SABR

Clarifying an early home run record

By John C. Tattersall

This article was published in the 1972 Baseball Research Journal.

Fans have speculated about how many home runs Ted Williams would have hit if he had played regularly in Yankee Stadium, or if Joe DiMaggio had played his home games in Fenway Park. Speculation aside, field dimensions of baseball parks have had a definite effect upon home run hitters. It was no coincidence, for example, that almost all great home run hitters in the Southern Association happened to be lefthand swingers playing for Nashville when Sulphur Dell had a short rightfield fence. And when the Dodgers moved from friendly Ebbets Field in 1958 to Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, it wasn't aversion to smog that caused Duke Snider's roundtripper total to drop off from 40 to 15. It was a rightfield fence that was essentially 390 feet away.

Have you ever wondered about the 27 homers Ed Williamson hit for the Chicago White Stockings in 1884?

That season he also was the first player to hit three four-baggers in one game. He was once a prime candidate for the Hall of Fame primarily because of the big home run year. But a closer check of his career record indicates that he was not a power hitter; in fact, he really was a mediocre batsman. His place in the record book as "the first man to hit 50 doubles" and "the first to hit 25 homers" really resulted from play in a strangely shaped park with strangely regulated ground rules. The field was Lake Park in Chicago and some of the home run achievements there still have not been surpassed.

In order to obtain a true picture of the home run accomplishments of Ed Williamson and his White Stockinged mates, same background is necessary. The Chicago Nationals had been playing at the Lake Park site since about 1878. The park had been built in 1871 after the previous field had been destroyed in the Chicago Fire. Lake Park was built on several acres of vacant lakefront property between Randolph and Washington Streets, just east of Michigan Avenue.

In the years that followed there was much opposition on the part of some Chicago citizens who preferred not to have a display of vulgar professional matches in such a prominent location. When the National League was founded in 1876, the Chicago team used the State Street Park, built in 1874, just south of 22nd Street, and the White Stockings entertained there in 1876 and 1877. However, the then president of the club, William Hulbert, negotiated a lease with the city for the return to Lake Park and from 1878 through 1884, the National games in Chicago took place on the lakefront.

While no actual measurements of the park are available, there is much evidence of the short right field fence, probably both as to its height and distance from home plate. It was probably no further than 230 feet from home plate, and not just short at the foul line corner, but right across the field. The rightfielder generally stood against the fence. In any event, during the years prior to 1884, the prevailing ground rule provided that a ball batted over the fence was to be scored as a two-base hit.

In 1883 when the league operated on a 98-game schedule, Chicago played 49 games at Lake Park and a total of 317 two base hits were batted, a majority probably over the short right field fence. Chicago hatters accounted for 188 of these doubles and the visiting hitters scored 129. Williamson led with a record 49 (some sources still say he hit 50). There were a total of 17 home runs hit in Lake Park in 1883, of which 11 were by the White Stockings and 6 by the opposition.

Conversely, in the 49 games Chicago played on the road in 1883, they batted only 86 doubles and 2 home runs while their opponents came up with 103 doubles and 15 homers. All these various statistical facts are cited simply to indicate the comparative strength of the Chicago team in their home park, and their proven ability to take advantage of a friendly right field fence. Since they won the NL flag in 1880, 1881, and 1882, and were second to Boston in 1883, the technique of tailoring a team's batting ability to its home surroundings was never more fittingly illustrated.

With that background, let's get on with the home run story. Sometime before the start of the 1884 season, some brilliant strategist in the Chicago camp, recognizing the ability of the Chicago batters, both right and left-handed alike, to punch balls over the right field fence, and with the evidence of the 1883 two-base hit superiority at Lake Park before him, decided to go all-out and legalize an over the right field fence hit as a home run. Then the fun started.

In the opening home game played on Thursday, May 29, Abner Dalrymple was the leadoff man for Chicago, who had elected to bat first. In those days, the home team had the choice of whether to bat first or last. The Detroit team was the opposition for the home opener and right-handed George Weidman was on the mound. Dalrymple, a left-handed hitter, opened the season with a bang by hitting over the right field fence. Not to be outdone, when Detroit came to bat in the last half of the first inning, leadoff man George Wood, another lefthanded hitter, duplicated the Dalrymple drive, hitting a Larry Corcoran pitch over the fence. Before the game ended with Chicago winning, 15-5, a total of five home runs had been hit and a reporter noted that "last season these hits would have been good for only two bases, but it is the agreement this year that a ball sent over the fence shall entitle the striker to a home run".

