June 2016

70 years later, red seat HR still awes

Kansas City Royals vs Boston Red Sox

This is the view, 502 feet from home plate.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/Boston Red Sox)

Seventy years to the month later, the reaction is the same: Awe. Skepticism. Disbelief.

“Ted Williams hit one that far? No way!’’

There is no disputing the prescience of Gene Mack, the cartoonist for the Boston Daily Globe, whose sketch on June 10, 1946, of a ball landing deep in the right-field bleachers of Fenway Park was accompanied by this caption:

“Ted hit one of those homers they’ll be pointing out the spot on for years to come.’’

It is now known as the “red seat” home run, the painted marker by which the Red Sox elected to commemorate what is regarded as the longest home run ever struck in Red Sox history. It stands out in a sea of green: Sec. 42, Row 37, Seat 21, designating the spot where Joseph A. Boucher, a construction engineer from Albany, N.Y, who had come to Boston to work during the war, was sitting when Ted Williams hit a ball that popped a hole in the crown of the straw hat Boucher was wearing.

Boucher’s picture appears on the front page of the Globe the next day, his finger poking through the hole in his hat. “How far away must one sit to be safe in this park?’’ Boucher is quoted as saying by the Globe’s Harold Kaese.

Boucher said he didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. “They say it bounced a dozen rows higher,’’ he said, “but after it hit my head I was no longer interested.’’

The Red Sox have recorded the home run’s distance as 502 feet.

“He hit one that way off Charlie Ruffing,’’ one reporter wrote that day, “but this one went well into the ozone, which got the wind behind it, and brethren, did it keep going!”

It may have even traveled farther, according to Greg Rybarczyk, the former Navy nuclear engineer who now works for the Sox as a baseball operations analyst and created the hittracker.com website that has tracked home run distances for the better part of a decade.

Rybarczyk was inspired to create a way to measure home runs in 2006, when he read that Manny Ramirez had hit a ball into a Fenway light tower that had players clamoring for a distance, only to be told that the Sox had quit offering estimates.

“I’m watching this thing on video from 2000 miles away in Oregon and saying to myself, ‘Wait a minute–how can we not figure this out?’’ Rybarczyk said. “So I decided to do it. I’ve got a background in physics and aerodynamics and stuff like that, so I was able to put this model together to figure out how far it went.

“Turns out that home run, even though it was very eye-catching and rather awe-inspiring because of how high it went, it really didn’t go as far as it could have. To hit it almost over the light tower, you have to hit it too high to go the max distance.

“If you play golf, you know you don’t want to hit your drive up into the sky like that. You want to keep it low. Manny actually lost a little bit of distance. I think it would have gone 450 feet, which is nothing to sneeze at but could have gone farther if it had been a little lower.’’

A passion was kindled. Rybarczyk designed diagrams of all 30 ballparks and decided he would spend the next season tracking every home run—“essentially, a census of home runs.’’ He spent nine months working three or four hours a day designing his models, which were completed by Opening Day. And he’s been measuring home runs ever since.

Still, Williams’s home run does not pass the smell test for David Ortiz, who even in batting practice has not come close to hitting a ball into the red seat’s neighborhood and has often remarked that no one could have hit a ball that far.

But it appears Williams did, according to the calculations of Rybarczyk, who cited a “perfect day to combine with a perfect pitch and perfect swing.’’

Reports the day after said Williams hit a “fast one” from Tigers right-handed pitcher Fred Hutchinson. Fifty years later, Williams told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a different story.

“Hell, I can tell you everything about that one,’’ Williams said. “He threw me a changeup, and I saw it coming. I picked it up fast and I just whaled into it.’’

Boucher did not literally occupy the “red seat” that Sunday afternoon. The Sox still had bleachers then. Chairback seats were not introduced until 1977. Seven years later, Sox owner Haywood Sullivan installed the red seat in the spot where Boucher was sitting, and the distance was officially set at 502 feet.

“He hit one that way off Charlie Ruffing,’’ wrote one eyewitness, alluding to a home run Williams had once hit off future Yankees Hall of Famer Red Ruffing, “but this one went well into the ozone, which got the wind behind it, and brethren, did it keep going.’’

POLARTEC BIG AIR AT FENWAY PARK

A splash of red in a sea of green–and some snow on the steps (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox)

Deadly storms had swept through eastern New England the day before, claiming at least two victims and toppling church steeples, knocking down trees on automobiles, and pulling boats away from the docks where they had been moored. The proprietor of the Wakefield boathouse, John Ward, was blown out of the second-floor window he was trying to close.

“At least four separate storms roared across the section at 15-minute intervals for more than four hours, according to the weather bureau, and winds up to 75 miles an hour were reported in many areas,’’ the Globe reported.

In its wake, the storm left the most damage seen by the region since the 1944 hurricane.

Sunday dawned sunny, warm and humid for that day’s doubleheader between the Sox and Detroit Tigers, but there was still a considerable breeze.

“A rare and brisk northwest breeze made Yawkey Yard a home run heaven for southpaw clouters and a couple of right-handers yesterday,’’ one game account read.

