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August 19, 2013

Pebble Hunting

My Book Report on a Video of the Longest Home Runs Hit

by Sam Miller

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For my book report, I have chosen to do my book report on a video entitled (No Music) Longest Home Runs In MLB History. This video was created by Ryan Schwark and I found out about it from Jonah Keri. It was published in August 2013 and it is 18 minutes and five seconds long.

The main character in this video is Adam Dunn, who appears six times. He was a complicated character because he hit the ball so far, but he barely even seemed to be trying, and sometimes the announcers didn’t even seem to be excited that he had hit the ball so far. It was like if Superman were real but the only crime he was capable of fighting was smuggling. It would be useful and probably smugglers would be pretty in awe of him, but everybody else would get bored of it and ask why he couldn’t stop a bank robbery now and again. “But smuggling is a really pernicious thing,” Superman would argue, to try to get more credit, but people would just never really give him his due. That’s why Adam Dunn is the main character.

The next most important character is Barry Bonds (five times). Other important characters are Mark McGwire (four times), Cecil Fielder, Mark Trumbo, Josh Hamilton, Mark Reynolds, Manny Ramirez (three times each). Minor recurring characters are Nelson Cruz, Prince Fielder, Jim Thome, Ryan Howard, Mike Piazza, Reggie Jackson, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, and Sammy Sosa. There are also assorted other characters who show up only briefly but play important roles: Wladimir Balentien, Lance Berkman, Brad Hawpe, Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin, Juan and Edwin Encarnacion, Jason Heyward, Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Frazier, Andres Galarraga, Kirk Gibson, Glenallen Hill, Vladimir Guerrero, Travis Hafner, Raul Ibanez, Jose Canseco, Juan Francisco, Dave Kingman, Justin Maxwell, Mo Vaughn, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, Colby Rasmus, Richie Sexson, Anthony Rizzo, Seth Smith, Darryl Strawberry, and Joey Votto.

The theme of this video is many themes. One theme is the duality of conflict. For every winner there is a loser, which means that without the loser there can be no winner, which means that the loser is just as necessary for victory as the winner is, which means that when we celebrate momentous human achievements we should celebrate and congratulate the losers just as much as we should congratulate the winners. The pitchers are as interesting to watch as the hitters in this video, as they flinch, curse, kick, and twist; as they choose whether to watch or not; as they fall over from the impact, as they stare at the batter; as they act like it's nothing new.

One of the players who hit a home run in this video, Richie Sexson, was reluctant to talk about his home run, out of respect for the pitcher. "You just try not to be disrespectful in situations like this for the pitcher," he said. "It's tough to talk about it in that manner because like I said it's got to be hard for him and I don't want to do anything to hurt his feelings."

For the record, Francis Beltran gave up that home run. Lots of very good pitchers gave up home runs in this video, too, so there is no need for Francis Beltran to be ashamed. Greg Maddux is in this video, and Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Roy Oswalt, Orel Hershiser, Tim Hudson, Felix Hernandez, and Jered Weaver. Also Daniel McCutchen, Kyle Lohse, Ben Ford, Jose Mesa, Wilfredo Rodriguez, Doug Davis, Ted Lilly, Blaine Boyer, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Cahill, Matt Whiteside, Dan Plesac, Dave Stewart, Ernesto Frieri, Bobby Cassevah, Jon Lieber, Ubaldo Jimenez, Carlos Villanueva, Jair Jurrjens, Glendon Rusch, Jose Lima, J.P. Howell, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Brown, Steve Woodard, Ross Ohlendorf, Mike Hampton, Luis Mendoza, Erik Bedard, Shane Loux, Carlos Zambrano, Jason Bergmann, Brandon Beachy, Chien-Ming Wang, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Flanagan, Rodrigo Lopez, Tom Dettore, Chris Michalak, Tony Saunders, Jaime Navarro, Kevin Gryboski, Mark Melancon, Mark Buehrle, Shunsuke Watanabe, Frank Castillo, Brett Myers, Aneury Rodriguez, Blake Wood, Charlie Hough, Dock Ellis, Joe Martinez, Mitchell Boggs, David Hernandez, Alexi Ogando, Bud Norris, Eric Plunk, Bronswell Patrick, Kevin Millwood, Josh Roenicke, Randy St. Claire, Luke Hochevar, Louis Coleman, Dan Straily, Edward Mujica, Chris Carpenter, and Braden Looper, in case you were wondering. Chris Carpenter and Ramiro Mendoza both appeared twice.

