When Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday recently launched a mammoth home run into the area of Busch Stadium III known as Big Mac Land, it naturally drew comparisons with the shots hit by former St. Louis slugger and current batting coach Mark McGwire.
But before McGwire, who played for the Cardinals from 1997-2001, another Big Mac, Giants first baseman Willie McCovey, may have hit the longest home run seen in St. Louis.
On July 20, 2012, a Friday night, Holliday crushed a split-fingered fastball from Cubs starter Ryan Dempster that resulted in what Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon called “a king daddy” of a home run. Boxscore
The towering third-inning solo shot near the Big Mac Land section in the upper reaches above left field was reported by several sources, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and MLB.com, to be 469 feet, making it the longest home run at Busch Stadium III since the ballpark opened in 2006. (ESPN calculated the distance at 438 feet.)
“That was the longest one I’ve seen,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said to MLB.com.
(First baseman Albert Pujols had held the Busch Stadium III record for longest home run with his 465-foot shot to left field against the Rockies’ Esmil Rogers in the first inning on Aug. 14, 2011, according to the Cardinals’ most recent media guide. Boxscore)
Shannon, calling Holliday’s king-sized home run on KMOX radio, immediately thought back to Sept. 4, 1966. On that Sunday afternoon, McCovey hit what Shannon told his listeners was the longest home run he’d witnessed.
Leading off the third inning against Cardinals starter Al Jackson, McCovey hit a ball that landed in the upper deck above the scoreboard in right-center field at Busch Stadium II. (The ballpark opened four months earlier, in May 1966.)
Shannon was playing right field for the Cardinals that day and “had a good look” at McCovey’s home run. Shannon said he later asked McCovey (who had 521 career home runs in the major leagues) whether it was the longest ball he’d hit. “I don’t know if it was the longest,” Shannon said McCovey replied, “but it was the hardest.” Boxscore
The book “Baseball’s Ultimate Power: Ranking the All-Time Greatest Distance Home Run” (2010, Globe Pequot Press) had this description of McCovey’s St. Louis home run: “The ball was struck on a line drive trajectory that resulted in a 515-foot journey.”
Mike Eisenbath, author of “The Cardinals Encyclopedia” (1999, Temple University Press), estimated McCovey’s home run at 450 feet.
The Cardinals’ 2005 Busch Stadium commemorative yearbook had this item on McCovey’s 1966 home run:
By the casual method of the time, an unofficial estimate of more than 450 feet is pronounced.
Years later, more sophisticated methods _ such as estimated baseball trajectories, charts and computers _ will gauge several home runs at greater distances.
Still, many who witness McCovey’s blast will continue to regard it as the longest home run in Busch Stadium (II) history. “That may be the farthest hit anywhere,” remembers Mike Shannon. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”
(On Sept. 16, 1966, 12 days after his titanic blast in St. Louis, McCovey smacked a 505-foot home run off Mets starter Jack Fisher at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. It’s the longest homer hit at that stadium, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Boxscore)
Until McGwire arrived, Pirates first baseman Willie Stargell came closest to challenging McCovey’s home run for longest hit at Busch Stadium II. On July 4, 1979, Stargell ripped a slider from reliever Darold Knowles 510 feet into right-center field, above and to the right of the scoreboard at Busch Stadium II. Boxscore
“That’s the longest home run I’ve ever seen hit in this ballpark by a left-hander,” Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez said to the Associated Press.
Said Stargell: “When I saw it go out, I saw (Knowles) flinging something like his cap. He was disgusted. It was a ball that Darold, I’m sure, got in an area he didn’t want. It was a nice, easy swing. I had no idea it was going that far.”
Nineteen years after Stargell’s shot, McGwire hit what officially is called the longest home run at Busch Stadium II. (The Cardinals have been measuring home runs since 1988, according to the Associated Press.) The 545-foot home run on May 16, 1998, off the Marlins’ Livan Hernandez hit the Post-Dispatch sign in center field. For the remainder of the season, a giant Band-Aid marked the spot where the ball dented the sign. Boxscore
“It’s the best ball I’ve ever hit,” McGwire said to the Associated Press. “I don’t think I can hit one better than that.”