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March 31, 2011

Tater Trot Tracker

Williams, Appling, Oh and Bo

by Larry Granillo

Note: This piece was originally run on Deadspin.

As a Brewers fan, it's pretty common to hear from others around the NL Central that no one is worse at watching and admiring his home runs than Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. And while I can understand where these Cards and Cubs fans are coming from, I don't completely agree. After all, I get to see Albert Pujols and Alfonso Soriano do the same thing. It's an argument that has never been empirically settled.

Which is why I started the Tater Trot Tracker last year. If I want to convince Cardinals fans, for example, that Albert Pujols is as egregious an admirer of his home runs as Prince Fielder, I'll have to provide some evidence (because, for some reason, the Pujols-Lidge home run isn't enough). By watching every home run hit in the majors last year and clocking how long it took each batter to circle the bases, I now have all the evidence I need. Pujols averages 22.83 seconds on his home run trots, while Fielder averages 22.52 seconds. Braun checks in at 21.98. So there.

A side effect of maintaining the Tater Trot Tracker has been a greater appreciation for the art of the home run trot, how each one is different despite the identical paths and the similar emotions involved. As we celebrate Opening Day today and the start of a new season (and a new Tater Trot Tracker), I thought I'd run some of baseball's greatest home runs through the tracker. And, if that's not enough to get you excited — I know, right?! — I'll say right now that the analysis includes a famous Bo Jackson home run that no ones seems to have ever seen.

Ted Williams's final at-bat


Trot time: 19.45 seconds
Let's start off with one of the most famous home runs of all time, one so famous that it spawned one of the greatest pieces of sportswriting ever. One thing that's remarkable about Ted Williams is that, for as surly as the guy was during his playing days, he seemed to have a lot of fun running hard around the bases. The average trot time in 2010 was 20.02 seconds. A 19.45 second trot would've put you among the quickest trots on any given day. For Williams to do that with the weight of a Hall of Fame retirement on his shoulders is something else entirely.

 

Luke Appling hits a home run at RFK Stadium ... at 75 years old


Trot time: 25.5 seconds
Let's say it again: 75-year-old Luke Appling hits a home run over the left-field fence of RFK Stadium off Warren Spahn. You can't make that stuff up. But what about the trot? This is where basing tater trot times off old, edited videotapes gets tough. A trot time of 25.5 seconds sounds awfully fast for a septuagenarian. But close analysis of the video suggests it's accurate. After making contact with the ball, the camera doesn't show Appling again until he is about to round second at the 10-second mark. We then see every step from second to home, which takes Appling about 15 seconds. If a spry guy like Appling can run the final 180 feet in 15 seconds, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine him running the first 180 feet in 10 seconds, especially if he was excited. The 25.5-second trot — faster than those of big-league stalwarts like Vlad Guerrero, Juan Rivera, and Miguel Cabrera — stands.

 

Jack Howell hits a broken-bat home run


Trot time: 22.25 seconds
You know you've done something amazing when Vin Scully says that it's the first time he's ever seen anything like it. In September 1987, Howell hit a pitch off Tim Stoddard in such a way that shards of bat landed past the first-base coach and the ball itself landed in the right-field bleachers. It didn't phase Howell, though, as he managed a very solid 22.25-second trot. I only wish he had held onto that bat handle for the entire trot.

 

Chris Chambliss and the 1976 ALCS walkoff homer


Trot time: 31.89* seconds
In the fifth and final game of the 1976 ALCS against the Kansas City Royals, the Yankees entered the bottom of the ninth in a tie game. On the first pitch of the inning, Chambliss belted a home run over the right-field wall. The ball hadn't even finished clearing the fence when pandemonium broke out. Thousands of Yankees fans ran onto the field to celebrate their World Series appearance. By the time Chambliss reached second base, the partiers were already there, briefly tackling Chambliss as he rounded the base. Third base was being ripped from the surface by the time Chambliss got there, and it was about then that he and his teammates decided the circuit wasn't worth it. They ducked into the dugout as things got out of hand. (*I measured the trot up to the moment Chambliss entered the dugout.)

But Chambliss didn't touch all the bases! How could he have? Did the pennant clincher even count? According to game stories, Chambliss was escorted around the bases by a police officer after the crowd was cleared, who ensured that he touched each "base" despite their having been ripped from the ground. The home plate umpire later said that, with all the chaos on the field, there's no way he would have forced Chambliss to "touch 'em all." The Yankees wound up getting swept out of the series by the Big Red Machine, but it was Chambliss who put them there in the first place.

Sadaharu Oh's record-setter


Trot time: 33.26 seconds
In the 1970s, Japanese baseball fans watched Sadaharu Oh approach Hank Aaron's career home run total the way Americans had watched Aaron pursue Babe Ruth's. When Oh finally hit his 756th home run, it was a big deal. A very big deal. He celebrated in grand fashion.

The home run trot did not begin all that slowly, with a trotting Oh running to first with his arms raised. As he rounded the bag, though, his pace slackened. He jogged the rest of the way, with a small wave to the crowd here and a nod of the cap to his opponents there. The hop onto home plate was a nice touch as well. Surprisingly, Oh's 33.26-second trot is slower than any other milestone home run I've found, including Bonds's own No. 756, a 32.82-second trot.

Bo Jackson's timeout home run


Trot time: Unknown
It's almost reached mythical proportions. When I first heard the story of Bo Jackson hitting a home run after calling time, I was told that he had actually stepped out of the box anticipating the call and was then forced to jump back in before swinging for the fences. And that was in 1989. I imagine today's version has Bo stopping to tie his shoe while reaching out and smacking the ball with a lifted pinkie or something. As this video shows, however, all Bo did was raise his hand asking for time without ever taking his eye off the pitcher. Which is much more understandable, though no less remarkable. The home run came thanks to Bo's legendary power. Sadly, this copy of the home run does not show the full trot (though the end gives you some idea of how fast he was moving). If it were a full trot, his time would be 14.34 seconds — faster than any inside-the-park home run from last year, which would be absurd. Of course, we are talking about Bo Jackson here, a guy who can ask for time and hit a home run a split second after he's denied. I suppose anything is possible.

It's a long season. May many more legendary home runs grace your screens. And, when they do, don't forget to check out the Tater Trot Tracker for the analysis. (If you're dying for more tater trot action right now, you can see some of 2010's best trots here and here.)

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