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The term “home run” is well-ingrained into America’s lexicon, describing everything from an extraordinary performance or significant achievement, to slang usage involving relationships that we won’t get into here. But, in reality, what is home run in baseball ~ the sport that brought us the term?
A home run (HR) in baseball is a 4-base hit. In other words, a hit in which the batter touches all 4 bases (including home plate) on a single play that does not involve errors by the defense.
Why did the term get hijacked for use to describe other things and actions in our everyday vocabulary? Because it signifies the most awesome possible outcome of something.
To help explain, consider this quote by American actor Vin Diesel: “You make movies for the people. If the critics happen to like them, too, well that’s a home run.”
The best outcome for movie-makers is making money and winning acclaim, whether from the media or those in the industry. Diesel explains that, if a movie also happens to get the critics on board, then it’s a win-win.
What is the ultimate goal of a hitter in baseball? To score runs, by striking a pitched ball in such a manner as it moves base runners forward, forward and toward, home plate. Batters contribute to a team effort in search of the best outcome which is scoring runs.
A home run accomplishes this top result on a single swing. Home runs that clear outfield fences also initiate a sudden dramatic stop in action as a single, successful person runs a parade-like jog around the bases.
Home runs in baseball can conjure up a whole range of emotions, from elation for the hitter and dejection for the pitcher, to anticipation (of change, e.g. shift in momentum in a single game), glee (at the other team’s misfortune), confidence, anger, and more.
Let’s explore these connotations, whether related to baseball or not.
Not always, but a home run quite often shifts momentum or confidence from 1 side to the other, or from 1 team to the next. It does not have to be because of the run or runs scored; it could be because the score either got closer, or wider in margin.
A great example is a home run by Jim Leyritz of the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series.
The Yankees lost the first 2 games of the series at home, by a combined 16-1 margin. In other words, they were mauled.
The Bronx Bombers were able to scrape by in a Game 3 win in Atlanta, but in Game 4 they fell woefully behind 6 to 0, facing a loss and steep deficit to overcome for the rest of the series. Being down 3 games to 1 is not good.
Though the Yanks scored 3 runs in the 6th to close the gap to 3, the Braves got them to 2 outs in the 8th inning, with their hard-throwing closer Mark Wohlers on the mound. They needed only 4 more outs to take an almost insurmountable lead in the series.
With 2 runners on, Leyritz, a backup catcher who primarily pinch-hit in the postseason, hit a ball over the left-field wall to tie the game before a shocked Atlanta crowd.
Now, at that point the 3-run homer was not anything close to a series clincher ~ after all, the Yankees had not even yet won that game, just more time to keep battling.
However, the homer shifted momentum to the Yankees, meaning a boost in their confidence and hope that they might overcome a significant deficit. They ended up prevailing in 10 innings to tie the series, and proceeded to sweep the following 2 games for their first world championship in 18 years.
A single swing of the bat changed the dynamics of that series for good. Home runs are not always just about the runs scored on the given play. A home run can have quite the emotional impact on either team, or individual players, like the pitcher who threw the ball.
Definition of Home Run in Baseball
Dictionaries will provide slightly varying definitions of home run, but in general it could be:
“A hit in baseball allowing the batter to completely touch all the bases, without interruption, to score a run.”
Anyone who knows the game of baseball understands how difficult it is to score runs. In fact, most innings in baseball feature no runs scored. Most game scores are in single digits, and more games than you might imagine end in 1-0 scores.
So a home run is a big deal. It is fast, sudden scoring, compared with the seemingly trudging base-by-base manner in which runs are scored otherwise.
Scoring runs without a home run involves at least a couple of batters, often more, plus the time it takes to get them on base, deal with pitchers’ pick-off throws and time-outs, and the like.
While fans might be satisfied in the end if their team scores 2 or more runs in an inning, it is a gradual satisfaction that quite often ends prematurely. Fans most often expect more runs when a rally begins.
In contrast, a home run scores runs instantly.
It is the most-exciting play in baseball, overcome only by home runs hit with more than 1 runner on base. The grand slam ~ a home run with the bases loaded with runners ~ followed by the 3-run homer are the most exciting plays in baseball.
But still they are single plays, all home runs. The number of runners on base at the time just dictates the type of home run. And there are many types of home runs.
- Chinese Home Run: Now obsolete due to its racist nature, an old term baseball players once used to indicate a home run on a ball not well-struck, or that cleared a “short” fence not far from home plate. Also called a Cheap Home Run.
- Dramatic Home Run: A home run struck at just the right time in a baseball game, most often to end games (See Walk-Off Home Run). All walk-off home runs are dramatic.
- Fisk Home Run: A home run that flies right down the left-field line, maybe even striking the foul pole. So-named for the home run Carlton Fisk hit to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park in Boston.
- Fluke Home Run: A home run on a ball hit to an unusual part of the park, or on a ball that caroms off something like a pole, to allow a home run.
- Grand Slam Home Run: A 4-run play accomplished when a batter hits a home run while 3 runners are on base.
- Home Run on Errors: Not officially a home run, but it looks like one. A play where a batter strikes a ball in play and not beyond the outfield fence, in which mistakes by defensive players allows him to circle the bases and touch home plate. This play is rarely seen in professional play, but common in youth baseball play.
