One Swing A Career Does Not Make

This article was written by Leslie M. Harvath

This article was published in the 1983 Baseball Research Journal


Babe Ruth didn’t do it; Hank Aaron didn’t do it; Harmon Killebrew didn’t do it; Willie Mays didn’t do it; even Frank “Home Run” Baker didn’t do it.

But Clyde Volimer did do it; and Eddie Morgan did it; so did George Vico; and the most recent to do it was Gary Gaetti.

Well, what is it that they did?

Simply speaking, all they managed to do was hit a home run, not just in their first at bat in the majors, but, by gosh, on the first pitch thrown to them in the big leagues. Considering the thousands of batters who have assumed an astronomical number of stances in the batter’s box, the achievement is remarkable in baseball annals. And uniquely and obviously enough, even the ten who did it cannot repeat their singular triumph.

Of the ten, two are still active as players, but enjoying careers poles apart. Gary Gaetti, with a brilliant career before him, blasted a homer on the first pitch served him – by Charlie Hough of Texas on September 20, 1981; and Bert Campaneris, now in the twilight of a memorable stay in the majors, blasted his first roundtripper on July 23, 1964, off Jim Kaat.

Campaneris, born in Cuba in 1942, actually hit two homers in his major league debut as a member of the Kansas City A’s and, in his career, has gone on to hit a total of 79 major league homers. His most productive season was 1970 when he circled the bases 22 times. Most recently, however, Campy’s career has been interrupted by that malady which terminates many careers, old age, but he worked his way back to the majors in 1983.

Gaetti, on the other hand, began his career in 1 981 in the Twin Cities and, through the 1983 season, had hit 48 major league homers.

A third member of the club is still active in the dugout, but his name has not appeared in a box score since 1962. Back on April 12, 1955, with Gerry Staley of the Reds on the mound, young Chuck Tanner of the Milwaukee Braves became baseball’s sixth player to homer on his first big league pitch. Tanner’s career lasted until 1962, finishing with the Los Angeles Angels. Of the 21 career homers Tanner hit in his eight seasons with four clubs, he belted a lifetime high of nine in 1957, splitting that season between Milwaukee and Chicago in the National League.

The first player to put his name in the record books by homering on his first big league pitch was Clise Dudley on April 27, 1929. Then playing for Brooklyn (and later for the Phillies and Pirates), Dudley homered off Claude Willoughby of Philadelphia. In five seasons he slugged a grand total of three home runs, but what made his feat all the more remarkable, especially since he was the first, was that Dudley was in the majors as a pitcher, not a hitter. He actually hit two homers his first year while posting a 6-14 won-lost record. For his career, he was 17-33.

Clise Dudley, amazingly enough, has not been baseball’s only hurler to homer on his first pitch as a batter. In fact, there were two others. On June 10, 1938, Bill Lefebvre, who had just graduated from Holy Cross, pitched four innings of relief for the Boston Red Sox in a game hopelessly lost to the White Sox. Lefebvre, who threw and batted lefthanded, came to bat in the eighth inning against Monty Stratton, who not only was pitching a great game for the White Sox but had hit a grand slam home run. Stratton, knowing nothing about the newcomer, threw him a fast one down the middle. Lefebvre, a good hitter in college, slammed the ball against the screen in left-center field. Not knowing it was a home run, he sped around the bases until the third-base coach convinced him it was a legitimate fourbagger. That was his only at bat in 1938. Having given up eight hits and six runs in that brief encounter, he was sent to the minors. He was up and down the next few years, working mostly in relief and accumulating a 5-5 won-lost record. He was a decent hitter, leading the AL in pinch hits in 1944 and compiling a career .276 batting average.

The other pitcher to connect on his first swing was Don Rose, a member of the California Angels in the waning days before the adoption of the DH. On May 24, 1972, he belted his only career roundtripper off Diego Segui of Kansas City. Rose’s career lasted a brief three seasons. He had only ten at bats and he was 1-4 on the mound. Even though he played for two NL clubs, he never recorded an official at bat in the Senior Circuit.

A little less than seven years after Dudley broke the first pitch homer barrier, the feat was matched by Eddie Morgan of the St. Louis Cardinals. On April 14, 1936 Morgan swatted a first pitch thrown by Lon Warneke of the Chicago Cubs and history had been repeated.

