Today is the 20th anniversary of one of the legendary muscle feats in Cubs history, Glenallen Hill’s Waveland rooftop home run. Like so many similar incidents, it has tended toward embellishment with time. I recently read this MLB.com article in which Hill and the author of the piece are looking upon a distance of 700 feet with approval.
I don’t know if that claim is really being taken seriously, but the question remains: How far had that ball actually travelled when it landed, and how far would it have gone unimpeded? The first question is easily answered, and the second can now at least be addressed reasonably.
This begs a further question, how far can a baseball be hit under major-league game conditions? The two Bunyans of ancient baseball are Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson. Not even their most fanatical adherents ever claimed 700-footers for either, Ruth is credited with a few 600s in exhibition settings.
Bill Jenkinson, in his fascinating book Baseball’s Ultimate Power, posits Ruth as the author of the longest home run hit in a major-league game. This blast, at Navin Field in Detroit on July 18, 1921, is attested to have cleared the ballpark structure and landed in a city intersection beyond center field. The distance, extrapolated from old maps, is given as 575 feet. Might be, could be.
Another famous, if more dubiously attested, homer was hit by Mickey Mantle at Griffith Stadium in Washington on April 17, 1953. It landed on private property and the claimed landing spot was actually measured by the press at 565 feet. Perhaps. When Roberto Clemente paced off his famous Wrigley Field home run six years later, he also claimed 565 feet, surely not a coincidence.
Statcast has now measured every home run, more than 29,000 in all, since 2015. They have certified only three longer than 500 feet. The two longest are 505 feet each by Trevor Story in 2018 and Nomar Mazara in 2019. This during an era when home runs are far more common than ever before and reliable evidence has been presented that the ball has been altered to assist distance. To claim a distance nearly 30 percent further than this requires the most extraordinary evidence.
Figure 1 is modified from my 2016 articles written here on this subject. I wrote extensively in those articles on famous Wrigley homers hit by Dave Kingman, Sammy Sosa, Clemente, and others. I included this scale map of the Wrigley environs, with distances concentric from home plate. In the original article, I stopped at 600 feet, but for this piece I’ve extended it further. 1032 Waveland is also included and marked.
In 2009, a science writer named Hank Campbell posited a “perfect,” achievable trajectory for maximum batted baseball distance in the abstract. It required a launch angle of 35 degrees, an exit velocity of 110 miles per hour, giving a maximum height of 130 feet. In a vacuum, this forms a perfect parabola 750 feet in length. The article then states that at sea level, in real atmospheric conditions, the distance decreases to 400 feet, and the parabola steepens toward the end.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s render this “perfect” home-run-in-a-vacuum parabola. It will do for a starting point. Figure 2.
And now, let’s add, to scale, the profile of 1032 Waveland, the building Hill hit. Google Earth scaling, described in my earlier articles, (and used by me in this article for the distances I cite), gives the following distances: 450 feet to the building facade, a north-south building length of 80 feet. The height, 36 feet, is easily scaled from photos. We are interested in a trajectory that will land on this rooftop, Hill’s ball in fact just barely made it. Figure 3. (A side note: Even the rooftop’s own website claims that it’s “only” 600 feet from home plate. This is far beyond the actual distance; an accurate, shorter figure would be better for business, one thinks.)
For Figure 4, let’s overlay the “perfect” parabola to this scale, using 700, 600, and 500 foot distances.
I think any reasonable examination of these first few diagrams will lay to rest any serious talk of 700- or 600-foot distances. We’ll leave it at that. 500 feet, however, has a case, at least in the land of perfect parabolas.
We do not have launch angle, exit velocity, maximum height, or undisputed extrapolated distance for Hill’s home run, and we will never have it. Today we have all those things for every home run hit in the last five seasons. What can we say about Hill’s home run? What do we know with certainty?