- Home Run on Interference:A ball hit in fair territory that an umpire rules would have been a home run had a fan not interfered with the flight of the ball.
- Inside-the-Park Home Run: Home run accomplished when a batter rounds the bases on a hit, without the ball flying over an outfield fence, and without an error by defensive players. Also called an In-the-Park Home Run, or a similar phrase.
- Insurance Home Run: A home run struck by a player on the team with a lead in the game, as in, insurance in case the other team scores more runs.
- Line-Drive Home Run: A home run that is struck hard and flies on a line, lower to the ground and not high up into the air. These home runs can appear really fast to viewers, as they scream out of a stadium very quickly.
- Moon-shot Home Run: Long, towering hit that flies high into the air before clearing the outfield fence for a home run.
- Opposite-Field Home Run: Home runs that go toward the opposite side of where batters typically hit balls, as in to right field for right-handed batters, or to left-field for left-handed batters.
- Pesky Home Run: A home run struck right down the right-field line and into stands that are not far from home plate, e.g. the right-field pole at Fenway Park that is only 302 feet from home plate. Named for Johnny Pesky, a contact hitter known to curl balls down that line for “cheap” home runs.
- Pop-Fly Home Run: A home run that soars high into the air before clearing the outfield fence, akin to a pop-up fly ball in front of the fence.
- Solo Home Run: A home run when the bases are empty.
- Tack-On Home Run: See Insurance Home Run. A home run struck by a team in the lead, “tacking on” runs to their game total.
- Tape-Measure Home Run: Home run where the struck ball travels a great distance, usually far past the outfield fence. See Moon-shot Home Run.
- 3-Run Home Run: A home run when 2 runners are on base.
- 2-Run Home Run: A home run when a single runner is on any base.
- Walk-Off Home Run: A dramatic home run that ends a game, in the last inning, so-named because it makes the pitcher walk off the field to the clubhouse.
Other Meanings for the Term Home Run
- Doubling one’s profit in a business action or endeavor
- A good idea
- In a relationship, having sexual intercourse
“The one stock in my portfolio which I say hasn’t worked yet but has the potential for a big home run is General Motors.” ~ Steve Eisman
In Major League Baseball, it varies from year to year, but in general, 400 feet is the average distance of a home run. That indicates that many were struck much farther, and some were very short.
This is where a bunch of Pesky home runs of 302 feet get balanced out by the 450-foot bombs of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.
By the way, the minimum distance from home plate to the centerfield wall in Major League stadiums is 400 feet.
What is the Longest Home Run Ever?
In professional baseball, that distinction goes to Joey Meyer, who hit a ball 582 feet at Mile High Stadium in Denver during a AAA minor league game.
In the major leagues, it’s a challenge because home run distances have been measured with precision only recently. The longest anyone has heard is a 575-foot homer by Babe Ruth in 1921, at Navin Field in Detroit. However, for many years that was not considered the record due lack of witnesses or evidence.
For many years, stat books like the Guinness Book of World Records had a home run by Mickey Mantle in 1953, in Griffith Stadium in Washington, as the longest ever at 565 feet.
Some dispute the measurement techniques used to estimate both distances. Aside from those 2, many people saw Reggie Jackson in the 1971 All-Star Game hit a home run an estimated 539 feet from home plate ~ off the very top facade at old Tigers Stadium.
In modern times, where more scientific methods are used to measure home runs, the longest home run belongs to Nomar Mazara of the Texas Rangers in 2019, at 505 feet. That barely cleared the 504-foot homer by Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins in 2016.
The Major League Baseball record for most home runs is 762, by Barry Bonds. However, it is widely disputed due to allegations of performance-enhancing drugs by Bonds.
After Bonds is Henry Aaron with 755 home runs, which most baseball fans consider to be the record.
Still other (usually much older) fans point to Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs, citing the fact that he lost 5 years of his hitting career to pitching, and also because back then they played 8 fewer games per season.
Some historians also estimate that Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson may have struck over 800 home runs in his career. However, those leagues did not keep game statistics consistently.
The world lifetime record for home runs belongs to Sadaharu Oh of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, where he accumulated 868 home runs over a 21-year career.
Question: Are there ‘home runs’ in other sports?
Answer: Yes, but they are called different names, like a hole-in-one in golf, or a bulls-eye in darts. Even in soccer, a single goal might be considered the equivalent, due to the low number of goals scored in the sport. Some 3-point shots in basketball can be considered home runs, depending on the time when it occurred in the game.
Q.: Do baseball players ever get automatic home runs, like they do in cricket?
A.: No. In baseball there are only a couple of ways to get a home run: strike the ball in fair territory over an outfield wall so it is unplayable; or run around all the bases without being put out.
Q.: Do home runs always go over the fence?
A.: No, some home runs result from well-struck balls that end up in a difficult part of the field to play. Known as inside-the-park home runs (See above), these plays are among the most exciting in baseball. The batter must scamper to touch all bases before the defense can return the ball to home plate to try to make the tag. They often occur due to a ball caroming strangely off an outfield wall, pole, or other item in the field of play, or an outfielder’s inability to chase the ball due to injury or indifference.