Memorial Stadium Moment: ROCKY COLAVITO Hits Four Home Runs In One Game
On June 10, 1959, a new issue of The Sporting News hit the streets that proclaimed Cleveland Indians right-fielder Rocky Colavito the “American League player most likely to emulate -and possibly surpass- Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in one season”. Colavito, who’d launched just one longball in his last twelve games while battling through a 5-41 stretch, remarked “I hope my slump isn’t letting the paper down” shortly before going to work against the Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium hardly seemed like the place for the 1958 runner-up for the AL home run crown to get back on track. Not only was the cavernous ballpark widely regarded as the league’s toughest to go deep in, the powerful Colavito had managed only one blast there in some 108 career at bats. Nevertheless, he was just a few hours away from making history.
Batting cleanup for Cleveland, Colavito drew a walk in the top of the first and scored on Minnie Minoso’s three-run homer. Teammate Billy Martin added a solo blast an inning later, and Orioles starter Jerry Walker was off to an early shower after Colavito hammered a slow slider to deep left with a man aboard in the third to put Cleveland up 6-3.
The scored stayed that way until the fifth when, with one out, Colavito cleared the left-field fence again. This time, a slow curve from reliever Arnie Portacarrero got turned around for what The Sporting News described as a “mighty blow”.
One inning later, Colavito followed Tito Francona’s run-scoring double by teeing off on one of Portacarrero’s low and away fastballs, golfing a low liner over the wall in left-centerfield for an “eye popper” of a blast.
The Orioles fought back to draw within 10-7 by the time Colavito batted again in the ninth, and Baltimore pitcher Ernie Johnson’s initial offering brushed him back. The second pitch was up and in, but Colavito turned on it and connected for a fourth consecutive home run that’s destination was never in doubt as it headed for the left-field seats. That made Colavito just the eighth player in the history of major league baseball to hit four home runs in a single game, and just the third (Bobby Lowe in 1894 & Lou Gehrig in 1932 were the others) to do it in consecutive at bats. Prior to the contest, no team had ever hit four homers in a game at Memorial Stadium!
“Gehrig was my favorite when I was a small boy,” said Colavito after the game. “My brother Vito played first base, and Gehrig was his hero, so he became my hero too.”
Colavito switched his allegiance to Joe Dimaggio when he grew older, and now he’d accomplished something that even the great Dimaggio -and Ruth too for that matter- had never managed to do.
Colavito leaped into a swarm of waiting teammates as he crossed home plate after his fourth blast. Plenty of handshakes, “yippies!” and “wahoos!” followed, though Indians manager Joe Gordon observed that his players “seemed stunned to believe they actually had witnessed the feat”. That explains why nobody really noticed when second baseman Billy Martin -racing from the shower wearing only a towel after departing early for a pinch-hitter- wound up stark naked in the Indians dugout.
Cleveland pitcher Herb Score tracked down the fan who caught Colavito’s fourth home run ball among the 15,883 paying customers, but couldn’t persuade the patron to part with the souvenir. The Indians traveling secretary got it back with an offer of $25 and two autographed balls, and General Manager Frank Lane had it gold-plated and shipped to the Hall of Fame.
by MALCOLM ALLEN
(I owe a great debt to the reporting in The Sporting News for the facts in this story)
The Indians 11-8 victory on 6/10/59 started a 7-game win-streak that moved them to the top of the AL standings, but they ended the season in second place behind the “Go Go” White Sox.
Colavito won the only home run crown of his career (with 42), and led the AL in total bases, but Cleveland traded him to the Tigers two days before opening day the following season. He hit a career high 45 homers for Detroit in 1961, and 374 overall for six teams (plus a second stint with the Indians) in a 14-year career.
Rocco Domenico Colavito is now 74 and lives in Pennsylvania.