“Man, that ball got out of here in a hurry! You know anything that travels that far ought to have a damn stewardess on it, don’t you think?”
Crash Davis in Bull Durham
There’s something romantic about home runs. Most are forgotten the next day, but many become things of lore. Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson built their legacy by hitting home runs. Fans of an earlier generation remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when Bobby Thompson beat the Brooklyn Dodgers with a ninth inning walk off or when Bill Mazeroski dispatched the Yankees in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. The Thompson home run was so famous in its time, it simply became known as “The shot heard ‘round the world.” Famed writer Red Smith called it “The miracle of Coogan’s bluff.”
I’ll never forget the night, April 8, 1974, my sister’s birthday, when Henry Aaron, a black man playing in the Deep South, turned on an Al Downing fastball and with his powerful wrists, sent the ball over the left field fence for career home run 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing record. Aaron never hit 60 in a season but was a model of consistency. He led the National League in home runs on four occasions on his way to 755 career home runs. Amazingly Aaron only won one MVP award, in 1957. Such was the National League during those days, when a demi-god like Aaron had to share the stage with other baseball demi-gods with names like Mays, Clemente, Musial, Banks, Robinson, and Koufax.
Younger fans will recall Joe Carter’s 1993 series-ending blast, which broke the hearts of Philadelphia fans. The radio call of Carter’s home run by Tom Cheek was a classic, “touch ‘em all Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!” In fact, the announcer's calls of each of those home runs, Thompson, Mazeroski and Aaron are classic moments in baseball history.
For Royal fans, George Brett provided plenty of home run drama, most of it against the Yankees. Take your pick, his three-home run outburst against Catfish Hunter in the 1978 Championship Series, the 1983 Pine Tar home run, or the 1980 upper deck jack off arch-nemesis Goose Gossage that all but ended the 1980 American League Championship Series and exorcised the demons of the 1976-78 playoff losses. In more recent times, Alex Gordon’s ninth inning, Game one World Series blast against the New York Mets in 2015 will be remembered forever.
Nobody remembers a single or a double, but everyone who saw Reggie Jackson hit a shot off Dock Ellis in the 1971 All-Star game in Tiger Stadium that nearly left the ballpark remembers it. Had the ball not hit a light standard on the way out, it would have cleared the right field roof and landed on Trumbull Avenue. Teammate Frank Howard said, “You’ll never see five balls hit like that in a lifetime. He crushed it.” Estimates have the blast traveling at least 600 feet.
“That wouldn’t have been out of a lot of parks.”
Jake Taylor to Ricky Vaughn in Major League
Mickey Mantle was no stranger to long home runs. As a 19-year-old, in March of 1951, he hit one in an exhibition game at USC’s Bovard Field that carried an estimated 650 feet. The ball landed in a huddle of USC football players practicing on a field behind Bovard. Frank Gifford, who later made a name for himself with the New York Giants, Monday Night Football and airline stewardesses, was a running back at USC at the time, said “no one ever hit a ball onto the football field”. Mantle was known for his epic blasts. Old-timers still talk about the April 1953 dinger he hit out of Griffith Stadium in Washington. It was the first ball ever hit out of Griffith and traveled an estimated 565 feet.
Mick said the hardest ball he ever hit came off the Kansas City Athletics Bill Fischer in May of 1963, a shot that nearly left Yankee Stadium, knocked out of its orbit when it hit the top of the right field façade. Estimates vary with some pegging the blast at 636 feet. Other witnesses said had the façade not provided homerus interruptus, the ball might have traveled upwards of 700 feet.
I’ve witnessed hundreds of long balls. One of the most notable came in July of 2015 when Yoenis Cespedes, then playing for the Detroit Tigers sent one into orbit off the Red Sox’s Steven Wright. The shot came in the top of the first. Many in the crowd were still settling into their seats when Cespedes came to the plate. The sound of bat meeting ball sounded like a cannon shot. The ball will still rising when it struck the upper right-hand corner of a sign atop the Green Monster, which temporarily deflected the laser. The sign, a piece of monetary-inspired visual pollution besmirching the beauty of Fenway, is situated in left-center field. Hard to say how far this ball would have traveled. It would have left the park, almost certainly would have cleared Lansdowne Street and the House of Blues. Next stop would have been the Mass Turnpike. I was sufficiently impressed.
