Sunday, May 27, 2007



One of the hardest things to do in baseball is to steal home plate. Many players who are accomplished in stealing bases have never learned the art of stealing home. After all, stealing second or third base requires the pitcher to pitch the ball and the catcher to throw to the base. When stealing home, only one throw is required. In essence, the base runner must beat the pitch home by running as the pitcher is going into his windup.

The career leader in steals of home is, not surprisingly, Ty Cobb, who, incidentally, was related to my wife, Dianne, although the family was not exactly proud of it. Cobb was, to say the least, not a nice man. But he stole 896 bases in his career, which was, for many years, the all time record. Cobb stole home 54 times in his career, including 8 times in one season, 1912.

Apoparently, the year 1912 was the high water mark for stealing home. That was before the lively ball era, and few home runs were hit. Teams would scratch out runs anyway they could, and the combative Ty Cobb was the best at that.

How many people know that Shoeless Joe Jackson stole home twice in the same game in 1912?

I found interesting some of the other career leaders in stealing home. George Burns was No. 3 with 28 steals of home. But he played until he was almost 100 years old. Sherry Magee was No. 5, with 23. I knew a girl by that name, but that wasn't her. The immortal Jackie Robinson was No. 9 with 19. He was an exciting base runner and ushered in a new era in baseball. Another modern era master of that art was Rod Carew who was No. 14, with 17 steals of home. Carew is reportedly the only Jewish Panamanian in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The two players who really surprised me in stealing home were sluggers Lou Gehrig (15 times) and Babe Ruth (10 times). Apparently, they could run faster than anyone gave them credit for.


In the history of baseball, 97 players hit home runs in their first at bat in the major leagues. None of the leading home run hitters like Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, etc. did so. However, 2 of the 97 are in Baseball Hall of Fame. Of the 97, 19 never hit another homer in the big leagues.

One Hall of Famer was Hoyt Wilhelm, the knuckleballing relief pitcher who hit a homer in his initial appearance for the NY Giants in 1952, and pitched for 23 years and never hit another one. The other was Earl Averill, the pride of Snohomish, Washington, the first American Leaguer to do so, for Cleveland in 1929.

Paul Gillespie, a backup catcher for the Chicago Cubs, hit a homer in his first at bat in 1942, and another one in his last at bat in 1945. He played in 3 games in the 1945 World Series for the Cubs. He hit only 6 homers in his career.

John Miller (the infielder, not the golfer or the bowler) was the first NY Yankee player to hit a homer in his first at bat, in 1966. In his last at bat, for the LA Dodgers, he hit another one (in 1969). He hit only 2 in his career.

Bob Nieman, of the old St. Louis Browns, hit a homer in his 1951 debut, and hit another one in his second trip to the plate in the same game. Keith McDonald, a catcher for the 2000 St. Louis Cardinals, hit one in his debut, and hit another a few days later in his second at bat. He hit a third a day or so later before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors, where he plays to this day. His slugging percentage that season was 1.714, with 3 homers in 7 at bats. ("Sorry son, you'll have to do more than that to stay in the majors.")

Some other local notables who homered in their first appearance were Carlos Lee (1999), Miguel Olivo (2002), and Josh Fields (2006) of the Chicago White Sox. Other White Sox who did so prior to their Chicago days were Jermaine Dye (1996), Dustin Hermanson (1997), Chuck Tanner (1955, on his first pitch), and Gene Lamont (1970). Some of the Chicago Cubs players were Frank Ernaga (1957), Cuno Barragan (1961), Carmelo Martinez (1983), and pitcher Jim Bullinger (1992, on his first pitch). Sammy Sosa didn't do so, but Jose Sosa of Houston (1975) did.

Some of those initial homers were hit off Hall of Fame pitchers. Frank Ernaga hit his off Warren Spahn of the Braves, who won 363 games. Ernaga hit a triple in his next at bat against Spahn.
Will Clark of the SF Giants hit his off Nolan Ryan, the strikeout king.

One of my favorites was Gates Brown (1963). He was a short, fat guy who could hit but not catch the ball very well. He played 13 seasons for Detroit, mostly as a reserve outfielder and pinch hitter.

Estaban Yan, a relief pitcher for Tampa Bay, hit a homer in his first at bat in 2000, and has batted only once since then because of the American League designated hitter rule. He singled in his other at bat.




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