Barry Bonds hit two doubles yesterday for the Giants, but one of those doubles appeared, at least from the SportsCenter replay, to have cleared the fence and to have been a home run.
In the third inning with two outs and none on base, Bonds hit an 0-1 pitch to left-center that appeared to bounce off the top of the fence and back into the area of play. Bonds got to second on the hit. However, with shades of Jeffrey Maier, the replay seemed to show that a fan in attempting to catch the ball deflected it towards its new path. In the Maier-Tony Tarasco fiasco (I'm a poet...), there were at least umpires in the outfield to attempt to get the right call on the play (though they clearly did not). That was the playoffs in which additional umpires are employed. During the regular season it's left to the regular umpiring crew to make the call from over 200 feet away. Whether or not Bonds was robbed, it seemed an odd occurrence on the weekend in which the four living players with the most home runs (Aaron, Mays, Bonds, and Expos manager Frank Robinson, the Giants opponent) were celebrated.
If and when Bonds passes Babe Ruth at 714 home runs at least they could both say they were equally robbed. On July 8, 1918, in the bottom of the ninth, Ruth hit a ball over the wall at Fenway with Amos Strunk on first and Ruth's Red Sox and the Indians locked in a 0-0 tie. It was a 2-run walk-off home for Ruth, right? Wrong, the existing rules dictated that Ruth be credited with a triple since three bases were all that were required to score the winning run. Since the game was over once Strunk crossed home, how could Ruth be credited with a home run? At least that was the thinking at the time. The rule was changed two years later so that on balls that leave the area of play (home runs and ground-rule doubles), the hitter gets credit for the hit in full. Of course, the rule still applies for balls that stay in play: If a player hits a gapper with the bases loaded and the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, he only gets credited with a single and one RBI, once the run scores.
On April 26th, 1969, the Baseball Records Committee attempted to credit Babe Ruth and the rest of the players affected by the ruling with their home runs, but its recommendation fell on deaf ears. There would be some problems with doing so, 1) what about opening up the record book for every other rule change that affected old records and 2) technically Ruth and the others never crossed home plate to score the runs with which they would be credited, thereby denying the opposition the opportunity to appeal their touching the re-credited bases and home itself.
Think that Hank Aaron's 715th home run trot, perhaps the best remembered baseball moment of all time, could have been to tie not surpass Ruth's record.
So the next time you watch another walk-off home run that wins a game by more than a run, remember that 90 years ago it would have been anything but a home run. Just don't tell Bud Selig. It might be the next thing that he considers to install in the best interest of the game so that he can drive away more fans.