It's been five years now since Statcast tracking began at every Major League ballpark, and with each passing year we’re getting a better understanding of just how hard and how far a big leaguer can hit a baseball. Five years in, Nomar Mazara and Trevor Story are tied for the
It's been five years now since Statcast tracking began at every Major League ballpark, and with each passing year we’re getting a better understanding of just how hard and how far a big leaguer can hit a baseball. Five years in, Nomar Mazara and Trevor Story are tied for the longest distance at 505 feet. And Giancarlo Stanton has hit the hardest tracked homer at a scorching 121.7 mph.
But baseball has been around way longer than five years, obviously. And while we’re unable to go back and superimpose exit velocities and projected distances on homers from the past, we can certainly gawk at them and wonder, "What if they were tracked?" Plus, with live baseball on hold at the moment, do we really need any excuse to revisit some classic dingers?
Here, in no particular order, are 12 absolutely massive homers we wish came under Statcast tracking. If there’s any we missed, don’t hesitate to let the author know.
Glenallen Hill at Wrigley Field (May 11, 2000) When the wind is blowing out at Wrigley, everything seems possible for a slugger -- including the rooftops across Waveland Avenue. Sammy Sosa famously broke one of the windows on that yellow building, but even Slammin’ Sammy never hit one out there as far as Hill. Accounts from that gray afternoon put Hill’s rooftop homer at 490 feet; Hill told the Chicago Tribune to move that up to 700 feet.
Shoutout is also due to Dave Kingman, who knocked one into a front yard on Kenmore Avenue in a 23-22 loss to the Phillies on May 17, 1979. Windy days at Wrigley are the best.
Mark McGwire’s shot off Randy Johnson (June 24, 1997) Big Mac is one of the few players to ever launch a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium, but we’re highlighting this one instead thanks to the quality of the pitcher. Randy Johnson went 20-4 with a 2.28 ERA and 291 strikeouts in 1997, but in this case, power collided with power. The Big Unit put this pitch on the outer half of the plate, and McGwire still pulled it to the back wall of the Kingdome. The best distance guess at the time: 538 feet. Wow.
Mike Piazza at Coors Field (Sept 26, 1997) Our obligatory Coors Field selection goes to this Piazza blast that just kept going and going. None other than Darren Holmes, the Rockies pitcher who coughed it up, estimates that this ball went “probably 560 feet” -- off a changeup, no less. Story’s 505-footer reached the concourse down the line in left field; Piazza hit the concourse in the left-center power alley.
Barry Bonds at Yankee Stadium (June 8, 2002) Has there ever been a more satisfying payoff from a hitter stepping to the plate and doing exactly what everyone hopes he would do? This was Bonds, baseball’s most fearsome slugger, digging in for a rare Interleague at-bat in iconic Yankee Stadium -- the House that Ruth Built -- and launching a towering rocket to the nosebleeds in right field.
Legend has it that Bonds promised Bobby Bonilla before the game that he’d hit the ball out of the stadium if Yankees pitcher Ted Lilly challenged him inside. Lilly challenged him and Bonds, in the words of broadcaster Jon Miller, hit one to New Jersey.
Ken Griffey Jr. at Rogers Centre (April 12, 1996) Remember that scene in Little Big League when Griffey, the big bad villain, launches one to the upper deck and then lazily flips his bat? This dinger off Toronto’s Giovanni Carrara was pretty much that scene come to life. This ball cleared the Hard Rock Cafe and landed well into the fifth deck, and Griffey’s classic swing made the feat look effortless.
Cecil Fielder at Tiger Stadium (Aug. 25, 1990) The roof at the old Tiger Stadium was one of the most time-honored and imposing challenges for right-handed launchers, but it was bested in style by Detroit’s hulking slugger. Fielder nearly swung out of his shoes while fouling off an earlier pitch in the at-bat, prompting the television broadcaster to ponder if Fielder would have hit it out of the stadium had he connected. And then, wouldn’t you know it, big Cecil did just that. Bonus points for clubbing this off A’s ace Dave Stewart, when Smoke was near the peak of his powers.
Reggie Jackson’s light-tower shot in the 1971 ASG (July 13, 1971) Has a pinch-hitter ever hit a ball farther? Reggie came off the bench in the 1971 Midsummer Classic and golfed a ball off Pirates righty Dock Ellis that traveled an estimated 530-some odd feet. It would have left Tiger Stadium, like Fielder’s shot, if not for a transformer perched on top of the right-field roof. Jackson told the Associated Press postgame that he “wasn’t even trying to hit a home run.” Imagine if he was!
Adam Dunn over the batter’s eye at GABP (Aug. 10, 2004) Dunn didn’t always make contact, but when he did, we all remember what happened. Estimates on this mammoth shot range anywhere from 500 to 535 feet, but the one thing we do know is that it cleared the 20-foot patch of grass and 32-foot-high batter’s eye behind the 404-foot center-field marker at Great American Ball Park. Accounts from the time say the ball came to rest on the banks of the Ohio River, meaning Dunn was potentially feet away from hitting a ball to Kentucky.
Wily Mo Pena at GABP (April 17, 2005) This ball was river-bound too, if it wasn’t for that pesky upper deck standing in the way. One might say the Reds fans sitting up there weren’t expecting a home run souvenir that day, but then again, they were already plenty familiar with Wily Mo’s work.
Andres Galarraga at Pro Player Stadium (May 31, 1997) A grand slam counts for four runs every time, but boy, this one had to feel even more satisfying than most. This was just one of 10 home runs that Marlins ace Kevin Brown allowed all season, and here’s guessing he still remembers it pretty vividly.
The covered upper-deck seats add even more grandeur to Big Cat’s neck-craner, providing a pad for the ball to thump and trickle down like a golf ball at the driving range. Estimates on this baby began at 579 feet before being lowered to 529 and then 468, almost as if no one believed a baseball could really be hit that far.
Mo Vaughn at Shea Stadium (June 26, 2002) When the Shea Stadium workers put up that giant beer ad, did any of them think someone would hit a baseball off the blue part, three-quarters of the way up? The Mets were quick to flash a 505-foot distance up on the scoreboard, but broadcaster Keith Hernandez might have put it better when he said, “It looks like there’s beer coming off that sign.”
Darryl Strawberry at Olympic Stadium (April 4, 1988) Give us the launch angle over everything else for this one, because Straw hit this so high that even he wasn’t initially sure what happened. This ball might have evaporated into the clouds if the Big O roof wasn’t in its path. Some fans in attendance swear the ball was still going up before it struck the roof, and a physicist from Montreal’s McGill University put his local bias aside to estimate that it would have traveled 525 feet, had it not been stopped.
Honorable mentions We could go on all day, of course; dinger lore is wide and vast, and for the ones above we focused on more recent homers with ample video footage. But there are others. Did Ted Williams’ red-seat blast really clear 500 feet? Did the Babe’s longest homer really challenge 600 feet? Mickey Mantle famously hit a ball 565 feet (or so the Yankees’ then-publicist claimed) into a neighborhood behind Washington’s Griffith Stadium, and he clubbed another that came feet from clearing Yankee Stadium. Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson is said to have actuallycleared that old park in the Bronx. And then there’s a millennial favorite -- Albert Pujols’ soul-crushing tater off Astros reliever Brad Lidge -- which looks just as fast as Stanton's record 121-mph laser when you watch it on tape.
Needless to say that at the very least, you have an activity now to pass your quarantine time at home. Enjoy the dingers.