In this opening game, Williamson had a single in four times up, and in the morning game of Memorial Day, he had a pair of singles in five trips. But, in the afternoon, before a crowd reported as 5,000 Williamson made history.

In the words of a press association correspondent, “Williamson cleared the bases by fortunate hits over the right field fence, earning seven runs". The trio of Williamson fourbaggers were the only home runs noted in the afternoon game, won by Chicago, 12-2, who had also copped the morning affair, 11-10, by a Fred Pfeffer home run in the 9th with two men on base.

What this ground rule change was to accomplish for the1884 clubs and baseball records generally is quickly evidenced by noting that Chicago, playing on the road, did not hit a home run until their 20th game that season when they batted three at Buffalo on May 27. On the morning of May 29, the entire league had batted 17 home runs. In the first 5 games of the season played at Lake Park from May 29 through June 3, a total of 25 homers were "slugged"!

Williamson's feat of batting three home runs in a single game was duplicated by the Chicago manager, team captain and first baseman, Cap Anson, another righthanded hitter, who popped three balls over the fence on August 6 in a game against Cleveland. Anson's performance was a record in itself since it came on the heels of his hitting a pair the previous afternoon, also against Cleveland. In two games, Anson batted 5 homers, a feat that would not be duplicated until Ty Cobb turned the trick on May 5-6, 1925.

Of the Anson effort, the Boston Herald was moved to observe, on August 8th, "on any other league grounds, Anson's three home runs of August 6 would be about three singles. That over-the-fence rule is a perfect sham and burlesque, and should not deceive baseball readers."

Earlier, on June 24, the Boston Herald had also taken particular notice of the phony home run ground rule by saying that "the new rule adopted on the Chicago grounds, allowing a batter a home run instead of a two-base hit, for knocking a ball over the short rightfield fence, is creating considerable dissatisfaction among other league teams. Each of the visiting teams plays eight games while Chicago's play 56. Chicago men practice to hit in the direction of the nearest fence."

A visiting "slugger", John Manning of the Phils, another righthanded hitter, entered the three-a-game act on October 9, by clipping Chicago hurler John Clarkson, also a righthander, for home runs in the 3rd, 5th, and 8th innings. Since Manning batted only 5 homers all season, none at home in Philadelphia, his "power" is obvious. Incidentally, only one home run was hit on the Philadelphia grounds, Recreation Park, at 24th and Columbia Avenues, all season.

The ground-rule sluggers contributed a host of home run records to the books which would last almost 40 years until the genuine home run blasters of the 1920n came along to blot most of the 1884 records off the books. By the time the 1884 season came to a close and Lake Park played host to its final major league game on October 11, a total of 197 roundtrippers would be hit in the 56 games played there, an average of 3.52 home runs per game. This game average is one that still stands. When AL home run clouters clubbed 248 fourbaggers in 82 games played at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, in 1961, the average was 3.02 a game. So the 1884 Lake Park record is still tops for one season.

Williamson's three Memorial Day homers were his first of the 1884 season, but he want on to hit 27 (all but 2 at Chicago), a record which would stand until Ruth hit 29 real fourbaggers in 1919. Another righthanded hitting teammate, Fred Pfeffer (who had hit only 1 homer in 1883), hit 25 roundtrippers, all of them at Lake Park. He and Williamson, therefore, held the record with 25 homers hit at home until Ruth hit 29 at the Polo Grounds in 1920. Actually, the top four home run hitters in the NL in 1884 played for Chicago -- Williamson with 27, Pfeffer 25, Dalrymple 22, and Anson 21.

As evidence that Williamson had indeed been practicing the art of arching balls over the rightfield fence, his two-base hit total had risen from 27 in 1882 to 49 in 1883. Of thin 49 figure, 36 were hit in Lake Park. He thus was well prepared when the ground rule change took effect and he could now be credited with a home run for the same blow that netted him a twobagger in 1883. An expected, his double total fell in 1884 to only 19. His consistency in batting the ball over that right field fence in probably the most outstanding feature of this 1883-84 comparison.

