Bucky Dent was a typical all-glove, no-bat shortstop who became famous for hitting one of the most famous home runs in the history of baseball.
On July 17, 1978, the Yankees lost their third straight game to the Kansas City Royals. Their record at that point was 47-42, which put them in fourth place in The AL East, 14 games behind the division leading Red Sox. At the same time, Boston was on fire, with a 61-28 record.
Then the Red Sox cooled off and went 38-35 the rest of the way. Conversely, the Yankees got hot and won 52 of their last 73 games. The season ended with both teams tied at 99-63. It all came down to a one game playoff at Fenway Park on Oct 2, 1978.
Not what you call a Slugger
Dent was in his sixth Major League season. He was a .255 hitter and had amassed a total of 22 home runs in 2.630 at bats, prior to the one that made him a household name (especially in Boston where he also has an unprintable middle name) when he hit a Mike Torrez slider over the wall in left field. It was a seventh inning, three run homer, that put the Yankees ahead 3-2. Prior to Dent’s shot, Torrez had been pitching a 2-hit shut out. The Yankees went on to win the game 5-4. After winning the American League Pennant, the Yankees won the World Series in six games, against the Dodgers.
When Bucky hit the ball, I said, “That’s an out.” And usually you know when the ball hits the bat whether it’s short, against the wall, in the net or over the net. I see Yaz backing up, and when he’s looking up, I still think he’s going to catch it. When I see him turn around, then I know he’s going to catch it off the wall. Then the ball wound up in the net.
Excerpt from Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox, by Harvey Frommer
Babe Ruth broke the single season home run record in 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1960
When Babe Ruth hit 59 home runs in 1921, he broke his own record of 54 homers, which he had set in 1920. His 1920 record also broke a record that Ruth already held. He hit 29 homers in 1919, the year that is generally considered to be the last of the “dead ball era.”
After 1921, the Yankee slugger went five whole seasons without breaking the home run record, in fact 47 homers was the best he could manage from 1922 through 1926. Then on September 30, 1927, he hit the his 60th home run of the season and set a record that would hold up until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961.
Here’s what they wrote about it, back in the day
The Washington Post:
Babe Ruth has confirmed his right to be known as the mightiest hitter that baseball has ever known. Yesterday he hammered out his sixtieth home run of the present season, surpassing his own record of 59 in a playing year, which he established in 1921… Never has any sport produced a hero who has attracted as much attention as Ruth, whose renown lies in the fact that he can hit a ball harder and farther than any other living mortal. He has been written about until he is almost a legendary figure. He receives in payment more than any other player, a salary comparable to the one enjoyed by the President of the United States.
And the New York Times:
Babe Ruth scaled the hitherto unattained heights yesterday. Home run 60 a terrific smash off the southpaw pitching of Zachary, nestled in the Babe’s favorite spot in the right field bleachers, and before the roar had ceased it was found that this drive not only had made home run history but also was the winning margin in a 4 to 2 victory over the Senators… When the Babe stepped to the plate in that momentous eighth inning the score was deadlocked, Koenig was on third base, the result of a triple. One man was out and all was tense. It was the Babe’s fourth trip to the plate daring the afternoon, a base on balls and two singles resulting on his other visits plateward. The first Zachary offering was a fast one, which sailed over for a called strike. The next was high. The Babe took a vicious swing at the third pitched ball and the bat connected with a crash that was audible in all parts of the stand. It was not necessary to follow the course of the ball. The boys in the bleachers indicated the route of the record homer. It dropped about half way to the top. Boys, No. 60 was some homer, a fitting wallop to top the Babe’s record of 59 in 1921.
Last game of the 1954 season, Yankees vs. A’s. Casey Stengel “experiments.” Plays Mickey Mantle at Third Base, Yogi Berra at Shortstop, Moose Skowron at Second.
For the Philadelphia Athletics it’s the end of a 54-year run.
