While there is great exultation for a hitter, his team and his fans when he launches a milestone home run, there’s also the other side of the coin: the resignation of knowing you’ll be an unfortunate footnote in baseball history if you’re the pitcher who served up the memorable shot.
With Yankees slugger Aaron Judge on the cusp of setting a new American League record for homers in a single season, as well as future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols nearing the 700-home run club, here’s a look at some pitchers who gave up record- setting or other notable home runs in MLB history:
Barry Bonds’ 756th career home run — Mike Bacsik on Aug. 7, 2007
Bacsik’s name was immortalized, albeit as a footnote the left-hander would rather not see in the record books, courtesy of Bonds. In five MLB seasons, Bacsik posted a 5.46 ERA over 51 appearances (31 starts) for Cleveland, the Mets, Rangers and the Nationals. It was in one of his final few starts in which he surrendered career home run No. 756 to Bonds at AT&T (now Oracle) Park, a solo shot in the fifth inning that broke Hank Aaron’s all-time record.
“He’s the greatest of all time,” Bacsik told reporters afterward. “Giving it up to Barry Bonds is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Ironically, Bacsik’s father, Mike Sr., pitched to Aaron while Aaron was sitting on 755 home runs in 1976. He didn’t give up the record-breaking homer, though he surely could never have imagined his son would be pitching to Bonds while the latter was looking for his 756th career homer 31 years later.
Barry Bonds’ 71st home run of 2001 — Chan Ho Park on Oct. 5, 2001
It was fitting for Bonds to break Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record of 70, set just three years earlier, against the Giants’ archrivals, the Dodgers. Park, the first South Korean-born player in MLB history, had a solid 3.88 career ERA entering the 2001 campaign and was already familiar with being a historical footnote — he is the only pitcher in AL/NL history to surrender two grand slams to the same player in the same inning. The Cardinals’ Fernando Tatis Sr. belted a pair of slams off Park in the third inning at Dodger Stadium on April 23, 1999.
A little over two years later, Park was again in the shadow of history, yielding Bonds’ 71st home run in the first inning at Pacific Bell (now Oracle) Park. Bonds wasn’t done, smashing No. 72 off Park in the third. Bonds would finish with 73 home runs in the greatest single-season display of slugging in AL/NL history.
Park, meanwhile, would go on to pitch nine more seasons in the big leagues after his 2001 All-Star campaign. Though he spent nine of his 17 seasons with the Dodgers, he also pitched for the Rangers, Padres, Mets, Pirates, Phillies and Yankees.
Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run of 1998 — Steve Trachsel on Sept. 8, 1998
Roger Maris’ mark of 61 home runs in 1961 stood as a record for 37 years until a thrilling home run chase took place between McGwire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa in 1998. McGwire got to the magic number of 62 first, and the victim was Trachsel, a Cubs right-hander in the sixth season of a 16-year big league career.
Trachsel finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1994 and was an All-Star in ’96 with the Cubs. He then had stints with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore before spending six seasons with the Mets, returning to the Cubs in 2007, and finishing up with the Orioles in ’08.
The famous McGwire homer was a low line drive that barely cleared the wall down the left-field line. Trachsel made note of that afterward, along with a prescient prediction of McGwire’s season total when it was all said and done.
“He will probably break the record again [on Sept. 9]Trachsel told reporters. “Once he gets to No. 63 and 67 and 70, those guys will be talked about more than me. Especially if he gets to 70. They will remember the one who gives up the last one.”
Trachsel got the number right — McGwire finished with 70 homers. But as for his hope that he’d be forgotten as the man who gave up No. 62, that didn’t work out so well.
Hank Aaron’s 715th home run — Al Downing on April 8, 1974
As he opened the 1974 campaign, “Hammerin’ Hank” was sitting on 713 career homers, one shy of Babe Ruth’s hallowed record.
It was the Reds’ Jack Billingham who surrendered Aaron’s 714th homer in Cincinnati on April 4. Four days later, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Aaron hit one of the most famous homers in baseball history.
The man on the mound was Dodgers left-hander Al Downing, who had a 17-year MLB career spent mostly with the Dodgers and Yankees. He was the first African-American starting pitcher in Yankees history in 1961, led the AL with 217 strikeouts in ’64, and he was an All-Star in ’67 for New York. He then led the NL with five shutouts for the Dodgers in ’71.
