Friday, December 14, 2012

The Glamour of the Long Ball

Fans have long been captivated by tape measure homers--the game's most dramatic display of power and dominance. The fact that MLB's annual Home Run Derby has become nearly as popular as the All-Star Game that follows is a testament to the enduring allure of circuit blasts. Like a famous Nike commercial once said: "Chicks dig the long ball."

Some of the game's most epic homers are recounted here:

May 4, 1894:
At Union Park in Baltimore, Hall of Famer "Big Dan" Brouthers of the Orioles hit a line drive that cleared the fence in right center and rolled two blocks up the street. He would later be credited with a 500-foot homer, though it seems very likely (given the soft, misshapen balls of the era) that the distance was exaggerated.

June 8, 1926:
Babe Ruth launched a rocket to center field in Detroit that allegedly traveled more than 600 feet. Most historians agree that the ball sailed 500 feet in the air, but there is no definitive proof of the additional mileage. In 1921, it was alleged that Ruth hit 500-foot homers in all eight major league ballparks. Given the sizable number of reports on the topic, there is little reason to doubt this claim. In 1927, "The Bambino" is said to have cleared the 52-foot wide grandstand at Comiskey Park--a feat duplicated by Jimmie Foxx.

April 17, 1953:
Mickey Mantle propelled a ball past the left center field bleachers, nicking the National Bohemian Beer sign at Griffith Stadium in Washington. The shot was reported at 565 feet, but that was actually the spot where the ball was retrieved. This should in no way detract from Mantle's majestic display of strength since experts agree that his blast traveled about 510 feet in the air.

May 22, 1963:
Baseball's preeminent slugger was at it again as "The Mick" hit the facade of the right field roof at Yankee Stadium, roughly 370 feet from home plate and 115 feet above the field. Many witnesses reported that the ball was rising before the facade halted its progress, but that was actually an optical illusion. Initial 620-foot estimates are therefore very likely exaggerated. Mantle hit the Yankee Stadium facade two or three times, but never cleared it. He did clear the roof at Comiskey (as Ruth and Foxx did before him) on the fly in June of 1955. The ball reportedly landed on 34th Street and broke the windshield of a car.

July 13, 1971:
In the bottom of the third inning at the All-Star Game, Reggie Jackson (then with the A's) crushed a Dock Ellis pitch, sending the ball 380 feet in the air into a transformer located 100 feet above the field. Reliable estimates considering trajectory, time elapsed and atmospheric factors have placed the shot at roughly 532 feet.

July 6, 1974:
Dick Allen, a prodigious slugger who is rarely given enough credit for it, slammed a ball that collided with the roof facade in deep left center at Tiger Stadium. The ball was lifted 85 feet in the air and 415 feet from home plate. As was so often the case with these types of homers, witnesses claimed that the ball was still climbing when it hit the facade. It would have taken a demonstration of superhuman strength to produce this effect. Still, Allen's bomb traveled at least 500 feet.  

September 14, 1991:
Detroit's Cecil Fielder smashed a 502-foot drive at Milwaukee County Stadium that cleared the bleachers. Estimates of this shot are highly accurate.

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