By Glen Sparks
Stan Musial wrote about hitting a home run that didn’t count in 1948. His blast, stricken from the record book following a rainout at the Polo Grounds, cost him the National League Triple Crown.
That is one version of the story. Details about the homer remain sketchy. When exactly did the St. Louis Cardinals’ superstar hit the home run? Who was the pitcher? No one seems to know. Legendary St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Bob Broeg reported on the “lost” home run in his 1995 autobiography. He doesn’t go in-depth on the subject, though. “He (Musial) missed tying for the top in homers by one rained-out homer.” Musial mentioned the homer in an oral history, The Spirit of St. Louis, and in a memoir co-written with Broeg.
Several researchers have come up empty in trying to locate this missing round-tripper. St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold wrote an article several years ago about Musial’s home run that wasn’t.
This was not just any ol’ lost home run, either. As mentioned, one more home run would have earned the 27-year-old Musial a Triple Crown. Only nine major leaguers had won a Triple Crown since 1900. Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby did it twice each.
Musial led hitters in several categories in 1948 and picked up his third and final NL MVP award. The Donora, Pa., native finished first in hits (230), runs scored (135), doubles (46), triples (18), total bases (429), on-base percentage (.450) and slugging percentage (.702). He also topped the league in batting average (.376) and RBI (131), two of the three Triple Crown categories. The New York Giants’ Johnny Mize and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Ralph Kiner both hit 40 homes. Musial hit 39. Or, did he hit 40?
Following Gould’s article, David Vincent opined on Stan’s “missing” homer. Many baseball fans knew Vincent, who died July 2, 2017, at age 67, as Mr. Home Run and The Sultan of Swat Stats. He published the SABR Tattersall-McConnell Home Run Log, a list of every home run hit in the major leagues since 1871. If anyone would know whether Musial hit a washed-out home run, it would be Vincent, right?
Well, Vincent didn’t mince words when he sent this e-mail to Gould: “I should also point out that the lost homer in New York never happened – at least not that season. We have already thoroughly researched this one.”
Another researcher, Dave Smith, looked at all the games in 1948 between the Cards and Giants at the Polo Grounds. The local newspapers should have mentioned any rain-shortened action that year. “There is none,” Smith wrote.
A researcher from The Sporting News looked through archives in search of a missing Musial homer. Steve Gietschie examined articles from August and in November, after Musial was awarded MVP. Surely, a writer would mention a rained-out round-tripper, given that Stan would have won the Triple Crown. “No, no mention,” according to Goold.
Broeg wrote The Sporting News article on Musial winning MVP honors. He didn’t mention a lost homer. Of note, on Aug. 4, 1948, the St. Louis Star-Times reported “Musial Wallops Longest Out” at the Polo Grounds. Stan mashed a 450-foot ball to right-center field. Giants right-fielder Wilbert Marshall grabbed the ball in the ninth inning of a 7-2 Cardinals victory on Aug. 4.
Baseball fans recall the Polo Grounds, razed in 1964, as a quirky ballpark. It was just 279 feet from home plate down the left-field line and a mere 258 feet down the right-field line. But, it was 483 feet to dead center.
According to the Star-Times, “Because of the shape of the Polo Grounds, the Giants shade their right-fielder in the gap, allowing for the catch at the 455-foot mark near the bullpen. The ball would have departed any other major-league ball park …” Did Stan’s long out get mis-remembered over time into a lost home run?
Back to Smith. He zeroed in on two make-up doubleheaders that the Cardinals and Giants played, one Aug. 4 and the other Sept 19. Musial slammed a homer in the first game of the August double-dip and in the second game of the September twin bill. Smith: “We have to assign one of the games as the scheduled one and the other as the make-up. I always think of the second one as the makeup, but I have heard from others that apparently the standard is that the first one is the makeup.”
So, if Musial did indeed knock a rain-cancelled home run, he probably hit at least one homer to make up for it. Maybe Stan didn’t get cheated out of a Triple Crown, after all.
The search for any “lost” dinger continues. One thing we do know: Musial’s power surge in 1948 was for real. He had just 70 homers through his first six seasons (1941=44, 46-47). After belting 39 in ’48, he knocked at least 30 home runs in five more seasons and retired after the 1963 campaign with 475.
Or, was it 476?