Our ranking of the top 10 home runs in Yankees history will surely spark some debate, but the legacies of the players who authored them are set in stone
Yankees Magazine |
En route to more pennants and more championships than any team in Major League history, the Yankees have produced a galaxy of unforgettable moments, forged by players whose names are forever etched in Yankees lore. And like meteors streaking across the night sky, many of those moments happened in the blink of an eye.
The millisecond when bat meets ball can yield nearly infinite results. But when the planets align and all the factors leading up to the moment of impact come together just right, one swing can be life-changing. Just ask Aaron Boone.
For all the championship glory that the Yankees tasted in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was Boone's pennant-winning shot against the Red Sox in 2003 -- a year that did not end in a World Series parade up the Canyon of Heroes -- that resonates more deeply than perhaps any other singular moment of that era.
"I've grown to really appreciate having a small place in the history of the greatest franchise in sports," Boone told Yankees Magazine in 2013 for a feature looking back on his epic blast. "I enjoy being in New York and having people come up to me to tell me where they were when I hit that home run. I love hearing that it was the best moment they ever saw on a baseball field. I also enjoy when people in Boston recognize me and tell me that it was the worst moment of their lives."
From Ruth to Reggie, there have been Yankees of all different stripes whose uncanny ability to put a ball in the seats -- or, in Mantle's case, over them -- at precisely the right moment or in unprecedented ways has inspired awe and wonder. Ranking these feats is a nearly impossible task, but a fun one nonetheless, meant to spark conversation rather than provide a definitive list.
Gazing into the future, it's hard to imagine what it would take to crack the Yankees' top five or supplant No. 1. But that's the thing about history -- it can come unexpectedly, and it can happen in the blink of an eye.
Just ask Aaron Boone.
10. Oct. 23, 1996: Leyritz caps six-run comeback
After dropping the first two games of the 1996 World Series at Yankee Stadium to the Atlanta Braves by a combined score of 16-1, the Yankees bounced back with a 5-2 win in the Series' first game at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. But in Game 4, the Yankees found themselves in a 6-0 hole after five innings. After the Yankees pulled to within 6-3, Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox called upon hard-throwing right-handed closer Mark Wohlers in the eighth to record the final six outs. Charlie Hayes and Darryl Strawberry greeted Wohlers with singles and, after Mariano Duncan's grounder forced Strawberry at second, Jim Leyritz stepped to the plate for the first time in the game. He had gone in to catch after Paul O'Neill batted for Joe Girardi in the Yankees' three-run sixth. Already the owner of one of the franchise's most dramatic postseason homers -- a 15th-inning blast in Game 2 of the 1995 American League Division Series that sent Yankee Stadium into a frenzy -- Leyritz further ensured his place in Yankees history when, on a 2-2 pitch, he turned on a Wohlers slider.
"In the air to left field, back at the track, at the wall, we are tied!" exclaimed Fox announcer Joe Buck. New York relievers would hold the Braves scoreless after the fifth inning and won it 8-6 with two runs in the 10th, tying the Series.
9. April 18, 1923: Ruth christens Yankee Stadium
It's hard to imagine anyone other than Babe Ruth hitting the inaugural home run at Yankee Stadium. Prior to the game, he told reporters that he'd give a year off his life if he could accomplish the feat. Sure enough, before an announced Opening Day crowd of 74,200, Ruth stepped to the plate in the third inning for his second at-bat. At the time, the Yankees were leading 1-0 with two outs and two men on base. As if scripted, The Bambino then deposited Boston starter Howard Ehmke's 2-2 pitch 10 rows deep into the right-field seats for a three-run homer, and the Yankees went on to win 4-1. Ruth would go on to launch so many longballs into that section of the Stadium that it became known as "Ruthville," and the Stadium itself would earn the nickname "The House That Ruth Built."
