I remember April 8, 1974 as if it were yesterday. I was in my dorm room at Muhlenberg College watching Henry “Hank” Aaron circle the bases after hitting his (then) record-breaking 715th home run. In pre-cable TV days, the picture was fuzzy, but having seen Aaron play many times against the Phillies, I was glad to witness history involving a player I respect and admire.
Lost in the shuffle, at that moment, was the man who surrendered that famous dinger — Al Downing. He became the comeback player of the year in 1971, finishing third in Cy Young voting that year. Clearly, he quickly shook off his moment of infamy.
In 2006, my story took an interesting twist when I met Downing at an autograph table at the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. In my baseball trivia subconscious, I recalled reading that Downing also attended Muhlenberg College, so when I reached the front of line, I asked him about his college days.
Our 10-minute conversation centered on our mutual collegiate recollections, with the former major leaguer detailing about his college dorm — the very one in which I watched Downing give up Aaron’s home run. Weird? I thought so. Downing is not alone as a pitcher who is far better known for giving record-setting hits up than for other aspects of his career. In addition to Downing, here are four more pitchers who did the same.
2. Tracy Stallard
Far less amiable about his role in history, Tracy Stallard gave up the record 61st home run to New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris on October 1, 1961. In the fourth inning of what was the last game of the regular season, Maris planted a Stallard fastball over the right field wall.
At the time, Stallard was nonchalant about the feat, but as time has gone on, the former Red Sox, Met and Cardinal has grown weary of his celebrity. Stallard ended his career with a 30-47 record and a 4.17 lifetime ERA. He is currently 78 years old.
The stress of that record-breaking home run was far more telling on Maris, who was far less popular than his Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle. Maris died at age 51 with 275 lifetime home runs.
3. Eric Show
On September 11, 1985, Eric Show of the San Diego Padres gave up a hit to Pete Rose, which just happened to be No. 4,192, breaking Ty Cobb’s record. Rose, who currently remains barred from the Hall of Fame, went on to amass 4,256 hits; he was both a player and manager in 1985, when he achieved that milestone as part of the Cincinnati Reds.
Prior to that September 11 game, Show told CNN, “I guess it doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to other baseball enthusiasts. I mean, in the eternal scope of things, how much does this matter? I don’t like to say this, but I don’t care. … Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not putting down Pete. It’s a fantastic accomplishment.”
The former Padres pitcher, who later died of drug and alcohol abuse at the age of 37, remains the team’s all-time wins leader with 100, eight ahead of Jake Peavy and Randy Jones.
4. Mike Bacsik
You are asking, who is that? Mike Bacsik, a southpaw for the Washington Nationals, is the man who gave up Barry Bonds’ 756th home run, allowing Bonds to surpass Aaron’s all-time career home-run record. Currently, Bacsik is a talk show host in Dallas and holds no feelings of despair over the famous dinger.
He told MLB.com, “I’m part of a special moment that will never be forgotten. I’m going to be the guy who gave it up. As a kid, you always dream of this moment. Unfortunately, you dream of the one hitting the home run, not giving it up.”
While the home run record may be in dispute, Bacsik, who has a career 10-13 record, will always point to the show of class Bonds displayed after the game. After the celebration died down, Bacsik received an autographed bat from Bonds, which said, “To Mike, God Bless. Barry Bonds.”
5. Chuck Stobbs
In the days before Statcast and digital measurements of home run trajectories, mammoth shots that cleared the stands were gauged by any number of methods with varying degrees of accuracy. That said, historians agree that Mantle’s 1953 home run off Washington Senators’ Chuck Stobbs is the longest in history, measuring 565 feet.
Many argue that hitting a ball that far is nearly impossible given the layout of most modern ballparks, but a few, such as Adam Dunn and Giancarlo Stanton have topped 500 feet in their displays of power.
Stobbs, who played for the Red Sox, White Sox, Senators, Cardinals, and Twins, has a less-than-distinguished career, ending with a 107-130 win/loss record. The year Stobbs gave up Mantle’s tape-measure shot was the best of his career, going 11-8 with a 3.29 ERA.