Most player milestone games are well documented, at least for the past 75 years or more. That, of course, is because the milestone is anticipated, often making the game when the milestone is reached somewhat anti-climatic. But, I’ll be looking at a different type of milestone game in this post, milestones that are not anticipated, not even by the players involved. More on these mystery milestones are after the jump.
Following up from the last post on the 2019 home run surge, here is a look back at the evolution of certain “mystery” milestone home run games, those which were the first game in which 2, 3, 4, or more players appeared who had then reached various milestones in career home runs.
In contrast to today’s game, hitting 200 home runs in a career was once a notable accomplishment. In fact, it wasn’t until 1955 that there were more than 10 active players at the level, and not until 1971 were there more than 10 active players at the 300 home run level. Beyond 300 home runs, significant numbers of active players are relatively rare. For example, there are only three active 400 home run players today, a level that was first reached only in 1963, as shown in the chart below.
Nevertheless, at certain times in the game’s history, there have been larger numbers of such players and, when a couple or more end up on the same teams, and when those teams play each other, the chance exists for a milestone game such as the ones I’ll be identifying here.
Following then are the games and players involved the first time different numbers of players appeared in the same game who had already reached career milestones of 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 home runs. While there is nothing notable about what transpired in most of these games, and most often the players involved were in the twilight of their careers and well past their primes, I’ve nevertheless found it interesting to identify the fate and circumstances that brought these players together to appear in these games.
While I believe the games below are the milestone games I’ve purported them to be, there’s no guarantee of that. So, if you’re aware of earlier occasions, I welcome your feedback to identify those games.
Babe Ruth became baseball’s career home run leader in 1921, a mantle he held for more than 50 years. He reached the milestones of 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 home runs in 1923, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1931 and 1934, respectively. The second player to reach each of those milestones did so 3 years after Ruth (200), 9 years after (300 and 400), 11 years after (500), 38 years after (600), and 70 years after (700).
|Babe Ruth (577), Lou Gehrig (200)||NYY||06-20-1931||200||06-24-1927||NYG||Rogers Hornsby (204)|
|SLB||PHI||Cy Williams (216)|
|Gehrig’s homer made him the fifth player to reach 200, just two days after Hack Wilson had become number 4. After a 35-30 start, the Yankees finished the season 59-29 but gained only 1½ games on the high-flying A’s who claimed their third straight pennant.||Hornsby homered and doubled in this game in his only season as a Giant. At age 39, Williams launched 30 round-trippers this season, the oldest player to lead his league in home runs.|
|Babe Ruth (689), Lou Gehrig (300)||NYY||04-30-1934||300||06-29-1939||BSN||Al Simmons (300)|
|WSH||NYG||Mel Ott (354)|
|Gehrig homered and doubled in this game, edging out Hornsby by 18 days in the race to become the second player (and second Yankee) to reach 300. Gehrig’s opponent this day, the Senators/Twins are, 85 years later, still waiting for the franchise’s second 300 HR man.||Simmons was still at 300 almost two months after reaching that milestone; he would be traded to the Reds before season’s end. Ott reached 100 walks for the seventh time, overtaking (by one) Jimmy Sheckard as the NL career walks leader.|
|Jimmie Foxx (402)||BOS||07-03-1938||400||06-04-1942||NYG||Mel Ott (422)|
|Lou Gehrig (477)||NYY||CHC||Jimmie Foxx (524)|
|Yankees won 9-3 for their eighth straight win, closing within 1½ games of the front-running Indians. New York would finish the season 59-28 to easily claim their third straight pennant.||Ott led his league in runs, walks and home runs in this season, his only time with that trifecta. In his first NL season, Foxx stole the last base of his career (but not in this game); thus emboldened, he would finish the season with three unsuccessful attempts.|
|Eddie Mathews (509)||DET||09-25-1967||500||08-05-1945||PHI||Jimmie Foxx (531)|
|Mickey Mantle (518)||NYY||NYG||Mel Ott (502)|
|Both principals manned first base as the ninth place Yanks took this late-season tilt from Detroit. But, the leading Twins also lost to keep the Tigers in the thick of a wild four-team pennant chase.||Ott was still going strong (151 OPS+), while Double-X was reinventing himself as a pitcher in his final season (had a nice 1.59 ERA in 22 IP). But, no one would have guessed that Master Melvin would play only 35 more games after this campaign.|
|Alex Rodriguez (626)||NYY||08-21-2011||600||04-27-1971||SFG||Willie Mays (633)|
|Jim Thome (601)||MIN||ATL||Hank Aaron (600)|
|This meeting almost didn’t happen as it was the last game of the season between these clubs, and A-Rod’s first game back after missing 38 games to injury. These players also did not meet in Thome’s last season in 2012.||The two principals were front and center with an Aaron home run to reach 600, and a 10th inning game winning hit for Mays.|
Having three players in a game at a milestone home run level means, of course, that at least two of them must be teammates. As we saw in the previous table, Ruth and Gehrig were the first teammates to reach career home run milestones and therefore figure prominently again in the first games with there milestone players. Beyond 300 home runs, milestone teammates become quite rare, with most instances identified here.