8. May 30, 1956, & May 22, 1963: The Mick almost hits one out of the Stadium -- twice
They weren't the longest of the 271 home runs Mickey Mantle hit in The House That Ruth Built (including five in the World Series), but none proved more jaw-dropping than the ones he hit off the Washington Senators' Pedro Ramos (1956) and Bill Fischer of the Kansas City A's (1963). After ushering in the "tape-measure" home run era with a legendary blast at Washington's Griffith Stadium in 1953, Mantle twice hit Yankee Stadium's famed copper frieze atop the third deck in right field, more than 100 feet above the playing field, missing out on becoming the only player to hit a fair ball out of the Stadium by just a few feet each time. His '63 "moon shot," which came on the day the city had honored Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper with a ticker-tape parade, almost didn't happen. Mantle was scheduled to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but the Yankees held a 7-6 lead with two outs in the top of the inning. A home run by Kansas City's Ed Charles prolonged the game, though, and gave Mantle two more at-bats. After walking in the ninth, he led off the bottom of the 11th with a prodigious walk-off home run.
7. Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2001: Lightning strikes twice as Yankees shock Diamondbacks in back-to-back games
After the Diamondbacks had won the first two games of the 2001 World Series in Arizona, the Yankees took game Game 3 at Yankee Stadium behind the pitching of Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera. But for eight innings in Game 4, any momentum appeared to have stalled as the Yankees came up in the bottom of the ninth trailing 3-1. After Paul O'Neill's one-out single off Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim, Bernie Williams struck out. Tino Martinez -- whose grand slam against San Diego three years earlier propelled the Yankees to victory in Game 1 of that Fall Classic -- wasted no time in adding to his World Series heroics, sending Kim's first pitch over the wall in right-center field to tie the game.
Given the atmosphere in New York at the time -- Ground Zero was still smoldering -- it was instantly one of the most poignant home runs in Yankees history. And in the bottom of the 10th, Derek Jeter would add to the drama when, just after the clock turned to midnight, he homered into the seats in right field, giving the Yankees a 4-3 win while tying the Series at two games apiece and earning the nickname "Mr. November."
Although Scott Brosius already occupied a respected place in Yankees postseason history -- his two-home run performance in Game 3 of the 1998 World Series at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium helped earn him Series MVP honors -- no one could have envisioned his improbable feat in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2001 Fall Classic at Yankee Stadium. One day after Martinez's stunning two-out, two-run, ninth-inning home run off Kim helped the Yankees avoid falling behind 3 games to 1 in the Series, Brosius found himself in nearly the exact same situation. With the Yankees trailing 2-0 in the ninth, Jorge Posada stood on second base when Brosius stepped to the plate with two outs. Batting just .143 in the postseason and without a home run since Sept. 21, he launched Kim's 1-0 pitch into the left-field stands to tie the game and cement what was perhaps the most-exhilarating 24-hour period in Yankee Stadium history. The Yankees went on to win the game 3-2 on Alfonso Soriano's 12th-inning RBI single, but dropped the Series in seven games. For Brosius, the historic home run would be the last hit of his Major League career.
6. Oct. 18, 1977: With three swings, Reggie clinches crown
After a tumultuous inaugural season in the Bronx, Reggie Jackson earned the nickname "Mr. October" in Game 6 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Yankee Stadium by homering on three consecutive swings against three different pitchers (Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa and Charlie Hough). Often forgotten is that Jackson also homered on his last swing at Dodger Stadium in Game 5, giving him four World Series homers on four straight swings. His five home runs in the six-game Series stood as the all-time single-series record until Philadelphia's Chase Utley also belted five in the 2009 World Series against the Yankees.
It had been 12 years since the Yankees had reached the World Series when Chris Chambliss led off the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive Game 5 of the 1976 American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals' Mark Littell at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees had held a 6-3 lead after seven innings, but George Brett's dramatic three-run homer in the eighth stunned the crowd and set up Chambliss's heroics. Littell, who had retired all five batters he faced since entering the game with one out in the seventh, had to endure a delay on the mound before starting the bottom of the ninth while the field was cleared of debris thrown from the stands. Then, like the Cardinals' Barney Schultz in Game 3 of the '64 World Series, he would throw just one pitch in the ninth inning. Chambliss's first-pitch blast just cleared the wall in right field and gave the Yankees a 7-6 win and their first AL pennant since 1964. It also set off a free-for-all, as thousands of fans rushed the playing field before Chambliss could finish circling the bases. He had to be escorted back onto the field later to make certain that he had touched home plate -- or the spot where the plate once was. By that time, it had been removed by fans.