The New York Yankees won five consecutive World Series between 1949 and 1953. Their streak ended in 1954, even though the ’54 team posted a better record (103-51) that year than all of the championship teams of the previous five seasons. Despite posting the fourth best record in the history of the franchise, the Yankees closed out the 1954 campaign eight games behind the Cleveland Indians.
The Philadelphia A’s brought a record of 51-102 into Yankee Stadium that day. They were a mere 61 games out of first place. The game was played before a crowd of (if that’s what you want to call it) of 11,670.
For the most part, the Yankees re-positioned players did fine in the field. Berra handled his two opportunities at third without incident. Mantle had two put-outs and four assists, and even participated in a double play. Skowron, playing second base for the first (and next to last) time in his 15-year career, had six fielding opportunities and committed one error.
A month later, Connie Mack, the A’s iconic owner and former manager (1901-1950) announced that he had sold the team, and that Philadelphia Athletics would be moving to Kansas City at the start of the 1955 season.
Having already established himself as the greatest reliever in Major League history, Mariano Rivera made it “statistically” official when he recorded his record breaking 602nd save on September 19, 2011.
In many ways, it was just another day in the life of a famously modest player who, over the course of a decade and a half, has put his signature on the ninth inning in a way no other pitcher has.
When it was over, after Rivera had gotten a called third strike against Minnesota’s Jason Parmelee to finish a 1-2-3 ninth and preserve a 6-4 victory, and after he had been mobbed by his teammates, his longtime catcher, Jorge Posada, joined with Alex Rodriguez to push Rivera back out to the mound so the crowd could salute him one more time. Read more NYtimes.com
While Rivera has been as good as any pitcher in the regular season, he’s been even better when the pressure is at its highest level. In 31 postseason series, Rivera has amassed a record 42 saves, and his ERA stands at 0.30.
While the likes of Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Rivera’s current teammates, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, will always stand out as some of the greatest and most recognizable athletes in history, Rivera is just as great — even though he has never garnered the attention of those legendary figures. Read more Yankees.mlb.blogs
Mariano Rivera was warming up for his attempt at the all-time saves record Monday when a bizarre cheer caught his ear. When Rivera realized what had caused the applause – Nick Swisher hitting into a double play that ended the eighth inning and ensured he would get a save opportunity – he thought two things: Read more NYDailynews.com
Mickey Mantle his 49th and 50th home runs of the season on September 3, 1961. He joined Roger Maris in “the 50 home run club”. Maris at that point already had 53 homers. Both Mantle and Maris were now ahead of Babe Ruth’s 1927 60 home run (in 154 games, per Commissioner Ford Frick’s edict) pace.
Bob Holbrook, in the Boston Globe wrote.
Luis Arroyo said it nicely “You got those home run heeters, you don’t get hurt too much. You don’t get beat by one run.”
What Holbrook was referring to with his early sixties-era, pre-politically correct depiction of the Yankees’ star reliever’s Puerto Rican accent; was that in the ninth inning against the Tigers, Arroyo had blown a 4-3 lead. but the Yankees’ home run “heeters” bailed him out.
Mantle led off the ninth inning with the Yankees trailing 5-4. He homered to right field and tied the game. Yogi Berra singled and Arroyo sacrificed him to second. Moose Skowron was intentionally walked and Elston drove everybody home with a three run blast into the left field stands.
Arroyo got the win, but he would have also been tagged with a blown save if anybody had been tracking those statistics in 1961.
This was the only time in baseball history when two players hit 50 or more home runs in a season for the same team.
It was a pretty good game for a guy who the Chicago Tribune described as “The Magnificent Invalid”. Mantle commented on his performance, “Give the iceman an assist” he said, “The arm pained me considerably especially when I swung and missed. The ice really helped between innings”. The slugger explained how he managed to hit his two homers, “I was trying to swing hard most of the time”, he said, “but the times I did swing hard, I missed the ball. Both times I really tried to swing easy, the ball went out of the park.”