Three Home Runs in One Game – 2016 Update
Since 2010 I’ve written a couple of posts containing fun facts about three home run games. The most recent was almost three years ago, so it seems like a good time for another update. Here is baseballreference.com’s list of the players to hit three in one game between 1951 through early in the 2011 season.
You will note that three home run games have been particularly common in the last 20 years, the period in which the PED-fueled offensive barrage reached its peak.
The original “Big Cat” Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa are the all-time leaders with six different three home run games each. Joe Carter, Dave Kingman, Mark McGwire and Carlos Delgado and Alex Rodriguez each hit three or more in five different games. ARod’s fifth such game occurred July 25, 2015.
Babe Ruth is still the only player to have two three home run games in the World Series, but as of October 22, 2011, Albert Pujols has joined the Babe with two three HR post-season games. On October 24, 2012, Pablo “Kung-fu Pando” Sandoval joined the Sultan of Swat, Reggie Jackson in 1977 and Prince Albert as the only other players to hit three in a World Series game.
In the Dead Ball Era between 1900 and 1920, not one player hit three home runs in a major league game.
Interestingly, Babe Ruth did not have a three home run game in any of the four years (1919, 1920, 1921 and 1927) in which he set the single season HR record. Nor did Roger Maris (or for that matter Mickey Mantle) in 1961.
Mark McGwire did it twice and Sammy Sosa once in 1998, the year they decimated the old HR record. Barry Bonds did it twice in 2001, and Sosa three more times that same year. The feat was accomplished a ridiculous 22 times in 2001, the year with the most three home run games.
The youngest player to hit three home runs in a major league game was Al Kaline at the tender age of 20 years and 119 days when he did it on April 17, 1955. Eddie Matthews was the only other player to do it before age 21, when he hit his three on July 20, 1952.
The oldest player to hit three in one game is Stan Musial at age 41 and 229 days on July 8, 1962. Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Jason Giambi are the only other players to accomplish this feat after reaching age 40.
Now’s a good time for some trivia questions, the first from my original 2010 post, the second from my 2013 update, and the third a new one.
(1) who are the only two major league players to hit five home runs in a double-header? This is a record that will probably never be matched again, since MLB teams no longer schedule double-headers.
(2) who hit the fewest career home runs for any player to hit three HRs in one game?
(3) who hit the fewest career home runs for any player to hit three HRs in one game twice?
Answer (1): Stan “The Man” Musial for the Cardinals against the New York Giants on May 2, 1954; and Nate Colbert for the Padres against the Atlanta Braves on August 1, 1972. Colbert was from St. Louis and claims to have personally attended the game in which Musial first accomplished the feat. Whether or not he actually did, it’s a great story.
Answer (2): Since 1951, Bill Glynn, who hit three dingers on July 5, 1954, but finished his major league career with only ten. Here’s a list of the players with the fewest career home runs to hit three in one game since 1951. However, the actual correct answer is probably Merv Connors, who hit three on September 17, 1938, but hit a total of only eight in his major league career.
There’s a lot more to the story than this, however. Merv Connors was one of the all-time great minor league sluggers. He hit 400 HRs in his minor league career, placing him in the top five all-time.
In the year he hit three home runs in one game for the Chicago White Sox, Connors hit three other HRs and in only 24 games, he batted .355 with a 1.146 OPS. He was only 24 years old that season, but he never played in the major leagues again.
No matter how bad his defense may have been, there’s no way a team doesn’t keep a player who hit like Connors did in his 1938 trial. By way of comparison, no other player on that White Sox team had an OPS higher than .854.
My guess is that an injury was involved. At any rate, he was sent back to Shreveport in the Texas League in 1939 and had a bad year, batting only .229. He was even worse in 1940, another season in which he was almost certainly battling injuries.
That poor year got Connors sent down to the low minors in 1941. He bounced back that year and also had a great 1942 campaign back in the Texas League, but he was now going on age 29. 1943 appears to be another season in which he battled injuries, and he was then drafted for the last two years of the War.
When Connors returned to professional baseball, he was 32 years old. He spent most of the remaining eight years of his career playing in B and C leagues in Texas. For what it’s worth, Merv Connors was born and died in Berkeley, California, the location in which I’m writing this post. Needless to say, he attended Berkeley High School.
Answer (3): The New York Giants’ immortal pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes, who hit only 54 HRs in his career. Darnell Coles (75), Pat Seerey (86), and Erubiel Durazo (94) are the only other players I am aware of who have multiple three home run games but finish their MLB careers with fewer than 100.