Sometimes four four-baggers aren’t enough

If you have ever been fortunate enough to see one man hit four home runs in a major league game, you have witnessed a rare feat indeed. It has happened 14 times in the modern era of professional ball, and only 16 times total.

It’s not surprising that the feat is far more likely to be achieved by a star than by a lesser player. Included in the list are Hall of Fame-quality batsmen (Ed Delahanty, Lou Gehrig, Chuck Klein, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt), some noted sluggers who are not quite up to Cooperstown (Gil Hodges, Rocky Colavito, Joe Adcock, Carlos Delgado), and some pretty good players who simply outdid themselves one day.

The first four-home run man was dead ball star Bobby Lowe (batting leadoff!) on May 30 1894; the most recent was Josh Hamilton on May 8, 2012. The others are Pat Seerey (July 18, 1948), Bob Horner (Braves, July 6, 1986), Mark Whiten (September 7, 1993), Mike Cameron (May 2, 2002), and Shawn Green (May 23, 2002).

Usually when a team garners four home runs in one game, that team will win the game. Remarkably, of the 16 games when just one hitter has muscled up for four home runs, leaving the other eight hitters to add to the onslaught, victory was not always the result. The won-loss record stands at 14-2. The two losses are a study in contrast:

One was played in the 19th century, one in the 20th; one was played in a capacious ballpark, the other in a stadium nicknamed “The Launching Pad;” one entailed two inside-the-park and two outside-the-park home runs; the other involved four conventional home runs.

The first slugger to see his efforts go for naught was Ed Delahanty, the best of five brothers who played major league ball. In particular, he is renowned for his offensive exploits during the 1890s, when he came up with three .400 seasons, three slugging crowns, three RBI crowns, and two home run crowns.

He is probably remembered as much for his demise as for his exploits on the field. On July 2, 1903, at age 35, Delahanty’s body was found beneath the Horseshoe Falls segment of Niagara Falls. He was thrown off a train for being drunk and disorderly, but whether he fell off the international railroad bridge or committed suicide is still the subject of speculation.

On July 13, 1896, Delahanty and the Philadelphia Phillies found themselves at West Side Park in Chicago to take on the Chicago Colts. Like many of the dead ball era parks, the outfield acreage was vast. How vast was it? Well, the statistics I checked showed center field as anywhere from 500 feet to 560 feet. The confusion may stem from whether or not the measurement is to dead center field or just to the left of center field, the deepest part of the park.

No matter what the exact measurement, the park was certainly conducive to inside-the-park home runs. Delahanty got plenty of exercise tearing around the bases that day, but Colts’ center fielder Bill Lange got more than his share of exercise also—he just didn’t have as much fun in the process.

After Delahanty hit his third home run, Lange positioned himself exceptionally deep. Delahanty still managed to knock it past Lange for his fourth four-bagger (all off pitcher Adonis Terry). When all was said and done, however, the Colts emerged victorious by a 9-8 score. Delahanty, known for excessive drinking, might well have knocked back a few after that game.

Of all the men who have hit four home runs in a game, Delahanty is the only one with inside-the-park shots included in the total. Delahanty had a career total of just 101 homers, but that was a formidable amount in the dead ball era, which makes his four home runs in one game – inside or outside the park – particularly noteworthy.

Now let’s flash forward 90 years minus one week, to July 7, 1986. The scene is Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the combatants are the Montreal Expos and the Atlanta Braves. Having won the first game of the series on July 3, the Braves found themselves four games above .500 (41-37). Then they went into a slide, losing the remaining three games to the Expos on the way to a 2-14 slump.

On July 7, however, the Braves were still two games above .500 and a victory would have given them a split in the series. Expos’ starter Andy McGaffigan pitched pretty well during the first four innings. Bob Horner had taken him deep twice (the second and fourth innings), but they were solo shots so the harm was minimal.

Unfortunately, the Expos’ bats were also wide awake. Behind 4-2 after four innings, Braves starter Zane Smith couldn’t get anybody out in the 5th inning and left the game to Jeff Dedmon, who also struggled. As a result, the Braves fell behind 10-2. They had a five-run uprising in the bottom of the fifth (Horner again victimizing McGaffigan, this time with a three-run shot) to get back into the game at 10-7. The Expos tallied one more in the seventh to make the score 11-7 as the game entered the bottom of the ninth.

Normally, when the home team is behind by four and the bases are empty with two outs in the ninth inning, the fans are already heading for the exits if they have not already left the stadium. In this situation, I’m guessing that the 18,153 on hand didn’t leave early, given the fact that Horner would have one last chance to tie the record.

Horner did not disappoint. He hit a solo shot off Jeff Reardon, who still managed to notch his 19th save of the year. Horner’s home run trot was probably something less than euphoric. Yeah, the record was nice, but the Braves were still three runs down with just one out left. Horner’s six RBIs needed company, but his teammates just weren’t up to it on that occasion.

The hometown patrons also left with mixed feelings. They got to see Horner tie the record… but the Braves lost. Yet in a sense, they were extremely fortunate, for they had seen the only major league game in the 20th century when a major league player hit four home runs in a losing effort. We could justly call that a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hey, any fan can witness a guy hit four home runs as part of a winning effort!

