An ordinary doubleheader on a lazy Tuesday afternoon turned extraordinary on one swing of the bat by Braves center fielder Bernie Neis.
In his second at-bat of the first game, the 29-year-old Neis became only the second major-league player – and the first member of the Braves – to hit a home run over the left-field wall at Braves Field. Neis’s mighty blast cleared the concrete barrier and landed on the nearby railroad tracks.
With one out, Neis teed off on a 3-and-0 pitch from Cardinals starter Art Reinhart, tying the game at 1-1. The Braves went on to win the first game, 7-4, and then captured the second, 8-2.
However, the talk of the day concerned the memorable blast off the bat of the 5-foot-7, 160-pound switch-hitting Neis.
Since Brave Field opened in August of 1915, members of the Braves, as well as opposing players, wondered just how long it would take for someone to drive a ball over the left-field wall.
Several times the wall had been hit on a line, and then, a few days before the start of the 1925 season, Neis drove one over it during batting practice.
As Burton Whitman reported in the Boston Herald on April 11, 1915, “Bernie Neis, the new and tremendously powerful outfielder from Brooklyn, slammed the ball over the left field wall on the fly and fair during a practice session. So far as I can learn the stunt never had been accomplished before. It is a titanic smash and someday will be done in a game.”
Boston Globe reporter James C. O’Leary noted that the preseason blast by Neis was “one of the longest drives ever made at the park, either in a game or in practice.”
In his book The Boston Braves, Harold Kaese wrote that after Neis’s smash, “Players rubbed their eyes, and asked, ‘Was that a baseball or a golf ball you hit, Bernie?’ Neis, a rugged little 165-pounder who was a switch hitter, nonchalantly replied, ‘I must have muscles in my hair.’”1
O’Leary recalled that “Ty Cobb, on a visit to Braves Field, once stood on home plate and took a survey of the park. ‘Nobody will ever knock a ball fair over the fences here,’ said he. This hit of Neis’s yesterday cleared the fence to the left of the scoreboard.”
According to Bob Ruzzo’s Braves Field: An Imperfect History of the Perfect Ballpark, when Braves Field was being designed, team owner James Gaffney sought a stadium that was wide open and allowed more inside-the-park home runs than over-the-fence clouts.
The configuration was rectangular with the expansive fences far from home plate. The concrete wall in left field was 430 feet from home plate; the distance to the extreme center-field corner was 550 feet and the fence to the right of the bleachers in right field known as the Jury Box was 375 feet away. With the east wind frequently blowing in from the nearby Charles River and causing a stiff breeze, Braves Field became a pitcher’s dream but a long-ball hitter’s nightmare. Nobody was able to clear the fence for nine years, and then it was done twice within six weeks.
The first player to hit a ball over the left-field wall was New York Giants catcher Frank “Pancho” Snyder, who did it earlier in the 1925 season, on May 28. Snyder broke an eighth-inning tie with a 430-foot drive over the wall at the left-field corner off Braves hurler Larry Benton‚ to lead the Giants to an 8-6 victory.
However Neis’s home run had a greater elevation, according to the Boston Post, “the ball carrying farther beyond the fence than the one hit by Snyder. Neis’ ball cleared the top of the fence by 50 feet midway between the scoreboard and the left field foul line.”
Snyder’s ball was 50 feet nearer the left-field corner, making a longer distance inside the grounds, but it cleared the fence by 10 or 12 feet. The wind conditions were said to be nearly identical and favored both hitters.
Whitman’s description in the Boston Herald noted, “(Snyder’s) ball just barely struggled over the top of the cement wall. Neis’ cleared it by 50 feet. The Snyder drive landed on the B&M passenger tracks not far from the park, but Neis’ blast went well over those four tracks and in the midst of the freight and shifting tracks near the banks of the Charles.”
Neis’s clout was also drawing comparisons with the blasts by another favorite former Boston slugger.
“This prodigious wallop compares favorably with Babe Ruth’s longest clout made in 1919 in Tampa, Florida, when the Bambino was with the Red Sox and they were playing an exhibition game with Washington,” the Post related.
Neis was not known for his power. The home run was the second and final one he would hit that season at Braves Field. The first had been an inside-the-park homer off St. Louis pitcher Johnny Stuart on May 21.
While it was the 21st home run of Neis’s career to that time, it was his fifth and last of the 1925 season.
The Braves went on to score three runs in the sixth and added three more in the eighth to post the 7-4 victory.
Dick Burrus opened the sixth with a walk, went to third on a single by Neis and scored on a Gus Felix sacrifice fly. Ernie Padgett tripled to the scoreboard to drive in Neis and came home on a sacrifice fly by Mickey O’Neill.
The Cardinals answered with three in the seventh to tie the game, 4-4. Specs Toporcer tripled to left and scored on Les Bell’s triple to center. Bob O’Farrell followed with a single to plate Bell, and scored the tying run on an infield error and a wild pitch.
Boston grabbed three in the eighth to win the game. Padgett led off with his second triple of the game and Johnny Cooney ran for him. O’Neill’s double to left scored Cooney. Winning pitcher Jess Barnes then drove a liner to center on which Ralph Shinners tried to make a shoestring catch, but the ball bounded away and went to the scoreboard for an inside-the-park home run.
To say that the Braves had the number of St. Louis at that point of the season would be an understatement. The doubleheader sweep gave Boston four straight victories over the Cardinals; the Braves had won two straight on their recent trip to St. Louis.
The next season Neis was sold by the Braves to Buffalo of the International League, and wound up playing for their parent Cleveland Indians during the 1927 season.
He wound up hitting a mere 25 home runs during an eight-year career that featured stints with the Brooklyn Robins (1920-24), the Braves (1925-26), and the Indians and Chicago White Sox, both in 1927.
A lifetime .272 hitter, Neis drove in 210 runs with his best season at the bat in 1924, when he hit .303 in a season in which the National League as a whole hit .283.
However, it was one swing of the bat and a towering home run over the concrete wall at Braves Field for which he would be forever remembered.
This article appeared in “Braves Field: Memorable Moments at Boston’s Lost Diamond” (SABR, 2015), edited by Bill Nowlin and Bob Brady. To read more articles from this book, click here.
Box scores for this game can be seen on baseball-reference.com, and retrosheet.org at:
Boston Globe, April 11, 1925.
Boston Herald, April 11 and July 8, 1925.
Boston Post, July 8, 1925.
Caruso, Gary. The Braves Encyclopedia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1955).
Kaese, Harold. The Boston Braves, 1871-1953 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004).
Ruzzo, Bob. Braves Field: An Imperfect History of the Perfect Ballpark (Boston Baseball History.com, 2013).
1 Harold Kaese, The Boston Braves, 1871-1953 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 197.