Pitchers Dig the Long Ball (At Least When They Are Hitting)
This article was published in the Spring 2012 Baseball Research Journal.
In 1999 there was a shoe company advertising campaign that featured the slogan: “Chicks dig the long ball.” The ad starred two Cy Young Award-winning pitchers who definitely did not dig the long balls hit by their opponents. However, most baseball players, when batting, do dig hitting home runs. This article will look at some of the most proficient home run-hitting pitchers in the major leagues and some of their accomplishments.
There have been many pitchers who also excelled with the bat, hurlers who could help their team with the stick as well as with their arm. Table 1 shows the career leaders for home runs hit by pitchers.1 Wes Ferrell pitched in the majors from 1927 through 1941, a period of high-octane offense. Ferrell fit into that period well by hitting 38 four-baggers in his career, including a pinch hit homer in 1935.2 The active career leader is Carlos Zambrano with 23 home runs and no other active pitcher has 15 or more home runs in his career.
Table 1: Most Career Home Runs Hit by a Pitcher
Ferrell is also the record-holder for most home runs hit by a pitcher in one season. In 1931, he smacked nine dingers, including two in one game on August 31 in Chicago. Ferrell hit seven homers as a pitcher in 1933, which ties him with six other hurlers for second place on the single-season list. See Table 2 for the top one-season performances by pitchers.
Many of these hard-hitting pitchers also spent time playing other positions on the field. Ferrell played 13 games in left field for the Indians in 1933 but hit no homers in those games. Bob Lemon, tied with Warren Spahn with 35 homers as a pitcher, played in the outfield and at third base in his career. Lemon hit two pinch-hit homers in addition to his swats as a pitcher and hit seven four-baggers in 1949. Spahn hit all 35 of his long balls as a pitcher but never hit more than four in one season.
Table 2. Most Home Runs in One Season by a Pitcher
One of the most exciting plays in baseball is the game-ending home run. Only 33 times in big league history has the slugger who hit that game-ender been a pitcher, with the last occurrence on April 25, 1986. Craig Lefferts, who entered that game for the Padres in the eleventh inning, pitched two frames against the
Giants, surrendering a run in the twelfth. In the bottom of that inning, Graig Nettles led off with a home run to tie the game. One out later, Lefferts hit a solo shot off Greg Minton to win the contest. Only two pitchers have ended more than one game with a homer, Wes Ferrell and Kirby Higbe. Table 3 shows all pitchers who have ended a game with a home run.
Table 3. Pitchers Who Ended a Game with a Homer
At Braves Field in Boston on May 13, 1942, knuckleballer Jim Tobin pitched a complete-game victory over the Cubs, winning the contest, 6–5. Tobin led off the fifth and seventh innings with solo homers and the two clubs were tied, 4–4, when Tobin walked to the plate in the eighth inning with teammate Paul Waner on first base. Tobin proceeded to hit his third dinger of the day to give his squad the game’s winning margin. The previous day, Tobin had hit a two-run pinch homer in a losing cause for the Braves. Thus, Tobin hit four home runs in five plate appearances over two days. The only other pitcher to hit three four-baggers in one contest is Guy Hecker, who performed the feat on August 15, 1886. All three home runs by Hecker were inside the park.
Many pitchers have hit two home runs in one game. The last to do so was Micah Owings of the Diamondbacks on August 18, 2007. He hit the two homers as part of a four-hit, six-RBI day in Atlanta. Wes Ferrrell had five multi-homer games in his career, while Don Newcombe performed the feat three times.
The American League adopted the designated hitter rule in 1973. Consequently, pitchers did not bat except in extraordinary situations from that season until the start of Interleague play in 1997, and no American League pitcher homered from 1973 through 1996. The last pitcher to hit a homer in the Junior Circuit before the start of the DH Era was rookie Roric Harrison, who hit one for the Orioles in Cleveland on October 3, 1972. This was the last game of the season and Harrison’s four-bagger helped earn the win for the Birds.
Table 4 shows all the American League hurlers who have hit a home run since 1973. Two pitchers, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett, have each hit two home runs in his American League career. Sabathia hit both of his while playing for the Indians, one in Cincinnati and one in Los Angeles. Beckett has hit two for the Red Sox, going deep twice in Philadelphia. Ten of 14 AL teams are represented on the list, with the Indians accounting for five of the 17 instances. The teams with no homers by pitchers are the Angels, the Athletics, the Twins, and the Yankees. The fact that the Bronx Bombers have no homers on this list is interesting, especially considering the fact that CC Sabathia has pitched for the team for three years.