|Al Simmons (205)||PHA||09-05-1932||200||06-30-1937||PHI||Chuck Klein (261)|
|Babe Ruth (651), Lou Gehrig (254)||NYY||NYG||Mel Ott (291), Wally Berger (201)|
|Simmons and Ruth both homered in this first game of a double-header. The Yankees won both to extinguish any faint hopes the defending champs may have had for a four-peat.||Ott homered and Berger doubled twice as the defending champs easily handled the hapless Phils to remain a half-game back of the Cubs. New York would fall to 6½ back in mid-August, before closing on a 36-14 tear to retain their crown.|
|Babe Ruth (694), Lou Gehrig (311)||NYY||05-28-1934||300||04-25-1958||STL||Stan Musial (385)|
|Rogers Hornsby (300)||SLB||LAD||Duke Snider (317), Gil Hodges (300)|
|Gehrig smacked 11 homers in the four weeks after reaching 300, including a pair in this game as the Yanks prevailed 13-9, going yard 5 times including one by the Babe playing his final season as a Yankee.||Dodger pitchers went 2 for 3 at the plate and scored twice in a 5-3 win in the Cardinals’ first ever visit to LA.|
|Sammy Sosa (574), Rafael Palmeiro (551)||BAL||04-08-2005||400||06-11-1964||MLN||Eddie Mathews (426)|
|Gary Sheffield (416)||NYY||SFG||Willie Mays (424), Duke Snider (406)|
|Sheffield and Hideki Matsui homered, the latter’s third in four games to begin the season. But, the Yanks were pummeled 12-8.||Snider’s pinch double keyed a 3-run 9th inning rally for the Giants, but the Braves held on for a 6-5 win. Last season for Snider, and for Billy Pierce who also appeared In this game.|
|Ken Griffey Jr. (608), Jim Thome (532)||CHW||08-17-2008||500||06-10-2005||BAL||Sammy Sosa (580), Rafael Palmeiro (559)|
|Frank Thomas (521)||OAK||CIN||Ken Griffey Jr. (511)|
|The Sox had acquired Griffey at the deadline to buttress their post-season hopes. Chicago was successful in that quest, though Griffey’s contributions were modest at best, and he and Thome were both with new teams the next season. Final season for the Big Hurt.||The first ever game with three 500 HR men was this inter-league matchup in Palmeiro’s final season. The Orioles led the East by four games after a 4-3 win in this contest, but a 14-30 swoon after the All-Star break would seal their fate as also-rans.|
Beyond 300 home runs, four or more players in a game are very rare. There still has not been an NL game with four 400 home run men.
