20th anniversary: homer off Jose Canseco’s headby Chris Jaffe
May 26, 2013
Today is the 20th anniversary of the most bizarrely comedic moment in Jose Canseco’s baseball career, when a fly ball doinked off his head for a home run.
Any young’uns out there in reader-land might not believe this, but once upon a time Canseco was one of the biggest and brightest stars in the baseball universe. Though he’s a punchline nowadays, he was huge. For a brief while, people were saying and hoping the same things for him that they now say and hope about Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
As a 21-year-old, Canseco won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1986, which was especially impressive because there were a number of fine rookie performances that year. Two years later, he did something few Rookie of the Year Award winners later do: he became AL MVP.
Just 23 years old, in 1988 Canseco created the 40/40 club with 40 steals and a league-leading 42 home runs. Though he battled some injuries over the next few years, he was still a key part of the A’s juggernaut that claimed three straight pennants from 1988 to 90. In 1991, a healthy Canseco again led the AL in homers with a career-best 44.
An MVP, three pennants, two home run titles, a 40/40 season, a Rookie of the Year Award—all of this by the end of his age-26 season. He looked to be entering the prime of a Hall of Fame career. Instead things completely went to hell.
Canseco had an ineffectual 1992 season, batting around .250, when the A’s shocked the baseball world by trading the slugger to Texas. Frankly, the trade worked out poorly for both sides, as all the prominent players were underachievers (Ruben Sierra and Bobby Witt were the big names going to Oakland).
But when May 26, 1993, began, things still looked bright for Canseco. Though he had “only” eight homers a quarter the way through the year, he also had 13 doubles and a .291 average. He had power, a decent average, and durability. He wasn’t making headlines with eight homers, but he would sure make headlines with a homer today. They just wouldn’t be headlines he liked.
Never much of a glove, Canseco was in right field for the Rangers-Indians day game. In the top of the fourth, Cleveland DH Carlos Martinez led off with a shot to right. Canseco went back and toward the wall. Martinez didn’t quite have enough muscle to knock it out, and Canseco had a play on it if he could just get there in time. Oh, he got there in time, all right.
He looked up and promptly lost the ball in the sun. He stuck his arm up to where he thought/hoped the ball would come down ... and got a nasty surprise. The ball missed his glove completely. In fact, it missed his arm entirely. I bet Canseco wishes it missed the rest of him.
As you can see in this video, instead of hitting his glove, the ball bonked Canseco in his least vulnerable spot, his head. Okay, that’s funny. But what happened next made it hilarious. The ball bounced off Canseco’s head and landed in the stands. By rules, it was a home run. It was the rare off-the-Canseco home run. Oh, and it turned out to be the winning run, as the Indians topped Texas, 7-6.
In some ways, that play came to symbolize post-Oakland Canseco, the bright young talent that didn’t pan out. In fact, less than a week later, he blew his arm out on the mound while throwing some garbage-time innings to save the bullpen.
Canseco remained an effective slugger but couldn’t stay healthy. He’d have just one season with over 120 games played after this one. He also became one-dimensional as he soon lost his speed and his average dropped. Eventually, Canseco was out of the game.
His post-baseball life hasn’t worked out well. That hasn’t been at all funny, most notably last week when police investigated him for rape. But what happened 20 years ago was funny, when he looked like an utter dunce on the field in a classic follies moment.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something happening X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since Carlos Zambrano homers, becoming the first pitcher to homer in eight straight seasons since 1960s pitcher Gary Peters.
2,000 days since the Florida Marlins trade Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for six players, none of who ever have won a Triple Crown.
5,000 days since Cal Ripken gets stuck in traffic and calls the team at the airport saying he’ll be there soon. Baltimore GM Frank Wren decides to take off without the star anyway, and that’s one reason why Wren will be fired at the end of the year.
5,000 days since Seattle Mariners GM Woody Woodward announces his retirement.
9,000 days since the Mets come back to beat the Dodgers, 3-2, in Game One of the 1988 NLCS. They score three times in the ninth off Orel Hershiser, who ended the regular season with 59 straight scoreless innings.
20,000 days since Baltimore picks Hoyt Wilhelm off waivers from the Indians, a move that will revive his career.
20,000 days since Don Drysdale homers twice in one game, a 10-1 Dodger victory over Juan Pizarro and the Braves.
20,000 days since Gil Hodges bashes his 14th career grand slam, which at that time is an NL record.
20,000 days since Julio Franco is born.
25,000 days since 1890s pitcher Jouett Meekin dies.
