Mickey Mantle’s longest home runs

From Topps.com (I only wish I had gotten to see him play):

(1) 734 feet (5/22/63, Yankee Stadium Façade* – Pitcher: Bill Fischer, Kansas City Athletics – Left-handed)
Mickey said that the “hardest ball I ever hit” came in the 11th inning on May 22, 1963 at Yankee Stadium. Leading off in the bottom of the 11th, with the score tied 7-7, A’s pitcher Bill Fischer tried to blow a fastball past Mickey.

Bad idea. Mickey stepped into it and, with perfect timing, met the ball with the sweet spot of his bat, walloping it with everything he had. The sound of the bat colliding with the ball was likened to a cannon shot. The players on both benches jumped to their feet. Yogi Berra shouted, “That’s it!” The ball rose in a majestic laser-like drive, rocketing into the night toward the farthest confines of Yankee Stadium. The question was never whether it was a home run or not. The question was whether this was going to be the first ball to be hit out of Yankee Stadium.

That it had the height and distance was obvious. But would it clear the façade, the decoration on the front side of the roof above the third deck in rightfield? “I usually didn’t care how far the ball went so long as it was a home run. But this time I thought, ‘This ball could go out of Yankee Stadium!'”

Just as the ball was about to leave the park, it struck the façade mere inches from the top with such ferocity that it bounced all the way back to the infield. That it won the game was an afterthought. Mickey just missed making history. It was the closest a ball has ever come to going out of Yankee Stadium in a regular season game.**

The question then became “How far would the ball have gone had the façade not prevented it from leaving the park?” Using geometry, it is possible to calculate the distance with some accuracy. The principle variable is how high the ball would have gone. If we assume the ball was at its apex at the point where it struck the façade, using the Pythagorean Theorem (“In a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides”) we can determine the distance from home plate to the point where the ball struck the façade. Then we can use calculus to calculate that the distance the ball would have traveled would have been 636 feet. However, there are a number of undetermined factors: wind velocity, spin on the ball, the speed of the pitch Mickey hit, and others. (For a more complete explanation of the calculations and complete description of this and other Mantle homers, see Explosion! by Mark Gallagher. This book is the definitive book on Mantle’s homers. Unfortunately, it is out of print. It may be available at your local library.)

So how do we get 734 feet? In the example above, we assumed that the ball was at its apex when it struck the façade. However, observers were unanimous in their opinion that the ball was still rising when it hit the façade. How do we determine how high the ball

would have gone? In fact, we cannot. From this point forward all numbers become guesses, estimates of how high we think the ball might have gone. A conservative estimate would be 20 feet. Those 20 feet make a major difference. They cause our calculation to go up almost 100 feet, to the 734 foot number listed above. Is 20 feet a fair estimate? Those present when the ball was hit feel that it would have gone at least that much higher, and many feel that the 20 foot number is far too low. It is all just a guess.

This is a good example of what can happen with estimates, especially computer estimates that determine the length of home runs now. Most of the home run distance numbers used today are the result of computer estimates of how far the ball would have traveled without obstruction. (One of these programs gave the 734 foot number listed.) Whether or not this is a fair number is a matter of opinion. However, if the distance of this home run is disputed, then the distance of many of the home runs hit by today’s players must be questioned. While the software used for home run distances has greatly improved, there remain questions as to its accuracy. It is important to note that many of Mickey’s home runs were measured to the point they actually landed, leaving no question about the accuracy of the distance reported.

* The façade was the decorative facing along the roof of the old Yankee Stadium. Mickey hit the façade in regular-season games at least three times during his career: May 5, 1956 off Moe Burtschy, May 20, 1956 off Pedro Ramos, and May 22, 1963 off Bill Fischer.

** Legend has it that Mickey hit balls completely out of Yankee Stadium up to three times during batting practices. Supposedly Mickey did it twice left-handed and once right-handed. Witnesses of these incredible feats include fans, stadium vendors, teammates and opposing players.

