April 12, 1961, 60 years ago: Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin becomes the 1st man in space. The 27-year-old native of the village of Klushino in the town of Gzhatsk -- which would later be renamed Gagarin -- was a Lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force. He was launched at 12:07 PM local time (1:07 AM, U.S. Eastern Time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and flew aboard Vostok 1 ("Vostok" means "East") for 1 hour and 48 minutes, reaching Earth orbit in 10 minutes, and completing a single trip around the planet.
He ejected from his capsule, and parachuted to land on a farm near the town of Engels, in Saratov Oblast (an Oblast is the Russian equivalent to what we call "States"). He was found by a farm woman and her granddaughter. He later said, "When they saw me in my space suit, and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, 'Don't be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space, and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!"
He was now the most famous private citizen in the world. It would be another 23 days before America put a man in space, Alan Shepard; and 10 months before an American reached orbit, John Glenn.
On March 27, 1968, now a full Colonel, Gagarin was flying a MiG-15 near Kirzhach, Russia, when problems with the weather and his perception thereof caused him to crash. He had just turned 34, and left behind a wife and 2 daughters. His remains were interred in the Kremlin Wall in Moscow's Red Square.
As the 1st human in space, Yuri Gagarin was one of the few Soviet citizens who could genuinely be considered a hero by the capitalist and democratic West.
And his history-making flight was 60 years ago today, a Wednesday. There were only 2 Major League Baseball games scheduled, as most teams had opened the season the day before, and had scheduled this day as an off-day in case of rain for their intended opener.
Both games were on the Pacific Coast. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Dodger Stadium opened the following year.) Wally Moon hit a home run in the 7th inning, but it was the Dodgers' pitcher Johnny Podres, the Brooklyn hero of 1955, who drove in the winning run that inning, with an RBI single.
And the San Francisco Giants beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-1 at Candlestick Park. Tom Haller hit a home run in the 7th, but the winning run came home in the 8th, when Vernon Law hit Orlando Cepeda with a pitch with the bases loaded.
The night before, the Boston Celtics had clinched the NBA Championship, beating the St. Louis Hawks, 121-112 in Game 5. The Hawks haven't played an NBA Finals game since.
The Stanley Cup Finals were underway, and Game 4 was played on April 12, at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit. The Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1, on goals by Alex Delvecchio and Bruce MacGregor.
But the Blackhawks would win Games 5 and 6, and take the Cup. The Wings, who last won the cup in 1955, wouldn't win it again until 1997; the Hawks, until 2010.