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Measuring The Longest Home Runs In Wrigley Field History, Part 2

More distances for some of the most famous home runs in the history of the Cubs' home park.

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In response to last week's post, I decided to run the table. Again, this is strictly for fun and possible discovery, although some necessary remarks will be made. Such comments, as I know from past experience, will get some goats (pardon the expression).

As James Stewart is so eloquently told toward the conclusion of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "...when the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Legend is still not fact, and where evidence and common sense can be applied to these new listings, they will be. But, applying common sense to the feats of one's muscle heroes is fraught with peril.

So, let's have some fun. (Embiggen any of the images below by clicking on them.)


home run image #7

This is where we came in last week. The original article sought no more than to compare the mighty Wrigley home runs of Roberto Clemente (1959) and Dave Kingman (1976), based on some new accounts. My analyses and conclusions can be found in that article, I will not rehash them. Image 1 shows the paths of the homers, and the landmarks important to them. I have reworked the labeling for clarity, and added some landmarks that will be necessary to the new listings.


home run image #8

(L): Projected path of the Sammy Sosa home run of June 26, 2003. This home run, and the Kingman clout in '76, are the best-documented Wrigley Field bombs whose paths came to an unobstructed end, not an easy circumstance in a densely-built residential setting. Kingman's bonafides are discussed in detail in last week's article. The well-witnessed landing point of Sammy's blast was marked immediately on the pavement of Kenmore itself, and GPS readings were allowed at Wrigley to obtain a reliable distance: 536 feet. This result can be taken to be accurate within a margin of error of a few feet, at worst. The path, from home plate to the middle of Kenmore, can readily be added to the diagram. This also serves to confirm the general accuracy of the measurement scale I have developed for this diagram, defined last week.

Any claimants to distance supremacy must use these two home runs as benchmarks for accuracy and precision. They are currently the best we have. Kong's home run in 1979 is essentially equal in distance to '76. I am confident that Sammy, the two Kingmans, and Clemente represent the four longest homers ever hit at Wrigley, with the caveat, noted last week, that Clemente's distance must have a significantly higher margin of error in consideration.

Now, let's look at some well-known Wrigley blasts from the past that did NOT complete their trajectories. I won't make the mistake (with two notable exceptions) of attributing a final distance to any of these clouts. There is not enough data, and no way to obtain it. To do such a completion, you must have exit velocity, launch angle, and maximum height. None of these exist for the subjects at hand.

I will say that I saw all the diagrammed home runs in person except two: Clemente (before my time), and Hill (missed that game). I can testify that all were well within their downward slope when intercepted by structure. In Hill's case the downward slope at contact can readily be confirmed by video. All distances diagrammed are strict linear measurements, and the landing points of some are from my own memory. So, same caveats here as I shall attach later to other things.


home run image #9

Paths of some famous Wrigley moonshots.

(M): Glenallen Hill, Cubs, 5/11/2000. Landed on the rooftop (barely) of 1032 Waveland. Strict linear distance: 456 feet.
(N): Doug Frobel, Pirates, 6/26/1984. Landed on the concrete steps above and to the right of the center field camera shed. Strict linear distance: 443 feet.
(O): Barry Bonds, Pirates, 4/17/1988. This was the longest in-game homer I ever witnessed that landed within the confines of Wrigley, and I know of none longer from the past within the present bleacher configuration. Touchdown in Section 342, about two-thirds up. Strict linear distance: 456 feet.
(P): Kris Bryant, Cubs, 9/6/2015. Struck the left-field video board. Strict linear distance to the board: 397 feet. Stat Cast has the pertinent data for this one, and projects a final distance of 495 feet (111.5 mph exit velocity, 33.2 degree launch angle, 118.6 foot maximum height). This is to date the longest ball in the StatCast database (only since 2015).
(Q): Kyle Schwarber, Cubs, 10/13/2015. Landed atop the right field video board. Strict linear distance to the board: 374 feet. StatCast projected full path: 472 feet.
(R): Darryl Strawberry, batting practice. The longest batted ball from the plate I ever saw land within the confines of Wrigley under any circumstance. Cannot give a date, it was before a night game during Straw's time in the National League, so between 1988-94. Landed in Section 339, second row from the top, strict linear distance: 462 feet.
(S): For curiosity's sake, the strict linear distance from home plate to the front facade of the center field scoreboard: 472 feet. It is a fair guess that a ball must be struck on at least a 500-foot path to scrape the bottom of this facade.


