Going, Going, Gone! Baseball’s Most Memorable Homers
With apologies to Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, it’s not just chicks who dig the long ball. Everyone is a fan of the home run. Whether it’s a walk-off blast, a milestone moment or even just a ball hit farther than the imagination can comprehend, the home run holds a special place in the hierarchy of singular sports moments.
But of the literally hundreds of thousands of home runs hit in Major League Baseball history, only a tiny select few go in the pantheon of the greatest home runs in baseball history. These prized shots changed history, changed lives and left us with memories that will last as long as the game is played. Here are the greatest homers in baseball history.
1. Bucky Bleeping Dent (1978)
Bucky Bleeping Dent. To a generation of Boston fans, this player is loathed more than Chicago Cubs fans hated Steve Bartman, more than Edmonton Oilers fans hated Peter Pocklington, and more than Patriots fans hate Eli Manning.
Bucky Dent wasn’t a power hitter. He wasn’t a good hitter at all. He occupied the ninth spot in the Yankees lineup and wasn’t supposed to be a threat. But then again, the Yankees shouldn’t have even been in this position. The Red Sox shouldn’t have squandered their 14-game AL East lead. But those are all hypothetical, and the reality of things was that the Red Sox did crumble late in the season, coinciding with the Yankees’ late-season surge.
So they met in a one-game playoff on Oct. 2, 1978 at Fenway Park to decide who would go to the ALCS and who would go home. In the top of the seventh, with the Red Sox leading 2-0, virtual no-name Dent stepped to the plate. After fouling a ball of his foot, visibly shaking up Dent and breaking his bat in the process, Dent would launch the next pitch for a home run that barely cleared the Green Monster in left. The Yankees took a 3-2 lead and the rest is history. They would win that game and the World Series, all thanks to Bucky “Bleeping” Dent and his unlikely heroics.
2. Aaron Boone Breaks Boston’s Heart (2003)
With great power comes great responsibility. In Boston, this axiom should be reworked to “with great success comes heartbreaking failure.”
Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. The Red Sox were in a position to finally advance past their chief nemesis, the New York Yankees. Leading 5-2 in the eighth inning, just five outs away from the World Series, Red Sox manager Grady Little made the fatal mistake of leaving starter Pedro Martinez in the game too long, and the Yankees took advantage with a three-run rally to force extra innings.
Tim Wakefield, who leading up to Game 7 was a top candidate for ALCS MVP, was on the mound for the Red Sox to open the bottom of the 11th against Aaron Boone, a mediocre hitter who only entered the game a few innings prior as a pinch runner. With the game on the line and facing one the most unique pitchers in the sport, Boone lined up Wakefield’s notoriously unpredictable knuckleball and sent it deep to left field.
As Yankee Stadium watched in awe, a stunned Red Sox team could only stare as the ball continued to fly deep into the night. The Curse of the Bambino would live on as the Yankees would advance to the World Series yet again, eventually falling to the Florida Marlins. Although the Yankees weren’t able to fully capitalize on Boone’s late-game heroics, his walk-off will go down as one of the most epic – or crushing, depending on your allegiances – home runs in baseball history.
3. Carlton Fisk Waves It Fair (1975)
This time, Boston, the celebration is on your behalf (although it was very short lived). Trailing the Reds 3 games to 2 in the 1975 World Series, Boston needed some magic to happen in Game 6 at Fenway Park.
With a World Series title on the line, the two teams battled back and forth, the game deadlocked at 6-6 after Bernie Carbo’s pinch-hit, three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth. Each team had numerous chances to end the game, and potentially the season, but nothing would budge. Spectacular catches, clutch hits, and questionable decisions defined the latter half of the game until the bottom of the 12th inning.
Stepping to the plate with a chance to end one of baseball’s most epic postseason battles was Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, one of the more dominant hitters in the game. In one of baseball’s most iconic images – and totally accidental – the left-field cameraman for NBC captured a frenetically-waving Fisk using all of his body language to steer his drive to left field fair as it sailed through the night. According to the legend, the cameraman, located inside the famous left-field wall called the Green Monster, spotted a rat nearby and froze, his camera remaining trained on Fisk instead of the flight of the ball, capturing the first “reaction shot” in modern TV sports coverage.
The ball, either through Fisk’s wave, fate, or physics, did manage to stay fair, careening off of the left-field foul pole and sending Fenway into a frenzy. The walk-off gave the Red Sox another shot at the title in Game 7. As most of you already know, the Red Sox, who went from 1918 to 2004 without a championship, would lose Game 7 in heartbreaking fashion. But the image of Fisk waving his hit fair changed the way sports are televised and filmed and is considered one of the most iconic images in baseball history.