Horner and Delahanty almost had company, however. Three of the 16 four-home-run games were extra-inning affairs in which the fourth home run played a key role in the outcome.

On July 10, 1936, Chuck Klein of the visiting Phillies hit three home runs in nine innings against the Pirates, yet the score was deadlocked at 6-6. Klein hit his fourth homer in the 10th inning off loser Bill Swift as part of 3-run rally. Bucky Walters, who had entered the game in the bottom of the 9th inning vanquished the Pirates in the 10th for the 9-6 victory. The Phillies finished in last place at 54-100 in 1936, so Klein’s feat was arguably the highlight of their season.

A similar situation occurred on July 18, 1948 during the first game of a Sunday doubleheader at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, but this time the protagonist was hardly one of the game’s more celebrated figures. With a .224 career average and 86 home runs lifetime, Pat Seerey was an unlikely achiever.

The stocky (5-foot-10, 200-220 pounds) left fielder had been classified 4-F and was thus able to begin his majorleague career at age 20 with the Indians in 1943. Quickly establishing himself as a free-swinger, he led American League hitters in strikeouts four times from 1944 through 1948, even though he never had more than 414 at bats. To be sure, Seerey was a home run threat—he hit 26 in 1946—but he was an all-or-nothing hitter. On July 18, 1948, as a member of the last-place White Sox, he was closer to the former than the latter.

Seerey’s first homer of the game was a solo shot off Carl Scheib in the fourth inning of the first game. The next inning he hit a two-run homer off Scheib. In the sixth, he hit a three-run homer off Bob Savage. At the end of nine innings, the game was knotted at 11 runs each, so Seerey’s three blasts had been essential in keeping the White Sox in the game. In the top of the 11th, Seerey hit his fourth, a solo homer off loser Lou Brissie. The A’s could not respond in the bottom of the inning, so Seerey’s final blast was the game-winner.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Seerey’s achievement as a fluke, since he almost did it twice! On July 13, 1945, Seerey and the Indians defeated the Yankees in New York by a 16-4 score. With three home runs and a triple, Seerey probably figured he could never do better—yet three years and five days later, he did.

The only active player with a chance to duplicate the four-homer feat is Josh Hamilton. Given the fact that he is prone to streaks and doesn’t turn 32 till May of this year, he definitely has an outside chance to do it again.

Another four-home-run game that required extra innings was Mike Schmidt’s red-letter day on April 17, 1976 at Wrigley Field. Like Seerey and Klein, Schmidt had hit three home runs in nine innings, but the Phillies and Cubs were tied at 15-15. Schmidt’s two-run shot in the tenth inning off Paul Reuschel was the capper. The final score was Phils 18, Cubs 16. Jim Lonborg, normally a starter, came out of the bullpen to get the last out and the last save (he had a grand total of four) of his career.

Though it did not occur in an extra-inning game, Carlos Delgado’s fourth home run on Sept. 25, 2003 also proved important. Delgado and the Blue Jays were tied 7-7 with the Devil Rays. Tampa Bay went ahead 8-7 in the top of the eighth, but Toronto responded with three, including Delgado’s fourth home run of the day, a solo shot off loser Lance Carter, in the bottom of the eighth inning. Trever Miller polished off Tampa Bay in the top of the ninth, so the final score was Toronto 10, Tampa Bay 8. Delgado’s six RBIs made for a productive day, but his league-leading total of 145 included many such days.

I guess the lesson to be learned from these games is that is you can’t hit too many home runs. One of these days somebody is going to hit five home runs and render all the four-home run guys also-rans. You know how that goes… the record-holder for most home runs in a game will be duly noted and thereafter it will say “16 tied for second place with four.”

Still, I’ve been waiting for that fifth home run a long time, and now that the steroid era has passed, it’s less likely. The four home-run game may be like the old four-minute mile. In other words, a seemingly impossible barrier… until it is breached.

Chances are that any player who does hit five dingers in one game will be on the winning side…but it’s certainly not a lead-pipe cinch.

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Comments

  1. bucdaddy said...

    How did Reardon get a save with a four-run … oh, that’s right, that was back in the days when the tules allowed closers to pitch more than an inning.

    (ahem) Carry on.

  2. gdc said...

    I did witness Dave Henderson hit 3 HR in his first 3 AB in a 7-6 loss (popup and K looking were the other two IIRC) to the Twins.  All 6 Oakland runs were solo HR’s.

  3. Sabertooth said...

    Great article! I’ve always loved the subject of 4 HR games. Is there a Game Score stat for hitters? I imagine that the 16 hitters with 4 homers would cluster toward the top, but it would be interesting to see the top 25, and know how the others did it.

    Side note: as a kid I had a sports trivia book written by Bill Mazer inthe 60s, which had a passage on 4 HR games, and Mazer named a fan who had attended the Hodges, Adcock, Colavito, and Mays games. Three of those games involved the Milwaukie Braves, and I guess that Braves fan happened to stroll into Cleveland Muni to catch Rocky’s big day. He had an active 4 4 HR game streak going when Schmidt joined the club. I’ve always wondered what park he was in on that day.

  4. Sabertooth said...

    At a staff meeting today, a guy was emphasing teamwork, and offered this sports metaphor out of the blue:

    “Sometimes you can hit four home runs in a game, and still not win.”

    Of course I asked:

    “So when has that ever happened?”

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