Table 4. AL Pitchers Who Have Hit a Home Run Since 1973
The Reds hosted the Phillies on June 23, 1971, at Riverfront Stadium. The mound match-up that night was Ross Grimsley for the home team and Rick Wise for the visitors. After four innings, the Phillies led, 1–0. In the top of the fifth, Wise hit a two-run homer to left field to extend the lead. Grimsley was removed for a pinch-hitter in the sixth and replaced by Clay Carroll on the mound. Wise led off the top of the eighth with another homer to left field. The two home runs by Rick Wise made this a special game for the hurler. However, he did not forget about his pitching because of his batting feat. Wise pitched a no-hitter against the Reds, allowing only one runner to reach base on a sixth-inning walk to Dave Concepcion. Wise is the only pitcher to hit two home runs and pitch a no-hitter in the same game. Four hurlers have thrown a no-hitter and smacked one homer: Frank Mountain (June 5, 1884), Wes Ferrell (April 29, 1931), Jim Tobin (April 27, 1944), and Earl Wilson (June 26, 1962).
The name Jim Tobin has been mentioned a few times already in this article. He smashed 16 homers as a pitcher and one more as a pinch-hitter in his career. In 1945, his last in the majors, he pitched in 27 games for the Braves before being sold to the Tigers for $15,000 on August 9. He had hit three homers for the Boston National League team and proceeded to hit two more for the Detroit American League squad in the 14 games he pitched. By doing so, Tobin became the first hurler to hit homers in both the National and American Leagues in one season. His feat was repeated by Earl Wilson in 1970. This long-time American Leaguer started the year with Detroit, hitting a home run on June 20. After being sold to the Padres on July 15, Wilson hit his last career homer on September 9. Wilson hit 35 home runs in his career, 33 as a pitcher and two while pinch-hitting; all but one came in the American League. The third pitcher to homer in both leagues in one season is CC Sabathia, who performed the feat in 2008. Sabathia started the year pitching for the Indians and hit a home run in an Interleague game in Los Angeles. After being traded to the Brewers for four players on July 7, Sabathia hit a four-bagger in his second start for the Brew Crew on July 13.
Dave Eiland pitched in 92 big league games in 10 seasons, spending most of his time in the American League. He made his major league debut on August 3, 1988, pitching for the Yankees in Milwaukee. The first batter he faced, Paul Molitor, hit a home run over the center field fence. Eiland is one of 95 pitchers to surrender a home run to the first batter he faced in the majors. After pitching parts of four seasons with the Yankees, Eiland was released and signed by the Padres in January 1992. Eiland had never batted in the American League but he hit for the circuit in his first game in the Senior Circuit. His first at-bat of the game and his career was against Bob Ojeda of the Dodgers in San Diego on April 10, 1992, and he smashed a line drive home run over the left-center field wall to give his team a 3-1 lead at the time. Eiland is the only player in history to both hit a homer in his first at-bat and surrender one to his first batter faced.
Warren Spahn hit 35 home runs in his 21-year Hall of Fame career. These came in 17 different seasons, the most seasons in which any pitcher has hit at least one home run. Walter Johnson hit 24 home runs in 16 different seasons for the Washington Nationals, while Red Ruffing hit 34 as a pitcher in 16 seasons for the Red Sox and Yankees. Table 5 shows the pitchers who homered in the most seasons.
Table 5. Most Years Homering as a Pitcher
Pitchers have hit 15 home runs in the World Series, with Bob Gibson and Dave McNally each hitting two. One of McNally’s blasts, on October 13, 1970, was a grand slam for the Orioles. He is the only pitcher in Series history to hit one with the bases loaded. Ten days earlier, McNally’s teammate Mike Cuellar hit a grand slam in the League Championship Series. They are the only hurlers to hit slams in the postseason. Mickey Lolich hit a four-bagger off Nelson Briles in the 1968 World Series, which was his only career home run. Joe Blanton hit his only career home run off Edwin Jackson in the 2008 World Series and Don Gullett hit his only career home run off Larry Demery in the 1975 NLCS. See Tables 6 and 7 for lists of postseason homers by pitchers. A pitcher has never hit a home run in the League Division Series nor in an All-Star Game.
