Baseball’s biggest stage? The World Series. Baseball’s biggest hit? The home run. Put those two together and you have the makings of a list of the biggest World Series home runs in America’s past time.
Which World Series homers are the biggest? In some ways that’s a subjective question.
Sure, you probably have a good idea of some of the indisputably biggest dingers in Fall Classic history — the photo on this article is a good hint — but others might be closer calls. Some may have been, by any number of advanced metrics such as Win Probability Added, been more important than others. They may not have, however, captured the imagination and the memory of baseball fans as much as some that don’t rank as high by the numbers.
MORE: Watch one of these this Friday at 7 pm ET on NBCSN
For example, Alex Gonzalez of the Florida Marlins hit a big walkoff home run in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. Before I mentioned that one, would you have remembered it? I suspect more people have forgotten it than recalled it. This is what I’m getting at here: “big” in the broad sense of the term. The all-time highlights. The ones that make us say “oh yeah, that was a moment.”
With that in mind, let’s count down the biggest World Series home runs of all time.
10. Jim Leyritz, 1996 World Series
This is a home run everyone remembers, but tends not to make the “biggest home run” lists. It didn’t end a game. It didn’t even give Leyritz’s team the lead. It did, however, completely take the wind out of the sails of the opposition and helped breathe life into a new New York Yankees dynasty.
The Atlanta Braves were the defending World Series champions. The Yankees were making their first Fall Classic appearance since 1981. The Braves had leapt out to a 2-0 Series lead after taking both games in New York. On to Atlanta it went for Game Three, where the Yankees won 5-2. Game Four, however, started out horribly for the Bombers, with the Braves holding a 6-0 lead after five innings. The Yankees scored three in the sixth, but entered the eighth still down by three.
Reliever Mark Wohlers took the mound for the Braves. Wohlers, who closed out the 1995 World Series, was 39-for-44 in save chances during the regular season and had not allowed a run in seven and a third postseason innings in 1996. Indeed, he had allowed only two hits while striking out 11. And here he was going to work on the second half of the Yankees order.
The Yankees weren’t intimidated. Charlie Hayes and Darryl Strawberry started the top of the eighth with singles. Mariano Duncan then grounded to short for what should’ve been a double play, but Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard bobbled it and could only get the force at second. Jim Leyritz, the Yankees backup catcher and occasional third baseman, then came to bat with runners on the corners and one down.
Leyritz worked the count 2-2, looking like he had no chance to catch up to Wohlers high-90s fastball, but laying off a couple of sliders which he seemed to see just fine. On TV, Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver wondered why Wohlers was throwing those sliders anyway given how overmatched Leyritz was by the young closer’s heat. Then, a couple foul balls later, Wohlers threw another slider. He hung it. And Leyritz didn’t miss:
That tied the game at six, but the Braves were utterly deflated all the same. The Yankees would win Game 4 in 10 innings. In Game 5, Andy Pettitte outdueled John Smoltz for a 1-0 win. Back in New York the Yankees won Game 6 by beating Greg Maddux and hoisted their first World Series trophy since 1978. They’d win trophies with the same basic core of players in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009. It all seemed inevitable, however, after Leyrtiz’s big blast in Game 4.
9. Derek Jeter, 2001 World Series
The 2001 World Series was delayed due to 9/11 and was dramatic due to multiple walkoff and game-tying hits. One of those game-tying hits was a homer from Scott Brosius that often makes these sorts of lists, but I’m partial to Jeter’s Game 4 dinger because it was a walkoff winner.
The Arizona Diamondbacks had taken a 3-1 lead in the top of the eighth thanks to an Erubial Durazo double and then an RBI groundout from Matt Williams. Then, with one on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Tino Martinez crushed a Byung-Hyun Kim pitch into the right-center seats in Yankee Stadium, tying the game (that homer sometimes makes these lists too). That send the game into extra innings.
With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Jeter came to the plate and, with Kim still pitching for the Snakes, hit a low liner down the right-field line that barely cleared the wall, giving the Yankees the extra-inning victory and evening up the Series at two games a piece.
This game began on Halloween night, but it was just after midnight when Jeter’s homer cleared the wall, earning him the nickname “Mr. November” and a spot on the biggest World Series home runs list.
The Yankees would win Game 5 as well, taking a 3-2 lead in the Series and causing many to think that this was 1996 all over again. Arizona had more fight than the Braves had five years before, however, dominating New York in a blowout Game 6 and then winning Game 7 in walkoff fashion to take the Series.
8. Babe Ruth called shot, 1932 World Series
This is the only homer on the biggest World Series home runs list that is at least partially mythical.
To be sure, the home definitely happened. It came in Game 3 at Wrigley Field in Chicago and, with the score tied 4-4, Ruth came to home plate against Cubs pitcher Charlie Root.
