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May 1, 2012

Inside The Park Blog

On Total Bases and an Obscure Character of Lore

by Bradford Doolittle

As you've no doubt seen by now, the Brewers' Ryan Braun had three homers and a triple last night at Petco Park, piling up 15 total bases in the game. His triple was a gapper to right-center that wasn't especially close to going out of the park. In his first at-bat, he flew out to medium center field on a well-struck ball. It was a career night for the reigning MVP. His first three-homer game was also the first at Petco.

The 15 total bases are what really jump out at you in the box score. A 3.000 slugging percentage, even if it's only over five plate appearances, tends to draw one's eye. The total base figure prompted me to bring up the all-time, single-game leaderboard, where once again I saw a name that's left me scratching my head a few times. Never before have I done anything about it, until today. More on that in a bit.

First, a few observations from the linked list:

  • It's been just shy of 10 years since Shawn Green set the all-time mark with 19 total bases against the Brewers. Four homers, a single and a double -- seven more total bases than Green had in any of his 1,950 other big-league games. Perhaps the most amazing part about it is that Green was 29 years old at the time and was out of baseball five years later, at least at the major-league level. As I type this, he's still only 39 years old.
  • I knew of course that Braun's night didn't set any sort of a record because there have been 13 four-homer games in the modern era. Those games have accounted for 13 of the 17 instances (since 1918) in which a player had 16 or more total bases.
  • Before Green, and throughout most of my life, the total base record was Joe Adcock's 18, a mark which stood for nearly a half-century. Four homers and a double. According to the play-by-play, Adcock homered in his first, third, fourth and fifth plate appearances. In the top of the third, he double to left. According to news accounts of the day, the last player before Adcock to hit four homers was Gil Hodges. Until that day, Hodges was co-holder of the big-league record of 17 total bases. You might notice from the box of Adcock's big game that Hodges hit one out for the Dodgers that day as well. I couldn't find anything that mentioned whether Adcock's double came close to leaving the park. The box describes it as a line drive. If anyone knows, please chime in down below.
  • You might notice on the list that WPA is one of the default columns. Of the 15-total-base games, Dustin Pedroia's .903 is tops. But that's not the record, or even close to it. Art Shamksy had a 1.503 WPA in a 1966 game, hitting three homers in three plate appearances -- all after the seventh inning, the only time a player has hit three jacks that wasn't in the starting lineup. His two-run shot in the eighth put the Reds up 8-7. His solo jack in the 10th off Roy Face tied the game. His two-run shot in the 11th tied it again. Finally, Pittsburgh put the game away with three in the 13th. Luckily for the Pirates, Shamsky did not bat in the bottom of the 13th.
  • Mike Cameron's four-homer game will always remain fresh in my mind for one reason: He came so damn close to hitting a fifth homer. His ninth-inning drive was caught by Jeff Liefer, just a few feet in front of the fence at then-Comiskey Park.
  • I listened to a lot of St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio in 1993 because I was working the evening shift at a circuit-breaker factory just outside of Columbia, Mo. We were allowed to listen to stuff through head phones while we tried to make our quotas for assembling circuit breakers. The only station I could pick up that carried baseball was a Cardinals station, so I couldn't catch many Royals games. I think we each made like 200 circuit breakers in a shift, or something like that, so I was willing to take on any form of distraction. If I've ever had a job that motivated me to seek an interesting line of work, that was it. Anyway, I listened to the Cardinals' 14-13 loss to Cincinnati at Sept. 7 that year. It was a marathon contest, 36 hits, 13 walks, 3 hours and 41 minutes. And it was the first game of doubleheader. I got off work that night and decided not to listen to the second game. I was just too tired. Of course, in that second game, Mark Whiten hit four homers and drove in 12 runs.

Let's bring this back to the beginning. I mentioned that there was a name on the four-homer list that has always troubled me. Let's see if you can guess. Here's the 13: Shawn Green, Joe Adcock, Mike Schmidt, Gil Hodges, Carlos Delgado, Mike Cameron, Mark Whiten, Bob Horner, Willie Mays, Rocky Colavito, Pat Seerey, Chuck Klein, Lou Gehrig.

Almost all of these names bring up instant memories or historical allusions. Green, Delgado and Cameron all happened during the Highlight Era, so we saw their replays ad nauseum. Adcock, as I mentioned, was the record-holder for total bases and I'm pretty sure that feat was mentioned on the back of a Topps baseball card one year. I've heard many tales of Schmidt's four-homer day with the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field in 1976. Hodges is one of the revered Boys of Summer and one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame. Whiten reminds me of a factory. Horner was once thought to be one of the future great sluggers in baseball. Mays was Mays. Rocky Colavito was an outstanding hitter in the '60s, once traded for Harvey Kuenn in what has always struck me as an odd deal. Chuck Klein put up ridiculous numbers for the Phillies during the offense-happy National League in the early '30s. Lou Gehrig was the unluckiest luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

But just who in the hell is Pat Seerey?

Seerey hit four homers in a game in 1948. That I knew, because his name always is trotted out on the four-homer list. I remember looking up his career record one time, and it's easily the worst of the Four Homer Club. He hit .224 in seven big-league seasons and led the league in batter strikeouts four times during that stretch, even though he never played more than 126 games in a season. For his career, he stuck out in 23 percent of his plate appearances. He was out of the big leagues at the age of 29.

But here's the thing about Seerey I never noticed until this morning: Not only did he pile up 16 total bases in his big 1948 game but, three years before, he had 15 total bases in a game -- three homers and a triple. Seerey put up four percent of his career total bases in two games. The only other hitters to have three jacks and a triple in the same game are Fred Lynn, Wes Westrum, Tony Lazzeri, Les Bell and, now, Braun.

That's still doesn't answer the question about who in the hell is Pat Seerey. His Wikipedia page is nigh empty. His BR Bullpen page describes him as a proto-Rob Deer, in style, numbers and body type. Finally, I came upon this page on the SABR site, which has a lot more background and for which I will be eternally grateful to its author, one Fred Schuld. My favorite part:

"Seerey had in Gordon Cobbledick's opinion 'the same eye-compelling quality that made Babe Ruth an idol.'"

Over the long baseball season, we'll see a handful of performances that, if we let them, will lead us to re-discover some lost element of the incredibly rich history of the game. Phil Humber had one of those performances a couple of weeks ago. Ryan Braun had one of those games last night. I'm sure many of the readers of this site already knew all about Pat Seerey, because we have a lot of smart, curious readers here. But I'm sure there are many, like me, who knew Seerey only as a name on a list. I'm thankful that Braun led me to find out more.

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

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