home run image #10

Scale of distances, concentric from home plate. If you see, or think you see, a 600-foot home run at Wrigley, this is what it must do, and nothing less. To left field, land on the alley back of Waveland. To right field, land on the elevated tracks. To dead center, land at the NE point of the Waveland/Sheffield intersection, even a 600-foot home run would not reach the grounds of the former gas station. A 500-foot dead center shot, if it could land unobstructed past all the stuff, would likely conk Harry on top of his bronze noggin.

These distances are going to disappoint many, but 500-foot home runs are perhaps the rarest of baseball's muscle feats. A classic "Physics of Baseball" article posits an "optimum" exit velocity of 110 mph, launch angle of 35 degrees, and maximum height of 130 feet. In a vacuum, this works to 750 feet, following a perfect parabolic path. However, after factoring average real atmospheric conditions at sea level, the distance drops to 400 feet, with an often startling decay and steepening of the parabolic path toward the end.

What is often read/heard in an eyewitness description, past or present, is the insistent assertion that the struck ball in question was "still rising" when it left the confines of the ballpark, usually at a distance already well over 400 feet. No, it didn't, not unless the player who hit it was born and raised on the planet Krypton. Such a trajectory, if really hit at Wrigley, would clear the old gas station plus a few buildings, on the fly, with ease. This is a proposition of the sort that scientists call "not even wrong." No one has seen such a trajectory for a batted ball, because it cannot be done. It serves no purpose to be polite to tales like this. Yet such accounts occur, and are often given full credence, in nearly all retellings of classic distance homers. StatCast, in its brief history, has never documented a 500-footer out of several thousand examples, significant in itself. However, the paths confirmed in the many near-misses give the lie to such exaggerations. Kingman's and Sosa's blasts, incredible as they were, had started their descent as they sailed over Waveland.

I will take examples of typical overstatements related to the Clemente and Kingman home runs, which can be reliably confirmed as to final distance. This shows what can be claimed even in good cases.

In newspaper accounts of Kong's homer in '76, the ballhawk who corralled the sphere gave his estimate of the distance as "600 feet," based on a previous "pacing off" he had done from the then back wall of the bleachers. Clemente is said to have estimated his own homer at 565 feet, based on similar pacings. Such anecdotal measurements simply have no value. As can be shown by the diagrammed distances, both were significantly inaccurate in their estimates.

The author was once involved, peripherally, in such a squabble. On July 23, 1996, Mark McGwire, then with Oakland, hit a home run that was initially claimed to have left New Comiskey, (as it then was called) on the fly. It did not. I viewed this game from the outfield concourse that evening, and the ball landed on the concourse behind section 157, ten feet from where I stood, and in one bound cleared the roof of the cap store at the rear of the concourse. (The scene today is not the same, further structures now overspread the cap store.) Those who saw the clearance, but not the bound, swore the ball went out without interference. I, and some others who had seen the whole thing, later corrected the account. To date no batted ball has come close to leaving the Cell on the fly, though it probably can barely be done. There is an account for one that might have hit the back concourse wall, but, again, the witnesses are contradictory.

Ballhawks will note with facepalms that I made no effort for McGwire's magnificent souvenir, though I could easily have done so. I avoid all such missiles for the sake of my life, though four home runs have introduced themselves to me via freaky caroms. They are all displayed, like hunting trophies, in my baseball den.

So, is it really true that Hill's incredibly impressive homer was "only" 456 feet away on its decline? Or that the sincere devotees of Clemente and Kingman and Big Mac overstated their distances by up to three figures? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

The home runs of Kingman, Sosa and Bryant were awesome and thrilling to behold, movie special-effects suddenly seen in real life. I will cherish the experiences as long as memory lasts. But physics is not romance, majesty is not measurement, thrill is not accuracy. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Our diagrams would seem to indicate that home runs of 550 or even 600 feet are possible, given the right freaks of talent, circumstance, and conditions. There have been dingers, hit in other locations, that are reasonably claimed to be such distances. Perhaps we have one at Wrigley in our futures, but it hasn't happened, quite yet.

Many thanks for all attention and patience.