(2) 656 feet (3/26/51, Bovard Field, USC – Exhibition Game. Pitcher: Unknown – Left-handed)
Mickey was having a fantastic spring training. In 1951 the Yankees trained in Arizona instead of Fort Lauderdale. The dry desert air and higher altitude are conducive to the longball, and Mickey made the most of it. “The first time that I really knew I could play in the big leagues was when I found that I could hit major league pitching that spring.

“I was just happy to be with the club that year. I thought I was going to play Triple A ball with Kansas City. I was in Double A the year before and no one had ever gone directly to the Yankees from Double A.

“I hit a lot of long home runs that spring. After our spring training schedule in Arizona we played some exhibition games on the west coast. At Seals Stadium in San Francisco I hit a ball where they say only DiMaggio had hit one before. And of course there was the home run at USC.”

Bovard Field at the University of Southern California is a small ball diamond with a football field adjacent to right and right-centerfield. A street runs outside and parallel to the leftfield wall, with a number of houses in the neighborhood across from the park. On March 26, 1951 the Yankees played an exhibition game with the USC baseball team.

During the game Mickey belted two spectacular blasts, one from each side of the plate. They were two of the longest home runs ever seen.

The first blast, hit right-handed, was a high drive that easily cleared the leftfield wall. It crossed the street running parallel to the park and landed on the roof of the third house down on the street that runs perpendicular into the street outside Bovard Field. No estimate has ever been given for its length, although it is safe to say it was easily over 500 feet, and may have approached 600 feet. A tremendous blast by any standards.

But Mickey wasn’t finished. His second homer came left-handed. Mickey rocketed the ball over the right-centerfield wall, across the adjacent football field, finally landing on the far sideline and hopping over the fence bordering the field. The distance: 656 feet to the point where it first landed! 19-year-old Mickey Mantle had just hit the longest home run in baseball history! In a single game Mantle hit two homers that were longer than most major league players hit in a career.

The distance of the second homer is well documented. The USC outfielder, Tom Riach, and legendary USC coach Rod Dedeaux both saw the exact spot where the ball landed. Later each separately went out and pointed to the spot. They were two feet apart. Said Dedeaux, “It was a superhuman feat.”

Before Mickey played a single major league game he’d become a legend.

(3) 650 feet (6/11/53, Briggs Stadium, Detroit – Pitcher: Art Houteman, Detroit Tigers – Left-handed
Mickey had a 15-game hitting streak, and the Yankees a 13-game winning streak, going into this game at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. In the seventh inning, the Mick came to the plate with a man on base. Facing right-handed pitcher Art Houteman,

Mickey belted a tremendous drive that ricocheted off the rightfield roof. (Some witnesses say it hit the same light tower as Reggie Jackson’s prodigious drive in the 1971 All-Star game.)

Only Ted Williams had ever hit one over the roof in Detroit. Mickey’s roof clearing blasts would come later in his career. This blast was yet another tape measure shot, continuing what Mickey started in April that year. Using geometric calculations, it would have ended up across Trumbull Avenue, approximately 650 feet from the plate.

(4) 643 feet (9/10/60, Tiger Stadium, Detroit – Pitcher: Paul Foytack, Detroit Tigers – Left-handed)
Detroit’s Tiger Stadium (the name was changed from Briggs Stadium) was a favorite Mantle hunting ground for legendary home run blasts. On September 10, 1960, with two out and two on in the seventh, Mickey worked the count to 2-0. Righty Paul Foytack fired a fastball right into the Mick’s killing zone and he jumped on it. He crushed a spectacular drive that easily cleared the rightfield roof (something Mickey had done several times by this point in his career), crossed Trumbull Avenue and landed at the base of a shed in the Brooks lumberyard across from the ballpark.

For spectators that day it was another of many tape measure homers Mantle hit during his career. But this one turns into quite a story a quarter of a century later. As told by Mark Gallagher in his excellent book, Explosion!, Dr. Paul Susman, a true Mantle fan, was convinced that this home run was special. As part of Dr. Susman’s research for Gallagher’s book, he went to Detroit to see if he could get the necessary information to calculate the exact distance the ball traveled.

