I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. I've put together a look at some of the biggest home runs in major league history and chased it with a look at some of the biggest home runs in Rays history (each with its own video link). When I was compiling the background and finished watching all of the Rays home run videos, I was more than ready for opening day. I hope this has the same effect on you.
The home run is the only single event in baseball that produces a run. The pitcher releases the ball, the hitter makes contact, and at least one run is put up on the scoreboard. This single event run can be as marginal as leading off a game for an early lead or as dramatic as a walk off home run to lead your team to a World Series Championship. Some home run stories have become part of folk lore and debate. Two of these famous home runs are Babe Ruth calling his shot and a 12 year old boy named Jeffery Maier changing the outcome of a Championship Series by assisting Derek Jeter with a home run. And of course, the home run did spawn one of the best commercials of all time, simply put, Chicks Dig the Long Ball.
A walk through the second half of the 20th century and early part of the 21st century is marked by home runs that have withstood the test of time and have become as much a part of American history as much as baseball history. Many moments in baseball history can serve as a vehicle for mental time travel to a simpler time in life, a point captured perfectly by the dialogue between Robin Williams and Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.
The 50’s had the 'Shot Heard round' the World' and the 60’s opened with Bill Mazeroski hitting a dramatic home run to win Game 7 of the World Series. On October 1, 1961, Roger Maris would hit home run #61, to become the all time single season home run king. The home run would be the focal point of a season long quest between Roger Maris and teammate Mickey Mantle to top Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs.
The 70’s would see a group of dramatic home runs. On April 15, 1974, Hank Aaron would hit career home run #715 to become the all time Home Run King. On October 22, 1975, Carlton Fisk would hit a 12th-inning walk off home run to force a game 7. On October 2, 1978, light hitting Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent hits a 3-run home run to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead on route to a 5-4 victory and a trip to the World Series. On October 14, 1976, Chris Chambliss would hit a walk off home run against the Kansas City Royals to send the Yankees to the World Series. In Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, the Yankees Reggie Jackson would hit 3 home runs.
The 80’s would have two of the most unlikely of home run heroes. On October 14, 1985, in the deciding game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Ozzie Smith lined a home run off of Tom Niedendfuer to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals and move the St. Louis Cardinals to within one game of the World Series. Tom Niedendfuer would comment after the game that he could understand giving up a home run to Jack Clark, but not Ozzie Smith. Two days later, Clark would connect off Niedendfuer to hit a 3-run homer in the 9th inning to give the Cardinals the 7-5 victory and earn a trip to the 1985 World Series. On October 12, 1986, Dave Henderson would step up to the plate with the Red Sox down 3 games to 1 and trailing 5-4. Henderson would hit a game winning walk off home run off Angel’s reliever Donnie Moore. The series would return to Boston where the Red Sox would win both games to advance to the 1986 World Series. On October 15, 1988, Kirk Gibson would hobble off the bench to hit a dramatic 9th inning walk off home run off A’s reliever Dennis Eckersly. The home run off of Eckersly would be Gibson’s only at-bat of the 1988 World Series.
The 1990’s would see a repeat of the 1960 "Shot heard ‘round the World" and a repeat of the 1961 Mantle and Maris chase. On October 23, 1993, the Blue Jays were trailing by a run in the 9th inning of game six of the World Series. With 2 men on and 1 out, Joe Carter would homer on a 2-2 pitch from Phillies reliever Mitch Williams to win the World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa would each spend the 1998 season chasing Roger Maris’ single season home run mark of 61 home runs. On September 8, 1998, Mark McGwire would hit HR number 62 on his way to setting the single season home run record of 70 home runs.
The first decade of the 21st century would see several more famous home runs. Of all the home runs presented in this post, the most emotional occurred in New York on September 21, 2001. America was trying to find herself and move beyond the tragic events of September 11th. Baseball had resumed play and the Mets Mike Piazza would hit a late inning home run which would come to symbolize more than just a home run, it would give the fans in New York something to cheer about, a reason to celebrate, and in many ways a semblance of what once felt normal a short time ago and a hope that normalcy would once again be possible. On October 5, 2001, Barry Bonds would hit home run number 71 to become the single season home run king. On October 17, 2003, Aaron Boone would hit a leadoff home run off Boston’s Tim Wakefield to send the Yankees to the World Series. On August 7, 2007, Barry Bonds would hit Home Run #756 to break Hank Aarons Career Record of 755 and become the All-Time Home Run King.
The Rays in their short existence have had no shortage of memorable home runs. The Devil Rays would play their first game on March 31, 1998 and Wade Boggs would hit the first ever home run, which accounted for the first runs ever scored in franchise history.
AUGUST 1999: WADE BOGGS 3,000th HIT
On August 7, 1999, Boggs would hit a home run that would forever be part of his history. On that day, Boggs would get 3 hits against the Cleveland Indians. His last hit would be a line drive homerun to right field and would be his 3000th career hit. The Devil Rays franchise would flounder over the next decade, and as a franchise would be void of any significant home run moments.
All of that would all change as the 2008 as the Rays would have dramatic home runs be the guiding light en route to an appearance in the World Series. The 2008 season would see the Rays have a total of 12 walk off victories. The peaks and valleys of the 2008 season can be charted through dramatic home runs.
