I noticed that Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia hit three home runs yesterday in the rarefied air of Coors Field in Denver. While Pedroia isn’t yet 26 years old, he isn’t known as a power hitter, and it got me thinking about what player was the least likely candidate ever to hit four home runs in one major league game.
Here’s a list from wikipedia of the players to have hit four home runs in one game. The article has interesting tidbits about each of the games, although it fails to note that all four of Ed Delahanty’s home runs on July 13, 1896 were inside-the-park home runs.
In fact, in the 19th century a majority of home runs were of the inside-the-park variety, because many of the ballparks of the day had extremely deep center fields or power allies, and it was much more difficult to hit the baseballs of the era 350 feet on the fly.
When over-the-fence home runs were hit, they were usually a result of exceptionally short left-field or right-field fences. That was reportedly the case for Bobby Lowe, who hit four home runs on May 30, 1894, but hit only 71 HRs in total over an 18-year major league career.
According to the wikipedia article, all four HRs were hit over the exceptionally short left field fence at Congress Street Grounds, the Beaneaters’ park in Boston. After the fourth home run, the fans in attendance showered the field with $160 worth of silver coins (dimes, quarters, and dollars all being made of silver in those days).
Many baseball fans with a love of trivia know that Ned Williamson held the record with 27 home runs in a season before Babe Ruth broke it with 29 for the Red Sox in 1919. What they may not know is that Williamson’s power year was entirely the result of the ballpark he played in and the ground rules in effect for that season only.
Williamson was one of four Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs) to hit at least 21 home runs in 1884, along with 2B Fred Pfeffer (25), OF Abner Dalrymple (22), and 1B Cap Anson (21). The 1884 White Stockings finished the season 62-50, only good enough for a fourth place tie in the eight-team National League.
The right field fence at Chicago’s Lake Front Park was only about 190 feet down the line, and in the years before 1884, balls hit over the short right field fence were treated as ground rule doubles. As a result, the White Stockings routinely led the NL in doubles.
In Lake Front Park’s last year of operation, the White Stockings changed the ground rules and made balls hit over the fence home runs. Naturally enough, the White Stockings led the league with 142 HRs in 1884, with Buffalo coming in second at 39.
However, home runs were up throughout the NL that year, since it was just as easy for visiting players to take advantage of the short right field fence as it was for the White Stockings for games played in Chicago.
Back to the question at hand. If you look at all the players to hit four home runs in a game, you will immediately notice that almost all of them were great players, and except for Bobby Lowe, all would be considered power hitters for the times in which they played.
Ed Delahanty only hit 101 HRs in his major league career, played entirely in an era when home runs were uncommon, but he led his league twice in HRs hit, in triples once, and doubles five times. He was one of the strongest and hardest hitters of his era.
The worst players ever to hit four home runs in a game were Pat Seerey, who hit four in an extra inning game for the White Sox (AL) against the Philadelphia A’s on July 18, 1948; and Mark Whiten, who hit four dingers for the Cardinals against the Reds on September 7, 1993.
Pat Seerey was the Rob Deer of this day, for those of you who still remember Rob Deer. Jack Cust would be another apt comparison.
Seerey was an all-or-nothing hitter who swung for the fences in every at-bat. He had a career batting average of .224 and led the American League in strikeouts in all four seasons in which he played at least 100 games.
While Seerey hit only 86 career home runs, that was a result of his inability to hit for average in an era when that statistic was more highly valued, and also the fact that in the era before expansion or the designated hitter, there were fewer jobs for hitters like Seerey.
Seerey averaged 23 home runs and 68 walks drawn for every 550 at-bats, so he did have some value as a hitter, despite the feeble .224 batting average. Comiskey Park was never known as a good park for home run hitters, although Bill Melton and Dick Allen led the AL in home runs three times (with totals of 33, 37, and 32) between 1971 and 1974.
Seerey’s four home run game was the last great hurrah of his major league career. He finished the 1948 season with 19 HRs and a .231, and after going 0-for-4 with three walks in four games in 1949, he never played in the major leagues again.
Mark Whiten had an eleven year career as a major league right-fielder in which he hit 105 career home runs and recorded a .259 career batting average. He had a strong throwing arm, but didn’t quite hit enough to become a star.
In 1993, the year he hit four in one game, Whiten set his career high with 25 home runs for the season. In 1996, Whiten hit 22 home runs, the only other season in his career in which he hit more than 14.