4. Barry Bonds Swings His Way Into History (2007)
Steroid allegations aside, Barry Bonds was considered among baseball’s most feared, dominant hitters in history. At one point in his career, pitchers preferred to walk him even with the bases loaded, rather than take their chances with the ever-dangerous Bonds.
He holds the Major League record for intentional walks in a career and single season. These numbers aren’t by accident. But his walk records aren’t the impetus for this potentially frustrating story, at least for baseball’s purists. His record setting 756th home run is.
On August 7, 2007, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Bonds – who was tied with Hank Aaron at 755 career home runs — stepped to the plate against Washington Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik. With one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, Bonds launched Bacsik’s 3-2 pitch deep into center field. With one swing of his bat, Bonds boosted himself to the top of baseball’s most famous list. A raucous crowd gave an emotional Bonds a standing ovation while Aaron congratulated the now-disgruntled star on the achievement.
Bonds, whom many felt did not deserve the record because of the steroid allegations that swirled around him, would only hit six more homers in his storied career before hanging up the cleats at the conclusion of the 2007 season.
5. Joe Carter Gives Ends It In Six (1993)
The 1992 World Series ended on a bunt in Game 6. Atlanta’s Otis Nixon laid one down that rolled to pitcher Mike Timlin, who calmly tossed the ball to first basemen Joe Carter, clinching Toronto’s first-ever World Series win.
The following year, the Blue Jays would find themselves once again in the World Series, defending their title against Philadelphia. Leading the series 3-2, Carter, who recorded the Series-clinching play on defense in 1992, stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and the Blue Jays trailing 6-5. What happened next was one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history. Carter launched a 2-2 pitch off of Mitch Williams deep into left field. Instantly, an ecstatic Carter knew he had just won his team another World Series.
As Toronto erupted into celebration, Carter jaunted around the bases, leaping in excitement at every turn. To this day, Carter’s walk-off, series-winning home run is only the second such occurrence in World Series history.
The Blue Jays haven’t made the World Series since Carter’s improbable home run, but the image of Carter’s euphoric trot around the bases is forever cemented in the minds of Blue Jays fans worldwide.
6. Mark McGwire Slugs 62 (1998)
Prior to Barry Bonds shattering the baseball single-season home run record with 73 in 2001, Roger Maris’ 61 homers in 1961 was the seemingly-untouchable gold standard.
But during the 1998 season, Maris’ mark appeared to be in jeopardy, thanks to the furious home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Each player, locked in on the record, captivated the nation with moon shots, trading places for the lead on an almost nightly basis, reaching high into the 50s before finally closing in on the mythical 61.
On September 8, 1998, McGwire’s Cardinals squared off against Sosa’s Cubs in one of the season’s most-anticipated matchups, each player in contention to write their name in the history books.
On a first-pinch sinker, McGwire hit a line drive shot to left field, barely clearing the wall for his 62nd home run, beating rival Sosa to the punch. Busch Stadium would come to a complete halt for 11 minutes as McGwire celebrated with friends, family, and players alike. Even the commissioner, Bud Selig, got in on the action with a spontaneous on-field ceremony dedicated to McGwire’s amazing feat.
McGwire would end that record-setting season with 70 home runs, a record that would fall three years later to Barry Bonds. Sosa, however, would have the last laugh, as his team managed to make the playoffs.
7. Kirk Gibson Wins It On One Leg (1988)
Some of the greatest moments in sports come at the expense of injured athletes, sacrificing their bodies for the greater good of the team. They create lasting images of toughness and grit, further glorifying the American ideal of playing through pain. It’s all too common in football and hockey, sports where toughness is as valued as skill.
In baseball, late-game heroics aren’t often associated with injury, but during Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, injuries not only contributed to the outcome, but defined a player’s career.
Trailing by a score of 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers were in desperation mode. Losing Game 1, at home, would be an ominous sign of things to come, especially against the heavily-favored Oakland A’s. To make matters worse, Oakland had Hall of Fame closer Denis Eckersley on the hill while the Dodgers’ best player, Kirk Gibson, sat in the dugout nursing multiple leg injuries.
In a move that can only be explained as desperate, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda inserted the hobbling Gibson into the game as a pinch hitter, representing the winning run. After falling behind in the count 0-2, and clearly struggling to swing the bat, Gibson did the impossible. In his only at-bat of the series, the eventual regular-season MVP would muster enough power to send Eckersley’s slider into the right-field stands for a miraculous walk-off.
The Dodgers, riding this massive wave of momentum, would finish of the A’s in five games, giving Gibson his second – and final – World Series championship.
