Twenty Years ago today, Kirby Puckett hit a home run. It was the 11th inning of Game 6 of the World Series, with the score tied at 3. Puckett had already hit a triple, a single, and a sac fly, and he made one of the most amazing catches ever in the third inning of that game. But it’s the home run that everyone remembers, and with good reason.
I hereby proclaim that Kirby Puckett’s Game 6 home run was the greatest home run in the history of the World Series.
Now, since this site is dedicated to the Twins, and since I’m a lifelong Twins fan, you may dismiss that as simple homer bias. And I’ll admit that I am very biased toward Puckett’s homer! But I am fully prepared to defend this argument. But before I do, please take a moment to watch the home run here. Note the delirious joy of the Metrodome crowd. And the sheer exhuberance Puckett showed while rounding the bases. And take a moment to feel sorry for Charlie Liebrandt as he walks off the mound with his head down. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more depressing picture of a pro athlete.
Okay, now for my argument. For a starting point, let’s use this list, compiled by ESPN, of the 100 greatest homers of all time. Puckett is number 11 on the list. We’re not going to concern ourselves with the regular season homers here, so let’s not worry about Bobby Thompson or Hank Aaron for now. We’re looking only at the World Series homers, and there are five ahead of Puckett: Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk, Joe Carter, and Bill Mazeroski. Lower on ESPN’s list, but worthy of consideration, are Scott Brosius’s 2001 homer, Babe Ruth’s Called Shot, and Reggie Jackson’s 3 homer game. Let’s go through these one-by-one and see why they aren’t as amazing as the Puckett shot:
Jackson: Next to Don Larsen’s perfect game or Bill Wambsgass’s triple play, Jackson’s three homer game in 1977 is one of the most amazing World Series feats. Jackson had an even better game in Game 6 of 1977 than Puckett did in 1991. But the third home run, in itself, was not especially dramatic, and it didn’t have much effect on the Series. The Yankees were ahead 7-3 in the 8th inning when Jackson hit it, so all it did was add an unnecessary insurance run to the Yankees’ inevitable win. The ball traveled about 158 miles, though, so that’s pretty impressive.
Ruth: Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in the 1932 Series may be the most famous home run of all time. It is one of the game’s enduring legends, despite (or because of) the fact that the nobody knows for sure whether Ruth really did predict his home run. This home run falls short of Puckett’s, though, because it had almost no effect on the outcome of the Series. 1932 was the latest in a long line of Yankee routs. The Bombers swept the Cubs that year by a combined score of 37-19. The called shot was the closest that Series came to having any sort of drama.
Brosius: The 2001 Series rivals the 1991 Series as one of the greatest ever. Scott Brosius tied Game 5 with a two run shot off Byung-Hyun Kim. It was the second time in two nights that the Yanks had forced extra innings with a 9th inning homer. I’m surprised that, out of all the dramatic homers in that Series, the one by Brosius was the highest on the list. Tino Martinez’s game-tying shot from the previous night was way down at #71, and Derek Jeter‘s game winner from Game 4 somehow didn’t make the list. Of the three, I would’ve ranked Jeter the highest. All were very dramatic, but since none of these was an elimination game, none of them can really compare to Kirby.
Gibson: Okay, I’ll admit that there’s a great backstory behind this one. Gibson was badly hurt, to the point that he could barely walk. And Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley was all but unhittable in 1988. Extra points for Vin Scully’s memorable line, “in a year that has been so improbably, the impossible has happened.” But look at the context of the Series. Gibson’s home run occurred in Game 1, which was the first of four consecutive Dodger victories. The Series was not close. Worst case scenario, if Gibson struck out instead of homering, the Dodgers probably would have won in 5 instead of 4. Gibson’s blast was a stirring symbol of human triumph, but it’s actual effect was minimal.
Fisk: This was a heart-stopping home run in one of the most incredible games ever played. What basebal fan hasn’t seen the image of Fisk waving the ball fair in the bottom of the 12th inning? Facing elimination in Game 6, the Red Sox needed to pull this one off or face their 57th straight year without a championship. MLB Network chose Game 6 as the greatest game of the television era. It may have even helped revive interest in the game of baseball itself; attendance and viewership had been dropping in the 1970s. This one would beat Puckett hands down if not for one thing: the Red Sox lost! The Reds won the World Series the next day, meaning that all Fisk did was prolong Red Sox fans’ suffering and make the defeat harder to take.
Carter: Unlike the others we’ve seen so far, Carter’s longball in 1993 actually ended the World Series. With the Jays down 6-5 in Game 6, one out and two men on in the 9th inning, Carter went deep against Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams. Interestingly, the two men he knocked in, Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor, would both go on to join the 3,000 hit club (and the Hall of Fame). The only thing wrong with this home run is that it wasn’t a do or die situation. If Carter had failed to win the game, the Jays would have had another chance in Game 7.
Mazeroski: Wow, it is incredibly hard to argue against this one. The Yankees were overwhelming favorites to beat the Pirates in the World Series, but somehow the Pirates dragged it into Game 7. Thanks to a five run 8th, the Pirates took a 9-7 lead, but it disappeared in the 9th, when the Yankees tied it. The light-hitting Mazeroski led off and hit Ralph Terry’s second pitch over the left field wall.
Mazeroski’s home run had the compelling storyline, dramatic situation, and do-or-die intensity of Puckett’s. Like Puckett’s, it was a walk-off shot, and while it wasn’t an extra inning game-ender, it did win Game 7. So what puts Puckett ahead? The broadcast. Thompson’s home run is widely remembered as the greatest regular season home run, not just because of the situation and the homer itself, but in large part because of Russ Hodges’ famous “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT” call. Likewise, Puckett’s game winner inspired Jack Buck to utter the famous line “…and we’ll see you TOMORROW NIGHT!” Mazeroski’s shot, by contrast, eliciteda simple “…it is over the fence, home run. The Pirates win!” Since the two are so close, that puts Puckett just barely over the top.
Now that I’ve proven that Kirby Puckett’s home run was the greatest in the history of the World Series, I’m sure nobody will argue against me. Ever. I don’t even think it’s possible, since I’ve made such an airtight case. So I’m glad we have that settled.