APRIL 2008: AKI'S BLAST DEFEATS THE RED SOX
The 2008 season began with the Rays starting the season by losing 11 of their first 20. It would seem as if the Rays were still the Rays, regardless of the name change and aggressive play in spring training. The Rays would go onto win 4 games in a row, including a Friday night extra inning victory over the Boston Red Sox. The next day the Rays would go up against Clay Buchholz, who would silence the Rays through the first 7 innings, allowing only one hit. The Red Sox would carry a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. Aki Iwamura would step to the plate with 2 out and a runner on first and drive a homerun to right field for a 2-1 Rays lead. Troy Percival would come in and slam the door shut and the Rays would continue to establish their new identity.
MAY 2008: RAYS END ROAD TRIP ON HIGH NOTE WITH NAVI GRAND SLAM
The Rays had gone 4-4 on a 9 game road trip through Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto. The Rays had taken a lead 4-3 in the 13th inning and had the bases loaded. Dioner Navarro stepped to the plate and would put the game out of reach by hitting a Grand Slam.
JUNE 2008: FLOYD & GROSS WALK OFF OVER THE CHISOX
The first place White Sox would visit Tropicana Field for a three game series. The Rays would lose the first game of the series and would win the final three games, including a walk off home run by Cliff Floyd on May 30th. The finale of the series would be played on Sunday, June 1st and the game would be tied at 3 in the tenth inning. Gabe Gross would hit a walk off home run to give the Rays the series sweep.
JULY 2008: ZOBRIST ENDS SKID AND RESTORES HOPE
The Rays entered the 2008 All Star break on a 7 game losing streak. The Rays would enter the 7th inning trailing 1-0. Zobrist would hit a 2-run home run and the bullpen would hold on for a 2-1 win.
AUGUST 2008: RAYS GET SIX IN 9th TO DEFEAT TRIBE ON PENA'S WALK OFF
The Rays entered the 9th inning trailing the Cleveland Indians 7-4. The Rays would rally to tie the game at 7 and have two men on base when Carlos Pena would step to the plate. Pena would hit a walk off 3-run homer to complete the comeback.
SEPTEMBER 2008: THE GREAT PUMPKIN ARRIVES VERSUS THE RED SOX
As the calendar turned to September of 2008, the national media was in unison predicting the downfall of the young Rays. Certainly, the veteran experience on the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees rosters would chase down the young and inexperienced Rays. The actions surrounding the Rays seemed to be following the script perfectly as two of the teams' top producers Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria found themselves on the disable list. Crawford was placed on the disabled list on August 10, 2008 with a hand injury (tendon subluxation) which was expected to keep him out of the lineup for 6-8 weeks and on August 11, 2008, the Rays placed Evan Longoria on the DL with a broken wrist which was expected to keep him out of action for 3 weeks. When Longoria joined Crawford on the disabled list, the Rays had a 4 ½ game lead in the AL East with 44 games to go. Fast forward to September 9, 2008, the Rays were playing the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park and found themselves in the midst of losing six out of seven games and their division lead had shrunk to ½ game. The game intensity is best captured by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe as he descirbes Dan Johnsons home run off Jonathon Papelbon to tie the game.
The Red Sox had just gotten a two-out, two-run, eighth-inning go-ahead homer by Jason Bay, and thus were three outs from regaining first place in the American League East. It was going to be the fifth straight Boston victory and it was going to be the fifth straight Tampa Bay loss. Papelbon would take care of business in the ninth and Josh Beckett would follow by beating the Rays to sweep the series. The Rays would be in the rearview mirror, and that would be that.
But Dan Johnson must have misplaced the memo. Dan Johnson pinch hit for pinch hitter Justin Ruggiano when Terry Francona switched from Hideki Okajima to Papelbon, and he cranked a 3-2 Papster heater over the Mastercard sign, over the Red Sox bullpen, and into the bleachers.
OCTOBER 2008: BJ SEALS THE CHISOX FATE AS RAYS ADVANCE TO ALCS
The Rays were up 2 games to 1 versus the Chicago White Sox in the AL Divison Series. BJ Upton would hit two home runs to give the run support for Andy Sonnanstine and the bullpen. The Rays would go on to win the game 6-2 and advacne to the AL Championship Series.
The Rays 2008 season will be hard for any Rays team to match in terms of drama and excitement. Their were significant home runs hit in 2010 on the way to the AL East Championship.
AUGUST 2010: THE GREAT PUMPKIN RISES AGAIN TO DEFEAT RED SOX
The Rays held a 4 1/2 game lead over the Red Sox in August. The Red Sox were at Tropicana field looking to gain ground and the game was tied 2-2 in the 10th inning. Scott Atchinson was on the mound when Dan Johnson lined a walk off homer to right field.
SEPTEMBER 2010: BRIGNAC AND THE PUMPKIN DEFEAT THE YANKEES
CC Sabathia and David Price dueled each other for 8 innings. Reid Brignac would hit a walk off home run in the 10th inning to put the Rays back into first place.
Two nights later, Dan Johnson would hit a pair of two run home runs versus the Yankees leading the Rays to a series win and putting the Rays back up 1/2 a game in the division.