The 1961 baseball season is remembered for the classic home run chase put on by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60, but there were other great accomplishments that season.
On April 30, Willie Howard Mays Jr., whom many consider a better player than either Maris or Mantle, hit four home runs against the Milwaukee Braves to lead the San Francisco Giants to 14-4 victory. Mays became only the ninth player to hit four home runs in a game.
Going into the contest, Willie had hit only two round-trippers all season. He finished the year with 40 home runs.
Facing sinkerball (some claim that it should read “spit ball) pitcher Lew Burdette with two outs and the bases empty in the top of the first, Willie connected for his first home run.
In the third inning, Willie hit a two-run blast, again against Burdette, but it wasn’t a perfect day. In the fifth inning, Mays flied out to center.
His third home run was a three-run shot off journeyman left-hander Seth Morehead, and in the eighth, Mays hit a two-run home run off Don McMahon.
Most of the small crowd of 13,114 was pulling for Willie to set a record of five home runs in a single game, but first Willie had to get to the plate.
Jose Pagan led off the Giants’ ninth with a ringing single to center. Giants’ pitcher Billy Loes, who had been a mainstay of the hated Brooklyn Dodgers great teams of the early and mid-1950s sacrificed Pagan to second, but Chuck Hiller grounded out to first for the second out, bringing up Jim Davenport, with Mays on deck.
The suspense was short-lived as Davenport grounded out to second, leaving Mays in the on deck circle, where he had been when Bobby Thomson hit an important home run in 1951.
A few days later, in Philadelphia, Willie demonstrated his greatness, versatility, and how much today’s fans miss by not seeing him play.
Giants’ ace Juan Marichal faced Frank Sullivan. With the first-place Giants leading 2-1 in the top of the third inning, Mays walked with one out. Willie McCovey flied out to center, bringing up Orlando Cepeda.
Manager Alvin Dark put on the hit and run. Willie took off as Cepeda hit a single to left. Bobby Gene Smith was playing deep against the power-hitting Cepeda and by the time he got to the ball Willie was already around second base.
Smith relayed the ball into shortstop Ruben Amaro, who fired to second in order to hold Cepeda at first, but Amaro hadn’t counted on Willie being Willie.
Third base coach Salty Parker put up the stop for Mays, which he ignored. Everybody was taken by surprise except Willie, who never had any doubts about taking the gamble.
Many players have scored from first on a single (see Enos Slaughter in the 1946 World Series), but Mays’ feat was unique because the ball had been hit in front of him.
Within a span of six days, the great Willie Mays hit four home runs in a game and scored from first base on a single to left field with what turned out to be the winning run. Mays was a winner who loved the game and had the talent to beat opponents with his bat, legs, and arm.
He was as great as those who saw him play say he was, only he might have been even a little bit greater.
Mays wallops four home runs as giants overwhelm braves in milwaukee: RECORD EQUALED IN 14-4 CONTEST mays, ninth to connect 4 times in one game, paces 8-homer giant offense. (1961, New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. 37. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/115236131?accountid=46260
Times,By Howard M. Tucker. .Special to The New York TImes. (1961, Giants top phils, thanks to mays: Dash from first to home on single marks 4-2 victory. New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. 37. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/115319094?accountid=46260