30,000 Seals Stadium in San Francisco hosts its first game in the Pacific Coast League.
1887 Reddy Mack of the Louisville Colonels gets six hits in one game. Yes, Louisville was a major league city back then.
1892 Hall of Fame pitcher John Clarkson is just one out from a no-hitter when young shortstop Hughie Jennings gets a single.
1898 Sam Leever, a terrific pitcher, makes his big league debut.
1902 Star second baseman Nap Lajoie signs with the Indians, leaving Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s behind. This is very controversial and only able to happen because the reserve clause isn’t as strong as it normally is with the AL trying to establish itself.
1907 White Sox star Ed Walsh throws a five-inning, shortened-game no-hitter.
1908 The Yankees purchase Hippo Vaughn from the Hot Springs club in the Arkansas State League. Vaughn doesn’t catch on and will have to wait several more years until he emerges as a star pitcher for the Cubs.
1910 Nap Lajoie hits a home run over the fence against Eddie Cicotte, which is notable because it’s the only over-the-fence homer Cicotte surrenders until July 28, 1912, which is the middle of his fifth full season as a big league pitcher.
1912 Future Black Sox ringleader Chick Gandil is traded to the Washington Senators by the International League’s Montreal club.
1916 Star hitter Benny Kauff sure isn’t a star runner today, as he’s picked off three times.
1920 Dodger skipper Wilbert Robinson manages his 1,000th game. He’s 485-501 so far. He’ll make Cooperstown as a manager anyway.
1925 Ty Cobb becomes the first person in major league history to get 1,000 extra-base hits.
1926 The Yankees win their 16th straight game, beating the Red Sox, 9-8.
1929 Here’s an oddity: two pitchers hit grand slams in the same game. Pat Crawford of the Giants and Les Bell of the Braves both do so in a 15-9 New York win. It’s the only game ever with two grand slams by pitchers. Incredibly, neither actually pitched, as both were called on as pinch-hitters. That same game, star Giants slugger Mel Ott hits for the cycle.
1929 Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane has his only 5-for-5 performances.
1930 Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Sewell is the hardest man to strike out in baseball history, with just one whiff per 63 at-bats, and 1930 is the hardest year to strike him out, as he’ll fan just three times all season long. So you imagine how surprising it is that two of those Ks come today. He won’t whiff again until April 28, 1931.
1931 Joe Dugan, starting infielder for the 1927 Murders Row Yankees, appears in his last game.
1932 Rogers Hornsby belts his 500th double.
1932 Star Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell fans a personal-best 15 batters in a 12-inning, complete-game loss, 3-2 to the Dodgers.
1933 For the second time in his career, star Phillies slugger Chuck Klein hits for the cycle. The homer ties the game in the bottom of the 13th, but the Phillies lose anyway, 5-4 in 14 innings to St. Louis. Dizzy Dean gets the complete-game victory for St. Louis.
1934 11 days after they acquire aging spitballer Burleigh Grimes, the Pirates sell him to the Yankees.
1937 For the first time in AL history, two players from the same team hit pinch-hit homers in one game: Billy Sullivan and Bruce Campbell for Cleveland.
1937 For the only time in his career, Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez steals a base.
1940 200-game winner Paul Derringer has his best performance, a complete-game, one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts.
1946 Red Sox phenom pitcher Dave Ferriss one-hits the White Sox in the first game of a doubleheader, and then teammate Emmett O'Neill nearly equals him, throwing a two-hitter. Three hits allowed in a doubleheader equal a record by brothers Dizzy and Paul Dean with the 1934 Cardinals.
1946 Catcher (and future broadcaster) Joe Garagiola makes his big league debut.
1947 Underrated slugger Darrell Evans makes his big league debut.
1947 The Cardinals sign free agent outfielder Joe Medwick. Now that he’s nearly done as a player, he returns to the team he spent his prime with.
1950 Longtime A’s manager Connie Mack will retire at the end of the year, and looking forward, the club names Jimmie Dykes assistant manager and Earl Mack the chief scout. Earle, son of Connie, had hoped to succeed his dad as manager, but this move clears the way for Dykes.
1952 Pirates farmhand Bill Bell throws his second consecutive no-hitter. Not bad. He’ll throw a third no-hitter later this year. Also not bad.
1955 Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe isn’t merely good at preventing runs, he also has the knack for creating runs. Today he triples—and then steals home.
1955 Star White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox normally is known for his glove not his bat, but today he wields a big stick, going 4-for-5 with a double and two homers. It’s his only multi-home run game. It’s not quite enough, as the Sox lose, 10-9 to Cleveland.
