On October 26, 2008 Joe Blanton hit his first career home run. He did it in the World Series no less, becoming just the 13th pitcher to hit a World Series home run. Richard looks back at other postseason homers struck by the men who spend their time on the mound.
I know this is not exactly the kind of groundbreaking research you expect from The Hardball Times, but just in case it has escaped your attention, pitchers do not, as a rule, hit a lot of home runs. The all-time leader in pitcher homers (excluding erstwhile pitchers like Babe Ruth) is Warren Spahn with 35. No mighty figure that. The single-season leader is Wes Ferrell who hit nine in 1931, also not a figure likely to make you forget Roger Maris or Barry Bonds.
It follows then, that as pitchers hit few home runs at all, they should hit very few in the World Series. And this is exactly the case. As of this writing—though I feel secure in saying I won’t have to update this column at the last minute—only 13 pitchers have hit home runs in the World Series for a grand total of 15 home runs in total.
(For what it’s worth, pitchers have also hit six in the League Championship Series, but never in the Division Series.)
Those 15 home runs are a miniscule portion of the collective World Series home run output, representing less than two percent of all World Series homers. That’s the smallest percentage of any position; pinch and designated hitters clock in at roughly two-and-a-half percent each, with left and right fielders leading the pack.
The first pitcher to hit a home run was Jim Bagby in the 1920 World Series. Bagby and his Indians were already up 4-0 when he came to the plate in the fourth inning with two on. Bagby slammed a home run to deep center, no small feat in Cleveland’s League Park which measured well past 400 in center.
As pitchers go, Bagby was a relatively solid hitter, finishing with a career .218 average and twice putting together 80 OPS+ seasons. Despite this, he hit only one other career home run in 724 career plate appearances, also coming in 1920.
The victim of Bagby’s shot was Burleigh Grimes. Grimes is most famous for being the last pitcher active after the grandfathering of the spitball and allowed to throw it in the major leagues. Nicknamed “Ol’ Stubblebeard,” Grimes was never great at keeping the ball in the park, ranking in the top 10 in home runs allowed four times in his career. For the period 1916 through 1934 that covers Grimes’ career, only two pitchers allowed more homers.
One of those pitchers was Jesse Haines who allowed 152 in the same period, more than Grimes despite throwing more than 1,000 fewer innings. Haines is part of another World Series pitcher home run, but on the unexpected side.
Haines allowed a huge number of homers but was a gruesome hitter, batting only .186 for his career, and hitting only three homers in more than 1,200 plate appearances. But Haines managed to overcome this deficiency in the 1926 World Series. While dealing a five-hit shutout, Haines had the game-breaking blow, hitting a two-run homer off Yankee Dutch Ruether to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.
As it turns out, Cardinals hitting home runs and Yankees giving them up is not a rare occurrence when it comes to pitcher homers in the World Series. The Cards are the all-time franchise leader in World Series homers, with three, with the Yankees having given up two homers, one of only five franchises to give up two or more home runs.
The truly unfortunate franchise in all this, however, is the Dodgers. In addition to Grimes’ surrendering the first pitcher home run in history, the Dodgers gave up two more home runs to pitchers: Howie Reed to Mudcat Grant in 1965 and Andy Messersmith to Ken Holtzman in 1974, the most recent home run until Blanton on Sunday night.
Even worse for the Dodgers, in addition to being the only franchise to surrender three home runs to pitchers in the World Series, they have never hit one themselves.
Meanwhile, only three franchises have more than one home run by a pitcher in the World Series. Incredibly, this means that two men—Dave McNally and Bob Gibson—are responsible for more pitcher home runs than all but 27 teams.
McNally hit his in back-to-back years in 1969 and 1970. In 1969 against the Mets McNally hit a home run to give himself and the Orioles the lead facing elimination in Game 5. Unfortunately for McNally, he would later give up the lead and the Orioles’ bullpen would blow the lead and lose the World Series.
The next year, with his Orioles already up 4-1 and looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the World Series, McNally slammed a home run to deep left in Memorial Stadium, putting the game away as he pitched a complete game, giving up only three runs.
Gibson meanwhile, completed an even neater trick. The second of his two career World Series home runs came in 1968, a solo shot that put the Redbirds up 5-0. But it was his performance in 1967 that is truly notable. In Game One against the Red Sox Gibson—just a year shy of 1.12 ERA—would give up a home run to pitcher Jose Santiago to tie a game the Cardinals would rally to win.
It was one of only three runs surrendered by Gibson all series, as he would put together one of the most dominant World Series of all time, going 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings, while striking out nearly a man an inning.
Obviously unhappy with giving up a home run to a fellow hurler, Gibson—a solid hitter with 24 career home runs, seventh all-time among pitchers—hit a home run to give his team a three-run lead, one the Red Sox never seriously challenged. Gibson remains the only pitcher to give up a home run to a fellow pitcher and hit one in the same series.
Joe Blanton’s homer was the first by a pitcher in nearly 35 years. It may be just that long again before another pitcher manages to put one over the wall. Or it might come as soon as the World Series in 2009. We shall watch and see for next bit of pitcher hitting history.