|Rogers Hornsby (300), Jim Bottomley (208)||SLB||05-31-1936||200||07-31-1955||BRO||Gil Hodges (230), Duke Snider (226), Roy Campanella (200)|
|Al Simmons (260), Goose Goslin (225)||DET||STL||Stan Musial (315)|
|The Browns prevailed 11-10 after a 5-run rally in the 9th that included a pinch-hit RBI from player-manager Hornsby, making the first of only two game appearances this season.||Campanella and Musial homered, and the Dodgers mashed 11-2 as Don Newcombe extended his record to 18-1 en route to Brooklyn’s only world championship season.|
|Al Kaline (376), Frank Howard (370), Norm Cash (353)||DET||04-16-1973||300||04-20-1963||MLN||Eddie Mathews (400), Hank Aaron (300)|
|Orlando Cepeda (359)||BOS||NYM||Duke Snider (392), Gil Hodges (370)|
|The Tigers had acquired Howard from the Senators the previous season to become the first team with three 300 HR men. This would be Howard’s final year, while the other three bade farewell the next season.||Aaron homered in this game, but it was only the 9th of Tommie’s career and his only blast at the Polo Grounds. Final season for Hodges who played just eight more games after this one.|
|Gary Sheffield (428), Alex Rodriguez (401)||NYY||06-27-2005||400||06-18-2002||TEX||Rafael Palmeiro (460), Juan Gonzalez (401)|
|Sammy Sosa (583), Rafael Palmeiro (562)||BAL||CHC||Sammy Sosa (475), Fred McGriff (459)|
|The Orioles traded for Sosa before this season to become the first team with a pair of 500 HR men. Palmeiro went 2 for 2 in this contest, his last career game not making an out.||This inter-league tilt was the first to feature four 400 HR men. Palmeiro homered for the Rangers, but not Gonzo. Instead, another Gonzalez (Alex) replied with a walk-off shot for the Cubs.|
Five or more players in a game has only been recorded at the 200 and 300 home run levels. Interestingly, the gap between the first 5 x 200 and 5 x 300 games was almost the same in both leagues, at 49 years (AL) and 50 years (NL).
|Joe DiMaggio (341), Johnny Mize (335)||NYY||09-07-1950||200||05-15-1956||STL||Stan Musial (330), Hank Sauer (244)|
|Ted Williams (290), Vern Stephens (206), Bobby Doerr (206)||BOS||BRO||Gil Hodges (245,) Duke Snider (237,) Roy Campanella (214)|
|Williams returned to the lineup after a lengthy stay on the injury list as Boston outslugged the Bombers 10-8, their second of six straight wins that brought them within a game of the defending champs. But, a desultory 8-8 finish would leave the Red Sox short of the pennant, again.||It was the same group from the 4 x 200 game the previous year plus Sauer, acquired from the Cubs just before the season began. St. Louis started the year well and were leading the pack despite a loss in this game. But, it didn’t last as a 6-15 slide sandwiching the All-Star Game relegated the Redbirds to also-rans.|
|Jose Canseco (398), Fred McGriff (358)||TBD||04-05-1999||300||08-29-2006||SFG||Barry Bonds (727), Moises Alou (311), Steve Finley (306)|
|Cal Ripken (359), Harold Baines (348), Albert Belle (322)||BAL||ATL||Chipper Jones (333), Andruw Jones (333)|
|Opening day game and new hired guns Canseco and Belle both homered. Ripken’s consecutive game streak had ended, by choice, the previous September. If not then, the streak would have ended after this game, as Ripken pulled something legging out a bunt and missed the next two games.||Chipper homered as did Andruw, twice, as the Braves outslugged the Giants 13-8. After 11 straight division titles, Atlanta finally finished out of the money this season, their first losing campaign in 16 years.|
Six players at the 300 home run level has only occurred in the AL and only in the 2005 season.
