Today in Baseball History: Willie Mays hits four homers in one game

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The other day I recorded a podcast with my . friend Paul Francis Sullivan. It was mostly about the cliches scene in “Bull Durham.” It hasn’t aired yet, but when it does, I’ll link it. The conversation began, however, with a reference to the copy of “Baseball America” Crash Davis was reading on the bus when Nuke comes over to him to learn about how to talk to the press.

The magazine had Mark Whiten on the cover. At the time he was a Blue Jays prospect and, as the movie was being filmed in the fall of 1987, Whiten had just completed his first season in A-ball, having hit 15 homers for the Myrtle Beach Blue Jays in the Sally League. Paul mentioned it with an off-hand comment about how, “no one remembers Mark Whiten” or something to that effect.

Au contraire!

I remember Whiten because late in the 1993 season, while playing for the Cardinals, he hit four homers and drove in 12 runs in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds. It was big talk among baseball fans at Ohio State, where I was a student, because Whiten had been on the Indians the season before and was traded to St. Louis in March. A lot of my friends were bummed, thinking that Cleveland let a good one get away. After a year of Wayne Kirby, Manny Ramirez would take over in right field, so it ended up being just fine, but every baseball fan in Ohio from that time still has at least some memory of Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten. Either because of that four-homer game or because he ended his career back in Cleveland doing, well, not much of anything.

Paul took the little bit of us talking about Mark Whiten and the four-homer club out and put it in his baseball podcast, which went live yesterday. That talk centered around the most obscure players in the four-homers-in-one-game club, which is a title to which Whiten has a pretty strong claim. But it comes up again today because, on this day in 1961 the most famous member of the four-homers-in-one-game club punched his membership ticket: Willie Mays.

Mays and the Giants were in the middle of a 12-game road trip, playing against the Braves in Milwaukee. Mays was in a bit of a slump by his standards entering the game, having gone 0-for-8 in his previous two games and not having hit a home run for 12 days. Indeed, as the last day of April began, Mays had only two homers in all.

Maybe part of that was him still adjusting to life on the west coast. Mays hit 41 homers in his MVP 1954 season and then hit 51 dingers the following year. In his last two seasons in the Polo Grounds in New York he hit 36 and 35 round-trippers, respectively. But in two of his three seasons in San Francisco he hadn’t managed 30 homers and now, here he was again, on a lower-than-Maysian pace. The Giants played in Seals Stadium those first two years in California and that park slightly favored pitchers. Candlestick Park debuted in 1960 and it was more of a pronounced pitchers park in 1960, when Mays hit 29 bombs. Mays was still an MVP-caliber player, obviously, finishing 2nd, 6th, and 3rd in the balloting in those three years, but a few of his homers had turned to doubles since the Giants moved to San Francisco and it seemed like it was happening again in 1961.

Being in Milwaukee that afternoon certainly cured what ailed him. Well, almost all that ailed him. Mays would say later that, the night before, he had eaten something that didn’t agree with him and that he was still feeling nauseous as the next day’s game with the Braves got underway.

It didn’t affect his batting, though: he hit a solo home run in the first inning off of Braves starter Lew Burdette. He then hit a two-run shot off of Burdette in the third. Mays’ three-run homer in the sixth came off of reliever Seth Moreland and then he smacked a two-run shot in the eighth off of Don McMahon. Mays was in the on-deck circle when the Giants’ half of the ninth inning came to an end. In all it was an 8-RBI day with 16 total bases for the Say Hey Kid.

It’s probably not accurate to say that Mays’ four-homer game on April 30 put him back on his old power track in and of itself, because Mays would hit only four homers in the entire month of May. He’d smack ten in June and nine in July, however, and would finish 1961 with 40 home runs. He’d hit 49 in 1962 and follow that up with 38, 47, 52, and 37 before his power began to decline as he entered his late 30s. As the 1960s wore on it was Mays, and not Hank Aaron, who everyone considered the serious challenger to Babe Ruth. He’d fall off that pace near the end as Aaron found new life and new power in the early 1970s, but Mays’ 660 career homers would keep him in third place on the all-time list until he was surpassed by Barry Bonds in April of 2004. He still ranks fifth behind Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, and Alex Rodriguez.

As for the other four-homer-in-one-game guys? Most are pretty dang famous. Some are a little closer to the Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten side of the scale. But here they are:

  • Bobby Lowe: May 30, 1894
  • Ed Delahanty: July 13, 1896
  • Lou Gehrig: June 30, 1932
  • Chuck Klein: July 10, 1936
  • Pat Seerey: July 18, 1948
  • Gil Hodges: August 31, 1950
  • Joe Adcock: July 31, 1954
  • Rocky Colavito: June 10, 1959
  • Mike Schmidt: April 17, 1976
  • Bob Horner: July 6, 1986
  • Mark Whiten: September 7, 1993
  • Mike Cameron: May 2, 2002
  • Shawn Green: May 23, 2002
  • Carlos Delgado: September 25, 2003
  • Josh Hamilton: May 8, 2012
  • Scooter Gennett: June 6, 2017
  • J. D. Martinez: September 4, 2017

Whiten’s 12 RBI is still the most for all the four-homer guys. Indeed, he holds the all-time record for most RBI in a game, tied with Jim Bottomly of the St. Louis Cardinals who, on September 16, 1924, drove in 12 via a grand slam, a two-run homer, two two-run singles, a one-run single, and an RBI double.

Shawn Green hit a double and a single along with his four home runs to give him 19 total bases, which is a single-game record.

Mike Cameron’s four-homer game was the only one to feature four solo shots. Delgado’s is the only one in which the player only had four plate appearances. Ed Delahanty’s and Bob Horner’s feats were the only times a guy hit four homers in a game and his team lost. Not that that would be the most dubious thing that would ever happen to Ed Delahanty.

 

Also today in baseball history:

1946: Making his 13th start after coming back to baseball following four years in the Navy, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians hurls his second career no-hitter, beating the New York Yankees 1-0.

1967: Steve Barber and Stu Miller of the Baltimore Orioles combine on a no-hitter of the Detroit Tigers. Barber pitched eight and two-thirds innings of it and Miller pitched one-third of an inning. The Tigers won, however, 2-1, thanks to Barber’s wildness. Leading 1-0, he walked the first two batters in the ninth, then retired the next two hitters before throwing a wild pitch that let the tying run score. After walking one more batter he was lifted for Miller, who was on the mound when the Tigers scored the go-ahead run on an error. In all, Barber walked 10, hit two batters, threw that wild pitch and committed a throwing error of his own.

1970: Cubs outfielder Billy Williams becomes the first player in N.L. history to play 1,000 consecutive games. He’d be the National League Iron Man until Steve Garvey passed him several years later.

1986: One day after striking out 20 times against Roger Clemens, the Mariners strike out 16 more times in a 9-4 loss to the Red Sox, setting a major league record of 36 strikeouts in two consecutive games.

1988 – The Mets beat the Reds 6-5, thanks in part to a delayed call by first base umpire Dave Pallone which provoked Reds manager Pete Rose to shove Pallone twice. Rose says he did it in response to Pallone poking Rose in the cheek on purpose. Pallone said it was an accident. Rose would be fined $10,000 and would receive a 30-day suspension. It would be the worst thing to happen to him in baseball for, like, a year.