9 of the loudest home runs in baseball
The other day, I was in the stands when Washington's Bryce Harper hit an opposite-field home run. It was an interesting home run because Harper had been in the middle of a brutal slump, a slump -- it should be added for clarity -- he still appears to be in. You will so often read sentences that say something like, "Player X broke out of an 0-for-15 slump at just the right time …"
Thing is: One hit doesn't break you out of a slump. Player X is now 1-for-16 in that stretch. That's still a slump.
Back to the point: Harper smacked this opposite-field home run off of Pittsburgh starter Chad Kuhl, and it was not necessarily the most visually explosive home run; this wasn't one of those home runs that makes everyone in the crowd freeze in awe.
But it was loud. At least it sounded that way to me. As soon as Harper hit it, I immediately thought: "Wow, that sounded like the home run Roy Hobbs hits at the end of 'The Natural.' I'll bet that's one of the 10 loudest home runs I've ever heard."
And then I thought about my old friend Buck O'Neil. Buck had this story he always told -- he said he heard that certain baseball sound only three times in his life. The first time he was a kid behind the fence of a field in Sarasota, Fla., and he heard the sound, the thunderous sound, and he had to climb a ladder to see who hit that ball.
It was Babe Ruth.
The second time, O'Neil was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, and he was changing into his uniform and he heard the sound. O'Neil rushed out to the field -- even though he didn't have his uniform on -- just to see who it was.
It was Josh Gibson.
The third time, O'Neil was in his 70s, and he was scouting at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City when he watched a young man take a little batting practice to show what he could do. He heard the sound a third time.
It was Bo Jackson.
"I keep going out to the ballpark," O'Neil would finish, "because I want to hear that sound again."
This is something wonderful to think about it, isn't it? What were the loudest home runs you ever heard in your life? It's silly and entirely subjective. Was Harper's homer really louder than other ones? Maybe. Maybe not. It was a specific moment in my experience; I was close to the field, I was concentrating on the play, and there it was.
Subjective or not, I more or less immediately came up with the nine loudest home runs I've ever heard. In my memory, they were really loud.
No. 9: Bryce Harper vs. Chad Kuhl, May 1, 2018
It's the one that kicked off this idea. I fear that someday, we will find something that measures the decibels of home run cracks, even in the past, and it will come out that home runs I remember as loud were not loud at all.
No. 8: Jim Thome off Brian Bannister, Sept. 19, 2008
Again, this one might sound louder in memory than in reality -- it just so happens that two of my favorite people of all time are Thome and Bannister. It wasn't a fair fight, though, when they went up against each other. Thome seemed to crush all Kansas City pitchers, but he particularly enjoyed hitting against Banny -- he hit .346/.469/.808 against him, with three doubles and three homers in 26 at-bats.
This is the homer I remember, a long blast to right-center. As I recall it, three or four people in the press box shouted "home run" before Thome swung the bat.
No. 7: Reggie Sanders vs. Willie Banks, July 15, 1994
I had just started as columnist in Cincinnati and thought it would be fun to sit up in the red seats at Riverfront Stadium for a game just to see if someone would hit a home run to me. Up to that point, only 10 players in the history of the stadium -- eight of them Reds -- had hit a ball into the red seats.
Unfortunately, the red seats were closed off to the public (this was the reason I wanted to write the column). I talked to various Reds officials and managed to finagle two different credentials that allowed me to sit up there. Anyway, that was the plan.
I was sitting there, marveling at the view, hoping against hope that someone would hit a red-seat homer. Then an usher came over. And another. And a third. They told me I had to leave. I showed them the credentials, and they made it very clear that they didn't accept those credentials. I heard a guy on the walkie-talkie say, "If he doesn't move, we'll get someone to move him."
I did not want anyone to move me, so I headed back to the press box. While a Reds official was aggressively apologizing and trying to make things right, I heard this very loud crack of the bat. I turned around -- it was Reggie Sanders hitting ball into the red seats. The ball bounced off the empty seat six seats over from where I had been sitting.
That was one loud home run.
No. 6: Albert Pujols vs. Brad Lidge, playoffs, Oct. 17, 2005
This was a sound miracle. The instant before Pujols hit it, Minute Maid Park was probably as loud as any ballpark has ever been. The Astros were one out way from going to their first World Series. Up two runs. Two runners on. Two outs.
The instant after Pujols hit it -- the silence. Everybody remembers the silence.
"I have known the silence of the stars and the sea,
And the silence of the city when it pauses,"
-- Edgar Lee Masters
It was that kind of silence in Houston.