1956 Hall of Fame hitter Al Simmons dies at age 54.
1956 Reds pitchers Johnny Klippstein, Hersh Freeman, and Joe Black combine to no-hit the Phillies through nine innings but then lose, 2-1, in 11 frames.
1957 The Brooklyn Dodgers purchase Tommy Lasorda from the Yankees. Yes, there was a time in his playing days when he wasn’t a Dodger.
1957 Young Cubs phenom pitcher Dick Drott fans 15 Braves, including Hank Aaron four times. It’s a shame his arm won’t hold up.
1958 It’s the rare walk-off homer by a pitcher. Murry Dickson belts it off of Arnie Portocarrero.
1959 It’s the sort of stunt only Bill Veeck would pull of. In order to help publicize his star middle infielders, the diminutive pair Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, Veeck hires a few little persons, including former St. Louis Brown Eddie Gaedel, to arrive by chopper as space aliens onto the field at Comiskey and “capture” the middle infielders. The supposed aliens thanks Aparicio and Fox for their work fighting the big people of this world.
1959 Hall of Fame pitcher Ed Walsh dies at age 78.
1959 Harvey Haddix has maybe the most greatest outing in baseball history. Against the Braves, one of the best-hitting teams in baseball, Haddix retires the first 36 batters he faces. Alas, in the 13th inning, there’s an error, an intentional walk, and then a home run, making him the loser. Lew Burdette goes the distance for the 13-inning shutout victory.
1959 The A’s trade pitcher Ralph Terry to the Yankees in a five-player trade. Terry will be the man on the mound for the last pitches of the 1960 and 1962 World Series. The 1960 pitch will become a walk-off homer for Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates. The 1962 last pitch will be a Willie McCovey lineout to Bobby Richardson for a Yankee victory.
1959 Washington trades Albie Pearson to Baltimore.
1961 Star Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer drives in a personal-best six runs in a 12-2 win over the Pirates. He’s 3-for-5 with two home runs.
1961 Willie Mays is caught stealing twice in one game. This never happens again. The Giants are 1-for-4 in steals but manage to win anyway, 3-2 over the Cubs in 13. The score is 1-1 after 12 innings. The Giants score twice in the top of the 13th, and the Cubs try to rally with two outs but fall short.
1962 According to WPA, this isn’t just the greatest game Willie Mays ever has, but the greatest game any Giants hitter ever has. He’s 3-for-3 with a triple, walk, and two home runs in a 7-6 victory over the Mets. His WPA: 1.204. It’s the second time in the last three contests he’s homered twice. The second homer is a walk-off blast in the bottom of the 10th with a runner on and San Francisco trailing, 6-5.
1962 Al Kaline fractures his collarbone making a dramatic, game-saving catch for Detroit against the Yankees. He’ll miss two months.
1962 Sandy Koufax is entering his prime. Today he fans 16 in a 6-3, complete-game Dodgers win over the Phillies.
1963 Ken Boyer enjoys his only 5-for-5 game.
1964 Jim King hits for the cycle.
1965 Juan Marichal suffers the worst start of his career: 3.2 IP, 11 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 0 BB, and 5 K for a Game Score of 8.
1966 It’s the second-longest outing Juan Marichal ever has. He throws a 14-inning, complete-game shutout, allowing just six hits and one walk while fanning 10 for a 109 Game Score. (His longer start is his famous 16-inning, 1-0 duel against Warren Spahn. Marichal won that one, too.)
1968 Don Drysdale’s scoreless-inning streak keeps on motoring, as he throws the fourth of his six straight complete-game shutouts.
1968 A’s pitcher Jack Aker hits Tigers batter Jim Northrup in the head. That begins a brawl, as yesterday Al Kaline’s arm was broken by a Lew Krausse offering.
1969 Rod Carew doesn’t have much power, so it’s extra-notable that he has his first multi-home run game today. He’ll have two more in his career.
1969 Hank Aaron belts his 500th career double.
1969 Braves mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa sets his tepee on fire during his home-run dance.
1971 Speedy shortstop Maury Wills gets his 2,000th hit.
1971 Former phenom pitcher Wally Bunker appears in his last game.
1972 Toy Cannon Jimmy Wynn steals three bases in one game.
1972 Juan Marichal suffers his eighth straight defeat, his longest losing streak ever. He has allowed 36 runs (29 earned) in 64 innings over nine starts.
1976 Ken Brett is just one out from a no-hitter when Angels second baseman Jerry Remy hits a slow roller down the third base line, and third baseman Jorge Orta lets it roll.
