Posted August 19, 2010
When news spread of the death of Bobby Thomson, the man who fired the Shot Heard ‘Round the Worldthe home run that culminated the New York Giants’ historic 1951 run on the National League pennantreporters and bloggers talked about his magic moment at the plate as being the greatest homer in the game’s history. Others added the word “arguably” so as not to offend those who had a difference of opinion.
In a world where no one seems to agree on anything anymore, I thought it would be fun to raise more ire by listing the ten greatest home runs in baseball annals because, as you know, lists are made to be argued over.
At the risk of bragging, the researching, absorbing and writing of over 100 years of baseball history that led to This Great Game made this list rather easy to compile. My history antenna doesn’t stop receiving to a time before 1970; I don’t lift my shoulders in clueless response when someone says the words, “Nap Lajoie.” If someone asks me who won the World Series in so-and-so a year, I can usually recite the correct answer within a few seconds. So I have an equilibrium of perspective that gives the same amount of weight to the deadball era as I do the steroid era.
Yet, as I composed the list, I had to challenge my own reputationbecause many of my choices occurred in the last half-century. So I had to reassure myself that there’s been more home runs being hit during this time, more playoff games to encourage famous feats, and more records broken, not set.
All that said, here are my picks, in ascending order so as not to kill the suspense:
10. The Homer in the Gloamin’, 1938. Gabby Hartnett’s blast at Wrigley Field in the final week of the season may have been the greatest home run no one ever saw; evolving darkness after a late afternoon start made it hard for fans and even the players to know for sure that the ball had cleared the Wrigley Field wall, hence the name, “The Homer in the Gloamin’.” The shot by Hartnettwho had taken over the Cubs’ managership at midyearcame with two out and two strikes in the ninth of a tied ballgame against Pittsburgh, and capped a month-long rally by Chicago that saw it overcome a seven-game lead by the Pirates, who could not recover emotionally in the few remaining games.
9. Bucky F***ing Dent, 1978. That’s what most Boston Red Sox fans think when they recall the moment the light-hitting veteran shortstop (40 career homers in 12 years) jumped one over Fenway Park’s Green Monster in a tie-breaking, 163rd game of the season, cementing a monumental Red Sox collapse at the hands of himself and the rampaging New York Yankeeswho as late as mid-July trailed the Red Sox by 14 games. Dent’s three-run shot put the Yankees ahead to stay, and lifted George Steinbrenner’s fightin’ Bronx Bombers on their way to their second straight world title.
8. Touch ‘Em All, Joe, 1993. A ninth-inning shot golfed by Toronto’s Joe Carter off Philadelphia closer Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams in Game Six was one of only two walk-off homers to end a World Seriesand the only one hit while the winning team was behind. As the sellout Skydome crowd exploded around him in rambunctious joy, Carter jumped around so deliriously as he rounded the bases that he had to remind himself to slow up and touch each bag before reaching home. The home run gave Toronto its second straight world title; Williams was cruelly hounded by the notoriously rough Phillie faithful for years to come, and would never be the same on the mound.
7. McGwire’s Moment, 1998. In the feel-good times between the 1994 players’ strike and the later revelations that almost every significant slugger in the late 1990s and 2000s was on steroids, the high point undoubtedly was Mark McGwire’s lined bullet that barely cleared old Busch Stadium’s wallin contrast to the tape-measure monsters he’d been launching all seasonto break Roger Maris’ season home run mark. Upon completing the round-tripper, McGwire triumphantly hoisted his son (a St. Louis Cardinal batboy), whooped it up with Sammy Sosa (chasing him for the record and in attendance with the opposing Cubs), and paid emotional tribute to the grown-up children of the late Maris. It all seems so shameful nowyet still memorable.
6. Stay Fair! Stay Fair! 1975. As Russ Hodges’ famous radio call helped immortalize Bobby Thomson’s famed shot at the Polo Grounds, instant replay via NBC gave everlasting fame to Carlton Fisk’s reaction to his game-winning homer skied down Fenway Park’s left field line that concluded the greatest World Series game ever, arguably (but that’s another topic). Fisk’s blow didn’t win the Fall Classicin fact, the Red Sox lost Game Seven and the Series to Cincinnati the next nightbut the slo-mo of Fisk raising his arms to waive and will the ball fair (it hit the foul pole, which is fair) is encrypted in the memory of all sports fans who were around during the 1970s.
5. The Called Shot, 1932. Did he or didn’t he? Was Babe Ruth really pointing to the Wrigley Field bleachers, or was he having a word with Chicago pitcher Charlie Root in the midst of an acrimonious World Series between the Cubs and Yankees? This Great Game’s official position on the matter is “not,” given that Ruth was reportedly surprised and unprepared to brag when the media asked him whether he actually did warn the Cubs of the monstrous home run he would indeed launch on that next pitch. But the tale, tall or otherwise, is legendaryand the grainy clip that exists of the whole sequence in Game Three of the World Series is as mysterious and palpable as it is inconclusive.