Morgan’s claim to fame deserves a footnote. His major league total of 66 at bats ranks him last (excluding pitchers) among the first-pitch-homer hitters. Playing for the Cardinals and Dodgers, Morgan managed 14 hits in the majors. Of the 14, only one, yes one, was hit out of the park, and into baseball immortality.

The only other National Leaguer to homer on his first pitch was Clyde Volimer of Cincinnati in 1942. His blast, off Max Butcher of Pittsburgh, came on May 31 and represented his only homer that year. Because of military service, Voilmer would not record another homer until 1947.

Volimer’s most productive season in the homer department came in 195 1 when he hit 22 while playing for the Boston Red Sox. That figure amounted to nearly one-third of his major league total of 69, the last of which came in 1954 while Volimer was a member of the Washington Senators.

Big Brant Alyea was with the Washington Senators when he homered off Rudy May of California on September 12, 1965. His career total of 38 homers was highlighted by slugging 16 round-trippers while with Minnesota in 1970.

Another member of the exclusive club remained in the majors for only two seasons but, like Eddie Morgan, George Vico made his first swing count. As a member of the Tigers, Vico connected off Joe Haynes of Chicago on April 20, 1948. Vico’s career ended in 1949, after “touching them all” 12 times. He was a big home run hitter in the minors but never lived up to his potential in the higher classification.

Several significant notes must be mentioned regarding the nine players. Three of the batters – Morgan, Vico, and Tanner – hit their homers on Opening Day. Morgan, Tanner, and Alyea were pinch-hitters. Morgan was batting for pitcher Bill McGee, Tanner for pitcher Warren Spahn, and Alyea for infielder Don Blasingame.

Alyea’s homer came on a rainy day in the Nation’s Capital and was witnessed by a meager total of 840 fans. Those brave spectators who watched the Senators defeat the Angels were all invited back to watch another Washington Senator’s game – free.

Six of the homers came in the American League: Lefebvre, Campaneris, Alyea, Rose, Gaetti; and five were hit on the road; Vico, Tanner, Campaneris, Rose, Gaetti. Four were hit by Dudley, Vollmer, Vico, and Rose – in the third inning of their respective games.

Six – Volimer, Vico, Tanner, Campaneris, Alyea, Rose — aided their team to victory, and Rose, even though surrendering seven hits and five earned runs in six innings, became the winning pitcher. That, incidentally, was Rose’s only major league win.

Voilmer was the youngest to connect at 20. Dudley and Tanner were the oldest at 25.

At least two of the players were elevated to the majors because of injuries to squad members. Due to a rash of injuries affecting Cincinnati outfielders, Volimer was promoted to the parent club, making the trip from Syracuse, between games of a doubleheader. The crowd of 16,721 which witnessed his feat also saw the Reds defeat the Pirates in both games. Campaneris, brought up from Birmingham, replaced the injured Wayne Causey. Vico, on the other hand, was in the Tigers’ Opening Day lineup in 1948.

Tanner’s homer tied the Braves’ game at 2-2 after Staley had retired the previous 11 Milwaukee batters he faced. Tanner and Voilmer both homered in the same park in Cincinnati.

Baseball trivia experts will have a field day with several additional bits of information. When Campy belted his roundtripper, the KC pitcher just happened to be Diego Segui, who, as fate would have it, would surrender Rose’s first pitch blast in 1972.

But that’s not all, folks.

When Rose connected, the opposing shortstop was Bert Campaneris, and appearing as a pinch hitter for Oakland that day was Brant Alyea. Having three players who homered on their first pitch in the majors in the same game just may never occur again.

Get ready major league rookies. Baseball immortality and fame await you. Get set and jump on that first pitch. But don’t expect a long and productive career.

 

Major League Career Stats Through 1983

Player

AB

H

HR

BA

POS

Clise Dudley

173

32

3

.185

P

Eddie Morgan

66

14

1

.212

OF-1B

Bill Lefebvre

87

24

1

.276

P

Clyde Voilmer

2021

508

69

.251

OF

George Vico

663

166

12

.250

1B

Chuck Tanner

885

231

21

.261

OF

Bert Campaneris

8684

2249

79

.259

IF

Brant Alyea

866

214

38

.247

OF-1B

Don Rose

10

2

1

.200

P

Gary Gaetti

1118

265

48

.235

3B

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