By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist
THE MOST IMPORTANT fact about Garrett Jones’ monster two-run home run Sunday is that it tied the Reds-Pirates game at 4 in the eighth inning. But the most historic fact about the achievement is that the shot made him the first Pirate in the 13-year history of PNC Park to hit a ball on the fly into the Allegheny River.
Before Sunday, the only other player to reach the water on the fly was Houston’s Darryl Ward, when he connected off Kip Wells in July 2002.
Jones’s ball traveled an estimated 463 feet before taking the plunge, allowing the Bucs to climb back from a 4-0 first-inning hole and providing his team the opportunity to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds when Pittsburgh’s comeback was complete thanks to Russell Martin’s bases-loaded hit in the 11th inning.
Certainly the Jones Sportscenter spectacular was a marvel to behold, but nobody ever hit monster home runs like Willie Stargell.
Eighteen balls cleared the 86-foot high right-field roof of Forbes Field, home to the Bucs from 1909-1970. Playing for the Boston Braves in 1936, Babe Ruth became the first when he socked his 714th and final home run over the roof.
Stargell did it seven times.
Of the six home runs hit in the right field upper deck at Three Rivers Stadium, Pops smacked four of them.
Four other significant Stargell swats come to mind immediately:
ä Stargell was the first player to hit a home run out of Dodger Stadium, and he did it twice. His 506-foot bomb off Alan Foster on Aug. 5, 1969, sailed over the right-field pavilion. Only two players have done it since—Mike Piazza and Mark McGwire, but nobody besides Willie did it twice.
ä The second memorable homer occurred on June 25, 1971 when Stargell became the first player to hit a home run into the 600 level in the upper deck at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. The other two players were Butch Huskey and Ruben Rivera. Stargell’s shot was marked with a gold star at the Vet.
In fact, Willie hit the ball out of the circular ballpark. His shot landed in and rolled through one of the exit openings and ramps.
ä Stargell’s second homer hit out of Dodger Stadium was his 470-foot cruncher on May 8, 1973, off Andy Messersmith.
ä Willie’s 535-foot shot at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on May 20, 1978 (marked with a gold seat back) was the longest homer ever hit at the facility. Stargell also teed off long and often at the Expos’ bandbox Parc Jarry during the team’s early years in the National League. Stargell once hit a ball into a swimming pool beyond the right field fence there.
Pedro Alvarez hit 30 homeruns during the 2012 season, one fewer than Andrew McCutchen. Stargell hit 30 in 1971 and again in 1973 … BEFORE the all-star break.
Nobody hit more home runs in the 1970s than Willie, a major factor in the team’s six division flags, two league titles, and two World Series wins. In the 10 years from 1970-1979, the Pirates finished lower than second only once, when they were eliminated on the next-to-last day of the 1973 season, finishing third.
Stargell was proud achiever of 7 team records: years played (21), home runs (475), extra base hits (953), grand slams (11, tied with Ralph Kiner), RBIs (1540), total bases on extra-base hits (2032), and walks (937).
REDS-FACED: You’ll forgive me if I decide to pass the next time Cincinnati comes to town. The last two Pirates-Reds games I attended were Homer Bailey’s no-hitter last September and Johnny Cueto’s shared one-hitter last Friday. That’s no runs on just one hit over 18 innings….While the goal of successful teams is to maintain an even keel over the long course of a long, six-month regular season, it was both unsurprising and understandable that the Bucs had a letdown after a wonderful four-game series with Detroit, resulting in their poor showing in the first two games.
Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for the Allied News.