A few weeks ago, Scooter Gennett, a major league baseball player, hit four home runs in one game. If you are like me, you asked, “Who?” A guy named after a Muppet is in the major leagues? But even if you don’t know who Gennett is, you are still impressed with the what. The total number of major league baseball games played is not something I know, but surely it is north of 200,000, and only seventeen times has a player homered four times in a game. Rare, very rare.
Only one of these four-homer games has stuck in my mind, and that is as much as for what happened in the game after the one with four home runs. The Milwaukee Braves were playing at the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. The New York Giants would win the World Series that year, but it was a three-way pennant race when the Braves and Dodgers played at the end of July. (Even though it was a weekend, Ebbets Field was about half filled. Many Brooklynites bitched about the Dodgers moving to Los Angeles for decades after it happened, often stating how well the Dodgers were supported in Brooklyn. If support was meant to mean actual attendance at games, the moaners may have overstated matters.)
In that game, Joe Adcock, the Braves’ first baseman, hit four home runs and a double, which meant he had eighteen total bases. (Four for each of the homers, and two for the double.) Eighteen set a record for total bases that stood for over a generation.
A memorable day, but Adcock continued on the next day—a double in his first at bat. But then it ended. He did not get any kind of hit in his next time up; instead he got hit. I believe it was a fast ball from Clem Labine, not thrown at the small of the back, but hitting Adcock in the head. Back in those days, baseball was the same game, but it was also different. Get some hits and expect to get thrown at. The opponent did not want the hot hitter to be too comfortable in the batter’s box. Newspaper pictures the day after Adcock was hit showed him on a stretcher with concerned players from both teams huddled around.
In one sense, Adcock was lucky. Few ballplayers back then wore helmets. They might have said that the head protection was uncomfortable and could have affected their swing, but surely a main reason is that it was considered unmanly to have a helmet. (Football players did not then have face masks and surely part of the reason is that they were not manly. Hockey players did not wear helmets and the goalie went maskless for the same reason. As far as I know, however, all wore jock strops, and baseball catchers wore even more groin protection. There were unwanted images of unmanliness from a helmet or a face mask, and then there is protecting your manhood.) The Braves, however, defying convention, wore helmets, and Adcock had one on.
Years later I heard a Dodger who was on the field for that game—I think Pee Wee Reese—discuss the beaning. He said that the sound of the ball hitting Adcock was chilling. He went over to the prone Adcock and saw the helmet. It was cracked at the temple. The Dodger said that he decided to wear a helmet after that, as did his teammates.
Now, of course, it is routine for athletes in many sports to wear protective head gear, and the men don’t seem less manly to me.