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Tuesday, September 19, 2006
 
Back to Back to Back to Back Homers

The Dodgers hit four consecutive home runs last night, the last of which tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. No team had hit four consecutive dingers since 1964. Of course, there's a pretty simple reason why this had not happened in 42 years; because after back to back homers, the next man up usually gets plunked. Of course that did not happen last night because it would have put the tying run at the plate.

The last time a team hit four consecutive homers was on May 2, 1964, when the Minnesota Twins accomplished the feat against Kansas City in the 11th inning.

As it happens, Bill James described that scene in (IIRC) the 1986 Baseball Abstract. To set the stage, Charlie Finley had purchased the Kansas City A's. Some of the baseball people on his payroll had told Finley that one of the secrets to the New York Yankee's success over the years had been the dimensions of its ballpark, with a short rightfield fence and the deep, cavernous leftfield. This gave the Yanks an incentive to acquire many left-handed pitchers and hitters, who would be favored by the ballpark.

Well, if it worked for the Yankees, Finley decided it would work for his team as well. So he decided to redesign his ballpark to exactly mimic Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, the Major Leagues had decided years earlier that there were certain minimum dimensions that any ballparks had to meet. Yankee was grandfathered in, but Finley's request to redesign his stadium was denied. Finley complied, but whenever a player hit a ball to the warning track at his stadium, the announcer was required to state, "That ball would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium".

So the 1964 game against the Twins rolls around, and they hit four consecutive homers against the A's. Hilariously, the fifth player comes up and flies out to deep right field. And the announcer dutifully intones, "That ball would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium."

Needless to say, that was the end of that tradition!

Update: Paul pointed out in the comments that the box score for the game is here. It turns out that the three prior times this had happened all took place between 1961 and 1964. My first guess is "expansion". One took place against a third-year expansion team, the Los Angeles Angels. The other two featured some great sluggers; in 1961 the Milwaukee Braves who combined for four straight dingers were Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas (the old Frank Thomas, not the Big Hurt). Matthews and Aaron of course are inner circle Hall of Famers, and Adcock was one heck of a hitter. And the Twins who did it were Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, Jimmie Hall and Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew's another no questions asked Hall of Famer. Oliva was a terrific player during the 1960s, certainly on the short list for MVP virtually every year from 1964-1970. Hall and Allison were quality ballplayers. Out of those eight, Hall had the fewest career homers with 121; I'd suspect that something like 2% of all players have had more in their careers.
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