Forty years ago today, one of the most famous home runs in baseball was hit. It’s also one of the most famous blooper reel moments in history.
On May 17, 1971, in the bottom of the fourth inning, veteran Washington Senators infielder Tommy McCraw hit a pop fly to shallow left-center, causing left fielder John Lowenstein, center fielder Vada Pinson, and shortstop Jack Heidemann to all converge upon it.
And converge they did, just not on the ball.
They were so intent on catching it that they all forgot about their fellow fielders. Lowenstein and Heidemann crashed into each other at full speed, and then Pinson tripped into their debris. He hurt himself on the way down and would need stitches. Before anyone could get up to retrieve the ball, McCraw scampered around the bases for an unlikely inside-the-park home run.
Only 3,186 saw it live in Washington, but it has since been replayed countless times. It’s the sort of clip that I saw many times as a kid growing up in the 1980s. I think it even made it into The Naked Gun.
It’s a weird/funny blooper reel moment in that you see all these guys crash into each other like some Keystone Kops Softball Team or something, but it sure wasn’t funny for those guys. In fact, they all had to leave the game immediately. Each of the wounded players had to miss several games as well.
Pinson needed stitches on his jaw for falling over his teammates, yet he would be the first one back after two days. Heidemann came back a week after Pinson. Lowenstein missed the longest stretch of all. He didn’t make it back to the field until June 20.
That said, Lowenstein had the most lucid take on the matter, noting that wasn’t a ball McCraw hit—it was a bomb.
At least Cleveland won the game, 6-3.
That event has a nice round anniversary going for it, but it’s not the only event celebrating an anniversary or “day-versary” today. Below are a list of some, with the better ones in bold for those who just want to skim.
2,000 days since the Marlins traded Carlos Delgado to the Mets for three players and cash.
5,000 days since Vladimir Guerrero experienced his worst game—at least according to WPA. By going 0-for-4 in Montreal’s 2-1 loss to the Phillies, he posted a WPA of –0.378.
8,000 days since the Yankees traded Rickey Henderson back to the A’s for three players.
9,000 days since Houston’s Mike Scott pitched a dominating no-hitter, fanning 13 while walking two.
1882 MLB debut: Charlie Buffinton, a pitcher who would go on to win around 200 games.
1887 Pud Galvin, the first pitcher to win 300 games (and also the first to lose 300), gives up the only grand slam of his career.
1892 Louisville Colonels (a major league team back then) sign Hughie Jennings. He’ll go on to a Hall of Fame career.
1893 Mickey Welch, a 300-game winning pitcher, plays his last game.
1903 Cool Papa Bell, Negro Leaguer and Hall of Famer, born. Legend has it he was so fast he could turn the switch off and get into bed before the room was dark. There’s truth to that legend, of a sort. Staying at one motel, he realized there was a short in the wiring causing a delay from switch to lights. Taking advantage of that, he bet his roomie he could beat the speed of dark—and then he did. And that’s how one legendary story began.
1913 Grandstand section of Comiskey Park collapses. Oops.
1915 Zip Zabel of the Cubs pitches the longest relief stint ever: 18.1 IP. He gets the win in a 19-inning 4-3 win over Brooklyn.
1920 The New York Times reports that at the end of the year the Giants will evict their Polo Ground tenants, the Yankees. This report will be rescinded a few days later, but the Yankees aren’t long for the Polo Grounds either way.
1921 Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes allows a personal high 18 hits in one game. His line: 9 IP, 18 H, 7 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.
1921 Iron man infielder Everett Scott plays his 700th straight game.
1927 Bob Smith of the Braves becomes the last pitcher to toss over 21 innings in game: 22 IP, 20 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 9 BB, 5 K. Unfortunately for him, it’s all for naught as the Cubs win 4-3 and Smith gets pegged for the loss. The Cubs were just three days off an 18-inning game, too. In this game, the Cubs used three pitchers, most notably Bob Osborn pitching 14 innings of shutout relief for the win.
1929 Pete Alexander loses his 200th game: 366-200.
1934 Former Phillies great Chuck Klein returns to the Baker Bowl for the first time since becoming a Cub. He bangs out two home runs.
1939 The first time a baseball game is televised: Princeton against Columbia in the Baker Bowl.
1940 Chuck Klein gets his 2,000th hit in only 1,576 games played.
1941 May 17, 1941 is a legal holiday in the state of Pennsylvania and city of Philadelphia to honor Connie Mack.
1945 All AL games postponed due to rain for the fourth straight day.
1947 Ellis Kinder gets very lucky—or is almost extremely unlucky, depending on how you look at it. While he’s pitching at Fenway Park, a seagull flies by and craps on the mound, narrowly missing him.
