One (1) Career Homer

There aren’t a lot of things that Duane Kuiper is famous for. San Francisco Giants fans, of course, know him as half of their broadcast team, alongside Mike Krukow, and older Cleveland Indians fan might remember him from their 1970s heyday. Besides that, most baseball fans across the country likely have no clue who he is – unless they’re fans of the great sportswriter, Joe Posnanski.

Fans of Posnanski, like me, who have been reading his blog for the last couple of years probably know way more about Duane Kuiper than we ever would’ve thought imaginable. Kuiper, after all, was not the most effective major leaguer, especially with the bat, though he did manage to stick around for 12 seasons (his glove made up for his anemic bat). If you read Poz’s blog long enough (like, say, a week), you’re bound to come across the fact that Kuiper, despite having over 3,700 plate appearances, only ever managed to hit one home run in his entire career. No other player could boast that many plate appearances with only one home run. It’s one of the most remarkable factoids you can find in baseball’s annals.

But as funny and endearing as it is, thirty years later, I wonder what it was like when it happened. After all, Kuiper had no way of knowing that it would be his last. Sure, he was already 1,300 at-bats into his career when that first one came, but, even then, you’d have to think that he felt that, given 2,000 more at-bats, he’d have one or two more. But he never did. So what happened that day, August 29, 1977?

The Associated Press said that Kuiper benefited from the “day of the homer“:

(Click “Read More” to continue reading.)

Home runs are old hat to Jim Rice, Chris Chambliss… and now Duane Kuiper.

While Rice slammed three wasted homers in the Boston Red Sox’s 8-7 loss to the Oakland A’s and Chambliss – whose dramatic ninth inning homer gave the New York Yankees the 1976 American League pennant – slugged a pinch three-run shot to again turn back the Kansas City Royals 5-3, Kuiper got into the act with the very first home run of his three-year big league career.

“This should put to rest forever the question of whether the ball is juiced up this year,” quipped the Cleveland second baseman after his blast triggered a three-homer first inning that started the Indians to a 9-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Kuiper, who had failed to hit the ball out of the park in 1,381 previous trips to the plate – the longest current string of homerless at-bats in the majors – was greeted by the entire Cleveland bench as he crossed home plate.

“It was exciting, believe me,” he said, “At first, I didn’t think it was going out, but I never think they’re going to go out.”

It turns out that Kuiper’s lone career home run was not the most historic event to take place that Monday. That same night, in San Diego, St. Louis’s Lou Brock stole two bases – the 892nd and 893rd stolen bases of his career – to tie and then break Ty Cobb’s career stolen base record. Talk about one memorable moment outshining another.

Funnily enough, though, the Kuiper/Brock connection isn’t the only case of a player’s sole career home run occurring on the same day as something more memorable. There have only been four non-pitchers since 1981 who had only one home run in more 1,000 plate appearances: Kuiper, who retired in 1985; Al Newman, 2,409 PAs from 1985-1992; Jason Tyner, 1,467 PAs from 2000-2008; and Joey Gathright, who has 1,328 PAs since he debuted in 2004. Since Gathright is still an active player, that means that we only have three players in the last 28 years who managed only one home run in a lengthy career, and two of those managed theirs on other significant days.

From the July 7, 1986, Toronto Star:

[Bob] Horner became the 11th player in major league history to hit four homers in a game. He hit solo homers in the second, fourth and ninth, and powered Atlanta’s five-run outburst in the fifth with a three-run shot. He has 17 homers this season.

The last man to hit four homers in a game was Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt at Chicago on April 17, 1976, in a 10-inning game. The last man to hit four in a nine inning game was Willie Mays on April 30, 1961.

“In my wildest dreams I would never have expected to do anything like that,” Horner said. “I had a good week today.”

“You hit four home runs and you still lose the game,” he said in disbelief.

Montreal scored three times in the fourth and six times in the fifth to overpower Horner and the Braves. Andre Dawson, Mitch Webster and Al Newman homered for Montreal.

Newman hit his first major league home run in Montreal’s three-run fourth.

“I guess there’s one in everybody,” said Newman. “I did have a home run in the minors in 1982,” Newman said. “You know, every four years. Maybe in 1990 . . .”

Newman would go his next 2,200+ plate appearances without a home run before retiring in 1992.

The last and most recent non-pitcher to end his career with more than 1,000 plate appearances and only one home run was Tampa Bay and Minnesota left fielder Jason Tyner. And while it may not have come on a momentous day like the others (though it did come one day after Barry Bonds hit home run #754), it was still a very memorable day for those involved. And, with it being the internet age, those memories are well-preserved. From MLB.com:

The 352-foot shot off Indians starter Jake Westbrook was so close to not going over the wall that Tyner sprinted around to second base before realizing that he had finally hit his first big league home run.

And from that point on, it seemed like the smile couldn’t be wiped off Tyner’s face.

“I’m excited,” Tyner said after the win. “Every time I hit one really well, it was like the wind was blowing in or it was at the Metrodome, where I don’t really have a chance. It did seem like I never was going to hit one.”

The excitement wasn’t lost on his teammates, who greeted him with an unusual occurrence for a player’s first career homer — a celebration. Normally a player gets the silent treatment. But this was, after all, something they all felt was a special occasion. So awaiting Tyner upon his return were a bunch of high fives and a big hug from the team’s unofficial cheerleader and clubhouse attendant, Wayne “Big Fella” Hattaway.

“There was lots of emotions in that one,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Everyone was really, really excited.”

Tyner would get only about 150 more plate appearances in his career, appearing in only one game in 2008. But at least he got that one lone home run before he was out of the majors.

There may not be many players anymore in these circumstances, but it’s still a good reminder to appreciate things as they come. And it makes you wonder who will be the next player to join this list. Will Gathright ever get another home run? Will Reggie Willits, the active leader in most career at-bats without a home run, join this list at some point, or will he benefit from the era and get a few more? Who knows, but I hope whoever it is takes the time to savor that one home run.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.

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