The shortest HR ever didn't even reach grass

Just imagine the launch angle

March 8th, 2021

We've talked about the longest home run in history already (according to Google, at least). It was a majestic blast by a majestic man: Joey Meyer catapulted a baseball 582 feet into the thin, dinger-inducing air of Denver's Mile High Stadium.

But what about the shortest homer of all-time? That one, again via a Google search, traveled an impossible 24 inches. How? Here's how.

------------------------

Andy Oyler didn't have much of a pro career. He played just one big league season in 1902 for the Orioles, appearing in 27 games while putting up one homer and a .221 batting average. Most of his time in baseball was spent with the Minor League Minneapolis Millers. He was an excellent fielder, but struggled at the plate. He walked a lot because of his tiny 5-foot-6, 138-pound frame and "pretzel-like" stance, but when the ball was in the strike zone, the shortstop had trouble hitting it hard. From the Baltimore Sun:

“At the bat Oyler’s work was not so encouraging. He has much to unlearn in that respect before he can hold his own with a big league team.”

But somewhere along the way with the Millers, Oyler hit a momentous homer. Momentously small.

He came up to the plate and -- depending on which version of the story you believe -- either chopped a pitch straight down into the mud or had it accidentally hit his bat and fall in front of home plate. That tiny bit of contact was all that was needed. Here's the rest as described in the book "Long Ball: The Legend and Lore of the Home Run" via The Sporting News:

"Torrential rains had soaked the field the night before, and the ball disappeared into the mud two feet in front of home plate. Oyler was the only man in the park who knew where the ball was. He started running to first, then to second, and then to third while the St. Paul players searched in vain for the baseball."

It probably looked and felt something like this, except the ball went straight down instead of straight up.

The big story that put Oyler's homer in the limelight was from The Buffalo Enquirer in 1911. After that, the tale spread like wildfire to other local publications. Oyler and other family members then began talking about it. Years later, it became the title and title story for a book about bizarre baseball history called "The Twenty-four Inch Home Run." There was later a children's book just about Oyler's homer entitled "Mudball." It included some excellent illustrations from author/illustrator Matt Tavares.

After the homer, Oyler had apparently stamped the mudball and mailed it to his wife -- explaining in a letter why he was sending her a ball caked in mud. Oyler's grandson Ted took the ball onto Antiques Roadshow early last year and it was appraised at $3,000 to $5,000. He told host Leila Dunbar that he had left the letter at home.

Screenshot via PBS.org

Although it's a ridiculously fun moment to picture in our heads, there is evidence that the legendary at-bat might have been just that: a legend. SABR's Stew Thornley dedicated an entire research paper to it.

The game was purported to take place in 1900, a year when Oyler wasn't even on Minneapolis. There were also no post-game newspaper articles recounting what surely would've been a play to write about. Oyler only hit one homer for the Millers and that was in 1904 -- there were no out-of-the-ordinary circumstances surrounding it. Historians have readily debunked the dinger. Tavares even called it "a classic American folktale" in his book and Oyler's own son, Fred, told SABR there was no letter that accompanied the ball and the entire play may be "fact or fiction."

But still -- where did the ball come from? Did Andy Oyler send it to his wife? Why? And why is it muddy? How did the story first come about? Could it have happened in another game after 1900? Did somebody just make it up out of nowhere?

Some of it, hopefully, really is true. I mean, look how happy it made old Andy.