Another note on Williamson's home run hitting. His 27 hits in 1884 were made in 417 official at bats in 107 games, a frequency of a homer every 15.4 times up. In his previous six years of big top experience, Williamson had belted eight home runs in 1,975 times at the plate in 480 games. In the six years that followed is great year, Williamson batted 28 more circuit driven in 2,161 at bats, winding up his career with the Chicago Players League Club in 1890. He had a career total of 63 homers, almost one-half hit in 1884. He died in 1894 at the age of 37.

Of the 197 home runs batted in Chicago that summer of 1884, 130 were hit by the home team who wound up with a season total of 140, picking up 10 elsewhere in the circuit. Visiting batters contributed 67 homers to the ground-rule farce. The Chicago record of batting 130 fourbaggers at home in 56 games, stood until the New York Giants hit 131 at the Polo Grounds in 1947 when they hit 221 for the season. However, the Chicago average of 2.32 homers a game at home stands as a record to this day.

All during the 1884 season, the Chicago club had been strongly pressured by civic groups to vacate the property and only an injunction issued by a Federal Judge in June provided them with the legal strength to finish out the season at Lake Park. When the 1885 season opened, the Chicago club had a new ball park in the area bounded by Congress Street on the north, Harrison on the south, Throop on the east, and Loomis on the west. It was in an area referred to as the "West Division". While it was larger than Lake Park, it apparently also had short fences, because 70 of the 175 NL 1885 home runs were hit in the new Chicago West Side Park. The White Stockings with 55 hit more than twice as many homers as any other club. Forty-three were hit at home. Of the 55 hit by Chicago, Williamson hit only 3 in 1885; Pfeffer hit 6, all on the new Chicago grounds.

Dalrymple, third in 1884 with 22, led the league with 11 in 1885.

So that's the story of the ground rule hone run champions of 1884 who took full advantage of a phony park arrangement to go down in history as the greatest aggregation of sluggers until the Ruthian clubbers came down the pike some 40 years later.

Major league baseball parks have changed considerably since 1884. The introduction of the lively ball in 1920 changed the status of parks in relation to home runs. I have appended to this article a listing of the leading home run hitters in the major parka of the last 60 years. Some totals may not be as high as expected, partly because the three top sluggers -- Ruth, Mays, and Aaron – played their home games in more than one park. The leader at Yankee Stadium, for example, is Mantle, with 266 homers, followed closely by Ruth with 259, and Gehrig 254.

 

Most home runs at major league parks — lifetime
Compiled by John C. Tattersall, 1971

