Homers where the heart is
73RD ALL-STAR GAME
Homers where the heart is
Fans have always had an affection for the ‘dinger’
By DREW OLSON of the Journal Sentinel staff
Sunday, July 7, 2002
Your next-door neighbor rolled a 300 game last year in his union bowling league. Your sister, the runner, finished first in her age group at the local hospital’s charity 10k race.
Your son scored the winning goal in the school soccer playoff game last year. A few months ago, your uncle Wayne hauled out a 7-iron and aced the par-3 12th hole at his country club.
At varying levels, we’ve all experienced athletic success like this to some degree or know someone who has. But, how many people know what it feels like to hit a 95-mph fastball over an 8-foot fence that is 385 feet away?
That’s what makes the home run so special. From the time Babe Ruth was mashing homers in the 1920s to today, fans have had a fascination with homers that borders on obsession.
The annual All-Star Home Run Derby, which will be held Monday night as a prelude to the 73rd All-Star Game on Tuesday at Miller Park, draws one of ESPN’s bigger audiences of the year.
“When you think about it, you’ve got a pitch coming in at more than 90 mph,” said David Vincent, who spends a lot of time analyzing home runs for the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR). “You’re judging the distance to where the ball is traveling and you have about three-tenths of a second to tell if it’s a fastball, curveball and to get your bat out there.
“Like players say, ‘It’s a round ball and a round bat and you’ve got to try and hit it square. It’s a very tough thing to do.”
Vincent, author of books such as “The Home Run Encyclopedia” and an all-star book called “The Midsummer Classic,” maintains a database of every home run hit in the major leagues. ESPN reporter Jayson Stark refers to him as “the Sultan of Swat Stats” and reporters from around the country scramble to contact Vincent whenever a home-run feat produces headlines.
“We have databases on ejections and other weird things, like presidential appearances at major-league games,” said Vincent, who points out that five current big-league parks are named after beverages (Minute Maid Field, Tropicana Field, Coors Field, Busch Stadium and Miller Park.)
“We can look up a lot of things, but we get far more requests on homers than anything else.”
A recent surge Needless to say, the Sultan has been busy the past few years.
In 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa began their memorable march toward Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, Vincent was on hand with data. His phone ran again last year, when San Francisco’s Barry Bonds surpassed McGwire’s record of 70 and set the bar at 73.
Although it seems unlikely that Bonds or any other slugger will approach 70 homers this year, there have been plenty of events to keep Vincent busy.
Seattle’s Mike Cameron accomplished one of baseball’s more amazing individual feats when hit four homers in a game against the Chicago White Sox May 2 at Comiskey Park.
Only 12 players had done it before Cameron and none since St. Louis’ Mark Whiten did in on Sept. 7, 1993. Exactly three weeks after Cameron joined the club that included Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Rocky Colavito and Mike Schmidt, Los Angeles rightfielder Shawn Green hit four homers in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned up there with those guys,” Green said. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Vincent went to his database and pulled up an array of bizarre statistics. Cameron and Green’s feats marked the first time in baseball history two players hit four homers in the same season.
Between the time Whiten and Cameron hit four homers, there were 39,256 homers hit in the big leagues, including 394 hit by Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. In the three weeks between Cameron and Green’s historic games, there were 463 hit, five by Sosa.
How does one come to care so deeply about facts that seem so trivial?
“SABR had a collection on paper of all the home runs ever hit,” Vincent said from his home in Northern Virginia. “The man who kept it, John Tattersall, died in 1981 and SABR bought all the papers.
“In about 1989 or ’90, there was a push to computerize the list. I got involved at the beginning and I’m the keeper of the log. It’s totally up to date now. We can query the database and find all kinds of things, like what left-handed batter hit the most homers in a season against left-handed pitchers.
“It’s a lot of fun. I feel pretty lucky to be involved with it.”
Historic day On July 2, Vincent got involved again. On that day, major-league players combined to hit a single day record of 62 homers — breaking the record of 57 set April 7, 2000.
Fifty-three players homered on that day, including Detroit outfielder George Lombard, who hadn’t gone deep in the big leagues since 1998, and Sosa, who belted his major-league-leading 28th homer.
The Chicago White Sox’s 17-9 victory over Detroit in Chicago featured 12 homers, tying a record set by the same teams on May 28, 1995, at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
The Giants and Rockies, playing in the thin air at Coors Field, combined for 10 of the 32 homers in the National League as San Francisco took an 18-5 victory.
The day included four grand slams (Tsuyoshi Shinjo of San Francisco, Magglio Ordonez of the White Sox, the Yankees’ Jorge Posada and Montreal’s Fernando Tatis) and homers in consecutive at- bats by St. Louis’ Placido Polanco, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols.
Cleveland’s Jim Thome set an Indians franchise record by homering for the sixth straight game and extended the streak to seven games — leaving him one shy of the major league record — the next day.
The historic night created several days of work for Vincent, but he surely didn’t mind.
“When you see two guys on base and somebody hits a triple, you get everybody moving all over the field and that’s fun to see,” Vincent said.
“Watching somebody like Sosa or Bonds crush the ball, that’s fun, too.
“When you look at sports in general, people are interested who can be the fastest, who can jump the highest, who can throw the longest, whatever. In baseball, home runs provide that aspect.”
ALL-STAR RECORD BOOK
INDIVIDUAL BATTING GAMES
Most games: 24, three players (Stan Musial, NL 1943-’63; Willie Mays, NL 1954-’73; Hank Aaron, NL 1955-’74, AL 1975.
