The Grand Slam Single and Other Home Runs That Didn't Count

Harry How, Getty Images
Harry How, Getty Images

After Nelson Cruz’s dramatic walk-off grand slam on Monday, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not it was really the first walk-off slam in postseason history. You see, Robin Ventura also hit a home run with the bases loaded to end Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, in the 15th inning no less. However, he was never credited with a home run because as he rounded first base, teammate Todd Pratt (who had been on first base) turned around and hugged Ventura. As the rest of his Mets teammates poured onto the field, it became clear that Ventura would not finish rounding the bases.

Officially, he was only credited with an RBI single, leading to the play being called a “grand slam single.” Luckily, Ventura’s hit still won the game, albeit by a score of 4-3 rather than 7-3. For some other ill-fated hitters, a rain delay, bad call or even a paper airplane led to home runs being called back, sometimes with serious consequences.

In fact, two other grand slams have been downgraded to singles, both because of a rule that forbids runners to pass any teammate ahead of them on the base path. Both hits – one in 1970 by Dalton Jones of the Tigers, the other in 1976 by Tim McCarver of the Phillies – went over the fence, but saw the hitter run past the runner that had been on first base. Only the hitter was called out, so in both plays they got three RBIs and were credited with a single, but no grand slam.

In 1965, a lost home run gave us one of Yogi Berra’s greatest quips. The Mets were playing in Cincinnati, where construction near Crosley Field meant that the outfield wall was concrete, but topped with plywood in an attempt to keep balls in the park. According to officials, the concrete was in play, but any ball that hit the plywood would be a home run. With the bases loaded, outfielder Ron Swoboda hit a ball that bounced off the plywood and back onto the field, where the umpires erroneously ruled it in play. Coach Yogi Berra was ejected for protesting the call and later told reporters "Anyone who can’t hear the difference between wood and concrete must be blind."

In 1929, Tigers third baseman Frank Sigafoos hit his first ever home run in a road game against St. Louis. However, the umpire had actually called a balk on the pitcher and declared a dead ball, thus nullifying the home run. It would turn out to be the only time Sigafoos would ever hit the ball out of the park, and he finished his career with no official home runs.

In 1978, a paper airplane of all things erased a John Lowenstein home run. A fan threw a paper airplane onto the field just as Angels pitcher Paul Hartzell was winding up. The umpire called time because of the interference, but Hartzell finished pitching and Lowenstein ended up taking the ball over the right field fence. However, the hit was called back because of the time out. Lowenstein would eventually walk and ended up scoring in the inning.

St. Louis outfielder Joe Medwick ended the 1937 season tied with Mel Ott for the National League lead in home runs with 31, although he still won the batting triple crown thanks to a dominating season. However, were it not for one rained out game, he would have secured the outright home run lead. In a double-header against the Philadelphia Phillies, Medwick hit one out in the first inning en route to a 10-2 Cardinals lead. Thanks to an earlier rain delay, it was getting dark and officials were worried the stadium would have to close. The Phillies started slowing the game down by taking repeated trips to the mound and requesting ball changes in a bid to force the teams off the field before the game became official in the fifth inning. The tactics worked and the umpires called the game off in the fourth inning, erasing all of the official stats and the home run that Medwick could have used to break his tie with Ott.

Interestingly, a rain-out also erased a Stan Musial home run in 1948, which ended up eliminating his chance to become the first NL triple crown winner since Medwick.

For more lost home runs, check out this exhaustive list from Retrosheet.org. And for a good laugh, check out this Onion article about Hank Aaron’s 50 lost home runs, conveniently restored as Barry Bonds was nearing the home run record.

5 Fast Facts About Muhammad Ali

Kent Gavin/Getty Images
Kent Gavin/Getty Images

Muhammad Ali is one of the most important athletes and cultural figures in American history. Though he passed away in 2016, the heavyweight boxing champ was larger than life in and outside of the ring. The man who coined the phrase "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” won 37 knockout victories. Here are five more fast facts about Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. The Greatest.

1. Cassius Clay was named for a white abolitionist.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. and named after his father, who had in turn been named for a white abolitionist. The original Cassius Clay was a wealthy 19th-century planter and politician who not only published an anti-slavery newspaper, but also emancipated every slave he inherited from his father. Cassius Clay also served as a minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln.

2. Muhammad Ali's draft evasion case went to the Supreme Court.

In the early 1960s, Clay converted to Islam, joined the Nation of Islam, and took the name Muhammad Ali. According to his religious beliefs, Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War when he was drafted in April 1967. He was arrested and stripped of his boxing license and heavyweight title. On June 20, 1967, he was convicted of draft evasion and banned from fighting while he remained free on appeal. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned his conviction in 1971.