 City Stadium
Player
Home Visit. Total
ATLANTA Atlanta Stadium Henry Aaron 136   136
  (1966-71) (1966-71)      
BALTIMORE Mem. Stadium B. Robinson 123   123
  (1954-71) (19 55-71)      
BOSTON Fenway Park T. Williams 248   248
  (1912-71) (1939-60)      
  Braves Field NL Wally Berger 104 2 106
  (1915-52) (1930-40)      
  Braves Field AL Babe Ruth 0 4 4
  (1929-32) (1929-32)      
BROOKLYN Ebbets Field Duke Snider 177   177
  (1913-57) (194 7-57)      
CHICAGO Wrigley Field Ernie Banks 290   290
  (1916-71) (1953-71)      
  Comiskey Park Sherm Lollar 64   66
  (1910- 71) (1946-63)      
CINCINNATI Crosley Field F. Robinson 176   176
  (1912-June `70) (1956-65)      
  Riverfront Std. John Bench 29   29
  (June `70-1971) (1970-71)      
CLEVELAND League Park Earl Averill 126   126
  (1910-46) (1929-40)      
  Municipal Std. Rocky Colavito 98 14 112
  (1932-71) (1955-68)      
DETROIT Tiger Stadium Al Kaline 207   207
  (1912-71) (1953-71)      
HOUSTON Colt Stadium Roman Mejias 12   12
  (1962-64) -1962      
  Astrodome Jinmiy Wynn 72   72
  (1965-71) (1965-71)      
KANSAS CITY Municipal Std. Rocky Colavito 22 24 46
  (1955-67; 69-71) (1955-67)      
  Coliseum NL Duke Snider 38   38
  (1958-61) (1958-61)      
  Dodger Std. NL F. Howard 37   37
  (19 62-71) (1962-64)      
  Dodger Std. AL Jim Fregosi 17   17
  (1962-65) (1962-65)      
  Wrigley Fd. AL Leon Wagner 19   19
  -1961 -1961      
  Anaheim Std. R. Reichardt 39 2 41
  (1966-71) (1966-71)      
MILWAUKEE County Std. NL Ed Mathews 211   211
  (1953-65) (1953-65)      
  County Std. AL Tom Harper 25   25
  (1970-71) (1970-71)      
MINNESOTA Metro Stadium H. Killebrew 222   222
  (1961- 71) (1961-71)      
MONTREAL Jarry Park Rusty Staub 40   40
  (1969-71) (1969-71)      
NEW YORK Yankee Stadium Mickey Mantle 266   266
  (1923-71) (1951-68)      
  Polo Grounds NL Melvin Ott 323   323
  (1911-57; 62-63) (1926-47)      
  Polo Grounds AL Babe Ruth 75 10 85
  (1912-22) (1914-22)      
  Shea Stadium Ed Kranepool 40   40
  (1964-71) (1964-71)      
OAKLAND County Stadium R. Jackson 60   60
  (1969-71) (1969-71)      
PHILADELPHIA Baker Bowl Chuck Klein 163 11 174
  (1887-1938) (1928-44)      
  C.Mack Std. AL Jimmy Foxx 168 9 177
  (1901-54) (1925-42)      
  C.Mack Std. NL Del Ennis 132 1 133
  (1938-70) (1946-59)      
  Veterans Std. Deron Johnson 22   22
  -1971 -1971      
PITTSBURGH Forbes Field Ralph Kiner 173 0 173
  (1909-July `70) (1946-54)      
  Three Rivers Will Stargell 30   30
  (July `70-1971) (19 70-71)      
ST. LOUIS Sportsman's AL Ken Williams 137 1 138
  (1901-53) (1919-29)      
  Sportsman's NL Stan Musial 252   252
  Busch Stadium NL Lou Brock 36   36
  (May `66-1971) (19 66-71)      
SEATTLE Sicks Stadium AL Don Mincher 13   13
  -1969 -1969      
SAN DIEGO S.D. Stadium NL Nate Colbert 40   40
  (1969-71) (1969- 71)      
SAN FRAN. Seals Stadium Willie Mays 32   32
  (1958-59) (1958-59)      
  Candlestick Willie Nays 202   202
  (1960-7 1) (1960-71)      
WASHINGTON Griffith Std. Roy Sievers 80 11 91
  (1911-61) (1949-61)      
  RFK Stadium Frank Howard 116   116
  (1962-71) (1965-71)      

 

Major league players batting 200 career home runs in one park, through 1971

Player Stadium HR total
Melvin Ott, New York, NL, 1926-47 Polo Grounds 323
Ernie Banks, Chicago, NL, l953-7l Wrigley Field 290
Mickey Mantle, New York, AL 1951-68 Yankee Stadium 266
Babe Ruth, New York, AL, 1923-34 Yankee Stadium 259
Lou Gehrig, New York, AL, 1923-39 Yankee Stadium 254
Stan Musial, St. Louis NL, 1941-63 Sportsman Park 252
Ted Williams, Boston, AL, 1939-60 Fenway Park 248
H. Killebrew, Minn. a, 1961-71 Metropolitan Std. 222
Ed Mathews, Milw. NL, 1953-65 County Stadium 211
Yogi Berra, New York, AL, 1946-63 Yankee Stadium 210
Al Kaline, Detroit, AL, 1953-71 Tiger Stadium 207
Willie Mays, San Fran. NL 1960-71 Candlestick Park 202

 

NOTES AND SUMMARY: The most recent name is given for those parks which have changed their names over the years. For example, Tiger Stadium was once Navin Field, then Briggs Stadium. Cleveland used both League Park and Municipal Stadium in the years 1932-46; Averill hit 12 at Municipal as well as 126 at League Park. The Red Sox played some Sunday and holiday games at Braves Field, 1929-32; a visiting player (Ruth) hit the most AL homers there. Norm Siebern hit the most home fourbaggers at K.C. Municipal Stadium (35), but Colavito had the higher total because of his 24 as a visitor. Likewise, Jim Lemon batted 88 at Griffith Stadium as a Washington player, but was nosed out by Sievers' over-all total of 91.

 

This article originally appeared in the 1972 "Baseball Research Journal."

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