Root had already given up a three-run homer to Ruth in the first inning. As he stepped to the plate again the Cubs’ bench was jeering him pretty heavily. Ruth yelled and gestured back.
With the count two balls and two strikes, Ruth, according to many, pointed toward center field. Then he hit the next pitch deep in the center field seats. The question is whether Ruth “called his shot” with that gesture beforehand or whether the pointing was directed more at Root or at nothing in particular and was just part of his general agitation.
For his part, Ruth claimed he called the shot. Root denied this, saying afterwards that Ruth was holding up two fingers to the crowd and the Cubs, who were cheering in anticipation of a strikeout, in order to show that he had only two strikes on him and still had one left.
Over time most baseball fans have come to believe that Ruth did, in fact, call his shot. As the saying goes, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend, so consider me in the “Ruth called his shot” camp.
7. Reggie Jackson, 1977 World Series
Jackson hit three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 Series, which clinched the Yankees’ first World Series win since 1962, so pick your favorite.
The three blasts came off of three consecutive pitches from three different pitchers: Burt Hooten, Elias Sosa, and Charlie Hough. That last homer put the Yankees up 8-3, gave them the championship an inning later and gave Reggie the nickname “Mr. October.”
6. Kirby Puckett, 1991 World Series:
The 1991 World Series is, for my money, the greatest of my lifetime. Both teams, the Braves and Twins, went from worst to first in their respective divisions to win pennants. Entering Game 6 the Braves led 3-2, with three of those five games decided in one of the team’s final at-bats. Here, Puckett tripled in the game’s first run in the first inning and then scored. Puckett later helped the Twins keep their lead with an amazing leaping catch at the fence in left-center to rob Braves outfielder Ron Gant of an extra-base hit. The Braves tied the game in the fifth, but Puckett put the Twins ahead again with a sacrifice fly in the bottom half.
The Braves tied it again in the seventh, and the game went to extra innings. Puckett led off the bottom of the tenth against Braves starter-turned-reliever Charlie Liebrandt. On a 2-1 pitch, Puckett gave his team the lead for a third and final time with a walkoff homer, sending the Series to what would be an even more historic Game 7. But we’ll leave that for a list about pitching.
Jack Buck’s call — “We will see you tomorrow night” — was an instant classic. An echo of it will appear later in this countdown of biggest World Series home runs.
5. Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series
The Dodgers signed Gibson the previous offseason and he immediately became the team’s leader, its heart, and its soul. He also put up a regular season that would earn him the 1988 NL MVP Award.
Gibson performed more heroics in the Dodgers’ tough-fought NLCS matchup with the mighty New York Mets, making a tough catch on wet grass in Game three and hitting big home runes Games four and five. Gibson, however, injured his left hamstring while stealing second base in Game five and hurt his right knee while sliding into second base in Game seven. He was so hobbled that he was doubtful to even play in the World Series against the heavily-favored Oakland A’s.
MORE: Watch this game at 7 pm ET on Friday on NBCSN
And he was not in the Game one lineup. Indeed, for much of the game he was nowhere to be found. It turns out he was under the stands in the Dodger Stadium batting cage trying to figure out a way to effectively swing despite being almost unable to walk.
Thanks to a Jose Canseco grand slam early in the game, Oakland took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth and sent closer Dennis Eckersley — who saved 45 games that season — to the mound to close it out.
Eckersley got two outs and then, seemingly pitching a little too carefully, walked Dodgers outfielder Mike Davis, who was batting in the eighth spot. On deck was Dave Anderson, apparently poised to pinch-hit in the pitcher’s slot. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had no intention of letting Anderson hit, however. As soon as Davis walked, Lasorda called him back and sent Gibson to the plate. As Gibson hobbled to the batter’s box, NBC announcer Vin Scully said, with genuine surprise, “And look who’s coming up!” The crowd roared.
Gibson quickly fouled off two pitches. He then swung and dribbled one foul down the line, looking weak as could be in doing so. Lasorda’s gambit looked like it had no chance of paying off. Gibson took a pitch to make the count 1-2, fouled another one off, and took another one outside to even the count. Davis stole second with the next pitch, also a ball to bring the count full. It’s possible that, if Gibson were healthy, the A’s would choose to walk him to the now-empty first base, taking the bat out of his hands. But with two strikes on a clearly limited hitter and the best relief pitcher in baseball on the mound, A’s manager Tony La Russa chose to have Eckersley deliver the payoff pitch.
After the game and in subsequent retellings of the tale, Gibson would recall that just before the World Series, Dodger scout Mel Didier said that, when there was a 3–2 count against a left-handed hitter, Eckersley would, 100% of the time, throw a backdoor slider. With his physical skills limited, Gibson relied completely on that advice and looked for the backdoor slider from Eck.