It turns out that the story of Mickey’s historic drive was well known at Brooks Lumber. Paul Borders, a Brooks employee, saw exactly where the ball landed. Susman and fellow researcher Robert Schiewe calculated the distance through Schiewe’s use of the Pythagorean Theorem. The result was a prodigious 643 feet. This is the longest home run to have actually been measured from the point it was hit to the point at which it landed. Although it was measured after the fact, the point of impact was well-known and we believe this distance to be completely reliable. This is no computer estimate. This is the distance the ball traveled in the air from home plate to the place where it landed. The Guinness Book of Sports Records notes it as the longest home run in a major league game to be measured “after the fact.” It is the longest home run ever hit in a major league game where it was possible to get the exact measurement. Considered along with the Bovard Field homer, it demonstrates that Mickey’s unheard of home run distances are no flukes.

(5) 630 feet (9/12/53, Yankee Stadium – Pitcher: Billy Hoeft, Detroit Tigers – Right-handed)
Going into the bottom of the seventh inning of this game the Yankees had a slim one-run lead over the Tigers, 4-3. Mickey stepped in to face lefty Billy Hoeft. With two men on and a 3-2 count, Mickey blasted a searing line drive that scorched through the air into the upper deck in leftfield. There it smashed a seat and bounced back down onto the playing field. It was Mickey’s second long homer of the game. The first was a titanic cloud-duster to left-center that measured 420 feet, although it easily traveled half-again that distance if its actual arc were measured. In the accompanying photo the Polo Grounds, home of the NY Giants, can be seen at the top as indicated by the small red arrow.

1953 was the year of the tape measure home run. Beginning April 17th in Washington, Mickey went on a tear of longball hitting the likes of which had never been seen. Long distance homers became a great topic of conversation. Earlier during the game Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey was saying that Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx had both hit balls farther than the Mick. After Mantle’s seventh inning blast Dickey said, “Forget what I just said. I’ve never seen a ball hit that hard! ”

Mickey’s blast traveled 425 feet to the seat it broke 80 feet above the field. Once again, geometric calculations give us the 630 foot figure for the length of Mickey’s blast if unimpeded. About this homer Casey Stengel said, “See that last exit in the upper deck in left field? Look. Way up there almost over the bullpen. They say that nobody ever hit one outta the Yankee Stadium. But if the stands didn’t get in the way Mantle’s would have gone over the wall because it was still climbin’ when it smacked the seats.”

(6) 620 feet (5/30/56, Yankee Stadium Façade – Pitcher: Pedro Ramos, Washington Senators – Left-handed)
Mickey loved Washington pitching. He hit many long home runs off the Senators’ Pedro Ramos and Camilo Pascual. In the twin bill played on May 30, 1956 Mickey faced both Pascual and Ramos, and he pounded a long shot off each of them.

Mickey was on another longball tear, having bounced a ball off the rightfield façade on May 5th off Kansas City’s Moe Burtschy. (No estimate has been made of the distance of that Mantle homer, which may well end up in the top ten if ever calculated.) It was the year Mickey won baseball’s Triple Crown, challenging Babe Ruth’s home run record in the process. He ended up with 52, one of the few players to hit over 50 homers in a season.

“Pedro and I were friends. He used to challenge me to a foot race before games. In one game one of our pitchers, I don’t remember who, knocked down one of the Washington players – you could tell it was a knockdown – and Ramos had to knock down one of our players to protect his guys.

“I was leading off the next inning and I didn’t even think about the knockdown. Everybody on our bench and everybody on their bench and even some of the fans knew I was gonna get a knockdown, but I didn’t even think about it.

“Sure enough, Pedro hit me with his first pitch. It didn’t make me mad – he didn’t try to hit me in the head or anything, you know, just in the butt – but after the game he came up to me and said, ‘Meekie, I’m sorry I have to do that.’ I said, ‘That’s okay. But the next time you do it I’m gonna drag a bunt toward first base and run right up your back.’ He said, ‘You would really do that?’

“The funny thing about it was that the next time up was the time I almost hit one out of Yankee Stadium. It hit the façade. After the game he came up to me and said, ‘I’d rather have you run up my back than to hit one over the roof!'”