Most games, pinch-hitter: 10, Stan Musial, NL.
Batting Average and At-Bats
Highest batting average, career (five or more games): .500, Charlie Gehringer, AL (10 for 20 in six games).
Most at-bats, career: 75, Willie Mays, NL (24 games).
Most at-bats, nine-inning game: 5, on multiple occasions, most recent by Cal Ripken, Jr., AL, July 12, 1994.
Most at-bats, extra-inning game: 7, Willie Jones, NL, July 11, 1950.
Most runs, career: 20, Willie Mays, NL (24 games).
Most runs, game: 4, Ted Williams, AL, July 9, 1946.
Most consecutive games batting safely: 7, three players (Mickey Mantle, AL, 1954-’60, 1959 and ’60 hits were in second game played; Joe Morgan, NL, 1970-’77; Dave Winfield, AL, 1982-’88.)
Most hits, career: 23, Willie Mays, NL (24 games).
Most hits, game: 4, three times (Joe Medwich, NL, July 7, 1937; Ted Williams, AL, July 9, 1946; Carl Yastrzemski, AL July 14, 1970, 12 innings).
Most singles, game: 3, nine players.
Most doubles, career: 7, Dave Winfield, NL 1977-80; AL 1981-88.
Most doubles, game: 2, five players.
Most triples, career: 3, Willie Mays, NL 1954-73; Brooks Robinson, AL 1960-74.
Most triples, game: 2, Rod Carew, AL, July 11, 1978.
Most home runs, career: 6, Stan Musial, NL (24 games).
Most home runs, game: 2, five players.
Most consecutive home runs: 3, Ralph Kiner, NL 1949-’51.
Most grand slams, career: 1, Fred Lynn, AL, July 6, 1983.
Most total bases, career: 40, Stan Musial, NL 1943-’63; Willie Mays, NL 1954-’73.
Most total bases, game: 10, Ted Williams, AL July 9, 1946.
Most total bases, inning: 4, many players.
Runs Batted In
Most RBI, career: 12, Ted Williams, AL, 1940-’42, 1946-’51, 1954- ’60.
Most RBI, game: 5, Ted Williams, AL, July 9, 1946; Al Rosen, AL, July 13, 1954.
Most RBI, inning: 4, Fred Lynn, AL, July 6, 1983.
Bases on Balls
Most bases on balls, career: 11, Ted Williams, AL, 1940-’42, 1946- ’51, 1954-’60.
Most bases on balls, game: 3, Charlie Gehringer, AL, July 10, 1934; Phil Cavarretta, NL, July 11, 1944.
Most strikeouts, career: 17, Mickey Mantle, 1953-’62, 1964, 1967- ’68.
Most strikeouts, nine-inning game: 3, twelve players.
Sacrifice Hits and Flies
Most sacrifice hits, career: 1, many players.
Most sacrifice flies, career: 3, George Brett, AL, 1976-’79, 1981- ’85.
Most stolen bases, career: 6, Willie Mays, NL 1954-’73.
Most stolen bases, inning or game: 2, four players.
Most times caught stealing, extra-inning game: 2, Tony Oliva, AL, July 11, 1967 (15 innings).
THE SCIENCE OF HOME RUNS
A blast, dinger, four-bagger — call it whatever you wish. But the science — or art — of hitting a home run can take years to master. Here’s a look at what goes into hitting a home run.
NUCLEUS OF THE BALL
Major-league baseballs are 9 to 9.25 inches in circumference and weigh between 5 and 5.25 ounces. They have a small cork core wound with 316 yards of yarn. That is covered with two pieces of cowhide held together with 108 red stitches.
HOW SWEET IT IS
The ideal point of contact on a bat is known as a node and is the point where maximum energy is transferred to the ball. Balls hit at the antinodes do not travel as far because much of the energy transferred is lost as vibration.
The bat and ball are in contact for about 0.001 second.
A force of 8,000 pounds is required to change the direction of a 90 mph. pitch to a 110 mph hit that will travel 400 feet. Other interaction facts:
— The ball is compressed to about one-half its diameter. — The bat compresses about one-fiftieth as much as the ball. — Most of the energy in the ball and bat are lost as heat. — The baseball returns about 35% of the energy it receives during compression. It is this energy return that clauses the ball to rebound from the bat.
SPEED EQUALS DISTANCE
Two factors that determine the distance a batted ball will travel are the speed at which the ball is pitched and the speed with which the batter swings the bat:
The effect of hitting a ball at the node of the bat and elsewhere up and down the barrel:
HEIGHT AND DISTANCE
Effects on the distance of hitting a ball at different points:
In these examples, the bat speed is 70 mph at a 10-degree angle up. the ball speed is 85 mph at a 10-degree angle down.
GETTING IN THE SWING
It’s all about the swing, baby, and the stance, stride, pivot and followthrough. Take a look at what goes into the perfect swing.
— Weight on the balls of the feet — Weight should be evenly distributed on both legs — Feet shoulder-width apart — Knees flexed
— Soft stride toward pitcher while shifting your weight to the back leg — Slight hand and bat movement to generate momentum — Keep head level
— Quick hip rotation — Weight shift from back to middle — An “L” shape in the back leg — Limited head movement
— The pivot begins the swing — Move short and quick to the contact zone, moving long through the zone
— Bat extension occurs after contact — Bat goes the entire route — Do not slow the bat down
Sources: The Physics of Baseball by Robert K. Adair, Home Run a Modern Approach to Baseball Skill Building, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baseball, Knight Ridder Enrique Rodriguez/Journal Sentinel
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