1976 Rawly Eastwick has the worst one-game WPA ever recorded by a pitcher: -1.234 WPA. His line: 1.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, and 1 BB in a 4-3 loss. He enters the top of the eighth pitching for the Reds trying to hold onto a 1-0 lead. He surrenders two runs to give the opposing Braves a 2-1 advantage. The Reds score twice to reclaim a 3-2 lead, but Eastwick gives the game right back, and they lose, 4-3.
1978 St. Louis trade Eric Rasmussen to the Padres for outfielder George Hendrick. Advantage: Cardinals.
1979 Billy Martin is cleared on charges of cold-cocking a reporter from the Nevada State Journal in November.
1980 Bert Blyleven never has a batter charge the mound on him, but today as a batter he charges the mound on the pitcher. He’d repeatedly brushed back Mike Schmidt earlier in the game, and in retaliation, he gets plunked.
1980 The Tigers issue three intentional walks to Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles, but it backfires as the next man in the lineup, Rick Cerone, goes 3-for-5 with six RBIs in a 13-5 New York triumph.
1981 A lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board accuses baseball owners of not negotiating in good faith and seeks an injunction on them to force them to provide financial data.
1982 After a poor pitching performance, reliever Frank LaCorte torches his uniform in the clubhouse.
1989 Robin Yount enjoys the last of his 14 career multi-home run games.
1989 Chuck Finley throws a complete-game, one-hit shutout, with the only hit being an eighth-inning single by Jody Reed.
1989 Kirby Puckett has his worst game ever, according to WPA. He’s 1-for-5 with a GIDP in a 5-3 Twins loss to the Rangers.
1990 Atlanta’s Jeff Treadway mashes three home runs in one game.
1991 Sammy Sosa hits the only pinch-hit home run of his career.
1992 Ozzie Smith gets his 2,000th hit.
1994 The Dodgers release aging slugger Darryl Strawberry.
1995 Ken Griffey Jr. makes a spectacular catch, but it comes with a spectacularly high price to pay, as he fractures his wrist. He’ll miss the next three months.
1997 Barry Bonds connects for the fourth of his career 10 walk-off home runs.
1997 Well that’s something you don’t see every day. In the same inning, Pittsburgh’s Tony Womack and Cubs star Sammy Sosa both hit inside-the-park home runs. That hadn’t happened in 20 years.
1997 Seattle DH Edgar Martinez sets a personal best with six RBIs in one game. He is 3-for-5 with two dingers.
1998 Third baseman Aramis Ramirez makes his big league debut.
200 Brian Schneider makes his big league debut.
2001 There is some controversy as Padres catcher Ben Davis breaks up a Curt Schilling no-hit bid in the eighth inning by laying down a bunt. Arizona manager Bob Brenly is irate, claiming that you shouldn’t lay down a bunt when a guy is trying for a no-hitter. He says it’s against the code, but most people side with Davis, especially since it was a close game at the time. Schilling allows another hit in the ninth.
2002 Royals reliever Cory Bailey has a nice day, winning both ends of a double-header. The last man to do that was David Wells, back in 1989.
2004 Daryle Ward hits for the cycle.
2005 Chico Carrasquel, the original Venezuela shortstop, dies at age 77 in Caracas.
2006 Derek Jeter gets his 2,000th hit. It takes him 1,571 games to get here.
2006 Vladimir Guerrero legs out his only inside-the-park home run.
2007 For the only time in his career, Craig Biggio goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. Just nine days earlier, he was 0-for-5 with four whiffs. Those are his only four-K games ever.
2008 Jaime Moyer becomes the sixth pitcher to beat all 30 teams when he tops the Rockies today. Previous members of the club are Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, and Woody Williams.
2009 Zack Greinke is now 8-1 with a 0.84 ERA. It’s the first time in 43 years a starter has a sub-1.00 ERA after 10 starts. (Juan Marichal did it in 1966.)
2010 While a pitch is on the way to the plate, the lights go out at Wrigley Field. They stay out for 15 minutes.
2012 The Cubs are going through hell, even by Cubs standards. Today they drop their 11th straight game. It’s a one-run loss, 3-2 to Pirates. It’s their sixth one-run loss in this slump. Oh, and last but not least, they lose on a walk-off hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the ninth. Yeah, that’s hell.
2012 Josh Hamilton smacks a two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th for an 8-7 Texas lead over Toronto. It was 5-5 after 12 frames, but the Blue Jays gave up two in the top of the inning before allowing three to lose it.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.