8. David Ortiz Sparks A Comeback (2013)
In 2013, tragedy struck Boston. The city was reeling from a devastating terror attack that took place at the city’s most famed event, the Boston Marathon. The city, needing something to alleviate the grieving, turned to the Red Sox, a team beloved and cherished by Bostonians. In the first home-game following the attack, David Ortiz, donning a special Boston jersey, gave one of baseball’s most memorable speeches, emphatically proclaiming to the Fenway faithful that Boston “is our [expletive] city, and no one will dictate our freedom.”
Fast forward to the ALCS in October, where Ortiz and the Red Sox are down 1-0 in the series against Detroit. Facing a 5-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth of Game 2. Ortiz stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. In all probability, the Red Sox will be headed back to Detroit down 2-0. Yet, with the city leaning heavily on their most clutch and idolized player, there seemed to be just the slightest glimmer of hope.
On the first pitch of the at-bat, Ortiz did what he always seems to do, connecting on a hanging pitch, driving it deep to center. With Tigers’ Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter tracking it – and running out of precious real estate – the ball sailed just out reach, sending Hunter tumbling over the bullpen wall. Tie Game. In addition to Ortiz’s heroics, one of the most memorable images in Boston sports emerged from this fateful play: The bullpen cop pumping his arms in the air as Hunter emerged without the ball.
The Sox would win the series in six games and advance to the World Series against St. Louis, dispatching them in six games, as well, giving Ortiz his third World Series ring. Boston Strong.
9. David Ortiz Ignites Greatest Comeback In Sports History (2004)
How does the greatest comeback in sports history begin? With one swing. (Well, maybe with a steal, but sorry, Dave Roberts, this article is about homers).
The Red Sox’s World Series chances in 2003 were dashed thanks to Aaron Boone’s extra-inning heroics. The following season, it looked like history was doomed to repeat itself. Once again the Red Sox made it to the ALCS, only to face off against their bitter nemesis, the Yankees. And once again, it looked like the Yankees would be representing the American League in the World Series.
Down 3-0, it appeared Boston would be swept from the postseason right to their couches. That is, until David Ortiz stepped to the plate and a legend was born. Tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 12th inning — after Roberts stole second in the ninth and scored the tying run — Boston needed a spark to save their season. That spark would come in the form of Ortiz’s towering two-run homer to right field, staving off elimination just one more night.
The Red Sox, using momentum from this extra-inning victory, would remarkably win the next three games, decisively defeating the Yankees at Yankee Stadium 10-3 in the winner-takes-all Game 7. Ortiz, the springboard for this furious comeback, would also homer in that game.
At that point, the Red Sox looked unstoppable. Fate was on their side and nothing could stop them. They would sweep St. Louis in four games, capturing their first title in 86 years.
10. Hank Aaron Becomes New Home Run King (1974)
A black man chasing one of the most hallowed records in baseball during the late 1960s and 70s was no easy task. America was a country divided; it was full of racial tension and was still reeling from the Vietnam War. For Hank Aaron – playing baseball in the deep south – this racism manifested itself in the ugliest of ways. Death threats, hate mail, heckling and taunting. The man had seen it all, and as he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714, the intensity (and hate) intensified.
As the Braves approached their first home game of the 1974 season, Aaron found himself tied with Babe Ruth at 714 home runs. Would the baseball gods align their powers and allow Aaron to hit number 715 in front of a sellout home crowd in Atlanta?
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Dodgers pitcher Al Downing delivered a high fastball which Aaron promptly connected with, sending it over the wall in left-center. In a moment that defined an era of baseball, Aaron can be seen casually rounding the basis as two excited young-fans chase after the new home run king. After touching home plate, Aaron’s remarkable feat was recognized by the sellout crowd and the hundreds of supporters and teammates who were ushered onto the field to join him in the revelry.
Although his record would eventually fall, many baseball purists still consider him to be baseball’s home run king, an achievement earned unaided by steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.
11. Kirby Puckett Forces Game 7 (1991)
The 1991 World Series is widely considered to be one of the best seven-game series in baseball – if not sports – history. In what should be dubbed the cardiac-arrest series, the Atlanta Braves faced the Minnesota Twins in a thrilling series that saw five games be decided by one run, four games ending with walk-offs, and three games that went into extra innings. This was a roller coaster ride minus the G-force.
Facing elimination at home in Game 6 and tied going into the bottom of the 11th, the Twins needed to find a way to score. Fortunately, they had Kirby Puckett leading off the inning, the man who hit a triple, scored a run, and robbed a home run earlier in the game. If there was one player to save the season, Puckett would be that guy.