Rybarczyk said researchers determined that it was a 76-degree day, with a 21-mile-an-hour gusting breeze. With Williams hitting the ball at an unusually steep angle, estimated at around 30 degrees, and with an exit velocity approaching 115 miles an hour, the drive took advantage of the strong wind currents and carried it aloft far beyond where it would have landed without the wind.

“This Ted Williams home run is actually pretty nice because we feel like we have a pretty precise spot of where that thing landed,” Rybarczyk said. “We know the row, we know the seat, and the bleachers haven’t really changed a whole lot since then.”

With such winds now impeded by a reconfigured press box and EMC Club behind home plate, Ortiz does not enjoy the advantage Williams had that day.

As for Boucher?

“He went to the first-aid room trailed by a doctor and two pretty nurses,’’ the Globe account said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A word about Bogie

 

 

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox

Xander Bogaerts, 23-year-old hitting machine (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) 

 

In a season dominated by Big Papi’s farewell tour and All-Star caliber performances by a number of other Red Sox players, Xander Bogaerts is nearly midway through a season that could ultimately rank among the best in Sox history. Wanted to share a few nuggets that illuminate how special he has been.

 

–In his last 162 games, dating back to June 17, 2015, these are Bogie’s numbers: .340 batting average. .381 on-base pct. .465 slugging pct. He has 232 hits, 101 RBIs, 113 runs scored, 46 doubles, 13 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He has the highest batting average and most hits in the majors in that span.

 

–Bogie, as Red Sox crack publicist Justin Long has noted, had 100 hits in the team’s first 68 games. Ichiro Suzuki (103 hits) in 2007 and Matt Holliday (100 in 2007) also cracked the 100-hit mark in 68 games. The only player to do so in fewer games was Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, the Red Sox center-fielder who had 100 hits in the team’s first 64 games in 1912.

tris_speaker

Tris Speaker (Illustration courtesy of Gary Cieradkowski, author of “The League of Outside Baseball”)

 

–Bogie is on pace for 234 hits. Only one player by age 23 had more: Hall of Famer Al Simmons had 253 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1925. Lloyd (Little Poison) Waner is second with 234.

 

–Seven players have had 220 or more hits through their age 23 season. Five of them are Hall of Famers. The others are Shoeless Joe Jackson, a Hall of Fame caliber player, and former NL batting champion Tommy Davis.

 

–Only 13 Sox players have had 200 or more hits in a season, 3 since 2000. Adrian Gonzalez led the AL with 213 hits in 2011, one more than Jacoby Ellsbury (212). Dustin Pedroia led the league with 213 hits in 2008, his MVP season. Wade Boggs did it seven times, his high-water mark coming in 1985, when he had 240 hits. Speaker is second on the all-time list with 222, in 1912.

 

–The last Sox player to lead the league in hits before Pedroia was Nomar Garciaparra, who had 209 hits in 1997. Nomar, like Bogie, was 23. Unlike Bogie, Nomar was a rookie.

Nomar hitting

Nomar Garciaparra led AL in hits in 1997, when he was 23 (Courtesy Boston Red Sox)

 

–Michael Young set the record for hits by a shortstop with 221 for Texas in 2005. That was two more than the 219 hits than Derek Jeter had with the Yankees in 1999.  Jeter was 25 in 1999, one of eight seasons in which he had 200 hits or more.

 

–Only two Sox shortstops had 200 or more hits in a season: Garciaparra, and Johnny Pesky, who did it three times: 1942, ’46, and ’47.

 

–As I noted, we’re not yet at the halfway point in 2016. But if Bogie stays healthy, and can avoid a prolonged slump, he could etch his name all over the record books.

A ballplayer’s response to Orlando

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mitch Harris, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who delayed his professional baseball career five years while serving his commitment to the Navy, on Monday tweeted this response to the mass shootings in Orlando on Sunday. 

Here’s the link to Mitch’s tweet. If you share his sentiments, I would ask you share this as far and wide as you can.  https://t.co/zRu9IKNVAe

 

It’s hard for me to be silent during this time in our lives. I believe the tensions we are seeing between religions, races, sexualities and other groups are at some of the highest in history. It hurts me to know that there’s so much hate and discord amongst so many people. Even during the recent shootings, I’m seeing discussions of “attack on U.S. vs. LGBT,” “Islam vs. Christianity,” “gun control” and many others. Pls understand the root of these issues is the hate of others simply because of ones belief in something. I fought for my country bc I love all [that] we have, the right to be who we are, stand for what we believe, and do so amongst each other! This is not the case around the world! We need to start here in the U.S. by showing understanding, compassion, and love to others no matter their stance.

I don’t care what race you are, what religion you believe, what sexuality you associate with…even though I may disagree with an idea or belief of yours, I still care for you and love you as I would any other human. The God I believe in showed us this example and I just want to hopefully show this more. 1Cor 13

 

Don’t let the recent events scare you or discourage you, this is playing right in to what is wanted. Stand tall…have a voice for victims…continue to have your stance in your belief…but above all else, LOVE one another!

 

“It takes courage to face the mountain and strength to climb but when you reach the summit and see the valley you realize who’ve you become.’’

 

Love,

Mitch

Mitch Harris