|Johnny Callison (226), Felipe Alou (206)||NYY||08-06-1973||200||06-12-1957||MLN||Bobby Thomson (219), Andy Pafko (201), Eddie Mathews (200)|
|Al Kaline (381), Frank Howard (378), Norm Cash (366), Willie Horton (205)||DET||BRO||Duke Snider (286,) Gil Hodges (281,) Roy Campanella (237)|
|You’re forgiven if you didn’t know that Callison and Alou had been Yankees; the former had but 3 games left in his career, and the latter only 39. The Tigers’ more likely 6 x 200 game this season would have been with the Orioles‘ Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson, but those six never quite made it into the same game.||The Dodger trio make it three years running with a milestone game, this one coming in their last season in Brooklyn and, tragically, the last of Campanella’s career. Mathews homered to get to 200; good thing he did as this would be the last chance for these six with Thomson being traded to the Giants two days later.|
|Sammy Sosa (574), Rafael Palmeiro (551)||BAL||04-08-2005||300|
|Gary Sheffield (416), Alex Rodriguez (382), Tino Martinez (323), Ruben Sierra (302)||NYY|
|This game is the same contest as the AL’s first 3 x 400 game. Jason Giambi would later this season make it a Yankee team with five 300 HR men, but there would be no 7 x 300 game.|
7 or more Players
There have been seven or more players in a game only at the 200 home run level, so the following table is structured to show progressive numbers of players at this single milestone level. 2003 was a notable season, and Robin Ventura the pivotal player who played for teams in both leagues that season and, consequently, appeared in three milestone games.
|AL||200 Home Runs||NL|
|Gorman Thomas (262), Ben Oglivie (233), Cecil Cooper (230)||MIL||07-22-1986||7 players||07-02-1971||PIT||Roberto Clemente (225), Willie Stargell (224)|
|Reggie Jackson (537), George Hendrick (253), Bobby Grich (220), Doug DeCinces (205)||CAL||CHC||Ernie Banks (510), Billy Williams (307), Ron Santo (294), Johnny Callison (210), Joe Pepitone (203)|
|These Angels are the only team to have 7 players aged 35 or older with 90 or more games; but, that didn’t stop them from taking the division crown. This was Thomas’s first game after being reacquired by the Brewers for his farewell tour. It was also the last season for Oglivie and Grich.||Cubs become first team with five 200 HR men as Ernie Banks plays his final season. Pirates went up 4 games with a win in this game; that lead would slip under 4 games only once the rest of the season.|
|Jim Rice (351), Don Baylor (315), Dwight Evans (291), Tony Armas (224)||BOS||10-11-1986||8 Players||08-01-2003||LAD||Rickey Henderson (297), Robin Ventura (284), Shawn Green (245), Jeromy Burnitz (228)|
|Reggie Jackson (548), George Hendrick (259), Bobby Grich (224), Doug DeCinces (221)||CAL||ATL||Gary Sheffield (366), Chipper Jones (271), Vinny Castilla (263), Andruw Jones (211)|
|Yes, a post-season game, and a good one too. Angels score 3 in the 9th to tie, then walk it off in the 11th on Grich’s RBI single. Halos take a 3-1 series lead, BUT they couldn’t close the deal.||Greg Maddux gets the win in his final season as a Brave; he’ll finish the season just 11 wins shy of 300. Atlanta claims its 9th straight division crown, holding down first place for the final 160 days of the season. This was Ventura’s first game as a Dodger, and his second of three milestone games this season.|
|Robin Ventura (280), Raul Mondesi (246), Todd Zeile (235), Jason Giambi (233), Bernie Williams (232)||NYY||04-26-2003||9 Players|
|Rafael Palmeiro (497), Juan Gonzalez (411), Alex Rodriguez (306), Ruben Sierra (278)||TEX|
|Four of these players would finish the season playing elsewhere, and three others did so the next year. But, they were all on the same field on this day.|
|10 Players||09-19-2003||SFG||Barry Bonds (657), Andres Galarraga (397), Benito Santiago (211), Marquis Grissom (201)|
|LAD||Fred McGriff (491), Rickey Henderson (297), Robin Ventura (288), Shawn Green (251), Jeromy Burnitz (236), Todd Hundley (202)|
|The defending champion Giants had already clinched the division crown, but the Dodgers were grinding, using no fewer than six pinch-hitters. In his final career game, Rickey Henderson scored the last of his record 2295 runs.|