The recent four-homer-game performance by Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers – the sixteenth in the history of professional North American major league baseball – brings to mind the much rarer four-homer-game outings in Cuban League annals. The four-homer feat has been rarely achieved during big-league games, occurring only 14 times in the post-1903 modern era (109 seasons); but it has not actually been among the very rarest of slugging feats, since it has now happened eight times in the approximate half-century since Willie Mays turned the trick in April 1961. Far rarer is a hitter stroking two grand slams in the same inning of a game (only once in MLB and once in Cuba), or even hitting two “salamis” in a single game, or two homers in a single inning. Over the same half-century (1961-2011) the modern-era Cuban League has witnessed only three such slugging explosions (admittedly in seasons generally only half as long as the major league campaigns), but Cuba also did not have a single occurrence until December 1989, when Leonel Moa struck four in a single National Series contest for Camagüey. Moa’s exceptional feat has only twice been duplicated, first by light-sticking Matanzas shortstop Alberto Diaz in December 1996 (National Series #35) and later by Omar Linares in April 1997 (during the short-season 30-game Revolutionary Cup tournament).
Major Leaguers (16) with Four-Homer Games
Player (Date) Season, Team vs. Opponent
1. Bobby Lowe (May 30, 1894) National League, Boston Beaneaters vs. Cincinnati Reds (two in third inning)
2. Ed Delahanty (July 13, 1896) National League, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago Colts
3. Lou Gehrig (June 3, 1932) American League, New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Athletics (first of modern era)
4. Chuck Klein (July 10, 1936) National League, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (10 inning game)
5. Pat Seerey (July 18, 1948) American League, Chicago White Sox vs. Philadelphia Athletics (11 inning game)
6. Gil Hodges (August 31, 1950) National League, Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Boston Braves
7. Joe Adcock (July 31, 1954) National League, Milwaukee Braves vs. Brooklyn Dodgers (also a double, for 18 total bases)
8. Rocky Colavito (June 10, 1959) American League, Cleveland Indians vs. Baltimore Orioles
9. Willie Mays (April 30, 1960) National League, San Francisco Giants vs. Milwaukee Braves
10. Mike Schmidt (April 17, 1976) National League, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago Cubs (10 inning game)
11. Bob Horner (July 6, 1986) National League, Atlanta Braves vs. Montreal Expos
12. Mark Whiten (September 7, 1993) National League, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds (one was grand slam)
13. Mike Cameron (May 2, 2002) American League, Seattle Mariners vs. Chicago White Sox (two in first inning)
14. Shawn Green (May 23, 2002) National League, Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers (also a double and single, for 19 total bases)
15. Carlos Delgado (September 25, 2003) American League, Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
16. Josh Hamilton (May 8, 2012) American League, Texas Rangers vs. Baltimore Orioles (also a double, for 18 total bases)
Cuban Leaguers (3) with Four-Homer Games
Player (Date) Season, Team vs. Opponent (Stadium)
1. Leonel Moa (December 10, 1989) National Series #29, Camagüey vs. Granma (Martires de Barbados, Granma)
2. Alberto Diaz (December 17, 1995) National Series #35, Matanzas vs. Camagüey (Mario Martínez Arará (Matanzas)
3. Omar Linares (April 8, 1997) Revolutionary Cup II, Pinar del Río vs. Villa Clara (Capitán San Luis, Pinar del Río)
Cuban League game details are not always easy to track down (although most relevant facts for all but the initial few National Series seasons are today squirreled away somewhere in the archives of INDER, the National Sports Ministry) and therefore such data as the innings and opposing pitchers for the homers by Moa, Diaz and Linares are largely lost to history (at least for the present). Game scores and game winners for the three historic Cuban events are also now buried in obscurity. But we do have knowledge of the ballparks involved and also of one most interesting oddity that serves to unite the three Cuban games. Strange as it may seem, the same umpire – Nelson Diaz, who also served behind home plate for the two Team Cuba-Baltimore Orioles exhibitions of 1999 and worked the initial World Baseball Classic – was involved in all three contests (twice at second base and once behind the plate). It is also interesting to note that while Linares stands number three on the all-time Cuban home run list with 404, and Moa was also a reputable slugger who amassed 272 round-trippers across 15 National Series campaigns, Diaz was not particularly known for long-ball prowess. Over 16 seasons with Matanzas, the right-handed-swinging shortstop blasted a grand total of only 67 lifetime home runs.
When it comes to any discussion of single-game home run feats, it is always necessary to revisit the remarkable achievement a few years back by Santiago de Cuba outfielder Alexei Bell. On opening day of National Series #49 the Cuban “Toy Cannon” smacked a pair of first-inning grand slams in his first pair of plate appearances on the season. Bell thus matched the only pair of single-inning bases-loaded homers in big league annals, those struck St. Louis Cardinals infielder Fernando Tatis in Dodgers Stadium back in 1999 (April 23). But Tatis’s odd round trippers were of course not hit in the first frame of the season’s very first game. If there is any rare slugging achievement in baseball annals likely never again to be duplicated it is most probably Bell’s November 2009 lid-lifter “grand salamis.”
But the story doesn’t quite end there for Alexei Bell. Two grand slams in a single game (not a single inning) has been accomplished by only 13 players in the majors and only three sluggers in Cuba; 27 Cuban Leaguers (including Bell himself twice) have smacked two homers in a single inning and countless more have done it in the majors. But it is a feat never duplicated during a post-season contest in the big leagues. Alexei Bell nonetheless also pulled off the two-homer-inning feat during a 2007 playoff contest (as did one other Cuban Leaguer, Habana’s Ernesto Molinet in the spring of 2009). Furthermore, only two big leaguers have achieved three base hits in a single frame (Gene Stephens in 1953 and Johnny Damon a half-century later, both with the Boston Red Sox, in Fenway Park) and that event also has never occurred during an MLB post-season affair. But incredibly Alexei Bell also struck three base knocks in a single inning during a springtime 2008 Cuban League post-season match.
Alexei Bell’s Three Remarkable Single-Inning Explosions
1. April 18, 2007 (Playoffs, Finals Game 1) in Guillermón Moncada Stadium (Santiago de Cuba): Two homers in the first inning versus Industriales (hit off pitchers Frank Montieth and Sandy Ojito).
2. April 5, 2008 (Playoffs, Semifinals Game 2) in Guillermón Moncada Stadium (Santiago de Cuba): Three base hits in the second inning versus Villa Clara, including a home run (hit off starter Juan Yasser Serrano) and two singles (off relievers Alex Suárez and Daniel Medina).
3. November 4, 2009 (Opening Day, National Series #49) in Guillermón Moncada Stadium (Santiago de Cuba): Two grand slam homers (8 RBI) in the first inning versus Camagüey (hit off pitchers Vicyohandry Odelín and Dunieski Alvarez).
When it comes to hitting four homers in one ball game, such is indeed a rare and much-to-be-celebrated feat. But talk all you want about four-homer outbursts, when we turn to genuinely unique and unparalleled one-day slugging performances, Cuba’s Alexei Bell is in a realm all his own. Bell remains the only ballplayer at the top professional level ever to smack two grand slams in the first inning of the first game of the year, to blast two homers in the same inning of a post-season contest, and to smash three base hits in the same frame of a playoff game. And he did it all within the span of three consecutive seasons.