Puckett, having already done some damage at the plate, decided that the most fitting way to force a seventh game would be to send the ball into the stands, and send it he did. He hammered a 2-1 pitch into the sea of waving white towels at the Metrodome, sending the fervorous crowd home.
Game 7 would also come down to the wire and would be won by the Twins on a walk-off in the bottom of the 10th, but none of this would be possible without Puckett’s Game 6 efforts.
12. Tino Martinez and Scott Broscius Go Back-To-Back (2001)
Not slighting either Tino Martinez or Scott Brosius here, but it’s only fitting that these two Yankees share the glory.
Bottom of the ninth, two outs, and down two runs. Not an ideal situation. And that’s exactly where the Yankees found themselves in their 2001 World Series matchup against the Diamondbacks. With a runner at first in Game 4, Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez stepped up to the plate against D-backs closer Byung-hyun Kim and lifted a ball just beyond the D-backs center fielder. Tie game. Derek Jeter would end the game in the bottom of the tenth with a solo shot just after midnight and into Nov. 1, earning him the nickname, “Mr. November.”
The next night, Kim would relive his Game 4 nightmare. With a nearly identical situation as the prior night — two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a runner on base — Scott Brosius stepped to the plate. Kim would leave another pitch over the plate and Brosius would make him regret it, tying the game on his deep homer to left.
Once again, the Yankees would win on a walk-off single in extra innings. Someone please check on Kim’s mental health. Make sure he’s ok.
Although the Yankees would lose in Game 7 on a Diamondbacks walk-off, these two magical nights had a few of baseball’s most memorable World Series home runs, and the city of New York, still reeling after the attacks of Sept. 11, had these moments to cheer and cherish.
13. Bill Mazeroski And The Only Game 7 Walk-Off (1960)
When you hit the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history, you automatically make the list of greatest home runs ever.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates, stopping the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series looked like a daunting task. Although the Pirates had home-field advantage in the deciding Game 7, they had just squandered a two-run lead in the top of the ninth. The momentum was with New York, a team that won its three games in the Series in blowout fashion and looking ready to capture their 18th title.
Leading off the bottom of the inning was second baseman Bill Mazeroski, a player recognized more for his great defense than his power hitting. But on the second pitch of the at-bat, Mazeroski launched the ball to deep left field, where it continued to sail high over the ivy-covered outfield wall. Game, set, match. With one smooth swing, a nail-biting series came to an end as Mazeroski exuberantly trotted around the bases, giving Pittsburgh their third championship.
14. Mike Piazza Helps Heal New York (2001)
The country was reeling. Sports became a vehicle of healing, but that healing was a slow, arduous, and painful process. America had just suffered the worst terrorist attack in history on home soil — the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Returning to ordinary life – moving forward as a nation – was done in slow, incremental steps, and one of those steps was through sports, specifically baseball. Cities rallied behind their teams and ballparks became a designated patriotic zone. America looked to its nation’s pastime during this traumatic time to regain its identity and move forward.
For New York, the city hit hardest, the Yankees and Mets were the city’s ultimate rallying cry, and exactly 10 days following the attacks, the Mets were the first team to play a baseball game back in New York City. The game was marked by emotional, patriotic ceremonies and moments of silence and remembrance. Players threw out first pitches to firemen and policemen and Liza Minelli stirred the passions with a rousing rendition of “New York, New York.”
And there was baseball, too. His team trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Mets catcher and future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza stepped to the plate and blasted a go-ahead two-run homer of Atlanta’s Steve Karsay.
This symbolic home run – which proved to be the game winner – brought Shea Stadium to its feet and provided New York with a much-needed moment of healing. Although the Mets wouldn’t make the playoffs, that home run is a defining moment in Mets, and baseball, history.
15. Dave Henderson Saves A Season (1986)
With a franchise as old and historic as the Red Sox, it’s logical that quite a few of these home runs have either been hit by the Sox or come at their expense. In this case, the Sox get the former.
With two strikes and two outs and a 3-1 series deficit in the 1986 ALCS, the Red Sox season looked all but over. The cards were heavily stacked against them and they were one strike away from packing their bags and watching the then California Angels celebrate a World Series berth.
But all hope was not lost. The Sox had a runner at first and Dave Henderson at the plate. After battling Donnie Moore and staving off that final third strike, Henderson elevated a pitch deep over the left-field wall. In an instant, the Sox went from one strike away from elimination to being up one run. They would go on to win the next three games – Games 5, 6, and 7 – before falling in seven games to the Mets.
Although the Sox couldn’t seal a World Series that year, Henderson’s late game magic will forever be remembered by Red Sox nation and baseball fans across the globe.