Cameron reflects on four-homer performance
Former Mariners center fielder recalls historic night in Chicago 13 years ago
The game is challenging even for the most skilled participants, and confidence sometimes is in short supply. So deception occasionally is required. How else does a .227 hitter stand in the box at twilight, convinced he can handle an 0-2 Aroldis Chapman fastball? Other times, the deception is aimed at an audience. How often have we heard players deny being particularly motivated when facing the team that traded them? Happens all the time. And it's B.S. -- blatant subterfuge.
So it was refreshing to hear Mike Cameron readily acknowledge that the pinnacle performance in his 17 big league seasons was fueled to a great degree by wanting "to make life miserable" for the White Sox, the team that drafted and signed him, and then traded him.
There, he said it. And on May 2, 2002, Cameron did it.
Playing for his third team, the Mariners, Cameron bombed, battered and badly beat the White Sox. On that night, in what then was called Comiskey Park, the new one, an American League Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder put the wood to the organization that pushed him aside by hitting four home runs. Not merely four home runs in a game, but four in four at-bats. One to left, three to center. One against long Jon Rauch, three against Jim Parque. Two in the first inning, one in the third and the fourth in the fifth. And in the bottom of the third, Cameron intercepted a fly ball hit by Magglio Ordonez that would have been a grand slam if not for his interference.
"I had one of those days," Cameron said this week.
One of what kind of days? Hundred of folks have won millions in lotteries. Scores of photographers have snapped at the most opportune instances and caught extraordinary images. Dozens of players, many without genuine basketball talent, have launched buzzer beaters. But a mere 16 players -- 16 of some 18,000 who have played in the big leagues -- have hit four home runs in a game.
So May 2, 2002 was one of those 16 days.
And had the White Sox not given up on the fleet and sleek 25-year-old from LaGrange, Ga. -- they traded him to the Reds for Paul Konerko -- that day might not have happened. And it certainly wouldn't have happened to them.
"I was in winter ball," Cameron said from his home in McDonough, Ga., where he is enjoying retirement and serving as a pro-bono chauffeur for his children. "And no one ever let me know. I learned I was traded when it came across the bottom of the TV screen. I still haven't heard from the White Sox. I wasn't mad, I was just confused. A little hurt, maybe. But I thought I should have heard from somebody."
The four-home run game came on a Thursday night, getaway day. Cameron had produced two singles and an RBI in seven at-bats in the first two games of the series. And he doesn't recall having done anything special in center field in those two. Then a four-stage explosion that put Cameron in a rather exclusive set of sluggers that includes Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt and Rocky Colavito.
Not much had made that day different from others in Cameron's career, though he does recall taking the team bus to the Comiskey II.
"And I never took the bus," he said.
And Cameron recalls taking extended batting practice under the stands while chatting with former Cubs and Phillies manager Lee Elia, who had moved to the Mariners. But Cameron didn't feel uncommonly prepared when he stepped in against Rauch in the first.
"I just remember I wasn't hitting much in the last days of April [2-for- 29]," Cameron said, "and I felt I had to get going. I figured playing the White Sox might help."
And a friendly wager Cameron had with teammate Bret Boone helped as well. "Just who did the most damage that night," Cameron said.
Boone batted second and Cameron third, and when Boone homered off Rauch for a 2-0 lead, Cameron said, "I'd lost already." But then Cameron fouled off a 2-2 slider and "something clicked. I had a feeling in my body, everything slowed down." Except for his bat. "I hit the next pitch to dead center."
Seattle scored 10 times in the first inning; eight were charged to Rauch, who achieved one out. His line was as ugly as Cameron's was impressive. Boone, Parque's second batter, hit another two-run homer and became the first American League player ever to hit two home runs in the first inning. Cameron became the second almost immediately.
Two innings later, Cameron made himself the second player ever to hit three home runs in the first three innings, and in the fifth, he became the fifth player to hit home runs in four successive at-bats in one game.
"I swear, that feeling in my body wasn't about home runs," Cameron said. "It just was a different feeling."
Cameron batted in the seventh against former White Sox teammate Mike Porzio, who hit him in the leg, prompting boos from many among the gathered 47,918 who wanted to witness unprecedented history.
"I knew they'd hit me," Cameron said. "I still had friends on that team, but they knew they couldn't get me out that night."
They did in the ninth. With two runners on, Cameron lined out to the warning track in right. En route to 93 victories -- a disappointing total after they had won 116 in 2001, the Mariners won, 15-4. And Cameron won the wager, even though he and Boone each had four RBIs.
"He cleaned the bases and kept me from getting more than four," Cameron said.
Seattle left Comiskey Park for O'Hare and arrived in New York at about 4 a.m. Cameron wouldn't close his eyes when he reached the Manhattan hotel.
"I watched SportsCenter over and over," he said.
Cameron estimates he hit 24 out that night. When he arrived at Yankee Stadium, he tried to recreate the feeling that had put him back in that zone. Cameron was hitless with a walk in five plate appearance against Ted Lilly and two relievers.
"It wasn't there," Cameron said.
And it never came back.