August 29, 1965: Willie Mays breaks Ralph Kiner’s home run record with Kiner on the call
“That’s Mays’s 41st home run of the season,” New York Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner told fans. “It’s also his 17th for the month of August and establishes a National League record for the most homers ever hit by anyone within a single month.”1
Whose record Willie Mays had broken during the August 29, 1965, game between the Mets and San Francisco Giants was left out of the commentary.
On one hand, Kiner didn’t want to distract from Mays’s accomplishment. On the other, he didn’t need to rub salt in his own wound either. “What was I going to say, that he just broke my record?” Kiner asked after the game with half-joking frustration. “I was unhappy about it, and I don’t mind admitting it. I get a kick out of all these guys who claim they don’t mind when someone comes along and breaks one of their records. They all mind.”2
Sixteen seasons earlier, a 26-year-old Kiner, then a Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, belted his 54th home run of 1949 on the final day of September. Entering the month with 38 homers, Kiner had Pirates fans hoping he could add 12 more by season’s end and become the first National League hitter to notch multiple 50-homer years.
He hit that mark, and doing so on September 19 gave him ample time to add more. By month’s end, he’d cleared the fence 16 times, surpassing the NL record for most home runs in a calendar month, set by a Philadelphia Phillies slugger in May 1923, just months after Kiner was born. “They told me Cy Williams held the previous record,” Kiner recalled, “but he was before my time, and I never even heard of him.”3
Unlike the ’49 Pirates, who’d never sniffed a winning record after the first week of May, the ’65 Giants were in a four-way race for the pennant with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Braves, all within 2½ games of one another atop the standings as the Giants closed out a three-game weekend series with the Mets.4
San Francisco’s positioning was the product of a streaky August. The Giants had winning streaks of eight and four games earlier in the month but went winless during a four-game series in Pittsburgh August 23-26.5
They had snapped that slide with a 9-2 win in the series opener in New York on August 27. Mays’ two-run homer in the eighth off reliever Tom Parsons led San Francisco’s eight-run surge over the last three innings. That blast was Mays’ 40th of the season and 493rd of his career, tying him with Lou Gehrig for fifth on the all-time list.6
No team was further from the pennant race than the Mets, who’d sunk into last place in the NL on May 28 and didn’t rise from the cellar the rest of the season, their fourth after joining the league as an expansion club. At 43-87, New York was 31½ games out of first place, but there was some hope to be found at Shea Stadium in its first season as the home of the Mets. The Mets had racked up seven wins in nine games dating back to the previous Saturday, including three of four over the first-place Dodgers. With a 3-0 shutout the previous night, the Mets were eyeing the possibility of a third consecutive winning series and second straight against a pennant contender.
That hope lasted all of two innings.
The Mets started right-hander Jack Fisher and the Giants countered with Bobby Bolin. Both had been spot starters out of the bullpen for San Francisco in 1963. After Matty Alou popped foul to catcher John Stephenson, Fisher walked Len Gabrielson, but picked him off first base with Mays at the plate.
When Mays was announced, the crowd of 46,033 cheered at least as loudly as they would for any of the Mets. It was safe to say that a majority of Mets fans’ hearts still belonged to the Giants and Dodgers, who’d both left New York for California after the 1957 season. In the 16 games the former New York teams played in Queens during 1965, a cumulative 677,036 fans packed the stadium, more than 38 percent of the total attendance for the season. Nearly 300,000 showed up for the seven games that included this one, the previous two against the Giants, and the four-game series with the Dodgers.7
More cheers filled the ballpark when Mays roped a single to center field. He tried to steal second on a pitch blocked in the dirt by Stephenson, but the throw beat Mays to end the inning.
Bolin hit leadoff hitter Ron Hunt and surrendered a double to Ed Kranepool, but struck out three Mets to keep the game scoreless. Neither team plated a run in the second either, but in the third, the Giants got to Fisher.
Hal Lanier led off with a double that fell in behind second base, then moved to third on a bunt single by Tito Fuentes. The pitcher’s spot provided no relief for Fisher as Bolin gave himself some run support with a single into right field that scored Lanier.
Alou then drew a walk to load the bases before Fisher finally recorded his first out of the inning. Gabrielson grounded to second baseman Hunt, who flipped the ball to shortstop Roy McMillan to get Alou, but Gabrielson beat the throw to first as Fuentes scored.
That brought up Mays again with a 2-0 lead, runners at the corners, and a chorus of cheers. Fisher delivered a fastball across the plate and the cheers got louder as Mays blasted the ball over the right-center-field wall.
The home run proved to be a double milestone. Not only did Mays pass Kiner for most homers in a month by a National Leaguer, he also moved past Gehrig into sole possession of fifth place on the career list. Ahead of him was a virtual road map of milestones he would reach, including two in 1965: number 500 and his 50th of the season.8 Later there would be home run number 512 to overtake Mel Ott for the NL career record and fourth place all-time, 522 to pass Ted Williams for third, and 535 to surpass Jimmie Foxx for second and become the most prolific right-handed home-run hitter ever.