Table 6. Pitchers Homering in the World Series
|Jim Bagby||CLE AL||10/10/1920|
|Rosy Ryan||NY NL||10/06/1924|
|Jack Bentley||NY NL||10/08/1924|
|Jesse Haines||SLN NL||10/05/1926|
|Bucky Walters||CIN NL||10/07/1940|
|Lew Burdette||MIL NL||10/02/1958|
|Mudcat Grant||MIN AL||10/13/1965|
|Jose Santiago||BOS AL||10/04/1967|
|Bob Gibson||SLN NL||10/12/1967|
|Mickey Lolich||DET AL||10/03/1968|
|Bob Gibson||SLN NL||10/06/1968|
|Dave McNally||BAL AL||10/16/1969|
|Dave McNally||BAL AL||10/13/1970|
|Ken Holtzman||OAK AL||10/16/1974|
|Joe Blanton||PHI NL||10/26/2008|
Table 7. Pitchers Homering in the LCS
|Mike Cuellar||BAL AL||10/03/1970|
|Don Gullett||CIN NL||10/04/1975|
|Steve Carlton||PHI NL||10/06/1978|
|Rick Sutcliffe||CHN NL||10/02/1984|
|Kerry Wood||CHN NL||10/15/2003|
|Jeff Suppan||SLN NL||10/14/2006|
Hitting a home run to win a 1–0 ballgame is a special event. Of the many times this has happened in the majors, a pitcher performed the feat 13 times. Table 8 is the list of pitchers who have hit a home run to win a 1–0 game. Seeing Red Ruffing (36 career home runs) or Milt Pappas (20) on this list is not surprising. However, Harry McCormick and Odalis Perez each hit his only career homer in a 1–0 contest, while Gene Packard and Bob Welch only hit two career four-baggers. There are many long gaps between occurrences on this list and yet it happened twice in 1962!
Table 8. Pitchers Homering in 1–0 Game
|Harry McCormick||07/26/1879||SYR NL|
|Tom Hughes||08/03/1906||WAS AL|
|Gene Packard||09/29/1915||KC FL|
|Red Ruffing||08/13/1932||NYA AL|
|Spud Chandler||05/21/1938||NYA AL|
|Early Wynn||05/01/1959||CHA AL|
|Milt Pappas||04/18/1962||BAL AL|
|Johnny Klippstein||08/06/1962||CIN NL|
|Jim Bunning||05/05/1965||PHI NL|
|Juan Pizarro||09/16/1971||CHN NL|
|Bob Welch||06/17/1983||LAN NL|
|Odalis Perez||08/28/2002||LAN NL|
|Yovani Gallardo||04/29/2009||MIL NL|
No discussion of pitchers hitting home runs would be complete without a mention of Babe Ruth, who started his career as a hurler for the Red Sox. Table 9 shows the 14 times he hit a home run as a pitcher. The first column is the career home run number for the Babe. He hit 12 of the 14 for the Red Sox, with five of those 12 against the Yankees. Ruth was the starting pitcher for the Yankees in the game on June 13, 1921 and hit a home run in the third and another in the seventh after being replaced on the mound and moving to center field. His mound exploits included striking out Ty Cobb and earning the win. The New York Times story, in typical style for that era, said that the Yankees tried out a young pitcher and that “he will be valuable to the team with a trifle more seasoning.”3
Table 9. Babe Ruth’s Home Runs as a Pitcher
Ruth’s last home run as a pitcher came in the final game of the 1933 season against his former team, the Red Sox. He pitched a complete game, allowing 12 hits, 3 walks, and 5 runs. This was Ruth’s last pitching appearance in the big leagues and came in a game that meant nothing to either squad.
Since 1876, 1,214 different pitchers have hit at least one home run in the major leagues, with 567 of them hitting a single four-bagger and 71 hitting at least 10 career blasts. The most home runs in one season by all pitchers combined came in 1970, when 51 dingers were hit by hurlers. The previous season has the second-highest total with 50, while no other season has more than 38. Since the start of the designated hitter rule in 1973, the season with the most is 2000, when 26 home runs were hit by hurlers. Pitchers went deep only 24 times in 2011, so if you witness a pitcher hitting a home run, know that you have seen a rare event!
DAVID VINCENT is the official custodian of SABR’s Home Run Log, a database which contains every big league home run hit since 1871, and is recognized as the preeminent authority on the history of the home run.
- 1. All home run statistics are from SABR’s Tattersall/McConnell Home Run Log and include the 2011 season. Other data, including career statistics and trade information, was collected from www.retrosheet.org.
- 2. The totals for home runs by a pitcher do not count those hit while playing other positions, including as a pinch hitter. For example, Babe Ruth hit 14 homers as a pitcher, not 714.
- 3. “25,000 See Ruth Hurl 6–5 Victory,” The New York Times, June 14, 1921.