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Baseball history unpacked, May 17

The 140-foot homer, and other stories

James Thomas Bell

... on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Bleed Cubbie Blue brings a you a wildly popular Cubs-centric look at baseball’s past. Here’s a handy Cubs timeline, to help you follow along as we review select scenes from the rich tapestry of Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball history. The embedded links often point to articles that pertain to the scenes, such as reproductions of period newspapers, images, and/or other such material as is often found in the wild.

Today in baseball history:

  • 1893 - Phillies outfielder Billy Hamilton becomes the first player to have hit both a leadoff and walk-off home run in the same game when he blasts a two-run round-tripper off Al Maul, giving the team an 11-9 victory over Washington at the Philadelphia Baseball Grounds. The 27-year-old future Hall of Famer’s performance will not be duplicated again until Vic Power accomplishes the rare feat for the A’s in 1957. (1)
  • 1939 - In the first-ever televised baseball game, Princeton beats Columbia, 2-1, at Columbia’s Baker Field. W2XBS, an experimental station in New York City, airs the telecast. (1)
  • 1947 - At Forbes Field, Hank Greenberg asks Jackie Robinson if the Dodger infielder was hurt in a collision with him at first base earlier in the game and then tells the embattled Brooklyn rookie, “Stick in there. You’re doing fine. Keep your chin up.” Jackie will remark to the writers a few days later that his “diamond hero” is Hank Greenberg, knowing that the Pirates’ first baseman, who due to the bigotry endured as a Jew, can appreciate his difficulty of facing racial injustice every day as the first black player in the major leagues this century. (1)
  • 1959 - Following in the wake of teammate Dick Stuart’s May 1 moon shot, Roberto Clemente likewise sets off a two-out, 9th-inning bomb, which, like its predecessor, leaves Pittsburgh one run short while winning admirers in the opposing clubhouse. Hit to straightaway center field and out of the stadium altogether, it barely misses becoming the only batted ball ever to strike Wrigley Field’s distant right centerfield scoreboard, and will be long be remembered in that light (along with a HR hit to the right field side by Chicago’s Bill Nicholson. What it does become is the longest Wrigley Field HR ever witnessed by several of those present: notably, future HOFer Ernie Banks—citing the consensus amongst Cubs players and coaches that the ball “must have traveled more than 500 feet on its trip into Waveland Avenue”—and longtime Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse, who rates this well above Dave Kingman’s considerably wind-aided HR hit exactly 20 years later (see 1979 below). Moreover, Cubs skipper Bob Scheffing and batting coach Rogers Hornsby take it farther still, telling TSN that Clemente’s is the longest HR they’ve ever seen, period. (For the record, Hornsby was present at Sportsman’s Park on October 6, 1926 to witness two Babe Ruth HRs, estimated, respectively, at 515 and 530 feet by researcher Bill Jenkinson.) All this notwithstanding, there is one crucial caveat: not one of these witnesses can offer more than an educated guess as to this HR’s destination/distance. For better than half a century, the only one who does is Clemente himself, first in a 1960 interview mentioning “a 565-foote hum-rum in Chicago last year,” and then his 1966 explanation that he’d been shown the landing spot and paced off the distance himself. Unfortunately, neither interview identifies said landing spot. Not until George Castle’s 1998 Sammy Sosa biography—stating that Clemente’s “missile left the ballpark to the left of the Wrigley Field scoreboard, landing in a gas station across the street”—and a December 2015 interview with Wrigley ballhawk Rich Buhrke (revealing that that the ball did at least end up in that seemingly scoreboard-sheltered gas station via one quirky carom and two huge hops) will Clemente’s home run be seen as among the three or four longest in Wrigley’s history. (3)

Glenallen Hill says hi.

  • 1971 - Tom McCraw hits perhaps the shortest home run in baseball history. The 140-foot round-tripper is the result of three Indians colliding trying to catch the ball, a short pop fly to left center near second base. (1)

Box score. The anomalous event happened in the fourth inning. All three of the fielders were replaced shortly thereafter. Perhaps they hid in shame. John Lowenstein, Vada Pinson, and Jack Heidemann were the culprits. Fangraphs has this to say.

Box score. No video :(

Sources:

Thanks for reading. Reds meatloaf probably has cinnamon in it.