Babe Ruth never did it. Henry Aaron never did it. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds never did it.
But Wiliie Mays did, and Mike Schmidt, Lou Gehrig, and now Josh Hamilton.
When Hamilton blasted his fourth home run into the Baltimore night on Tuesday, he joined an odd fraternity that defies characterization – except for the obvious, the ability to hit with power. (Even then, two of them combined for a grand total of 21 homers over the time remaining in their major-league careers.)
Hamilton is the 16th hitter to hit four four-baggers in a game. There have been more perfect-game pitchers (21) than four-homer batters. There have been nearly as many unassisted triple plays (15).
Six of the 10 positions are represented on the list: no pitcher, shortstop, catcher, or DH has done it. Hamilton is the third-oldest, at 30; Carlos Delgado and Chuck Klein were both 31. Only four of the 16 were accomplished at home, which surprised me until I considered that a team with a player hitting four home runs usually wins, and the road team always bats in the ninth inning anyway. (Usually wins, but not always; Ed Delahanty and Delgado each hit four in a losing cause.)
Three players (Klein, Schmidt, and Pat Seerey) hit their fourth home run in extra innings, but the feat is still impressive enough that no record book holds it against them.
Wait. Who the hell is Pat Seerey?
We’ll get to him. Here are some of the highlights and sidelights of the men and their big games:
Bobby Lowe, Boston Beaneaters, May 30, 1894. Lowe was the first to hit four homers. It came in the second of two games against Cincinnati on Memorial Day; after the morning game, Lowe and his wife walked over to the North Boston Railroad Station for a shore dinner. Hitless in the morning, he hit two home runs in the third inning of the afternoon game, followed with two more and a single, and after his fourth home run the fans threw coins on the field, totaling a tidy bonus of $160.
Ed Delahanty, Philadelphia Phillies, July 13, 1896. Two of Delahanty’s four were inside-the-park home runs, the only ones hit in a four-homer game. Opposing pitcher Adonis Terry, who gave up all four homers and got the win, batted eighth for the Chicago Colts. The Phillies started left-handed throwers at catcher (Jack Clements) and shortstop (Billy Hulen).
Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, June 3, 1932. For once, you would think, Gehrig could at last steal the headlines from Babe Ruth by becoming the first American Leaguer and first 20th century player to hit four home runs in a game. He may have, but the headlines went to John McGraw, who stepped down the same day after 31 years as New York Giants manager.
Chuck Klein, Philadelphia Phillies, July 10, 1936. In 1932, Klein was the NL MVP, leading the league in runs, hits, homers, steals, slugging, and total bases. In 1933, he won the NL Triple Crown, while also leading in hits, doubles, on-base, and slugging. So, of course, the Phillies rewarded him that off-season by trading him to Chicago for three players and $65,000, which probably covered half their payroll. The Cubs traded him back to the Phils in 1936, and less than two months later Klein had his four-homer game in Pittsburgh. It was something of a last hurrah; he played in bits and pieces of eight more seasons, but had just 54 homers in 629 games.
Pat Seerey, Chicago White Sox, July 18, 1948. Charitably listed at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, Seerey was known as Fat Pat in his seven big-league seasons. His career batting average of .224 is the seventh-lowest among all outfielders since 1920 (min. 500 games). He was the youngest of the 4-HR men, age 25 years, four months and one day; nearly five percent of his career home runs came in the first game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s. He was out of the majors for good a year later. (How Times Have Changed Dept.: The White Sox played six doubleheaders in eight days from July 18 to July 25. Unsurprising, the exhausted team went 2-10 in those games.)
Gil Hodges, Brooklyn Dodgers, August 31, 1950. Hodges was one of the guys who hit his four homers at home; he hit 172 of his 298 home runs at Ebbets Field in his years with Brooklyn. Hodges hit the first of his four off Warren Spahn; the Boston Braves lefthander is the only Hall of Fame pitcher to allow a home run in a four-homer game.
Joe Adcock, Milwaukee Braves, July 31, 1954. The muscular first baseman hit his four homers at Ebbets Field as well, and added a double to set a record, since surpassed, of 18 total bases in one game.
Rocky Colavito, Cleveland Indians, June 10, 1959. At the end of the 1959 season, there were only nine players who had hit more home runs through their age-25 season than Colavito. Eight of the nine are in the Hall of Fame, as are seven of the nine who ranked behind him. Colavito was one of the three players on this list who led their league in homers the year of the four-homer game (Delahanty and Schmidt are the others). Colavito, however, is the only one on the list who won a game as a pitcher.
Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants, April 30, 1961. The only player on the list who also hit 50 home runs in a season, which Mays did twice.
Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia Phillies, April 17, 1976. The Phillies trailed the Cubs 12-1 after three innings, 13-2 after four. Schmidt homered in the fifth, seventh, and eighth, then again in the 10th to provide the winning margin in an 18-16 victory. His first two were against Rick Reuschel, and his fourth came off Paul Reuschel; no other 4-HR man homered off brothers in his game.
Bob Horner, Atlanta Braves, July 5, 1986. Despite giving up Horner’s fourth home run, Montreal’s Jeff Reardon got the save in an 11-8 Expos win. Horner didn’t hit another one in his next 17 games, and had only 13 more in his major-league career.
Mark Whiten, St. Louis Cardinals, September 7, 1993. In the first game of a doubleheader, Whiten was 0-for-4 as the Reds beat the Cardinals 14-13. In the second, he hit four home runs for a total of 12 RBIs – a grand slam, two on, two on, one on – tying the major-league mark set by Jim Bottomley of the Cardinals in 1924.
Mike Cameron, Seattle Mariners, May 2, 2002. Seattle scored 10 runs in the first inning; Bret Boone and Cameron went back-to-back twice, the only teammates to hit two homers each in the same inning. Cameron hit two more solo shots in his next two at bats, giving him four home runs by the fifth inning. On his fifth time up, Mike Porzio hit him in the leg with a pitch. In the ninth, the Chicago crowd booed Porzio as he fell behind 3-0; on a 3-2 pitch, Cameron drilled a liner that was caught just shy of the warning track.
Shawn Green, Los Angeles Dodgers, May 23, 2002. Green’s box-score line is one of the best ever: 6-6-6-7. His two other hits were a double and a single, for 19 total bases. His six runs scored is an even rarer feat than his four homers; only six players have done it since 1900. His fourth home run was the middle of three straight for the Dodgers, between Adrian Beltre and Dave Hansen.
Carlos Delgado, Toronto Blue Jays, September 25, 2003. Delgado’s four-homer, six-RBI day may not have been the best of his career: in 2008, his batting line was mired at .229/.306/.396 in late June, when he went 3-for-5 with two homers, a double, and nine RBIs. That game at Yankee Stadium kickstarted his season, and he hit .308/.392/.626 over the rest of the season.
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers, May 8, 2012. Four homers and a double, eight RBIs. And it’s very likely that he’s the only player on the list who celebrated the accomplishment without alcohol.