- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

See ya. Kiss it goodbye. Touch 'em all. That ball's out of here.

Nothing excites fans and players or raises the blood pressure of managers more than the home run. But one player hitting four homers in a game, now that's just ridiculous.

Of course, baseball recently has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Mark McGwire never hit four homers in a game. Neither did Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds. Five of the players who have done it Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Chuck Klein and Ed Delahanty are in the Hall of Fame, and three others Gil Hodges, Rocky Colavito and Joe Adcock have received consideration.

Three players who accomplished the feat border on the obscure.

Pat Seerey was a career .224 hitter. Mark Whiten struck out nearly seven times more often than he broke into his home run trot. Bobby Lowe slugged 31 of his 71 homers during just two of his 18 seasons.

Another player, Bob Horner, arguably was more famous for never playing in the minors than he was for his four-homer game.

And the last two players to do it, well, we'll get to them a little later.

Hitting four homers in a game has been achieved 14 times in 127 major-league seasons. To put that in perspective, there have been more perfect games thrown (16) the Holy Grail for pitchers than four-homer games.

This four-homer thing isn't a common occurrence, obviously. And for a time, it seemed to show up as often as Halley's Comet.

Three of the men to pull off the feat Klein, Schmidt and Seerey needed extra innings. Through 1931, only two players Lowe in 1894 and Delahanty (two on inside-the-park jobs) in 1896 had hit four homers in a game. Seven names were added to the list during the next 30 years, but only three more had made it since Mays did in 1961, that is until Seattle's Mike Cameron and fellow outfielder Shawn Green of Los Angeles turned the trick within three weeks of each other last month.

Maybe their accomplishment shouldn't come as such a big surprise.

"Guys are definitely stronger, bigger and faster than they used to be, and bats and balls are made better," veteran Baltimore catcher Brook Fordyce noted. "With a harder bat, a harder ball, a harder thrower and a stronger batter, the ball's going to go farther. Still, four home runs what are the odds of getting four hits, let alone four home runs?"

Ridiculously long, but that didn't stop Cameron an unlikely candidate and Green.

Cameron had 88 homers in 2,449 at-bats before this season and was best known for being traded for Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners manager Lou Piniella said Cameron has the skills to be in the upper echelon of major-leaguers if he can cut down his strikeouts.

"No offense to Mike, but the White Sox had to pitch to him," Fordyce said. "You pitch around guys like Barry Bonds. You don't pitch around Mike Cameron. Seattle has a great lineup with Bret Boone, John Olerud and Ichiro, and Cameron took advantage of that."

Cameron said he was "scuffling" going into the May 2 game in Chicago, but he and Boone each homered twice in the first inning, the first teammates ever to do so. By the fifth inning Cameron had already blasted his four homers, each of which went at least 400 feet. (Three of Cameron's homers were off Jim Parque, who, along with previously tagged starter Jon Rauch, was sent down to the minors the next day.) Cameron walked in his fifth at-bat and then flied to the warning track his last time up, ending his bid to become the first player to hit five home runs in a game.

"It didn't matter what the pitch was; the ball seemed like a beach ball," said the 29-year-old Cameron, who made the All-Star Game last year en route to a career-high 25 homers. "Anybody with any type of power is capable of having a big game like that. I'm a guy who's still having to prove himself, so they kept pitching to me. I wasn't swinging at balls. They were throwing me strikes, and I was able to hit them very well."

Green, meanwhile, showed little sign of his power this season before May 23.

After averaging 14 homers during his first three seasons, Green ranked among the top hitters from 1998 to 2001, averaging 38 homers and 112 RBI. That included last season's 49 homers, a total exceeded by just three left-handed batters in history. But Green still doesn't put himself in the class of such sluggers as Bonds or Sammy Sosa. Dodgers bench coach Jim Riggleman, Sosa's former manager with the Cubs, termed Green "a professional hitter" who will smack 30 to 45 homers a year but also will take his walks and move runners over.

However, less than a week before his record day Green was mired in an 0-for-18 slump and was even benched for a game. But Green doubled in his final at-bat May 19, igniting a nine-game stretch in which he hit .487 with 10 homers and 18 RBI. He had two homers and a triple the first two nights in Milwaukee, setting the stage for the greatest one-day offensive performance in baseball history. (Green tied another major league mark last week when he hit four homers in four consecutive at bats against the Anaheim Angels on June 14 and 15.)