4. Hank Aaron’s 715th, 1974. An entire nation sat in front of their television sets on a Monday night in early April and saw history when Aaron, emotionally tortured from his chase of Babe Ruth’s career home run record, achieved his goal with a majestic blast off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing in Atlanta. To many, Aaron’s 715th remains the definitive, honest record-breakernot Barry Bonds’ 756th homer in 2007, and likely not the 763rd Alex Rodriguez will plant if he ever gets that far.
3. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, 1951. I believe the controversy factor just shot up with my placement of what many consider the greatest home run ever hit. It’s an unforgettable moment to be sure; the Giants’ Bobby Thomson drills one down the short left-field line of New York’s Polo Grounds for a three-run, walk-off homer to beat archrival Brooklyn, 5-4, and win the NL pennant after trailing the Dodgers by 13 games just seven weeks earlier. But Thomson’s shot didn’t win a World Seriesthe Giants would go on to lose in six games to the Yankeesand, let’s face it, had it not been for a recording of Russ Hodges’ memorable call (“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”) being played over and over again, the legend would not have grown so large. And besides, it was revealed decades later that Thomson might have been tipped off on Ralph Branca’s fateful pitch by a sign-stealing bullpen in the outfield. (Thomson denied it to the Wall Street Journal, but it was said that he curiously hemmed and hawed before finally giving his answer.)
2. Roy Hobbs, er, Kirk Gibson, 1988. If ever a single moment won a World Series in Game One, it was Gibson’s startling, improbable blast off dominant Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley to begin the Fall Classic at Dodger Stadium. It wasn’t so amazing that Gibson managed to connect; what was amazing was that he managed to limp his way to the plate to begin with, after his gimpy knees initially had him ruled out for the series. (Bob Costas, doing dugout duty for NBC during the series, has a priceless, first-hand recounting of Gibson preparing himself to bat in Ken Burns’ Baseball.) Gibson somehow made it around the bases in what would be his only at-bat of the series; the overwhelmingly favored A’s were so KO’d by Gibson’s homer, they never got back on their feet and lost the series in five games to the Dodgers.
1. Maz, 1960. The perfect finish to a wild game in a wild series that the Pittsburgh Pirates, outscored for the series 55-27 by the mighty Yankees, had no business winning. Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning, tie-breaking, walk-off blast is the only home run ever to conclude a World Series in a seventh gameand is so revered in Pittsburgh, when they tore down Forbes Field they spared the section of the outfield wall where Mazeroski hit the ball over (it still stands today). For the Pirates, Mazeroski’s legendary shot was the crowning achievement in a swift turnaround for the franchise, which for much of the 1950s had languished in last place; for the Yankees, the crushing, razor-thin loss spelled the end of manager Casey Stengel’s tenure by an impatient (if not extortionate) Yankee front office. Finally, let’s be honest; Mazeroski, despite an excellent reputation defensively as a second baseman, would not be in the Hall of Fame today had it not been for this one magic at-bat.
Bonus Material: The Runners-Up. I gave careful consideration to these ten other home runs of fame before deciding on the ultimate top ten, and figured they were worth a honorable mention (in chronological order): Harry Hooper’s second of two “ground rule homers” hit in the final game of the 1915 World Series that won a title for the Boston Red Sox; Babe Ruth’s 714th and final home run (in 1935, for the Boston Braves), the last of three hit that day at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Fieldand the first to ever clear the upper deck roof behind right field; The 1945 grand slam by Detroit’s Hank Greenbergrecently returned from war dutyon the season’s final day to clinch the AL pennant for the Tigers; Mickey Mantle’s 565-foot home run at Washington in 1953, often described as the longest ever hit (and measured) in major league history; Ted Williams’ homer in his final major league at-bat in 1960; Roger Maris’ 61st long ball to break Babe Ruth’s season record, despite skepticism that he needed more than 154 games to reset the mark; Reggie Jackson’s third homer in the final game of the 1977 World Series, a titanic shot that easily cleared Yankee Stadium’s distant center field fence; Dave Henderson’s 1986 ALCS jack against California, which turned the series completely around in the Red Sox’ favor (and spelled a precipitous and tragic decline for Angel closer Donnie Moore, who committed suicide three years later); Derek Jeter’s pivotal round-tripper in the 1996 ALCS against Baltimore, aided by an over-the-wall grab by 12-year old fan Jeffrey Meier and a blown ruling by umpire Richie Garcia; and Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run of 2001, not so much for the steroids-tarnished achievement as the bizarre postscript involving two guys who fought each other in court over ownership of the ball.
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