Outta here: F. Robinson left the yard

ORIOLES GREATEST MOMENTS

July 27, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

When Bill LeFevre made the announcement over the public address system, the crowd of 49,516 stood as one and turned toward Frank Robinson, who by then had taken his place in right field, and applauded for a full minute.

Robinson, who would lead the Orioles to their first World Series that year, had become the first player to hit a home run out of Memorial Stadium. The ball landed in the parking lot behind the left-field bleachers and came to rest under the wheels of a car, 540 feet from home plate.

While the cheers rained down on him, Robinson self-consciously shifted from one foot to the other and repeatedly touched his cap in appreciation.

"I was uneasy," Robinson said. "I was thinking, thank you very much, now let's get on with the game. But it kept getting louder and louder. It was a nice thing for the fans to do. It was my first year with the club, and I felt like I was really part of the city."

Robinson's historic home run -- the only one ever hit out of the stadium -- came off Luis Tiant in the first inning of the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians on May 8, 1966. The Orioles and the Indians were battling for first place, and Tiant had come into the game with three straight shutouts.

Robinson, in his first season in the American League, never had faced Tiant. The first pitch was a fastball, low and inside, but a strike, Robinson recalls.

"Frank golfed it, and it kept going and going," Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer said.

But was it fair or foul? Third base umpire Cal Drummond finally signaled fair.

"It started like a line drive," said Orioles left fielder Curt Blefary, "but as the ball headed into the left-field stands, it began to rise. Then we saw people looking out into the parking lot. Frank said later, 'I've hit 'em farther, but never harder.' "

First baseman Boog Powell, who was in the on-deck circle, said, "I knew he hit it real good, but not that good. . . . I thought, it's going out of the park. I hit only one out in all my years, and that was in batting practice. Frank's was hit perfectly -- right down the line, a golf shot, with a little bit of draw to it."

In the dugout, Orioles manager Hank Bauer and his players couldn't see the ball leave the stadium. In the stands behind home plate, neither could Orioles player personnel director Harry Dalton: "I knew it was a home run, but I wasn't thinking about it going out of the park." People in the Orioles' bullpen lost sight of the ball, too, Dick Hall said.

When Robinson rounded third base, coach Billy Hunter "held his hand a little longer than usu al." In the dugout, Bauer's comment to the slugger was succinct: "Nice hitting."

Robinson still didn't know the home run had gone out. Players told him it had, but he thought they were joshing and said, "Yeah, sure it did." Not until LeFevre made the announcement did he know it had.

That was the day Robinson announced his arrival in Baltimore. He went 6-for-7, with two home runs, three RBIs and four runs and took over the AL batting lead with a .406 average, giving him a good start toward his eventual Triple Crown. Cleveland manager Birdie Tebbetts went to great lengths to try to stop him.

"By Frank's last at-bat, Tebbetts was really angry," Palmer said. "Somebody in the stands was playing a bugle and the Indians were on the way to losing three out of four to us. So, Tebbetts put on a shift, with the left fielder on the left-field line and the shortstop in left-center. Robinson tripled down the first base line.

Phil Itzoe, the Orioles' assistant public relations director, was assigned to measure the home run. Taking into account where the ball left the park, the height of the wall and the distance from the base of the wall to where "a guy in the parking lot claimed he saw it hit," Itzoe arrived at 451 feet, plus 89 feet for the roll.

To signify where the ball rocketed out, the club later attached a pennant on a left-field flagpole that noted in orange and black letters: "HERE."

Even Tiant was impressed by Robinson's power. "He strong," Tiant said.

Remembering the moment

"Judging by all the people who say they saw that home run, there must have been 500,000 there that day. They'll say: 'I was there. It was a night game.' It wasn't, but it's nice they remember."

-- Right fielder Frank Robinson

"I saw Frank hit that ball out. My first impression was, 'Golly, those seats are high up.' "

-- Cal Ripken Jr., 5 1/2 years old

"[Luis] Tiant threw him a fastball down and in, which was the wrong thing to do to Frank."

-- First baseman Boog Powell

"Frank's home run came in a big game for us. After we swept the doubleheader, Cleveland dropped back into a tie with us for first place."

-- Pitcher Dick Hall

"I thought, I know this guy is amazing, but hitting a ball out of the park?"

-- Third base coach Billy Hunter

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