At various times over the decades, mention of the New York Yankees has been virtually synonymous with the home run. After all, their nickname was “The Bronx Bombers.” You don’t hear that so much these days unless the Yankees have an explosive game in which they bludgeon an opponent with four or five homers.
However, Sunday, the Yankees and the four-bagger, the bases clearing bash, once again overlapped in baseball consciousness. Brett Gardner has a few things in common with Babe Ruth. They both wore pinstripes and played the outfield at Yankee Stadium. They are not both known as big-stick bashers.
Ruth practically invented the home run as a weapon and the original Yankee Stadium was known as “The House That Ruth Built.” The current Yankee Stadium could be called “The House That Lets Brett Gardner In Through The Players Entrance Without A Ticket.”
Yet Sunday Gardner became a partner in Yankee lore with the Bambino by naturally enough hitting a home run. The lefty swinging Gardner (another thing in common with Ruth), bashed a homer in the fifth inning off Toronto’s Drew Hutchison that landed in the second deck in right field. The home run was notable because it was the 15,000th home run in franchise history dating back to 1903 when the New York club was called the Highlanders.
Number 14,999 came in the first inning when catcher Brian McCann hit a shot. By the way, the Yankees won the game, 5-2.
In the course of human events Gardner’s homer is of only minor significance. The Yankees remain a longshot to even make the playoffs this season. Indeed, Gardner really isn’t even a home-run hitter. This one was his 17th of the 2014 season, by far a career high. His previous seasonal best was eight last year.
But Gardner earned his place in the continuum of Yankee home run heroes. Ruth, of course, set so many home run records that it was difficult to keep track of them. He led the American League in homers 12 times, although the first two times were registered while he was still a member of the Boston Red Sox. Ruth also hit more than 50 homers in a season three times, including the long-standing record of 60 in 1927. Appropriately, Ruth also held the career mark of 714 for decades.
The first home run in club history was recorded by John Ganzel in May of 1903 and in keeping with the style of the game during the Deadball Era it was an inside the park homer. Besides Ruth, in the earlier decades of the 20th century, other Yankees to lead the AL in homers were Bob Meusel and Lou Gehrig. Joe DiMaggio twice led the league, as did little-remembered Nick Etten in 1944 during World War II.
Mickey Mantle topped the circuit three times, and of course, in 1961 Roger Maris broke Ruth’s single-season mark with 61 homers while dressed in Yankee finery (Mantle also hit 54 that season). In more recent years other Yankee American League home run kings were Graig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez, and even Mark Teixeira.
There is no baseball team more closely identified with the home run than the Yankees, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau there is no other franchise within 1,000 home runs of the Yankees. Maybe that’s why the Yankees have won 40 pennants and 27 World Series championships.
Having guys around like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez to send pitches into orbit is going to account for a lot of runs.