1957 Pascual Perez, Braves pitcher, born.
1958 MLB debut: Stan Williams, a hard-throwing pitcher known for aiming at people’s heads.
1959 In the second game of a doubleheader, Harmon Killebrew hits his fifth multi-home-run game of the month. Not bad.
1959 Jim Perry, pitching in relief, surrenders the only walk-off walk of his career. And he can’t blame his fellow pitchers: he’s the guy who loaded the bases this inning, too.
1959 Roberto Clemente home run ball juuuuuust misses hitting the Wrigley Field scoreboard. It flies a little to the left of it. To this day, no home run ball has ever hit it.
1960 Dodgers release long-time right fielder Carl Furillo.
1961 Stan Williams out-duels Braves ace Warren Spahn and himself in 2-1 victory over 11 innings. He holds the Braves to only four hits, but walks 12 batters while striking out 10. It’s one of only six times in the last 90 years a pitcher walks 12 and still gets the win.
1961 Roger Maris hits his first Yankee Stadium home run of the year, and No. 4 overall. It’s a slow start, but he’ll pick up the pace as the year wears on.
1963 Bob Allison becomes the first Twin to hit three home runs in one game.
1963 Don Nottebart tosses the first no-hitter in Astros history (or Colt-45s, as they were called back then): HOU 4, PHI 1.
1965 Dodgers skipper Walter Alston wins his 1,000th game: 1,000-754.
1965 New York Mets release Yogi Berra.
1967 Tom Seaver surrenders the only walk-off home run of his career. Joe Torrre hits it.
1970 Hank Aaron laces out his 3,000th career hit. It’s only taken him 2,460 games. He’s the ninth person to have 3,000 hits, and the first to combine 3,000 hits with 500 homers (though Willie Mays will join him in the 3,000 hit club later that year).
1971 Johnny Bench hits his 100th home run.
1971 Atlanta’s Ralph Garr homers twice in extra innings of one game: the 10th and 12th innings respectively.
1974 Hank Aaron gets his first sacrifice hit since July 27, 1961 when he bunts over the second base Dusty Baker against Dodger reliever Mike Marshall in the eighth inning of tied game. Aaron went 7,863 consecutive plate appearances without doing this.
1977 After reaching on a fielder’s choice in his 3,176th career plate appearances, catcher Earl Williams steals second—his first ever stolen base. The embarrassed pitcher/catcher combination is Ron Guidry and Thurman Munson. Making this especially odd, Guidry’s a lefty, so you’d figure he could do a better job holding the run. Then again, when the runner hasn’t stolen a base in over 3,000 PA, you probably aren’t thinking of him as a threat on the base paths.
1977 Vida Blue pitches 13 innings, the longest outing of his career, but gets stuck with a no-decision as the game keeps going on. His line: 13 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 K.
1978 Carlos Pena born. In the internet era, he’s gone from hot prospect, to disappointment, to washout, to comeback player, to aging vet.
1978 Lee Lacy sets MLB record with his third straight pinch hit home run.
1979 One of the wildest games ever played: Phillies 23, Cubs 22 (10). Phillies led 7-0, and then the Cubs came back to make it 7-6. Then the second inning began—really, that’s how it started. The Phillies scored the game’s next 10 runs, but the Cubs came back behind a trio of Dave Kingman homers, but still lost.
Yes, it was windy in Wrigley that day. The wind blew out so strongly to straightaway center that supposedly Phillies announcer Richie Ashburn said “Get the married men off the field!” at the beginning of his broadcast.
1985 On the 12th anniversary of the play that ruined his promising playing career, Bobby Valentine manages his first game in the majors.
1986 MLB debut: Fred McGriff.
1988 Greg Maddux has the longest outing of his career: 10.2 IP and 167 pitches. He gets the loss.
1992 Wade Boggs gets his 2,000th hit in only 1,515 games.
1993 Dave Winfield hits his 500th double.
1994 Phillies 5, Expos 4. Rough end for Montreal as a walk-off error allows the tying and winning runs to score.
1996 MLB debut: Jermaine Dye.
1997 Kenny Lofton’s only 5-for-5 game. He had four other five-hit games, but all with six at-bats.
1998 David Wells tosses a perfect game: NYY 4, MIN 0.
1999 Larry Walker hits his only inside-the-park home run.
2000 Cal Ripken passes up Hank Aaron by grounding into his 329th double play, the new record.
2001 For the first time in Mets history, a pitcher allows four homers in one inning. The pitcher: Steve Traschel. No, it isn’t very surprising that he’d be the one.
2002 Erubiel Durazo hits three homers for Arizona in one game.
2007 Curt Schilling allows seven doubles in one game. For most pitchers that would be a personal high, but not Schilling. He once allowed nine doubles in one game.
2007 John Mabry plays his last game.
2009 Ivan Rodriguez hits his 300th home run.
2009 Joe Maddon screws up filling out the lineup card, forcing Tampa to go without a designated hitter. As a result, pitcher Andy Sonnanstine gets an RBI double in a 7-5 win over the Indians.
2010 Arizona releases Bob Howry.