The first game Mickey faced Ramos after Mickey was hit by Pedro’s pitch was the first game of the doubleheader. With the Yankees behind 1-0 Mickey laid into a Ramos fastball and got it all. The ball took off in a high drive toward rightfield that looked like it might have a chance to become the first ball to go completely out of Yankee Stadium. It soared above the stadium roof but a stiff breeze cut at it and brought it down against the rightfield façade, about 18 inches from clearing the roof.

It was an amazing feat, the likes of which had not been seen before. It became a Yankee Stadium legend until eclipsed by Mickey’s later efforts. Spectators and rival players pointed to the spot the ball hit for weeks afterward. Their reaction is summed up by Harvey Kuenn of the Tigers: “Did he really hit it up there? Really?”

In the second game Pascual was pitching. Mickey came to the plate in the fifth with the score tied at 3-3 and a man on base. Mickey launched another left-handed homer, this one into the rightfield bleachers, a 450-foot blast. The Yankees swept the doubleheader, much in thanks to Mickey and his prodigious home runs.

(7) 565 feet (4/17/53, Griffith Stadium, Washington – Pitcher: Chuck Stobbs, Washington Senators – Right-handed)
This ranks as one of if not the most famous home run in history. It’s the home run that coined the term “tape measure home run” and is listed in the Guinness Book of Sports Records as the longest home run to be hit in a regular-season major league game.

The Yankees were playing the Senators at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. Griffith Stadium was a little bandbox of a ballpark but, as Mickey said, “It wasn’t that easy to hit a home run there. There was a 90-foot wall in centerfield, and there always seemed to be a breeze blowing in.”

Lefty Chuck Stobbs was on the mound. A light wind was blowing out from home plate for a change. It was two years to the day since Mickey’s first major league game. Mickey stepped up to the plate. Stobbs fired a fastball just below the letters, right where the Mick liked them, and he connected full-on with it. The ball took off toward the 391-foot sign in left-centerfield. It soared past the fence, over the bleachers and was headed out of the park when it ricocheted off a beer sign on the auxiliary football scoreboard. Although slightly impeded, it continued its flight over neighboring Fifth Street and landed in the backyard of 434 Oakdale Street, several houses up the block.

Billy Martin was on third when Mickey connected and, as a joke, he pretended to tag up like it was just a long fly ball. Mickey didn’t notice Billy’s shenanigans (“I used to keep my head down as I rounded the bases after a home run. I didn’t want to show up the pitcher. I figured he felt bad enough already”) and almost ran into Billy! If not for third base coach Frank Crosetti he would have. Had Mickey touched Billy he would have automatically been declared out and would have been credited only with a double.

Meanwhile up in the press box Yankees PR director Red Patterson cried out, “That one’s got to be measured!” He raced out of the park and around to the far side of the park where he found 10-year-old Donald Dunaway with the ball. Dunaway showed Red the ball’s impact in the yard and Red paced off the distance to the outside wall of Griffith Stadium. Contrary to popular myth, he did not use a tape measure, although he and Mickey were photographed together with a giant tape measure shortly after the historic blast. Using the dimensions of the park, its walls and the distance he paced off, Patterson calculated the ball traveled 565 feet. However, sportswriter Joe Trimble, when adding together the distances, failed to account for the three foot width of the wall and came up with the 562-foot figure often cited. However, 565 feet is the correct number.

This was the first ball to ever go over Griffith Stadium’s leftfield bleachers. Most believe the ball would have gone even further had it not hit the scoreboard. At any rate, it became one of the most famous home runs ever. It was headline news in a number of newspapers and a major story across the country. From that date forward long home runs were referred to as “tape measure” home runs. That this home run is ranked as #7 on Mickey’s top ten says an awful lot about Mickey’s incredible power. For most players it would have been a once-in-a-lifetime shot if they were lucky enough to even come close to this distance. (Note: The photo of Mickey batting left-handed with the ball glancing off the scoreboard is for illustration only. Mickey hit the 565-foot Griffith Stadium home run batting right-handed.)

(8) 550 feet (6/5/55, Comiskey Park, Chicago – Pitcher: Billy Pierce, Chicago White Sox – Right-handed)
On June 5, 1955, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the Yankees battled the White Sox. In the fourth inning of the second game of a doubleheader, Mickey stepped in against lefty Billy Pierce. Pierce tried to slip a fastball past Mickey and the Mick tore into it, sending a scorching high drive to left. The ball cleared the 360-foot mark, crossed the 160-foot roof and descended to smash a car windshield on 34th Street outside. A parking lot attendant recovered the ball.