He got it:
Scully’s call as Gibson pumped his fists while hobbling around second base and headed for third — “In a year that has been so improbable, the IMPOSSIBLE has happened!” — has become almost as famous as the home run itself. A close third: the two red lights just above the right field pavilion as the ball entered the stands. Those are brake lights from a car leaving the Dodger Stadium parking lot, owned by someone who thought it’d be better to beat the traffic than to see how Game One turned out. I’m guessing that whoever that was had some regrets.
Gibson’s teammates stormed the field. The Dodgers won the game, 5–4. Gibson did not have another plate appearance for the rest of the World Series, but he had already lit the fuse on one of the bigger Fall Classic upsets of all time, with the Dodgers beating the A’s 4–1. Made for an easy call as one of the biggest World Series home runs.
4. Carlton Fisk, 1975 World Series
Unlike Gibson’s homer, Fisk’s World Series home run did not come in service of a World Series victory. But it matched it in drama and, actually, exceeded it in terms of leverage. Indeed, if he didn’t hit it, the Red Sox may not have survived to play another day.
The Cincinnati Reds led Boston three games to two heading into Game 6. Both teams were well-rested. Too well-rested, really, thanks to a travel day and three straight days of heavy rain giving them four full days off.
The Reds took a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but the Red Sox rallied, with the rally topped off by a game-tying three-run homer off the bat of former Red Bernie Carbo. No one scored in the ninth and it went to extras. No one scored in the tenth or eleventh innings either, and Boston pitcher Rick Wise held the Big Red Machine scoreless in the top of the 12th. Reds pitcher Pat Darcy took the mound for Cincinnati in the bottom of the 12th as the game passed the then-rarely-reached four-hour mark.
Fisk led off the inning. After taking a ball to give himself a 1–0 count, he got a hold of a sinker and sent it down the left-field line toward the Green Monster. Would it be fair or foul? Fisk did his part by waving at the ball as he watched it fly through the night sky, willing it to stay fair. The image of that wave — captured by the then-novel, now-standard practice of keeping a camera focused on the batter for his reaction — was instantly iconic. Mostly because it worked:
The walkoff homer kept the Red Sox alive and forced a Game 7. The Red Sox would go on to lose that Game 7, unfortunately, which is the only reason why Fisk’s homer — while one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history — does not crack the top 3 of the biggest World Series home runs. At least in my book.
3. David Freese, 2011 World Series
Like the Red Sox, David Freese’s Cardinals were down three games to two entering Game 6. Like the Red Sox, they were playing at home with their backs up against the wall. Like the Red Sox, they forced extra innings. Their staying alive until the big home run, however, was WAY more dramatic than even Bernie Carbo’s three-run shot back in 1975. Even better: Freese played both the Carbo and Fisk roles in this one.
It was a see-saw game, but it looked as though the Rangers finally had things in hand when they scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning to make it 7–4 Texas. St. Louis was blanked in the bottom half and Texas was blanked in the eighth to keep the margin at three. In the bottom of the eighth, however, Allen Craig homered for the Cards to make it a two-run game. The Cardinals rallied in the bottom of the ninth, putting two runners on but by the time Freese came to the plate there were two outs. And then Rangers closer Neftali Feliz got two strikes on him. Down to the season’s final strike, Freeze smacked one to right field, past a (sorta) leaping Nelson Cruz. It bounced off the wall and away from the future full-time designated hitter for a triple, tying the game at seven and forcing extra innings.
Freese, of course, was not finished.
In the top of the tenth, Texas slugger Josh Hamilton put the Rangers up again with a two-run home run. In the bottom half, again on the brink of elimination, the Cards rallied again, with Ryan Theriot grounding out to score one run and Lance Berkman singling in the tying run, again, when St. Louis was down to its last strike. On to the eleventh.
The Rangers didn’t score in the top half. In the bottom half Freese led off against Rangers pitcher Mark Lowe. With the count full, Freese deposited the ball into the batter’s eye in center field for the walkoff win and to force Game 7:
That was Joe Buck, son of Jack, echoing his father’s “we will see you tomorrow night” call from the Kirby Puckett home run. Nice touch. And a great addition to the biggest World Series home runs.
2. Joe Carter, 1993 World Series:
The only thing better than a walkoff homer to force a Game 7 is a walkoff homer that wins the whole dang thing. There have only been two of those in baseball history. Joe Carter’s was number two and an easy call this high on the list of biggest World Series home runs.
Carter’s Blue Jays were the defending World Series champs and led the series three games to two. If the Phillies won this one, on to Game 7 it would go. If the Jays wanted to repeat as champions they’d have two bites at the apple. Early on it looked like they’d only need the one bite, as they took a 3-0 lead in the first and then maintained a 5-1 lead into the seventh.