On May 11, 2000, a day game, in the second inning, off Steve Woodard of Milwaukee, Glenallen Hill hit a home run that landed on the rooftop of 1032 Waveland Avenue. The ball was on a downward trajectory when it landed, indeed, there is good video of this.
It dropped onto the roof from above, it did not meet the building on anything resembling a rising line. It landed a few feet beyond the front edge of the building. The front facade of 1032 can be accurately measured by scale to be 450 feet from home plate.
These things are the facts in the case. Can we go further? Actually, we can. Statcast allows us to do more than educated guessing.
The longest Wrigley home run in the Statcast era was struck by Kris Bryant during a day game on September 6, 2015. Memorably, it smashed high onto the left-field video board. This home run is so similar to Hill’s that I’m surprised no one has made the comparison before now. The numbers: launch angle 33.2 degrees, exit velocity 111.5 miles per hour, max height 118 feet, total distance 495 feet. The ball did not in fact travel that far. The video board is 397 linear feet from the plate and Statcast posits that the ball would have gone a further 98 feet if unobstructed. Here is KB’s 2015 homer [VIDEO].
Figure 5 is the path of this home run per the Statcast data. We’ll call this the KB parabola.
This is what a genuine, kickbutt major-league moonshot should and does look like. The curve steepens as it should, and I note that at the shortest point it can leave the park (355 feet) it is well within its downward slope. You can ignore all the tall tales that tell you a batted ball was still rising when it left the yard. No one can hit a baseball that hard.
Now for the test, let’s apply the KB parabola to 1032 Waveland. Figure 6.
Well, this is about as good a match as you’re gonna get. Glenallen hit the equivalent of a KB video board shot that had the good fortune to be struck 10 degrees further to the left, and thus landed on a prominent landmark untouched by a batted ball until then, and untouched since. Since we can never know for certain what the actual trajectory was in 2000, we can allow for a few total feet extra, resulting in a gentleman’s 500 feet.
And now, for something completely different, almost. Using the KB parabola, we can approach the age-old question: can the center field scoreboard be hit by a batted ball?
Figure 7 shows the surface facade of the scoreboard to scale. What we are interested in is whether a batted ball can strike a plane 472 linear feet from the plate, raised to a max 85 feet above the ground, and extended a further 27 feet down. Don’t let “The Natural” carry you away, if that board is ever hit by anyone, it will be a bottom scraper, not a clock-shatterer.
Let’s apply the KB parabola to this diagram. Figure 8.
Of course, at 495 total feet, it falls well short. Suppose we scale the KB path to maintain its shape, and give us the minimum distance to meet the plane of the scoreboard facade. Figure 9.
We need a 2.3 degree steeper angle, an exit velocity that will give a max height four feet higher. This gives us 536 feet, enough to meet the bottom of the board. This is unlikely, but not impossible. Statcast has these numbers in their database individually, though not in combination. Has there ever been an accurately measured home run at Wrigley that meets this test for distance?
There has been. Sammy Sosa’s home run of June 24, 2003 is exactly this length. The bonafides of this distance are discussed in my old article. Of course, Sammy’s bomb is before Statcast, so its trajectory has to be taken on faith. Here is Sosa’s blast:
And, it must be noted, both Sosa and Hill are tied to PED use. Hill has admitted his usage, Sosa remains mum.
Is it possible for a 522-foot shot to hit the board? Not unless the trajectory is significantly altered. Figure 10.
This needs a launch angle 9.6º steeper, and an exit velocity appropriate to a max height 31 feet higher. Anyone who saw Kong in his prime knows of his savage uppercut and majestic high arcs, but these projected numbers are beyond the pale. Statcast has nothing like such angles and heights in any of its home run measurements. An extreme Sosa stroke might touch the board, the most extreme Kingman stroke we have with a good measurement is still about a dozen feet short.
So, can the center field scoreboard be hit? Yes, but it’s a once in several lifetimes proposition. It’s been inviolate for eighty-three seasons, I might bet the World Series trophy that it stays that way for eighty-three more.
Many thanks for all attention.