No. 5: Van Snider vs. Miguel Alicea, Minors, July 13, 1986
Well, this one was unforgettable. For one thing, this Double-A game between the Charlotte O's and the Memphis Chicks featured the first professional home run for Bo Jackson. It was a broken-bat home run. It was really cool.
But the most memorable part of the game was a crazy confrontation between Charlotte's Alicea and Memphis' Snider. In the eighth inning, Alicea threw a fastball over Snider's head. Snider -- now a detective for the Mayfield Heights Police Department in suburban Cleveland, by the way -- started screaming at Alicea, and both benches looked like they would clear. Cooler heads prevailed.
On the next pitch, Snider swung so hard he almost fell down. He fouled it off.
Next pitch, same thing, a huge swing, a foul ball.
On the third pitch, Van Snider hit a home run so far over the lights and trees that it my own mind, it still has not landed. I remember it sounding like fireworks.
No. 4: Aaron Judge's 500-foot homers in last year's Home Run Derby
I've been to many Home Run Derbies, but something about Judge's performance last year seemed different and overwhelming. Maybe it's because Judge himself is such a Paul Bunyanesque character -- impossibly big, impossibly strong, hits impossibly long home runs. The thing about Home Run Derbies is that after seeing homer after homer after homer you grow numb to it all.
Somehow, even in that atmosphere, Judge's home runs blasted the imagination.
No. 3: Reggie Jackson homer off Sid Monge, Sept. 17, 1979
When I went to look back at the reports from this game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, I find that Reggie's home run did not stand out. It probably was just a regular old home run. But even if it was … I don't want to know.
See, to a 12-year-old kid, it sounded like the loudest thing I'd ever hear. I suppose that is because Reggie was a larger than life character, even to a Cleveland kid who despised the Yankees. Every time he came up, it was an event, a scary event, a horror movie about to happen.
When Reggie hit the home run off Monge -- tying the game at 5-5 -- I thought it was a sound they could hear all over Ohio. Maybe the sparse crowd at the end of the second game of a doubleheader had something to do with it.
Cleveland ended up coming back and winning the game on a walk-off triple by Mike Hargrove. This is unimportant for the purposes of the story, but I like to remember it that way.
No. 2: Earl Cunningham home run, sometime in 1989
I once asked longtime scout Brian Murphy -- one of the great characters of the game -- to name the greatest hitting prospect he ever saw. Without even a second's hesitation, he said, "Earl Cunningham in Lancaster, S.C."
I covered Cunningham in high school. I was barely out of high school myself then, but I somehow became the unofficial Cunningham beat reporter for The Charlotte Observer. It was incredible. He was incredible. Cunningham was this supremely powerful young man who hit the longest home runs imaginable. He often hit them over light towers. I once saw Cunningham hit it over a road near the stadium. That was probably the loudest one though each of them sounded like a jet taking off.
Cunningham was a first-round Draft pick by the Chicago Cubs -- eighth overall -- in 1989, and he was a massive prospect. Unfortunately, he kept getting more massive; I recall one not especially kind scouting report saying that Cunningham's only two weaknesses were curveballs and McDonald's.
Cunningham kicked around in the Minors for seven years, jumping from team to team, struggling to keep his weight in check, never making quite enough contact to unleash his legendary power. In the end, he never made it to Double-A ball.
No. 1: Mark McGwire vs. Glendon Rusch, June 30, 1998
Rusch pitched beautifully that day. That's the first thing I remember about the game. Rusch was this 23-year-old pitcher, nice guy, OK stuff, battled his butt off. I've always been partial to pitchers like Rusch, pitchers who have to figure out some way to get out hitters without a big fastball or swing-and-miss slider or devastating changeup. Rusch had been struggling terribly. He had a 6.10 ERA coming into that game, and the league was hitting .304/.375/.471 against him.
But that day, Rusch was on the mark -- he worked corners, kept the ball down, induced 12 ground balls, made few mistakes.
Really, Rusch made one mistake. He threw an 88-mph fastball inside to McGwire. Only, it wasn't a mistake. It was a challenge.
"He threw the ball hard and threw the ball inside," Royals manager Tony Muser said in defense of his pitcher. "He threw his best stuff and said, 'Go ahead and beat this.'"
McGwire did beat this.
"Long one, wasn't it?" Rusch asked after the game.
It was a long one -- 472 feet was the estimate of the McGwire home run, but it seemed much longer than that. It actually seemed like it would go on forever. And the sound still echoes in my mind.
"Yeah, it was kind of exciting," Rusch said. "I almost started cheering myself."