Remembering Colbert's 5-HR day in Atlanta

January 12th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell's Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click hereAnd subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

On Aug. 1, 1972, Padres slugger Nate Colbert woke up in Atlanta after a late-night flight from Houston. He had a bad back and an ailing knee -- and a doubleheader scheduled against the Braves that day. Colbert wasn't sure he'd be able to play both games. Heck, he wasn't sure he'd be able to play one game.

"I didn’t sleep well," Colbert said, according to his bio on the SABR website. "I knew there was no way I could play both games. My back hurt, I felt down."

Famously, of course, Colbert played both games. And he proceeded to author what might be the greatest day any Major League hitter has ever had.

In Game 1 of that doubleheader at Atlanta Stadium, Colbert went 4-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs. He somehow topped that in Game 2 with a 3-for-4 showing that included three homers and eight RBIs.

All told, in the Padres' doubleheader sweep of the Braves, Colbert went deep five times (against five pitchers). He drove in 13 runs and tallied 22 total bases. The five home runs in one day equaled a record set by the Cardinals' Stan Musial in 1954. The RBIs and total bases remain a single-day record as well.

Colbert passed away last week at age 76. The Padres announced his death with a statement from chairman Peter Seidler that read, "We are deeply saddened by the passing of Padres Hall of Famer Nate Colbert. Our hearts go out to his wife, Kasey, and the entire Colbert family at this very difficult time. An original member of the Padres in 1969, Nate was a trailblazer in the San Diego sports community."

Colbert was a true Padres original, a member of the franchise's inaugural 1969 team. A feared slugger, he became the Padres' first star player, manning first base while making a name for himself with his prodigious power.

To this day, Colbert stands as the franchise's home run leader with 163, two ahead of Adrián González. He led the team in homers in each of its first five seasons.

It's fitting that Colbert is perhaps best known for that one day in Atlanta, because it was so emblematic of who he was as a player.

Colbert's 163 Padres home runs don’t quite do him justice, because he played in spacious San Diego Stadium. Only seven players hit more home runs than Colbert did from 1969-72, his first four seasons with the club, and it's a certifiable who's who of sluggers: Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Lee May, Johnny Bench, Frank Howard and Billy Williams.

It was also perhaps sadly fitting that Colbert battled back and knee trouble in order to play that day. He never quite reached the heights of some of those sluggers, because his career was cut short due to injuries. A degenerative back condition meant that Colbert only hit 10 homers after leaving the Padres in 1974 -- and his career came to an end after he played only 16 games in '76 due to injury.

"Considering my medical history, I probably shouldn’t even have played Major League Baseball," Colbert said in a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I’m not satisfied with my numbers, but I look at my career as a gift of God. I feel very fortunate."

And then there's the final aspect of that day -- one of those truly poetic baseball coincidences this sport seems to deliver so often. Only one player prior to Colbert had homered five times in a doubleheader. None have done so since.

As fate would have it, on the day Musial homered five times at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, an 8-year-old Colbert was in the stands watching the game. Eighteen years later, he matched the feat of Musial, one of his childhood heroes.

"I just hit everything they threw me," Colbert told the L.A. Times.

This sport has been around for an awfully long time. And no hitter has had a day quite like Colbert.