Two Home Runs That Never Were

This article was written by Ron Selter

This article was published in Spring 2013 Baseball Research Journal

Four well-known and widely respected baseball reference books provide the information that, in the 1906 National League season, 126 home runs were hit:

  • The SABR Home Run Encyclopedia
  • The 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia
  • Total Baseball Encyclopedia, Sixth Ed.
  • The Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, Seventh Ed.

All four of these baseball reference books are in agreement about the number of 1906 National League home runs and all are wrong. The reference books are wrong because, despite what the Official National League statistics show, two of the 126 home runs in that season never happened. The mystery is: How did this error occur and how was it discovered?

The author had been researching home runs in the Deadball Era (1901–1919) to determine how many of the home runs were inside-the-park home runs. The research methodology was very simple: obtain a list of home runs hit in each major league park from the SABR Home Run Log and review the box scores and the newspaper game accounts of all games with home runs. The SABR Home Run Log listed 14 home runs hit in the 1906 season at the St. Louis NL ballpark (Robison Field), including two in the game of July 16, 1906. These two home runs were (as listed in the Home Run Log) by Billy Gilbert of the New York Giants and Mike Grady of the St. Louis Cardinals. According to the log, both homers occurred in the seventh inning with the bases empty. However, a review of the box score in The New York Times showed no home runs. That information in and of itself was not conclusive as box scores in the first decade of the Deadball Era often omitted one or more extra base hits.

The line score showed one run for St. Louis in the seventh inning and one for the Giants, also in the seventh inning, and two runs for New York in the ninth inning. That was the totality of the scoring in this game. A review of the game account in the Times also did not include any mention of home runs. In addition, all of the scoring in the game was accounted for in the game account without any occurrence of home runs. A closer examination of the box score showed one hit apiece for both Grady and Gilbert—a minimum condition required for each player to have had a home run. However the box score shows Gilbert with one run scored but Grady with no runs scored.

A review of the box score and game account in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat also showed no evidence of any home runs in this game. Another curious item was that both box scores showed both Grady and Gilbert with one sacrifice hit. From a review of the evidence, it was clear that the home runs by Grady and Gilbert never happened. Which brings up the question: How did the Official National League statistics manage to credit both players with home runs?

SABR member Keith Carlson of St. Louis checked the local St. Louis newspapers and proofed the box scores. He found that the number of runners reaching base balanced with the number of hits plus walks plus reached-first-on-error and was consistent with the number of runs scored, double plays, and left-on-base for each of the teams. If the box score was correct, how did the official statistics end up in error? The answer was supplied by SABR member and noted baseball researcher Pete Palmer: the score sheets used by the National League in 1906 had adjacent columns for home runs and for sacrifice hits. What must have happened is the official scorer entered the sacrifice hits for both Grady and Gilbert (as shown in the box scores) in the column for home runs and, when checking all of the categories shown in the box score, also entered one sacrifice hit for both Grady and Gilbert.

As a result of the above listed research, the SABR Home Run Log, the SABR Encyclopedia, and the home run data on the Baseball-Reference website have all been corrected by the removal of these phantom home runs.

RON SELTER is the author of award-winning Ballparks of the Deadball Era (McFarland & Co). He is one of the top SABR ballpark experts. He was the text editor for the ballpark encyclopedia “Green Cathedrals” (2006 Edition) and was a contributor to “Forbes Field” (McFarland, 2007). His most recent ballpark article was “Early Wrigley Field” (Baseball Research Journal 36, 2007). He is a retired economist formerly with the Air Force Space Program and a SABR member since 1989.