie Murray is the all-time record holder with 128, yet he never led his league in sacrifice flies in any season.

  • In 2004-05, Adam Dunn went 1,085 plate appearances without a sacrifice fly. He had 65 opportunities -- runner at third base, less than two out -- before he finally broke his streak. The crowd at Great American Ballpark cheered. "I have to be the only player in major league history to get a standing ovation for hitting a routine fly out to the left fielder,'' he said.

  • Nolan Ryan is the all-time leader in sacrifice flies allowed by a pitcher with 146. The record holder for most sacrifice flies allowed in a season is 17 by Larry Gura (1983) and Jaime Navarro (1993). Phil Niekro threw 284 1/3 innings in 1969 without giving up a sac fly.

  • The record for most at-bats in a season without hitting a sacrifice fly is held by Pete Rose (1973, his MVP season), Frank Taveras (1979) and Kirby Puckett (1986). Each had exactly 680 at-bats in those years.

  • The record for most career plate appearances by a non-pitcher without a sacrifice fly is an active streak -- 976 by Travis Jankowski.

  • Joey Gallo hit 96 major league homers before he hit his first sacrifice fly. The previous record was 50 by Wily Mo Pena.

  • On June 11, 2014, the Royals beat the Indians 4-1. The Royals scored all four runs on sacrifice flies, the first team to score four runs in one game, all on sacrifice flies, since the 1980 Expos, but the first team ever to win a game scoring four runs, all on sacrifice flies.

  • The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning at Wrigley Field on Aug. 17, 2013. He hit a high pop-up to the shortstop. The infield fly rule was called. After Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro had caught the ball, he wandered around, not paying attention, so the runner on third base, Jon Jay, tagged up and scored. So, Carpenter hit a 110-foot infield pop-up on which he was automatically called out because of the infield fly rule, but Carpenter wound up with an RBI and no official at-bat because that out was correctly scored a sacrifice fly.

Other baseball notes from May 3

  • In 1904, Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing was born. He is one of the best hitting pitchers of all time: .269 average, 36 homers. More than occasionally, he hit higher than ninth in the order.

  • In 1936, Joe DiMaggio made his major league debut. He would finish his career with 361 homers and 369 strikeouts, never more than 39 in a season.

  • In 1945, second baseman Davey Lopes was born. He, Hank Sauer and Raul Ibanez are the only non-pitchers to hit more homers in their 40s than their 20s.

  • In 1963, catcher Joe Kmak was born. We always wondered whether he could borrow a vowel from pitchers Ed or Nelson Figueroa.

  • In 1977, pitcher Ryan Dempster was born. He is so funny. He has done professional stand-up comedy. In 1986, pitcher Homer Bailey was born. He looks exactly like actor Christian Bale. "My mom told me that,'' he said. "He's a good looking guy, so I'll take it.'' On this date in 2012, Dempster and Bailey started against each other. It is believed to be the only time that two pitchers started a game against each other on their shared birthday.