«

»

May 07

Out of the Stadium — Into World Records

With Opening Day just past and still savoring the thrills and excitement of my first day as batboy, I was again taking advantage of the two-day excuse from school that my guidance counselor had granted. Stepping onto the streetcar and dropping my token into the coin box, I was again on my way to Griffith Stadium. In my wildest dream, I could never have fathomed what was in store for baseball’s record books and me at Griffith Stadium on this day, Friday, April 17, 1953.

Top of the Fifth

 As the Yankees took their turn at-bat in the top of the fifth, they were ahead of the Senators by a score of 2–1.  The southpaw Chuck Stobbs, who had started the game for Washington, was still pitching. With one man on base and two out, Mantle, a switch-hitter and batting right-handed against the left-handed pitcher Stobbs, went to the plate.

The home-plate umpire, Jim Honochick, called the first pitch to Mantle—a ball. Stobbs wound up and delivered his next pitch. It was later said that pitch was a chest-high fastball. Seeing Mantle’s mighty swing and hearing the sound of the ball crushing against the bat left little doubt—this was a home run.

 I expected Mickey’s well-hit ball to land somewhere in the left field bleachers as I had seen three or four times before during the Yankees’ two days of batting practice. Not this time! The ball kept going high and higher—and appeared to me to glance off the fifty-six-foot Mr. Boh sign. The ball still kept going, traveling totally out of the stadium. The Yankees players and the fans were going wild! In all the excitement, New York players were jumping up and down, and as I ran to the plate to retrieve the bat I could see Mantle going around the bases with his head down and not showing any disrespect to the pitcher.

Being the unseasoned kid I was, I had no idea that Mickey Mantle’s homer was even more dramatic: I would learn that this stadium was known as the hardest American League park in which to hit a home run. (Between 1933, the final year Washington won the pennant, and 1953 (21 consecutive years) Griffith Stadium gave up the smallest number of home runs in the Majors.) Nor did I know that homer was the first ball ever hit over the left-center-field bleachers and out of Griffith Stadium. The Yankees went on to win this game by a 7–3 victory over the Senators.

The next day, Saturday morning, a headline appeared in The Washington Post, “Ruth Never Slugged A Baseball Farther.”  The opening paragraph read, “Mickey Mantle’S home run in the fifth inning was the first drive ever to clear the 55-foot-high left field bleachers at Griffith Stadium since they were built in 1924. Veteran New York baseball writers agreed that Babe Ruth never hit a ball farther.” Local television channels were filled with reports that Mickey Mantle had hit the longest home run in Griffith Stadium history with a five-hundred sixty-five foot “tape-measure” blast off pitcher Chuck Stobbs.

Distance Traveled 

The New York Yankees’ public relations man, Red Patterson, who was seated in the press box and upon seeing the ball go clean out of the stadium allegedly jumped up, announcing his pursuit and saying that, “This one has to be measured.” Patterson upon his return with the scuffed-up ball said a 10-year-old boy, Donald Dunaway, found the ball in the backyard of 434 Oakdale Place, and that it had traveled 565 feet. Patterson would later say he determined the distance traveled by “pacing it off” using his footsteps to measure from the bleacher’s distance marker.

Patterson’s style of measurement was confirmed three days later in a Washington Times-Herald sports column written by Bob Addie. “The fence is 55 feet high to the beer sign,” Addie quoted Patterson as saying. “I walked 66 feet from the 391 mark to the back where Mantle’s ball cleared the bleacher limit. That would be 457 feet. Now I paced off 36 strides, which means three feet a stride or 108 feet to where the ball eventually landed in the backyard on Oakdale Street. It’s a small backyard so the ball didn’t have a chance to bounce much. So add them all up and you get 565 feet.”

An article in the July 1953 edition of Baseball Magazine reported that the calculations regarding Patterson’s 565 feet measurement were reviewed by Cal Griffith, vice president of the Senators, and adjusted by him to be three feet less, or coming in at 562 feet. As one unknown sportswriter so skillfully put it, “Red Patterson might have reason to exaggerate since he worked for the Yankees– but Mr. Griffith?”

Wind conditions inside of the park also became an issue. Some argued that the wind conditions during the time the ball was hit averaged 20 miles per hour, with gusts possibly reaching as high as 40 miles per hour. I later heard an unconfirmed account by the Weather Bureau indicating there were occasional wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour in the direction of the stadium’s bleachers.

My take as batboy: Unfortunately, I have no scientific evidence to offer. This being only my second day on the field at Griffith Stadium, I gave no thought to the wind’s velocity. I do know that I never once thought about my Yankee ball cap blowing off. Was it windy? Yes. However, this was mid-April, and April in Washington, D.C., was generally quite cool and windy. All I know is that Mantle took one tremendously powerful swing and that ball just kept climbing higher and higher, glancing off the “Mr. Boh” sign and out of the stadium.

            Perhaps, the best response to the controversy over the wind conditions came from Clark Griffith, the owner of the Washington Senators and Griffith Stadium. Mr. Griffith bluntly said, “Maybe the wind did help him, but that wind has been blowing off and on for 51 years out here and nobody else ever put one over that fence.”

Chuck Stobbs

Chuck Stobbs was an outstanding athlete. Washington Post sports columnist Bob Addie once said that Chuck Stobbs was “one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of Virginia.”  In high school, Stobbs excelled in three sports: football, basketball and baseball. He led his high school football team to three consecutive state championships and was a three-time all-state quarterback. Stobbs was an all-American in baseball and a two-time all-state basketball player.

Stobbs turned down several college scholarships to play with the Boston Red Sox. At the age of 18, he made his major league debut on September 15, 1947 pitching against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park. After five years with the Red Sox, Chuck was traded to the White Sox following the 1951 season and spent one there before moving on to the Washington Senators.

Chuck Stobbs pitched fifteen seasons in the majors, winning 107 games during his major league career, but he will always be remembered for that one pitch he served up that Mickey blasted “out of the park” in Griffith Stadium, on April 17, 1953.

Chuck Stobbs, 79, died July 11, 2008, at his home in Sarasota, Florida, after a seven-year battle with throat cancer.

Looking back to 1953, on Opening Day the stands in Griffith Stadium were filled to capacity. However, the very next day, Friday, April 17th. —the day Mickey Mantle hit that tremendous blast—only 4,206 paid fans, plus another 3,000 school patrol kids who had gotten in free, were in the ballpark to witness Mickey’s amazing feat. For those in attendance, including me—this memory will likely live forever.