Long HRs lengthen with time

April 10, 1991|By Dan Shaughnessy | Dan Shaughnessy,Boston Globe

By definition, any analysis of tape-measure home runs should be an exact science.

No way. Long home runs are the stuff of fable and folklore. We could tell you that Bo Jackson hit one farther than Babe Ruth, but that's like saying George Foreman hits harder than Jack Dempsey or that Julia Roberts is prettier than Mary Pickford.

This is not track and field, in which the increments are precise as are the records. Most "tape-measure" shots are never measured. Home runs stretch to new distances as the newsprint yellows and the mind is left to carry a legendary long ball.

Accordingly, there is no official "longest" home run in baseball history. But there are plenty of candidates.

We should start with Ruth, a man so strong he could hit a dead baseball and make it look like Jim Dent hitting a Titleist with a 2-wood. On April 14, 1919, Ruth hit a home run that is believed to have traveled 579 feet on the fly in spring training during his last season with the Red Sox.

In 1936, Jimmie Foxx, batting against the Yankees' Red Ruffing, hit a shot that sailed over Fenway's leftfield wall and landed on the back of the roof of the Lansdowne Street Garage. Foxx also cleared Comiskey Park's leftfield roof.

On June 9, 1946, Ted Williams hit a 488-foot shot off Fred Hutchinson. The ball crash-landed on the straw hat of an Albany construction engineer who was sitting in the 33rd row of the rightfield bleachers.

On April 17, 1953, Mickey Mantle hit a 565-foot home run off Washington Senators lefthander Chuck Stobbs. Yankees publicist Red Patterson left Griffith Stadium and came upon a group of kids who showed him where the ball landed. Ten years later, batting from the right side, Mantle made history in Yankee Stadium off Jack Fischer. Haywood Sullivan was the catcher. "He called for a high fastball," Fischer recalls.

"Longest I've ever seen," Sullivan says. "I think it's the longest there ever was. If you look at the pictures that were taken, you can see that none of us moved. It was a game-ending homer, but everybody just stood and watched. It hit that facade in front of the third deck, then ricocheted into the bullpen. The pitch was a little outside, too."

Sam Mele has a follow-up. "Jim Bunning was kidding Fischer about a ball [Harmon] Killebrew hit off Fish. Then, just a few days later, Killebrew hit one out of Tiger Stadium off Bunning. It's the longest one I ever saw."

It's impossible to measure long homers going over Fenway's Green Monster. There are no reports of any vehicles being struck on the eastbound lane of the Massachusetts Turnpike, but Frank Howard, Killebrew, Dwight Evans and Jim Rice hit some shots that threatened to stop traffic.

Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman says the longest homer he has seen was hit by Boog Powell in Comiskey Park. "The ball hit the rightfield roof, then went completely over it," Gorman says.

Reggie Jackson's 1971 All-Star homer off the transformer atop Tiger Stadium's rightfield roof is one of the most famous long shots. Dock Ellis was the pitcher, and Jim Palmer is among those who claim it's the longest he has witnessed.

Roger Angell remembers a ball Dave Kingman hit off Catfish Hunter in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the early '70s. The ball landed on a practice diamond in an adjacent field.

Memories of the long ones start to blend together: Jeff Burroughs off Reggie Cleveland in Boston. Kent Hrbek off Ed Lynch at Tinker Field in Orlando, Fla. Carl Yastrzemski off the rightfield facade in Fenway off Dick Tidrow in 1977. Dick Stuart hitting a 600-footer in the minors. Bobby Darwin against the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale in 1977. Dick Allen off Reggie Cleveland in Chicago in 1974. Kirk Gibson off Mike Brown in Detroit. Frank Robinson off Cleveland's Luis Tiant -- clear out of Memorial Stadium. Jose Canseco off Mike Flanagan into the fifth deck at Toronto in the 1989 AL playoffs. Frank Howard off anybody.

And then there was the shot Bo Jackson hit off Oil Can Boyd in the spring of 1989. The ball landed near a parking attendant, 515 feet from home plate.

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