On Sept. 5, 1903 Joe Tinker hit home run No. 10,000 in major league baseball history. As another landmark homer approaches, Richard looks back on some of the numerically notable round-trippers of all time.
Over on the always-divine Baseball Reference, Sean Foreman is tracking the countdown to home run No. 250,000 in major league history. Prior to Thursday’s games, a shade fewer than 100 homers were left, meaning the landmark blast probably will come Sunday or Monday, with Saturday having an outside shot.
But while that home run will be one worth remembering, it is hardly the only homer important more for its number than for anything else. The first home run in major league history came off the bat of Ross Barnes in 1872.
Barnes was playing for the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association. The Red Stockings (unrelated in everything but name to the modern Red Sox franchise) were beginning a run of four straight National Association titles. Barnes was a key member of the team, leading Boston OPS for three of its five years of existence. Barnes played for nine seasons, and is a career .359 hitter.
Despite other accomplishments, Barnes secured his place in history on May 2, 1872 when he hit baseball’s first home run. The homer came in the fifth inning off of Cherokee Fisher, who has the misfortune of being the first pitcher to allow such a thing in a major league game.
Home run 1,000 was hit by a man I have written about before, Ned Williamson. For those of you not keeping up with my archives—shame on you for that—Williamson was for many years the single-season home run champion. He earned that title thanks to a ground rule which changed a comically short fence at his home park to a homer rather than a double as it had been.
This rule remained in effect for just one season, 1884, but in that one year Williamson knocked 27 homers. On July 4 of that year, Williamson had another homer, which was No. 1,000 of all time.
Before we get to Joe Tinker and home run 10,000, allow me a brief digression. Allowing that baseball did not play nearly as many games then as it does now, it is still remarkable to note just how much more common the home run now is. From home run No. 1 to No. 1,000 took eight years. From Williamson’s 1,000th home run to Tinker’s, 10 times as many homers, took just 19 years.
Moreover, from Barnes to Tinker, the first 10,000 homers, took 27 years. From Tinker to Wally Pipp’s home run No. 20,000 it was just 20 years. These days, of course, homers go at a rate that makes more than a quarter century for 10,000 homers seem ridiculously stingy. The last notable set of 10,000 homers (numbers 230,000 to 240,000) took less than a year and a half.
Even more strikingly, the first 100,000 homers needed almost 98 years to be hit. The second 100,000 took less than 30 years. With the higher home run rates of the small park/steroid era, the next 100,000 figures to come even quicker, being half there in just over 12 years.
But after all, I do history, not predictions, so let’s get back to that. The thousandth home run, off the bat of Joe Tinker, is unique among landmark home runs as being the only one that involves Hall of Famers on both ends. Tinker’s future teammate Mordecai Brown (what a shame that someone with a name as great as Mordecai also had a cool nickname; nicknames like “Three Finger” really ought to be saved for people named Bill) was the victim of his homer.
While no player has hit or given up more than one milestone homer, one franchise in each league can claim more history in that regard than any other. In the American League, that team is the Red Sox, who have hit two of the home runs and allowed four others. Meanwhile, in the National League, the Cubs have been part of five hictoric home runs, hitting two and giving up three. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they have not been on the right side of a homer since Tinker’s in 1903.
While Brown was the first Hall of Fame pitcher to surrender one of the numerically significant home runs, and Tinker the first to hit one, they would not be the last. Other Hall of Fame hitters with those home runs include Johnny Mize (No. 50,000) and Larry Doby (No. 60,000).
There also have been a handful of good, if not Hall of Fame-caliber players who took part in these sorts of home runs, even if limiting these to really notable home runs. Hall of Very Good member Paul O’Neill hit the 200,000th homer in history (off Livan Hernandez, who almost had a Hall of Very Good career). Rick Sutcliffe allowed home run No. 150,000 in 1986, another lowlight during a season when he went 5-14.
By and large, however, these home runs are hit and given up by mediocrities or worse. Pairings like David Newhan and Sean Henn, Bob Boyd and Johnny Kucks and Debs Garms and Charlie Biggs dominate the list. None of those are names likely to inspire visions of mastery of either hitting or pitching. If anything, they suggest the moveable force meeting the resistible object.
As such, it is tempting to look back at Tinker slamming number 1,000 off Brown and imagine that number 250,000 will come Sunday at Dodger Stadium, with a beautiful blue sky as Manny Ramirez launches one off of Randy Johnson.
History being what it is, we seem far more likely for the homer to come on Sunday inside the Metrodome, as Jason Kubel takes one over the baggie off Chris Lambert. Or another equally uninspired match-up. But luckily for the sake of whatever players involved, the event itself will be make history, putting them into exclusively company.