More than one member in one-homer club
Kuiper, Tyner reflect on the only ball they sent over the outfield wall
Some 30 years later, Reggie Jackson's words still ring in Duane Kuiper's ears.
"If I only had one home run, I'd [freaking] quit," Jackson shouted, loud enough for players, coaches and fans in the ballpark to hear as Kuiper took batting practice.
The man who finished his career with 563 home runs didn't sugarcoat how he felt about the pesky second baseman's one career trot around the diamond.
"That's kind of what I had to live with," Kuiper said.
Such is life for those in the exclusive one-homer club. It's a more distinguished entity than those filled with members who boast two or three or five career taters, and it's a more honorable group than those who never circled the bases.
"There are times where I certainly wish I would've hit more than one," Kuiper said, "but what's the perfect number after one? Twenty? Would I have rather hit 10 or 20 instead of one?
"At a certain stage in your life, after it's all said and done, you get mentioned more for hitting one than you did for hitting five."
The single tally often presents Jason Tyner with an awkward exchange. Tyner played in the big leagues from 2000-08. Now he operates the Southeast Texas Baseball Academy, and the kids he instructs frequently ask him one question.
"'How many home runs did you hit?' That's really the only thing they ask," Tyner said.
Tyner, a slap-hitting outfielder, hit one dinger, in his 1,319th trip to the plate. He flexed his muscles in Cleveland, where he was constantly reminded of his lack of power by the counter on the scoreboard that displayed how many at-bats he had logged without recording a roundtripper. Finally, on July 28, 2007, Tyner unleashed against Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook.
The next day, when Tyner arrived at his locker, there sat a ball with a note from Westbrook that read, "I would have rather given up home run No. 756," a reference to Barry Bonds' record-breaking long ball, eventually hit less than two weeks after Tyner's blast.
"I have the lineup card from that day and the actual home run ball, and then I have my Jake Westbrook ball right next to it," Tyner said. "That was pretty cool. Me and him had played a long time against each other. He probably took a lot more crap than I did."
To some, joining the one-homer club is the end game. Phillies outfielder Ben Revere, who has logged 1,107 at-bats in his four big league seasons, has yet to splash a ball into the outfield seats. He just wants that one taste of glory.
"I'll just have to get lucky," Revere said. "The day I do it, it's going to surprise me. I'll be right with the people going crazy."
Kuiper certainly cherishes the memory of his lone home run. He can recall every detail about the night of Aug. 29, 1977. Kuiper's Indians were playing the White Sox on a national telecast of Monday Night Baseball, with Al Michaels providing the call.
Cleveland native Steve Stone toed the rubber for Chicago. His parents had season tickets at Cleveland Stadium, and that night, they occupied their seats along the third-base line near the home dugout and on-deck circle.
With one out in the bottom of the first, Kuiper spun on a pitch and lifted it over the right-field wall. When Kuiper noticed that White Sox right fielder Wayne Nordhagen had his back turned to him as he chased after the fly ball, he knew he had a chance at a homer.
"I thought, 'You know what? This maybe has a chance to get out of the park.' And it did," Kuiper said. "And then I went around the bases, and because I didn't do it very often, it happened very fast. If I could do something different, I would have definitely slowed it down a little bit."
Michaels is widely recognized for his line, "Do you believe in miracles?" Which he bellowed during the 1980 Olympics. Kuiper, now a broadcaster with the San Francisco Giants, said he teases Michaels that he actually first uttered the phrase when Kuiper's home run ball hit the seats.
Like Tyner, Revere and other players whose games are predicated on anything but power, Kuiper was often instructed not to swing for the fences. He received that admonition from manager Frank Robinson as soon as he reached the big leagues.
"He made it very clear that if I hit the ball in the air, I wasn't going to play," Kuiper said. "If he hadn't stressed it, would I have hit more? Probably not. But it was what I had to do to stay in the lineup."
Tyner took pride in his Major League longevity, considering he never presented a power threat to opposing pitchers.
"Truth be told, most people that didn't hit home runs, especially when I was playing, didn't last in the league very long," Tyner said. "It was almost like a badge of honor to some degree, just the fact that I was able to stay in the league for as long as I did without being a power hitter."
Members of the one-homer club can reflect on their careers and appreciate how they stayed afloat. Kuiper admits, however, that it wasn't always easy seeing his home run total in print. He surely didn't need Jackson reminding him about it.
"If we had walk-up songs back then," Kuiper said, "I think mine would've been 'One Is The Loneliest Number.'"