While Mays rounded the bases, reliever Masanori Murakami bolted out of the bullpen in left field. “This ball [is] something special,” the Japanese lefty declared.9 He made his way through a gate and toward a fence separating the ballpark and the parking lot, where he had to shoo away some kids trying to squeeze through to nab the history-making ball.
“I still have the ball that I hit to break the record. It’s back home with the rest of my collection,” Kiner reflected after the game. “I guess I can throw it out now.”10
Fisher was yanked from the game, replaced by left-hander Gordie Richardson, who retired Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart to end the inning. But with the Giants up 5-0, few in the stadium had any realistic expectation for a Mets comeback, even when they responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Instead, the support for Mays grew. Kiner’s NL record had fallen, and fans wanted to see Mays match or even beat Rudy York’s major-league record of 18 home runs in a month, set by the Detroit Tigers star in August 1937. With each of his three ensuing at-bats, the crowd roared with encouragement, but Mays struck out, fouled out, and grounded into a double play.
Mays got 12 more August plate appearances after the 17th home run, the aforementioned three against the Mets and nine in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies in Connie Mack Stadium. He managed just one hit, a double, in nine at-bats with three walks, and wouldn’t hit another home run until September 4 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. “I never like to go up there swinging for homers,” Mays explained. “When I get overanxious, I get fooled.”11
Murakami replaced Bolin after six innings. He closed out the 8-3 Giants win by striking out six Mets over three innings while allowing only one hit, a solo home run by Joe Christopher in the eighth.
Kiner’s postgame show, Kiner’s Korner, regularly included an interview with the player of the game. Much to the host’s chagrin, there was no doubt who the star of this game was. Mays called it “one of the most refreshing interviews I can remember. I said, ‘Are you sore?’ He said, “Sure, I’m sore.’”12
Kiner later admitted, “Sure, it hurts a little. But if somebody had to break [the record], I’m glad Willie did.”13
Both the Mays and York single-month homer records stood for decades, but Sammy Sosa eventually broke both by clobbering 20 home runs in June 1998.
This article was fact-checked by Bruce Slutsky and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Stathead.com, and Retrosheet.org for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by play.
1 Milton Richman (United Press International), “Just What Is a Guy to Say?” Santa Rosa (California) Press Democrat, August 30, 1965: 6.
2 Richman, “Just What Is a Guy.”
3 Richman, “Just What Is a Guy.”
4 Two more teams, the Pirates (5½ games back) and Phillies (7½ games), lurked behind the front-runners. By September 1, the Pirates were only 2½ games out, making it a five-way race. Even at 11 games back and three games under .500, the St. Louis Cardinals were labeled potential contenders (Joseph Durso, “Mays Hits Homer for League Mark,” New York Times, August 30, 1965: 30), given that they’d won the pennant the season before by coming back from an eight-game deficit to the Phillies at the end of August..
5 The Pirates swept a four-game series from the Giants at Forbes Field, but the teams played five games that counted for the official records. After Pittsburgh beat San Francisco in the first two games, the Giants scored two runs in the top of the 10th to break a 3-3 tie on August 25, but rain halted the game before Pittsburgh batted in the bottom of the inning. The score reverted to the last completed inning, and it went into the record books as a tie. The game was replayed as part of a doubleheader on August 26, which the Pirates swept. Lester J. Biederman, “Rain Saves Bucs,” Pittsburgh Press, August 26, 1965: 36.
6 It also marked the sixth 40-homer season of his career, making him the first NL hitter to do so, breaking the record Mays previously shared with Ernie Banks, Duke Snider, and Kiner.
7 Durso, “Mays Hits Homer.” With a month to go, the number accounted for 43 percent of total attendance to that point in the season.
8 Mays hit 11 more homers in 1965 to finish with 52, a career high, best in the majors, and only the second time, after Kiner, that an NL hitter had recorded two 50-plus-homer seasons. His career total increased to 505. The Giants took over first place with a 14-game winning streak in September, but the Dodgers responded by winning 13 straight and 15 of 16, which ultimately gave Los Angeles a two-game edge in the NL pennant chase.
9 Harry Jupiter, “Mets Didn’t Move But Murakami Did,” San Francisco Examiner, August 30, 1965: 57.
10 Richman, “Just What Is a Guy.”
11 Norm Miller, “Giants Wallop Mets, 8-3; Mays Passes Gehrig: 494,” New York Daily News, August 30, 1965: 54.
12 Willie Mays and Charles Einstein, Willie Mays: My Life in and out of Baseball (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1966), 285.
13 James S. Hirsch, Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend (New York: Scribner, 2010), 442.
San Francisco Giants 8
New York Mets 3
New York, NY
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