Many say the longest home run hit against Kansas City came off the bat of Royal killer Jim Thome in July of 1999. This rocket came off a pitch from the Royals Don Wengert and traveled 511 feet onto a plaza in center field of what was then known as Jacobs Field. Mr. Wengert was reportedly so traumatized by the long fly that he refuses to discuss it with reporters. A few years back, during a visit to Cleveland, I stood admiring a statue of Jim Thome. A passerby remarked that’s where Thome’s home run landed. I had to squint to see home plate. Thome lacerated the Royals with 49 career home runs, many coming in late game situations. He was truly the Royals' daddy in those years.
There’s considerable debate about who hit the longest home run in Royals/Kauffman Stadium history. Some say it was a dinger hit by Johnny Bench in the 1973 All-Star game. That shot, off the Angels Bill Singer, landed about five rows shy of the left field plaza. In those days, the plazas behind the left and right field seats housed a circular concrete building of restrooms and a concession stand. A ball landing on the plaza might have bounced clear to I-70.
Others claim the longest jack was hit by the Angels Mike Trout in June of 2014 off Jason Vargas. That righteous shot, to left-center field carried an estimated 489 feet.
I’ve spoken to a few fans who say that the Royals John Mayberry hit a gargantuan home run that bounced off the top of the concession stand in the right field plaza. I have been unable to confirm this, but if that is accurate, that blast would have more mileage that either Bench’s or Trout’s.
The longest shot I have seen in person in Royals Stadium came in August of 1973. The Royals were locked in a tight pennant race with the hated Oakland A’s. Hal McRae, acquired the previous winter, had gotten off to a slow start, but by the time this game, against the Boston Red Sox rolled around, Mac was heating up. He narrowly missed a home run in his first at bat, slamming a ball off the top of the right-center wall for a standup triple. Facing Boston started Bill “Spaceman” Lee, leading off the Royals half of the fourth, Lee hung one over the plate and McRae teed off. On its return to earth, the ball struck the back wall of the left field bullpen. Another five feet and the ball would have cleared the bullpen and landed in the grass aside the plaza. When I watch video of Bench’s home run, I’m convinced that the McRae home run went further.
One of the most exciting home runs I witnessed in Royals Stadium came in a late-season September game in 1977. The Royals won 102 games that summer and this game marked the debut of their highly acclaimed rookie, Clint Hurdle. Hurdle, drafted in 1975, made quick work of the Royals minor league system. He arrived in Kansas City with a reputation of being the next Mickey Mantle. In his second plate appearance, facing the Seattle Mariners Glenn Abbott, Hurdle turned on a pitch and deposited the ball in the upper fountains in right-center field. Sitting in the first row behind home plate, I had a great view of the ball's flight. Heady days for Royal fans, having the best team in baseball plus the best rookie.
Many think the longest home run in Stadium history came off the bat of one Vincent Edward Jackson. Bo to us. Facing Seattle’s Mike Moore in a game on September 14, 1986, Bo hit his first major league home run, a titanic blast that landed high on the grassy knoll of left-center field. Bo hit this ball harder than Brian Bosworth. The shot traveled an estimated 475 feet and took all of six seconds to cover that distance. I only saw Bo play one time and he didn’t disappoint, hitting a long home run off the Twins Frank Viola to straightaway center field. At the time Viola was one of the best pitchers in the American League. Bo was only in his second full season with the Royals. There was no doubt when Bo hit one. Bo rarely hit fence scrapers. His blasts were more like laser beams.
Brandon Moss only spent one season in Kansas City, but he did produce 22 home runs. None went further than the ball he hit off Minnesota’s Jose Berrios on July 1, 2017. This cannon shot to straightaway center carried an estimated 474 feet.
Jorge Soler has stroked some epic home runs in his Royal career. In 2019 Jorge rewrote the Royals home run record book, blasting 48 long flys. Soler Power blasted two home runs into the upper deck of Target Field that summer. Just for reference, the upper deck at Target is the third deck. Most home runs in that park land in the first ten rows of the lower deck. The first came on June 15 off Jake Odorizzi and traveled an estimated 462 feet. The second came on August 3 off Kyle Gibson and traveled an estimated 465 feet. Next time you visit Target Field, take a seat behind home plate and that will give you some appreciation on how far these balls traveled.
According to Greg Maddox, chicks dig the long ball. Everyone else does too. If you know of any other epic shots in Royals history, feel free to share.