3. He received a replacement gold medal.

At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ali won the gold medal for boxing in the light heavyweight division. But, as he wrote in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story (edited by Toni Morrison!), he supposedly threw his medal into the Ohio River in frustration over the racism he still experienced in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Some historians dispute this story and suggest that Ali just lost the medal. Either way, he was given a replacement when he lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

4. Muhammad Ali was an actual superhero.

In 1978, DC Comics published Superman vs. Muhammad Ali—an oversize comic in which Muhammad Ali defeats Superman and saves the world. In real life, Ali did save a man from suicide. In 1981, a man threatened to jump from the ninth story of a building in L.A.’s Miracle Mile neighborhood. Ali’s friend Howard Bingham witnessed the unfolding drama and called the boxer, who lived nearby. Ali rushed into the building and successfully talked the man down from the ledge.

5. Muhammad Ali starred in a Broadway show.

In Oscar Brown, Jr.'s 1969 musical adaptation of Joseph Dolan Tuotti's play Big Time Buck White, Ali played a militant black intellectual who speaks at a political meeting. The play ran for only five nights at the George Abbot Theatre in New York. His Playbill bio reported that Ali "is now appealing his five-year prison conviction and $10,000 fine for refusing to enter the armed services on religious grounds. The Big Time Buck White role that he has accepted is much like the life he lives off stage in reality.”

Can Watching the Super Bowl Give You a Heart Attack?

iStock.com/skynesher
iStock.com/skynesher

With the clock nearing zero, the 2006 divisional round playoff between the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to be over: It was the fourth quarter, with one minute and 20 seconds left, and the score was 21-18. Pittsburgh held the lead and, by all appearances, was about to score again.

Pittsburgh's offense lined up on the Indianapolis 2-yard line and handed the ball to future Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, a cannonball of a man who famously went by the nickname "The Bus." Nearly everybody assumed Bettis would pound the ball through the goal line. Instead, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett forced a fumble. The Colts picked up the ball and nearly ran it back for a touchdown. For Steelers fans, it was a sudden and heartbreaking turn of events. Literally.

Watching from a bar, a diehard Steelers fan named Terry O'Neill watched the ball tumble to the ground and suddenly felt a pain in his chest. Luckily, two firefighters in the crowd helped resuscitate him.

"My heart just quit beating completely," O'Neill later told the South Pittsburgh Reporter. "For all intents and purposes, I died."

Research indicates he wasn't the first. Watching a high-stakes game could actually kill you.

A 2002 study in The BMJ, which focused on the health of English soccer fans, found that a "myocardial infarction can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match." A 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed the World Cup-watching habits of German soccer fans and found that watching a stressful game more than doubled viewers' chances of experiencing a cardiovascular event. A similar result was found when other researchers looked at cardiovascular deaths in the Netherlands after the country's soccer team lost the European soccer championships on a penalty shootout in 1996.

In 2011, a study published in Clinical Cardiology looked at the Super Bowl specifically and found that deaths increased after the big game in the losing city, finding an "absolute increase in all cause mortality" in people over the age of 65. The researchers argued:

"Acute risk factors usually involve some form of stress—physical, emotional, or both—that increase the sympathetic nervous system and releases catecholamines. The subsequent increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and ventricular contractility increase oxygen demand and may change the shear stress of blood against an atherosclerotic plaque, contributing to plaque fracture."

This particular study, however, has received some criticism. It only looked at mortality statistics for the 1980 and the 1984 Super Bowls, a relatively small sample. Some researchers said the study went too far in implying that the Super Bowl caused death, considering that the viewer's behavior and health history (and not the events of the game itself) could have been responsible. Super Bowl Sunday, after all, is a day filled with fatty fried foods and copious amounts of alcohol—all possible risk factors for a cardiovascular event.

As Gregg Fonarow, director of the Cardiomyopathy Center at UCLA, tells LiveScience, "It may be other behaviors associated with important sporting events rather than the stress of watching the home team lose that may explain these associations." Additionally, pre-existing conditions could be a huge contributing factor. (This was the case for our fateful Steelers fan.)

Study limitations aside, becoming invested in the outcome of a sporting match is undeniably stressful on the heart. A recent (though small) study out of Canada surveyed the heart rates of hockey fans during games, revealing "a mean increase of 92 per cent among the 20 test subjects, rising from an average rate of 60 to 114 beats per minute," according to the Montreal Gazette. In other words, people sitting and watching TV had heart rates equivalent to people undergoing mild exercise. Their heart rates only got higher when they watched games in person.

Of course, you don't have to do a study to learn that close games can cause a diehard fan's heart to pound—just go and ask one. And if they mutter, "This team is going to kill me!," kindly suggest that they step away from the TV before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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