70 years later, red seat HR still awes
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.’’
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.