Philly clawed back in the seventh, however, with a three-run homer from Len Dykstra, a Dave Hollins’s RBI single to tie the game, and a Pete Incaviglia sacrifice fly to put the Phillies up 6–5. The Jays went down in order in the bottom half of the seventh and threatened but did not score in the bottom of the eighth. After the Phillies went down in order in the top of the ninth, manager Jim Fregosi sent his unpredictable closer Mitch Williams in to attempt to close out the Blue Jays and force Game 7.
Williams wasn’t up to the task. He walked leadoff hitter Rickey Henderson, induced a fly ball out from Devon White, and then gave up a single to Paul Molitor to put two men on base. I suppose retiring two future Hall of Famers in the ninth inning of a World Series game was a tall order, but it was one Williams had to fill and he didn’t.
Then came Joe Carter, who had not hit well at all in the World Series to date. Earlier in this countdown Tim McCarver got props for noting that Mark Wohlers should not have been throwing sliders to Jim Leyritz, but here McCarver thought that Carter looked uncomfortable at the plate.
Hey, everyone is wrong sometimes. But rather than listen to McCarver, let’s listen to Blue Jays radio announcer Tom Cheek’s famous “Touch ’em all, Joe!” call:
1. Bill Mazeroski, 1960 World Series
What’s better than a Game 6 walkoff? A Game 7 walkoff. A Game 7 walkoff made all the better as it came in a true David vs. Goliath moment.
The New York Yankees of the middle of the 20th century were, without question, the most powerful dynasty the sport has ever seen. Since manager Casey Stengel took over in 1949 the Bronx Bombers had won ten pennants and seven World Series championships in the space of 12 seasons and were one game away from winning World Series eight in that span. The Pirates had won 95 games in 1960 and were a very talented bunch, but they were the clear underdogs.
The first six games of the Series were, for lack of a better term, strange. The Yankees blew the Pirates out in their three victories, 16-3 (Game 2), 10-0 (Game 3), and 12-0 (Game 6). The Pirates had won Games 1, 4, and 5 by margins of two runs, one run, and three runs, respectively.
Bob Turley of the Yankees and Vern Law of the Pirates got the ball as the Game 7 starters. Turley didn’t last long, getting yanked by Stengel after giving up an early two-run homer. The Pirates would lead 4-0 after two innings, in fact. The Yankees fought back, getting one run in the fifth and four runs in the sixth thanks to an RBI single from Mickey Mantle and a three-run homer from Yogi Berra that, had it held up, might’ve made this list. New York scored two more in the eighth thanks to RBIs from Johnny Blanchard and Clete Boyer to take a 7-4 lead.
Pittsburgh roared back in the bottom half, touching Yankees relievers Bobby Shantz and Jim Coates for five runs, with Hal Smith’s three-run homer serving as the biggest blow. The game entered the ninth with Pittsburgh leading 9-7.
Bob Friend took the hill for the Buccos in the ninth but quickly surrendered two singles and got the hook from Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh. Harvey Haddix wasn’t much help in relief, giving up an RBI single to Mantle and an RBI groundout to Berra to tie the game at nine. Which is where it stood as the bottom of the ninth began. Ralph Terry, who had finally put out the fire in the eighth inning was on the hill for the Yankees.
Bill Mazeroski led off the inning.
Mazeroski was considered by everyone to be a slick-fielder. Maybe the best defensive second baseman in the game. And while history often sets his heroics up as those of a usually easy out coming through in the clutch, that’s not necessarily the case. In 1960, he put up a batting line of .273/.320/.392 (94 OPS+) with 11 homers. A couple of years before he had socked 19 homers. That may not seem like great offense by today’s standards — and that may have more or less represented Mazeroski’s peak in his 17-year career — but it was pretty respectable at a time when middle infielders were not expected to contribute much on offense. There were many better hitters in that Pirates lineup — Mazeroski was batting eighth — but he could make you pay if you made a mistake.
Terry made a mistake. Mazeroski made him pay:
The Pirates won the game 10–9 and stood as World Series champions despite being outscored in the Series. The loss would cause Mickey Mantle, as he later recalled in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, to cry actual tears. It would also cost Casey Stengel his job as Yankees manager, though the Yankees claimed that they were considering the change anyway in the interest of getting some younger blood in the dugout. One wonders, though, if they would have actually fired Stengel had they won the Series.
For Bill Mazeroski, his Series-clinching home run stood as the unquestionable highlight of what would be a Hall of Fame career. Indeed, he probably would not have made the Hall of Fame if not for that homer.
It also stands apart from the biggest World Series home runs in history. At least in my view. What do you think?