Looking back: Rocky Colavito hit 4 homers against Orioles in 1959

Cleveland Indians slugger was the only player to do that before Josh Hamilton on Tuesday night

  • Rocky Colavito of the Cleveland Indians kisses his bat after hitting four home runs in a game against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium in 1959.
Rocky Colavito of the Cleveland Indians kisses his bat after… (George Cook, Baltimore…)
May 09, 2012|By Andy Knobel | The Baltimore Sun

Before the Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton did it Tuesday night, the Cleveland Indians' Rocky Colavito was the only player to hit four home runs in a game against the Orioles. Colavito went deep four times at Memorial Stadium on June 10, 1959. Here's a story The Sun ran 30 years later, reflecting on the slugger's feat.

 

June 18, 1989

ROCKY IV

30 years ago, Rocky Colavito ended a slump by becoming only the third player to hit four homers in four consecutive at-bats in a nine-inning game

Rocky Colavito clicked his way down the tunnel from the visitors clubhouse and emerged in the Cleveland Indians dugout carrying his K-55 bats -- 33-ounce models that most hitters would consider light when compared with the weight of a 3-for-28 batting skid.

The date was June 10, 1959, and though Colavito remembers much of it well, it wasn't yesterday.

Newspaper stories that day featured words you're not likely to see in today's edition -- atomic bombs and coeds. A bear was running loose on Lombard Street. A Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer named Cal Ripken, who later would have a son of the same name, was hitting .314 in Class D. Later that week, an outfielder named John Powell would be signed.

Memorial Stadium, which will be abandoned after the 1991 season, was in just its sixth year when Colavito entered its third base dugout and saw Harry Jones, a beat reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"Hey, Rocky, when are you going to come out of this slump?" Jones asked.

Slump was a word Colavito, then 25, used as often as he tried bunting for singles.

"What slump?" was Colavito's reply.

Jones: "C'mon, you know what I mean."

Colavito: "I don't know what you mean."

Jones: "Geez, you're 3-for-28. Don't you call that a slump? When are you coming out of this thing?"

Colavito: "You never know, Harry. Tonight might be the night. You never know."

That was the end of the conversation. Colavito and Jones, who worked together on Indians telecasts in the 1970s, never mentioned that exchange again -- even though Rocky Colavito hit four home runs that night.

***

Rocky Colavito, 31st on major league baseball's home run list with 374, is retired and living in a hilltop home in Bernville, Pa., eight miles northwest of Reading, where he met his wife-to-be, Carmen, as a minor leaguer in 1953.

Back then, he was referred to by some as a younger Carl Furillo, a Reading Rifle with an arm that would make him, in 1968, the last field-position player to be credited with a victory in a big league game. Now the rifles are literal, enclosed in a display case between a collection of bows and arrows.

From Colavito's desk, he can look out across his back lawn and into the mountains where he hunts. The spoils hang on the wall, deer heads and antlers, an exhibit that dwarfs the baseball memorabilia -- paintings, trophies, plaques and, there, tucked on a corner shelf, a baseball.

It's the ball Colavito hit for his fourth home run. Robert Powell of Woodbine traded it through Indians traveling secretary Spud Goldstein for $25 and two autographs.

Colavito grips the ball lightly on its "Ball of Fame" stand, so as not to break the protective plastic covering. But his hold on it is as firm as his hand-numbing handshake.

The late Frank Lane, then the Indians' general manager, had told Colavito he would have the ball bronzed, but never did. Officials at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., once asked for the ball but never came after it.

"I would have considered it. But not anymore," said Colavito, silver-haired and seemingly in great shape. "That ball is going to stay in this family."

It's his most treasured possession from what he calls his favorite day in 14 major league seasons.

Only 10 other players have hit four home runs in a big league game, and only seven have done it in a nine-inning game. Colavito is one of four players to hit four homers in a game in consecutive at-bats, one of only three to do it in a nine-inning game.

***

The Orioles went into June 10, a 93-degree night, as hot as Colavito was cold.

The night before, a throwing error by Colavito had helped allow the Orioles to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 7-3 win. Colavito was 0-for-3, and the Orioles well, as one headline Wednesday, June 10, read, "THE ORIOLES -- They're At The Summit."

Baltimore had moved into a first-place tie in the AL with the Chicago White Sox. Never before had the Orioles been atop the standings that late in a season.

But their perch didn't survive the first inning, when Colavito was walked and scored on a three-run homer by Minnie Minoso. The Indians kept the lead all night, but not because the Orioles weren't hitting. In the second inning, Albie Pearson pulled a drive that Colavito caught one-handed on the run near the right-field foul pole.

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