Some papers reported that Mickey’s drive landed on the roof or hit a light tower but didn’t go out of the park. But the Comiskey Park attendants on the roof went to the Yankees locker room after the game to tell Mickey that his homer had cleared the roof and gone completely out of the park.

Only Jimmy Foxx had ever hit a ball that far. However, Mickey’s homer is the only one to have eyewitnesses to verify that it actually cleared the stadium.

(9) 535 feet (7/6/53, Connie Mack Stadium, Philadelphia – Pitcher: Frank Fanovich, Philadelphia Athletics – Right-handed)
The Yankees were playing a twi-night doubleheader at the re-named Shibe Park in Philadelphia against the Philadelphia Athletics. In the first game when the Yankees came to bat in the top of the sixth the score was 5-4 in their favor. Frank Fanovich, pitching in relief for the A’s, walks Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto and Yanks pitcher Johnny Sain with one out. Irv Noren, playing centerfield for an ailing Mickey Mantle, was due up. Casey Stengel, famous for playing the percentages, sent the Mick in to pinch-hit right-handed against the lefty. Fanovich, with the bases loaded behind him, fired a thigh-high fastball right down the middle. Mickey clobbered it, sending it high over the roof of the second deck in left-centerfield. The ball cleared the roof by a good 25 feet, went over Somerset Street outside, and was never seen again. It was one of the longest home runs in Philadelphia history.

It was Mickey’s third career grand slam, and a fabulous one at that. It helped turn around a Yankees losing streak (they had lost 11 out of 15 going into the doubleheader) and they went on to win the nightcap. Once again the Mick hit a ball where only Jimmy Foxx had hit one before.

(10) 530 feet (4/28/53, Busch Stadium, St. Louis – Pitcher: Bob Cain, St. Louis Browns – Right-handed)
Eleven days after Mickey’s historic blast at Griffith Stadium he blasted another tape measure home run in St. Louis against the St. Louis Browns at the newly renamed Busch Stadium, formerly Sportsman’s Park. This home run is overlooked because it came so soon after Mickey’s 565-footer at Griffith Stadium in Washington. But those present in St. Louis May 28, 1953 acknowledge it as perhaps the longest ball ever hit at the old St. Louis ballpark.

It was a wild game in which the Yankees lost a 5-0 lead, there was a bench clearing brawl with actual punches thrown, and the game was stopped due to spectators throwing bottles at the Yankees outfielders. With two out and two on in the third, Mickey, batting right-handed, golfed a low pitch that sailed over the leftfield wall. It cleared the street, smashed against a house’s second floor porch and bounced into a yard on Sullivan Avenue.

Red Patterson, the same PR director who measured Mickey’s epic Griffith Stadium shot 11 days earlier, also paced off this homer. However, he measured it only from the base of the house the ball struck. That distance is 494 feet, but the ball hit the porch at least 15 feet above the ground. This drive would easily have gone the 530 feet cited if not impeded by the house porch.

Advertisements
  1. #1 by Crudely Wrott on June 8, 2009 - 10:52 pm

    My step dad was laid to rest this past Saturday, June 6. In his youth he was a hell of a ball player. I saw him do magic at a company picnic circa 1960.

    Coming to bat in a game that meant only the pleasure of playing it, he took a call strike. The short stop gave him some chatter. Dad stepped out of the box, pointed his bat at the shortstop and said,”I’m gonna drive this thing right over your head and there’s not a thing you can do about it.”

    He spoke loudly, honestly, and in good humor as capable young men are wont. All the infield and most of the crowd heard and reacted as you’d expect.

    Dad looked back at his family with a quick wink, stepped up to the plate and drove the next pitch on a line that passed about two feet over the SS’s head and was bouncing into left center just about the time the hapless defense man clapped his hands on air.

    My dad wasn’t Mickey Mantle, but he sure could hit that pill.

    Play Ball!

%d bloggers like this: