New York Yankees fans blistered Pittsuburg Pirates’ pitcher Eric Stout for avoiding the possibility of giving up a record-tying home run to Yankees’ slugger Aaron Judge after Stout threw four straight pitches out of the strike zone, walking Judge on four pitches.
It was clear that Judge’s at-bat against Stout would be his last of the game, as it came in the eighth inning with the Yankees leading 11-2. There would be no reason to try to pitch around Judge as the game was not even close to being on the line; Judge has 60 home runs, and his 61st would tie the American League record held by the Yankees’ Roger Maris.
“Eric Stout is the biggest coward in baseball,” wrote one fan on social media. Another chimed in, “If you walk Aaron Judge on four pitches in garbage time the crowd should be allowed to throw batteries at you.”
Pitchers who have given up legendary home runs have been immortalized by baseball fans, who largely cherish records and statistics more than fans in any other sport. The history of baseball is replete with such pitchers; here are some examples.
In 1927, the Washington Senators’ Tom Zachary gave up Babe Ruth’s famed 60th homer of the season, a record not to be broken until Maris came along 34 years later. Ironically, two years later, Zachary, as a member of the Yankees, boasted an unbelievable 12-0 record, the major league record for most pitching wins without a loss in one season.
In 1932, Ruth immortalized another pitcher, this time the Chicago Cubs’ Charlie Root, when he famously “called his shot” after having two strikes on him in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. With the Cubs heckling him from the bench, Ruth pointed his bat toward the center field bleachers. If he weren’t already considered immortal by baseball fans, this cemented his incredible legacy.
In 1951, in “The shot heard round the world,” Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca was vicitimized by the New York Giants Bobby Thomson in the bottom of the ninth inning of the third game of their playoff series to determine which team would go to the World Series. The Giants had made an amazing run to catch the Dodgers, winning 37 of their last 44 games. What got lost in the aftermath of the game was that Thomson had already hit a home run against Branca in the first game of the series, which the Giants won 3-1. Branca started the first game; in the third he was brought in as a relief pitcher.
Just to illustrate how dramatic Thomson’s homer was, over forty years later a Marine who had been stationed in Korea in 1951 sent him a letter that stated:
I was in a bunker in the front line with my buddy listening to the radio. It was contrary to orders, but he was a Giants fanatic. He never made it home and I promised him if I ever got back I’d write and tell you about the happiest moment of his life. It’s taken me this long to put my feelings into words. On behalf of my buddy, thanks, Bobby.
Although Bill Mazeroski’s seventh game 9th inning home run won the 1960 World series over the Yankees in one of the most dramatic Series ever played, Ralph Terry, who won the seventh game two years later against the San Francisco Giants to clinch the World Series, has not been made quite as famous as some of the other pitchers for that moment.
But the next year, Tracy Stallard of the Boston Red Sox gave up Maris’ 61st home run to break Ruth’s record, a much-remembered baseball memory.
In 1974, Al Downing, who had a highly successful career earlier with the Yankees, was pitching for the Dodgers when he gave up the legendary 715th home run of Hank Aaron’s to break Ruth’s career home run record.
And in 1988, ace reliever Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics famously tried to throw a backdoor slider to the Dodgers injured star Kirk Gibson, and the late Vin Scully’s call has itself deservedly become legendary.