The home run -- the grandest achievement in baseball -- is usually a mighty shot over a distant fence. But not always.
When Babe Ruth was with the Boston Red Sox in 1919, he was credited with a home run on an infield fly. "It must have been the highest pop-up ever hit," said Ruth's victim, pitcher Lefty Leifield of the St. Louis Browns. "The infielders were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, yelling that they couldn't see the ball.
"When the ball came down, Babe had already rounded third. There wasn't any chance to make a play on him and three runs scored."
On June 19, 1942, Dom DiMaggio of the Red Sox sliced the ball down the right-field line. White Sox outfielder Wally Moses watched it roll under the bullpen bench, where he parted the feet of the occupants in frantic search. By the time he found the sphere, DiMaggio had scored the only run of the game.
....Then there was the time Cleveland's Jimmy McAleer hit a ball into an empty tomato can at the base of the outfield wall. Hugh Duffy, unable to pry the ball loose, threw the whole can toward the infield, which relayed it home. Tagged with ball in glove, McAleer would have been out. But tagged with ball in can was something else. The umpire ruled him safe.
The longest home run was produced by a spontaneous combination of long ball and hopper. Joe Hauser, with Baltimore of the International League, deposited the ball in a passing coal car, which hauled it 32 miles.
Pitcher Wes Ferrell, an excellent hitter, homered in the eighth to tie and in the twelfth to win for the Red Sox, 3-2, over the White Sox on August 22, 1934.
Light-hitting Joe Niekro hit the first home run of his 10-year career in 1976 -- a game-winning blow off brother Phil, a good hitter.
Hoyt Wilhelm, even a lighter hitter than Joe Niekro, homered in his first at-bat as a rookie with the 1952 Giants, then tripled in his second. But he never hit another home run or triple over the rest of his 21-year career as a relief specialist.
Pitcher/outfielder Johnny Cooney of the Boston Bees in the '30s hit his first homer after playing 15 years, then hit another the next day. He'd play five more years without hitting any more.
Many players have homered in their first at-bat, but Bob Nieman of the 1951 Browns was the only man to hit home runs in his first two plate appearances in the majors.
Eight years later, a pinch-runner homered for the Red Sox. Gene Stephens, inserted as a runner for Ted Williams during a Boston uprising, was cut down in a force-play, but the rally continued and his batting turn came up again. Manager Billy Jurges let him bat and Stephens responded with a grand-slam homer. Boston won the contest from New York, 13-3.
Eleven players have hit two grand slams in the same game -- Fernando Tatis and pitcher Tony Cloninger in the National League plus American Leaguers Tony Lazzeri, Jim Gentile, Jim Tabor, Rudy York, Jim Northrup, Frank Robinson, Robin Ventura, Chris Hoiles, and Nomar Garciaparra. Tatis, who did it in 1999, was the only member of that group who connected twice in the same inning. The Braves, the Indians, and the Twins all had four consecutive home runs -- in 1961, 1963, and 1964, respectively.
Home-run history illustrates the unpredictable nature of the game.
-- Don Schlossberg
The Baseball Almanac
The Baseball Almanac, Dan Schlossberg
Copyright 2002 by Dan Schlossberg
Published by Triumph Books (Chicago), 2002
available at AMAZON