Baseball has had many events occur that were close to unpredictable. As they say, “That is why you play the games on the field and not paper.” Brady Anderson can have a career year that only pales in comparison to Bondsian and Ruthian slash lines and then return to being closer to Mike Napoli in 2013 than Bonds and Ruth. Sandy Leon can have an OPS of almost 1.200 over 74 plate appearances, even though the sum of his two OPS from the previous two years aren’t even close to reaching that total (in 3x as many plate appearances). Baseball can surprise you.
During Hanley Ramirez’s 3-homer game on 7/20, the conversation between me and my friend inevitably turned to the rare 4-homer game. This feat has only been accomplished by 16 players in baseball history ranging from the great Lou Gehrig and Willie Mays to Bob Horner, who somehow managed to pull off the feat in a losing effort. However, the most eye-popping discovery from perusing the list was that in 2002, this feat was accomplished twice in a 21-day span.
The two gentlemen in question are Seattle’s Mike Cameron and the Dodgers’ Shawn Green. Cameron hit 4 on May 2nd, then Green joined the party on May 23rd. Over this 21-day span, 12.5% of all 4-homer games occurred. Given that the list starts in the year 1894 (going by MLB’s official list), you would expect one to occur roughly every 7.5 seasons if they were to be evenly distributed. However, it makes sense that 4-homer games have become more common in modern times, given that homers weren’t a major part of the game until Ruth rose to prominence. Using the common live-ball era cutoff of 1920, the 7.5 figure from above lowers to 6.8 given even distribution. However, there is another change in baseball history that would seem to significantly alter the odds of a 4-homer game happening, and that would be the advent of the DH in the American League in 1973. Since 1973, a 4-homer game has happened on average every 6 seasons, yet another large jump. Over the past 42 seasons (not counting the in-progress 2016 season), 33% of these games occurred over the 21-day span of 5/2/02-5/23/02, well under the average.
This is obviously just a fluke, but a unique one at that. Considering the rarity of the 4-homer game, it is one of the biggest flukes in baseball history. This is akin to the early 2010’s run on perfect games in that it is definitely influenced by era (no way this was happening before the modern game), but is still impressive. While there are certain characteristics in a player conducive to a 4-homer game (for example a high flyball rate or playing at Coors Field), that would make them more likely candidates to hit 4-homers in a game, it is still unlikely to happen. Outside of randomness or the baseball gods throwing us fans a rather large bone, there is no explanation for this 2-in-21 days outburst.
While Shawn Green hit 42 homers in 2002, the 3rd time in 4 years he reached that plateau, Mike Cameron only hit 25, and he led the league in strikeouts with 176 per b-ref. While Shawn Green himself struck out 100+ times himself, it was clear that he would have been a better candidate to hit 4 homers in a game. Even though we are talking about decimal places of a percentage point difference between Green and Cameron being the two guys to do this versus, let’s say, Bonds and Sosa, it makes this feat that much flukier.
One thing I am curious about in regards to this fluke is if you simulated baseball from 1920 on ten thousand times, how many times 2 guys would hit 4 homers in a game at most 21 days apart. One of my favorite findings in 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports was that a simple reshuffling of game logs thousands of times over several decades revealed that a majority of the time, a 56-game hitting streak would occur, and in a not-insignificant number of those simulations, multiple 56-game hitting streaks emerged. This shows that even though the feat itself was bound to happen, the fact that Joe DiMaggio was the one to do it was significant. It takes skill to hit 4 homers in a game, but when you get to the majors, the skill difference between the best and the guys clinging to the majors isn’t that big a difference in terms of odds of accomplishing the feat. I feel confident in saying that at least half of the flukiness of this 2-in-21 days outburst is from Shawn Green and Mike Cameron being the members to this fluke, and not the fluke itself.
Flukes are what make baseball great and what makes the meticulous record keeping all worth it. In 2103, hopefully Commissioner un-frozen Ted Williams (like you wouldn’t want to see that happen) will commemorate the remarkable occasion on which 2 players homered 4 times in a game just 21 days apart. Until then, it will be interesting to see what will happen first: 2 players hitting 4 homers in a game in the same season again or a player hitting that elusive 5th homer in a game.Next post: Trailing 30 – Throwback Uniform Desecration Edition
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