4. Oct. 16, 2003: Boone buries Boston with 11th-inning KO
Before launching Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's first pitch of the 11th inning of Game 7 into the left-field seats at Yankee Stadium to win the 2003 pennant, Aaron Boone was mired in a miserable postseason slump. After a 2-for-4 performance in the first game of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees' midseason acquisition was just 3-for-27 over the next nine games and was benched for Game 7 of the ALCS in favor of Enrique Wilson. But during the Yankees' three-run, game-tying rally in the eighth inning, Joe Torre sent Ruben Sierra up to bat for Wilson. When Sierra walked, Boone was sent in to pinch-run and, with the game knotted at 5-5, he went to third base for the top of the ninth. Two innings later, Boone would lead off the 11th inning and etch his name into Yankees history.
3. Oct. 2, 1978: Bucky's blast dooms Sox
Dent sent Red Sox starter Mike Torrez's 1-1 pitch into the netting atop the Green Monster to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The blast would earn Dent a place in Yankees history as well as a new, unprintable middle name in Boston. Somewhat lost in the memories of that classic game was Reggie Jackson's leadoff homer into the center-field bleachers in the eighth inning, which gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. The Sox would close the gap to 5-4 and had the tying and winning runs aboard in the ninth before Goose Gossage got Carl Yastrzemski to pop out to Graig Nettles at third base, securing the division crown.
2. Oct. 1, 1961: 61*
The word "asterisk" was never used by Commissioner Ford Frick in 1961, only that there would be "some distinctive mark" to separate records for those accomplished in the old 154-schedule and those in baseball's new 162-game slate. That season, both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris threatened Babe Ruth's home run record of 60 set in 1927, but Mantle, at 54 homers, bowed out of the race with an injury in mid-September. When Maris stood at 59 after the Yankees' 154th game, a win at Baltimore in which he did not homer, it was said that he had fallen one short of The Babe's record based on Frick's terms. With the air out of the balloon, Maris actually sat out the game after he tied Ruth's hallowed record -- on Sept. 26 off the Orioles' Jack Fisher at Yankee Stadium -- with four games remaining on the schedule. In his second at-bat of the season's final game on Oct. 1, before a Stadium crowd of just 23,154, Maris launched a 2-0 pitch from Boston's Tracy Stallard into the lower stands in right field for his 61st home run of the season. It was the only run of the game. In 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent convened a statistical committee to review the continuation of separate 154-game and 162-game records. The committee voted to abolish the distinction and Maris -- 30 years after he hit No. 61 and six years after he had passed away -- finally stood alone.
1. Oct. 1, 1932: Ruth adds 'Called Shot' to his legend
Did he or didn't he? More than 80 years after Babe Ruth's legendary "called shot" home run at Wrigley Field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, we still don't know if he actually did call it -- and we probably never will. Even a 16-mm home movie of the at-bat, shot by a fan and discovered decades later, didn't solve the mystery. Although baseball's version of the "Zapruder film" clearly shows The Babe pointing at something, it isn't clear at what. Was it the Cubs' pitcher, Charlie Root, who got two quick strikes on him? That was the contention of teammate Frank Crosetti, who witnessed the event from the Yankees dugout. "'If the writers all want to say I pointed to center field, let 'em,'" Ruth told his rookie teammate the next day as Crosetti later recounted in an unpublished manuscript. "That's the story, right from the horse's mouth." What is certain is that the legendary fifth-inning home run in the third game of the Yankees' four-game sweep was The Babe's second of the game off Root and the 15th (and final) of his career in the World Series. At the time, no player had hit more than seven, and his record would stand for 31 years until Mickey Mantle surpassed it in 1964.
This article appears in the Commemorative Home Run Edition of Yankees Magazine. Get this article and more delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription at yankees.com/publications.