The baseball world is still buzzing about Aaron Judge’s gargantuan blast Sunday afternoon, a blow that cleared even the bleachers in Yankee Stadium’s spacious leftfield. MLB’s StatCast put the blow at 495 feet, ESPN had a foot farther at 496. Either way, it was a tremendously long drive that ranks among the annals of longest home runs, at least in modern times.
Before the advent of laser-guided cameras that give us precise measurements now within seconds of the homer, plus exit velocity and launch angle, the distance of these tape-measure home runs was a guess at best.
Stuff of Legends
Among the legendary blows are a 600-plus-foot homer Mickey Mantle hit in an exhibition game at UCLA that was supposedly measured fairly accurately because it landed on a practice football field after leaving the field of play. He also had one in excess of 570 feet in Detroit that was measured after the fact based on where the person who found the ball said it landed.
There are other apocryphal homers in legend. Babe Ruth allegedly hit one in Philadelphia that cleared the stadium, the street, the building facing the street and the building behind that one before landing on the next street – a blow that would have had to travel at least 600 feet. He hit another one in Detroit in 1926 that also allegedly came close to 600 feet.
Josh Gibson, the great Negro League player, allegedly hit a ball completely out of Yankee Stadium in 1937 in an exhibition game. If true, the ball traveled probably at least 580 feet.
The First Tape-Measure Blast
The term “tape measure homer” was actually invented because of Mantle. On April 17, 1953 Mantle bombed one to left that cleared the outside wall at Griffith Stadium in Washington. The Yankees’ PR director produced a tape measure and proclaimed that it had traveled 565 feet. There is some debate on the accuracy of that measurement, but there is no doubt that it traveled a minimum of 510 feet. It is still listed in some accounts, though, as the longest home run on record.
He also hit one in Yankee Stadium in 1963 that came within two feet of leaving the stadium completely. Estimates at the time were that it might have traveled 600 feet if not for hitting the façade, but ESPN has since calculated that it probably was more likely to have been 503 feet – still a monumental blast.
Babe Ruth is King of the Long Ball
In recent years, some researchers have dug up newspaper archives of Babe Ruth’s playing days. Because nearly a dozen New York newspapers covered the Yankees, plus usually several papers in any visiting town when they were on the road, a wealth of information can be gleaned about Ruth’s home runs to give some fairly accurate estimates.
In 1921, for example, he hit at least one home run of 500 feet or more in all eight American League stadiums.
On August 17, 1927, Ruth crushed one that cleared the roof of old Comiskey Park in Chicago. The ball had to travel 365 feet to reach the roof, then another 52 feet to clear the roof – in other words, 417 feet before it started coming down. The blow was verified to have left the stadium in 15 newspaper reports, but no one has given a good estimate of how far it might have gone.
His longest home run that can be stated with a good degree of accuracy came in 1921 at Detroit. It traveled 575 feet and is now considered the longest in history in some accounts.
More Memorable Blows
Jimmie “The Beast” Foxx also hit some shots that rivaled Ruth in distance, although I couldn’t find reports on any that had even estimated distances.
Detroit was the venue of one more tape-measure blast, one that some of you might remember. In the 1971 All-Star Game, Reggie Jackson blasted a Dock Ellis pitch off the light tower atop the right field roof. That titanic blast would have gone 539 feet if it hadn’t hit the tower, according to ESPN.
Willie Stargell hit seven balls over the 85-foot-high rightfield wall in Pittsburgh during his career, but his longest tape-measure blow came May 20, 1978 in Montreal that went an estimated 535 feet.
Growing up about 130 miles from Wrigley Field, my brothers and I often listened to afternoon Cubs games on the radio in the 1970s. We heard the descriptions of some lengthy blows by Dave Kingman, several of them bouncing off buildings across Waveland Avenue. On April 14, 1976 he hit one off a house that was estimated at 530 feet.
Ted Williams also mashed one 530 feet in Fenway Park on June 9, 1946.
Some of History's Longest Home Runs
To put these homers into a bit of perspective, get in your car, zero out your mileage odometer and drive down the road one-tenth of a mile. Now look back to the starting point. That’s 528 feet. Imagine hitting a baseball that far or farther. Pretty impressive.
Bo Jackson’s first career home run was a memorable one. It came in Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 15, 1986. That initial homer traveled 495 feet.
Yankee Duo Could Provide More Long Blasts
Will Judge someday join the ranks of those with blasts over 500 feet? It seems almost assured, given what he has done already as rookie. On Monday night in Anaheim he hit an opposite-field homer that traveled 438 feet.
But keep an eye on Judge’s teammate, Gary Sanchez. Earlier in the game on Sunday, before Judge’s 496-foot monster, Sanchez hit one 450 feet. In fact, Sanchez leads baseball in longest average distance – his 10 homers so far have averaged 421.9 feet, with the “shortest” traveling 398 feet. That was his first of the season, and every one since then has gone 405 or farther, including five of more than 425.
GaryKauffman (author) from North Augusta, South Carolina on June 15, 2017:
Paul and Wesman, you raise interesting points about the physics of being able to hit a ball 600 feet and there is some debate about this. I barely passed high school physics, so I'm certainly not the one to address this.
However, one variable I will point out: Babe Ruth used a bat that was in excess of 40 ounces (I can't imagine the strength that would require to swing) and Mantle routinely used one that was 35 ounces, where most of today's players choose bats that are 32 or 33 ounces. Perhaps someone who stayed awake during physics class, unlike me, can answer this, but it seems to make sense that if you can swing a heavier bat at the same speed as a lighter bat, it will make the ball go farther. A 35-ounce bat swung at 118 mph should make a ball go farther than a 32-ounce bat at 118 mph - and, if so, then Ruth's 42-ounce monster swung at 118 mph could catapult one more than 600 feet.
Readmikenow on June 14, 2017:
Excellent article! I would just like to point out what Babe Ruth accomplished, only playing day games and no off-season workout ethic. He drank, smoked cigars and was a baseball legend. The sport of professional baseball had changed over the years. I could see a day where someone will hit a 600 ft home run.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on June 13, 2017:
One night on Facebook on ..oh, I don't remember, maybe it was ESPN's baseball page. Anyway, one night I read a long and terrific debate about all of this. I left convinced there was no way Mantle was hitting balls further than persons like McGwire, or Adam Dunn.
A guy was busting out all sorts of physics. I'm no physicist or whatnot, but he had me convinced. It doesn't seem possible someone like Mantle, who was so very much smaller than men like McGwire or Aaron Judge, could hit balls that much further than their longest ones.
The mass of the human, and the length of the levers (their limbs) would seem to prove only the very largest fellas can blast past 500 feet. And it's seldom the biggest and strongest manage one such distances.
Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on June 13, 2017:
I wonder if someone has done the math to see if it's physically possible to hit a 600 ft homerun.
Did Mantle really hit one in that neighborhood?
Ryan from Louisiana, USA on June 13, 2017:
I remember Thome's and Stanton's long ball. Judge is a beast and could be the next big time slugger. This was a fun hub and being a huge fan of baseball, really enjoyed it.