This week in 1934, Babe Ruth hit his 700th and 701st home runs, a total that was unthinkable in that era until he did it (and sometimes even in this era, given only three men in history have eclipsed the mark). Ruth's record total of 714 would be eclipsed decades later by Hank Aaron, but it stood as a monument to Yankees greatness for decades.
Earlier this week, WFAN took a look at some of the longest homers of the Statcast era, spotlighting Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and proving that the Bronx Bombers moniker runs deep. With such fertile history, and a new, shortened season a week away, we now take a look at some of the greatest home runs in Yankees history.
We’ll set the time bar at another famous home run – Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off that cost the Yankees the 1960 World Series, and is still the only Game 7 walk-off dinger in World Series history – and look at six essential blasts over the last 60 years. These aren't judged by length but rather by importance to the player or the team. Here are six.
6. Derek Jeter, 2011Though the Yankees hold just about all the records that matter, there had always been a curious chasm in franchise history. There had never been a player - not Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mattingly, etc. – to notch their 3,000th hit as a Yankee. Sure, the Yankees had representation in the club, but names like Boggs, Winfield and Henderson all got some of their 3K in pinstripes but hit the benchmark elsewhere.
So, when Jeter, who always had an astronaut's unflinching approach to pressure, stepped up to the plate on July 9, 2011, with 2,999 hits, he naturally hit a home run. Jeter went 5-for-5 that day, making it an emblem of his cool manner and inability to choke. Even more than his physical bona fides, it was Jeter's clutch genes that made him an iconic Yankee, and the last to have a single-digit jersey retired by the team on his way to Cooperstown.
Almost four years to the day, A-Rod would homer in pinstripes for his 3,000th hit, but it was truly Jeter’s that was, as Michael Kay called it, “history, with an exclamation point!”
5. Reggie Jackson, 1977In Game 6 of the '77 World Series, Jackson did something that had not been done, and likely will not be done again: he smacked three home runs off three different pitchers, each off their first pitch. The third one, against Charlie Hough in the 8th, nudged the Yanks to an 8-3 lead, and all but ended the game and the series.
Though he made much noise when he joined the Yankees as a free agent, calling out Thurman Munson and calling himself the "straw that stirs the drink," Jackson had big game chops that no one can question. Reggie hit five home runs in that Fall Classic, cemented his sobriquet as Mr. October, and spawned a village of youngsters who chomped on Reggie bars, with the orange wrappers featuring the slugger fully corkscrewed into his swing freckling quite a few NYC neighborhoods through the late-'70s.
4. Bucky Dent, 1978Six spawned history, five spawned a nickname, and four? Well, four spawned a curse word.
Those of us who grew up on the Yanks in the late-'70s adoringly recall the WPIX booth of Phil Rizzuto and Bill White, with Rizzuto the quirky homer who griped about returning home across the GWB and randomly announcing birthdays during the game, and White was the sagacious and serious pro with the commanding voice. So, when White yelled, "Deep to left!" we knew Bucky Dent's choppy swing might actually clear Boston's Green Monster in game 163 of the '78 season. Once Carl Yastrzemski slumped helplessly as the ball sailed over the wall for a three-run homer and the Yanks suddenly flipped a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead after seven innings, Russell Earl Dent earned a new moniker: Bucky "Bleeping” Dent.
The Yanks went on to win the game, 5-4, overcoming a 14.5 game deficit to win the AL East, and then thundered on to the World Series title, all thanks in part to one of the more improbable dingers in franchise history – Dent had just 22 round-trippers in 789 MLB games up to then, yet became a most surprising hero and bane of Boston's existence for decades.
3. Aaron Boone, 2003Boone wasn't a monolithic Yankee (and has already managed hundreds more games in pinstripes as he played), and won’t ever have his bust bronzed in Cooperstown or even Monument Park for his playing days. Heck, it's hard to remember he wore number 19 as a Yankee, because his usual 17 (which he wears now as skipper) belonged to John Flaherty. Yet, here is Boone at No. 3, with one of the greatest home runs in Yankees history.
The game itself had all the hallmarks of a classic: Yankee Stadium, Game 7 of the ALCS. Boston carried a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning, and Red Sox skipper Grady Little had to make a career-defining decision: keep future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez on the mound, or tap his wrist for a reliever. Little stuck with Pedro, he blew the lead (step one in the Yankees becoming his daddy?), and the game remained tied 5-5 until the 11th inning. Mariano Rivera had just finished three epic innings of shutout ball when Boone, who had entered the game in the eighth as a pinch-runner, dug into the box for his first at-bat of the night.
Coach Willie Randolph told Boone he would win the game, and in cinematic fashion, Boone jumped on Tim Wakefield's first pitch and launched it deep to left field, where it landed in a delirious gaggle of fans who knew they had just witnessed something for the archives. The Yanks won the pennant, Little would be fired for his gaffe, and the current Yankees manager would be forever known for that hit, as well as the same middle name as Dent.
2. Chris Chambliss, 1976In their first postseason as stewards of George Steinbrenner - and their first overall since 1964 - the Yanks reached the deciding Game 5 of the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals. George Brett, long-time Yankee tormentor, blasted a three-run homer in the eighth inning to tie the score at 6-6, but Chambliss, who had been an All-Star that season, quickly undid the deed in the bottom of the ninth, smacking the first pitch he saw over the right field wall to give the Yankees a walk-off berth in the World Series.
The game had already been stopped several times while rabid fans tossed junk on the field, and once Chambliss started rounding the bases, the fans flooded the field, all but swallowing Chambliss, who had hit .500 in the series before that blast. The Yanks were swept but the Big Red Machine in the '76 World Series, but Chambliss’ dinger was a booming signal that the Bombers were back, and after losing to the Reds they won the next two World Series.
Chambliss gets his high ranking here because the Yankees were finally emerging from a 12-year funk, and were finally back at their ballpark after the ignominy of playing the prior two years at Shea Stadium.
1. Roger Maris, 1961On a list with two pennant-winners, a virtual division-clincher, the first-ever 3,000th hit in pinstripes, and a homer that all but ended a World Series drought – it’s only fitting that No. 1 was some icing on the cake that was a sweet season, and a record-breaker to boot.
While the above players dealt with a moment of pressure, Maris was saddled with a season of biblical stress, battling teammate Mickey Mantle in a heated home run race where both were trying to break Babe Ruth’s single-season record. Mantle sat out the 162nd game of the 1961 season - the first such contest for the Yankees, as MLB had just added eight games to the schedule that year – to finish with 54, but sitting on a record-tying 60, Maris had one last shot, at Yankee Stadium no less, to surge past The Bambino into first place on his own.
Of course, he did it, smacking a solo shot in the fourth inning that was the only run in a season-ending 1-0 win over the Boston Red Sox.
During the season, Maris lost chunks of hair from the stress of hearing fans and former players who hated that he was chasing Ruth, and from sportswriters who say he didn't deserve the record. Indeed, MLB all but slapped a symbolic asterisk next to the record, because it took more games than Ruth had access to. And, as mentioned, unlike most of the aforementioned homers, this one didn't win a division, playoff game, or series. In fact, there were barely 23,000 fans in attendance at the old, cavernous stadium to see the blast that Rizzuto blessed with his famed, "Holy Cow!" But it was epic, nonetheless, and the Yanks rumbled on to win the '61 World Series while Maris held the record for 37 years, until another epic home run race captured baseball’s attention.