Home run list: Bobby Thomson’s death doesn’t change his ranking
The death of Bobby Thomson on Tuesday, at the age of 86, revives the memory of baseball’s most famous home run. Time has not faded the amazing story of the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff. In fact, other home runs’ glory has slipped, while Thomson’s blast still reigns.
In 1998, in honor of Mark McGwire’s historic 62nd, I did a list of baseball’s top 10 home runs of all time. In 2005, in honor of Albert Pujols’ NLCS home run against the Astros, I made a list of the 10 most dramatic home runs in baseball history. The lists were similar but not identical.
With new knowledge that some home runs were not to be celebrated — McGwire’s — and in honor of Thomson’s shot, let’s update the list. The top 10 home runs in baseball history. Except let’s make it 12, since I had two extra I didn’t want to go unmentioned.
12. Babe Ruth’s 60th: Less than a decade before 1927, the major-league home run leader had clubbed 11. Now Ruth was trying to climb Mount 60, one more than the amazing 59 he hit in 1921. On Sept. 30, in the next-to-last game of the season, in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium, Ruth hit Tom Zachary’s high curve into Yankee Stadium’s right-field seats for No. 60. Hats were tossed, papers torn and a spirit of celebration ruled. “Sixty, count ‘em, sixty,” Ruth crowed to the New York Times. “Let’s see some other son of a b– match that.” It generally was agreed that no son of a b– ever would.
11. Albert Pujols, 2005: Only twice in baseball history has a home run saved a team one out from playoff elimination. Pujols’ three-run homer at Houston in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series gave the Cardinals a 5-4 victory, capping a no-on, two-out rally. Alas, the Astros won the series, four games to two.
10. Frank Baker, Athletics, 1911: Baker’s ninth-inning homer ends Game 3 of the World Series; Baker’s Philadelphia Athletics go on to beat the Giants in six games. Baker’s given name slid off into anonymity; he forever after was known as Home Run Baker.
9. Dave Henderson, 1986: The greatest baseball game ever played was Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series. The Red Sox beat the Angels 7-6 in 11 innings. The Red Sox trailed three games to one in the series and 5-2 in the ninth inning of Game 5. Then Don Baylor hit a two-run homer to draw the Red Sox within one, and later Henderson launched a two-out, two-strike two-run homer to give Boston the lead. It was the first time in baseball history a team one out from elimination stayed alive with a home run. California tied it in the bottom of the inning, but the Red Sox won it in 11 and went on to the World Series.
8. Roger Maris’ 61st: Thirty-seven years after Maris’ home run, McGwire’s 62nd home run would charm America. But we now know McGwire’s feat was ill-gotten gains, restoring a little luster to Maris’ accomplishment. Maris’ record is appreciated more today than it was 1961, when Maris’ assault on Ruth’s 34-year-old record was not warmly received. Commissioner Ford Frick declared Ruth’s record valid unless Maris broke it in 154 games. Only 23,154 fans showed up in cavernous Yankee Stadium for New York’s final game of the season, the 162nd, with Maris stuck on 60. But in the fourth inning, off Boston’s Tracy Stallard, Maris launched a drive into the right-field seats. His record would last longer than Ruth’s and be broken only by cheats.
7. R-e-g-g-i-e! R-e-g-g-i-e!, 1977: The Yankees led the Dodgers three games to two in the World Series, but LA led 3-2 in Game 6. Then Jackson started swinging. He had homered in his last at-bat of Game 5, walked in his first appearance in Game 6 and then hit two straight two-run homers, off Burt Hooton and Elias Sosa. In the eighth inning, Jackson came to the plate with his team on the verge of the championship, and the Yankee Stadium crowd roared, “Reggie! Reggie!” Reggie heard them. He hit Charlie Hough’s knuckleball some 450 feet into the center-field bleachers.
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