Another theme of this video is that opportunity comes in many forms. At first you would think that most of these long home runs would be hit on fastballs (because fastballs provide more power) down the middle. But this video argues that we should not limit ourselves to a very narrow spectrum of opportunities, but if we keep our eyes open and swing hard we can make opportunities out of almost anything. Raul Ibanez hits a pitch that is near his eyes; Mark Trumbo hits one that would probably have been a ball, low and inside. Reggie Jackson hits a knuckleball. Mark McGwire hits a Randy Johnson fastball.

For that matter, we should not think that we cannot be the hero of a story just because the author (metaphorically speaking) has not written us as a hero up to this point. Cameron Maybin has hit 31 home runs in his career; Justin Maxwell and Juan Francisco have hit 32; yet they are heroes in this video and Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez are not.

Finally the last theme of this video is that time has a distorting effect on our memories or else this current era is lousy, one way or the other. Almost all the longest home runs in this video come from eras when measuring distances was not as sophisticated. Some of the measurements have been done after the fact, such as the Reggie Jackson home run in the 1971 All-Star game:

To approximate the shielding effect of the high stadium walls at Tiger Stadium, a "floor" of 70 feet was chosen, removing the wind effects below that height above field level. When combined together, we get a result that is quite impressive: a speed off the bat of 122.4 mph at an angle of 31.5 degrees (slightly on the line drive end of the spectrum). This hit, combined with the atmospherics, would have propelled the ball an incredible 532 feet if the ball had not impacted the transformer.

This is impressive detective work but it makes us ask the question of whether we really believe that Reggie Jackson really hit a baseball farther (and conveniently in one of the few games that survives in online archives) than any player in the tens of thousands of games over the past 15 years? With bigger players, better bats, elevated ballparks and 104 mph pitches? It makes us ask the question but it doesn’t answer the question because time erases its evidence like a burglar or a sandstorm.

My favorite home runs were Glenallen Hill, because he hit his home run onto the roof of a building across the street, which felt strange and unreal and fourth-wall shattering, like in the "Take On Me" video when the guy’s hand comes out of the comic book and pulls the girl in. Also, because while Hill circles the bases, a guy is on his cell phone telling somebody about how he’s on TV, which is crazy that in 2000 when cell phones were just barely replacing pagers people were already doing the “can you see me, I’m on tv” thing.

I also liked the Juan Francisco one, because I like how subtly the cameraman has no idea what to do. There are loads of these in which the cameraman has no idea what to do, but usually the result is a shot of the second deck until, whoops, the ball bounces down from the fourth and we missed all the fun. Francisco’s cameraman doesn’t panic. He just holds the shot and figures, aw, what the heck, ball or no ball they’ll get the point. Then he just starts zooming, into nothing, into a forest, which is the cameraman equivalent of a jaw hanging slackly. The truth is that most of these home runs make for awful television, particularly on a small computer screen. Between the lost cameramen and the fact that baseballs are already very difficult to pick up, being so small, and sailing through multi-colored crowd shots and concrete stadiums, I estimated that about half of the home runs were actually visible upon landing. Of those that were, many were hard to appreciate. When Bonds hit a home run into the water, for instance, there was no real way of knowing whether it was farther out in the water than other home runs; some of his home runs, basically, covered 1/1,572,828th of the Pacific Ocean, but this long home run covered 1/1,262,626th of the Pacific Ocean. Or there are home runs in Petco that go about seven rows back, like big whoop. So really what’s the run in any of these home runs? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we see where they land or not. What matters is this: We get to see each batter straighten up, usually for just a split second, in awe of what he has just done; we get to see the pitcher, usually for just a moment, freeze in awe of what has just been done to him; and we get to see the cameraman, lost and disoriented, trying desperately to capture the thing that has just been done. And in the combination of those three things we feel the contact in our own hands, for we have all swung a bat before, and we have all made contact truer than we knew possible, and we know just how that vibration shudders up through our forearms, snakes past our elbows, envelops our shoulders, massages our spine, and warms up our very insides. We see the swing, and, for just one moment, we are physically with him.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

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