Green started his four-homer game with an RBI double in the first. He hit a three-run shot off Glendon Rusch in the second and added solo homers off Brian Mallette in the fourth and fifth as the Dodgers built a 10-1 lead. Green singled in the eighth before he took Jose Cabrera 450 feet deep in the ninth. Green, the first Dodger in 63 years to record six hits in a nine-inning game, tied a major league mark with five extra-base hits. His six runs scored matched the all-time record, and he surpassed Adcock's mark with 19 total bases.

"The whole week I felt like if I got a pitch to hit, I would hit it out," said the 29-year-old Green, who was acquired from Toronto two years ago. "I respected the fact the Brewers kept pitching to me. After I hit the third one and the game was a blowout, [Dodgers manager Jim Tracy] asked if I wanted to come out because I probably wasn't going to come up again. I told him I wanted to stay in because I might get another at-bat the way we were scoring. When Adrian [Beltre] hit a two-out home run in the ninth, I went up there looking for something to hit. I don't usually show a lot of emotion, but I was smiling as I was going around the bases. I didn't want to show anybody up, but it was hard to keep it inside."

Expectations can be high after such an offensive explosion.

Cameron has been pressing since the four-homer day he's hitting .176, with one homer and 17 RBI in 40 games while Green .341, 12 homers, 33 RBI in 24 games has remained hot.

In the case of Horner, his big day came when few expected anything out of him.

Voted the National League Rookie of the Year in 1978 at age 19, four months after being the top choice in the draft, Horner hit a career-high .314 with a personal-best 98 RBI and 33 homers in his first full season. Horner followed with a career-high 35 homers including a then-record 14 in July and 89 RBI in 1980. Horner made the All-Star team in 1982, but a series of wrist and shoulder woes began the next year. Still, Horner was in the midst of another fine season when he faced Montreal on July 6, 1986. He went yard three times against starter Andy McGaffigan, fouled out and then hit No.4 off closer Jeff Reardon to join Schmidt as the only four-homer performers in the 25 years since Mays' big day.

"I was seeing the ball really well, but you never expect a day like that, not even after you hit the first two," Horner said. "I don't know if they were trying not to give me anything good to hit after the first two, but pitchers do make mistakes. And since we were losing the whole game that probably made it easier for them to pitch to me."

Horner went on to set career-highs with 141 games and 517 at-bats while hitting .273 with 27 homers and 87 RBI. However, the Braves didn't re-sign him for 1987. He hung on for a few more years, but his shoulder and wrist couldn't hold up any longer and retired in 1989 at 31.

If Horner's four-homer day was an exclamation point, Whiten's was a question mark. He had managed 20 homers in 1,003 at-bats before 1993, and even with that huge day he only pounded out 25 homers that year for St. Louis. And Whiten hit just 60 more in 1,539 at-bats for seven teams over the next seven seasons. Cut by the Dodgers this spring, the 35-year-old Whiten is playing in Veracruz, Mexico, in hopes of gaining one more shot at the majors.

"Mark was a big [6-foot-3, 235 pounds], strong, free swinger," Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "If you watched him take batting practice, you would say, 'This guy should hit 40.' The potential was always there."

Whiten, who had focused on football as a teen-ager in Pensacola, Fla., never expected to belong to such an elite group.

"I didn't even know how to swing a bat properly until Charlie Manuel showed me in the instructional league the previous winter," Whiten said. "If I could hit four homers in a game, anyone has the potential to do it. My teammates were chanting 'Hard-hittin' Mark Whiten,' and they had me walk into the clubhouse under their arched bats, but the four homers didn't really change my career. The good thing is that I'm finally not the last guy on the list anymore."

Piniella said the recent additions to the list are more coincidence than harbinger. Horner is surprised the four-homer club still has only 14 members considering the barrage of homers hit in recent years.

"The way the game has tilted in favor of the offense, I expected more guys to have done it," Horner said. "People want to see runs scored. The whole time I was playing no one hit 50 homers. Now you're not a home-run hitter unless you hit 50."

But you can join a more exclusive club if you get red-hot for just one day.


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