Linked by two of the greatest single-game hitting performances in the history of big-league baseball, Mark Whiten of the 1993 Cardinals and Josh Hamilton of the 2012 Rangers were very different ballplayers at those stages of their careers.
Whiten, Hamilton and Gil Hodges of the 1950 Dodgers are the only major leaguers to hit four home runs in a game and have at least one runner on base for each of the four, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
On May 8 at Baltimore, Hamilton went 5-for-5 with four home runs, a double and eight RBI in the Rangers’ 10-3 victory over the Orioles. Each of Hamilton’s home runs was a two-run shot _ and each time shortstop Elvis Andrus was the runner on base. Boxscore
On Sept. 7, 1993, at Cincinnati, in the second game of a doubleheader, Whiten went 4-for-5 with four home runs and 12 RBI in the Cardinals’ 15-2 victory over the Reds. Whiten hit a grand slam, two three-run homers and a two-run shot. Boxscore
Whiten and Hamilton each played center field in those games. Each hit all four of his four homers left-handed. But that’s where the similarities end.
Hamilton, who turns 31 today (May 21), is in his sixth major-league season and is a four-time all-star who has played in two World Series. He appears to have a legitimate chance to become the first player since Carl Yastrzemski of the 1967 Red Sox to achieve the Triple Crown (leading his league in batting average, home runs and RBI.)
Whiten was 26 and in his fourth major-league season when he had his four-homer game. He hadn’t been an all-star and hadn’t played in a World Series. He didn’t begin playing baseball seriously until his senior year in high school. Considered a raw talent, Whiten would attend the Florida Instructional League in St. Petersburg, Fla., after the ’93 season.
“The main thing Mark has to understand is to have a game plan when he goes up to bat,” Cardinals hitting coach Chris Chambliss told The Sporting News. “Sometimes you go up there and you’re not really watching what the pitcher is doing to you, or what to look for. But he may be catching on.”
Said Whiten: “The mental part of the game I’ve got to work on. The physical part is all here. I think I have the swing. But if you don’t have the mental approach to this game, you’re lost.”
Signed by the Blue Jays after being selected in the fifth round of the 1986 draft, Whiten was traded by Toronto to the Indians in June 1991 and then dealt by Cleveland to the Cardinals on March 31, 1993, for pitcher Mark Clark and minor-league shortstop Juan Andujar.
In the fall of 1992, Whiten was taught how to hit home runs by Charlie Manuel, then a Cleveland minor-league instructor and now manager of the Phillies.
Whiten had 18 homers for the ’93 Cardinals entering the Sept. 7 doubleheader at Cincinnati, but he hadn’t hit one in nearly a month (Aug. 11 against Blas Minor of the Pirates) and he hadn’t had any multi-homer games for St. Louis.
In the opener of the Tuesday night doubleheader against the Reds, Whiten had been part of a disheartening defeat. Though he had a walk and a RBI, Whiten was hitless in four at-bats and misplayed a ninth-inning single by Reggie Sanders into a triple that enabled the Reds to rally for a 14-13 victory. The Reds and Cardinals combined to use a major-league record 15 pitchers Boxscore
(My wife and I attended the game. Disgusted by the Cardinals’ failure to protect a 13-9 eighth-inning lead, I decided, against my wife’s advice, to forgo any further agony and skip the second game. I still regret missing the chance to witness the only four-homer game in Cardinals history.)
Whiten’s first home run of the second game was the grand slam off Larry Luebbers in the first inning. In the fourth, Whiten popped out to third baseman Chris Sabo.
Mike Anderson, making his major-league debut, relieved Luebbers in the sixth. After the first two batters walked, Whiten connected for his second homer of the game. In the seventh, Whiten smacked another three-run homer off Anderson.
St. Louis led 13-2 in the ninth, with one out and a runner on first, when Whiten faced the original Nasty Boy, Rob Dibble. “I didn’t think about it (a fourth home run),” Whiten later told the Associated Press. “Well, I thought about it when I was in the field, but not once I stepped into the box and put the bat on my shoulder.”
Dibble’s first two pitches to Whiten missed the strike zone. “I thought he was going to pitch around me,” Whiten said.
Said Dibble: “I was going to go right after him. I knew it was history.”
The next was a fastball down the middle. Whiten swung and launched a 441-foot home run to center field. “I was impressed by that one,” Whiten said to the Associated Press. “It was the best of the four, I think. It was straightaway.”
Whiten took only five swings to hit his four home runs. The homers totaled 1,634 feet. Whiten tied the major-league single-game RBI mark of 12 set by Cardinals first baseman Jim Bottomley in 1924. He also tied the big-league doubleheader RBI record of 13 set by Padres first baseman Nate Colbert in 1972.
After the game, Whiten walked into the clubhouse, clutching his four home run balls in a plastic bag as his teammates held their bats aloft in a salute, the New York Times reported.
“You can’t even do what he did in batting practice,” third baseman Todd Zeile said to Sports Illustrated.
Said shortstop Ozzie Smith: “I’ve been around the game 16 years. I’ve seen some guys do some unbelievable things, but nothing like tonight.”
Previously: Red Schoendienst made Cardinals home run history