But Downing is primarily remembered for giving up No. 715 to Aaron.
“Mr. Aaron handled those moments with such dignity and such grace,” Downing told the New York Times following Aaron’s death in 2021. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer man, considering all he had to go through to get to that milestone.”
Aaron endured racism and even death threats as he approached Ruth’s mark, but he not only broke one of the most revered records in all of sports, but he did so with “dignity and grace,” as Downing said. And Aaron was as humble as anyone in the game.
“At the reunion we had in ’84, we were sitting at the table at lunch and there were a bunch of writers there, and they were asking us questions,” Downing said. “One writer … says, ‘Hey, Al, Henry really wore you out, didn’t he?’ So Hank says: “Wait a minute. No, no, no. Al was a darn good pitcher. He was not a guy you took lightly when you went up there. You knew he was going to battle you. He was a great adversary .'”
Willie Mays hits home run No. 600 — Mike Corkins on Sept. 22, 1969
Mays, who finished his legendary 23-year career with 660 home runs, launched No. 600 against the Padres in San Diego. With his two-run shot off Corkins in the seventh inning, Mays became the first player in NL history to reach the 600-homer milestone.
Corkins, who was making just his fourth career start when he gave up Mays’ 600th homer, had a six-year MLB career spent entirely with the Padres from 1969-74. His best campaign came in ’72, when the right-hander posted a 3.54 ERA over 140 innings for San Diego. Corkins could hit a little bit, too — he belted five career homers, including a grand slam against the Reds in Cincinnati on Sept. 4, 1970.
Roger Maris’ 61st homer of 1961 — Tracy Stallard on Oct. 1, 1961
Following a pressure cooker of a season as he chased another hallowed record, Babe Ruth’s single-season mark of 60 home runs in 1927, Maris hit No. 61 against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. He drove a Stallard pitch over the right-field wall to cement his name in the game’s long and rich history. It was a solo shot in the fourth inning in what would be Maris’ third-to-last plate appearance of the season.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Stallard said in an interview 50 years later. “I don’t want to say it’s great, but there’s nothing wrong with it. … He was a good hitter. He had a good year. … You’ve got to be a good hitter to hit that many home run.”
Stallard pitched for the Red Sox from 1960-62, giving up just the Maris homer in a 1-0 loss on the last day of the 1961 regular season. The right-hander then pitched for the Mets in 1963 and ’64, and the Cardinals from 1965-66. He had a 4.17 career ERA, and at the plate, he is in the record books as the only hitter with more than 200 career plate appearances (258) and no walks.
Babe Ruth’s 700th career home run — Tommy Bridges on July 13, 1934
Ruth redefined what it meant to be a hitter. He introduced slugging to the game as the Live Ball Era began and changed the sport more than any other player in baseball history. So when he began setting home run records in his mid-20s, it was clear he’d be breaking his own records for a long time.
Ruth inaugurated the 700-homer club against the Tigers in Detroit, smashing a Bridges pitch over the right-field wall at Navin Field.
The 1934 season was the first in which Bridges was selected as an All-Star, and the right-hander was named to five more All-Star teams in a stellar 16-year Major League career. He had a career ERA of 3.57 over 2,826 1/3 innings, all for the Tigers.
Bridges was one of the best starting pitchers of the 1930s, leading the league in strikeouts twice (1935-36) and wins once (23 in ’36). He also won two World Series rings with Detroit, pitching a pair of complete-game victories against the Cubs in ’35, and making one appearance in the ’45 Fall Classic, again against Chicago.
Babe Ruth’s 60th home run of 1927 — Tom Zachary on Sept. 30, 1927
Nobody else in baseball history had hit 50 homers in a single season, let alone 60, at the time Ruth reached that enormous figure on the second-to-last day of the 1927 regular season against the Washington Senators. The Bambino launched a two-run homer to right field at Yankee Stadium off Zachary in the eighth inning for a milestone he thought would never be touched.
“Sixty! Count ’em, 60!,” Ruth reportedly said. “Let’s see some other (player) match that!”
Ruth was right for 34 years. From there, five other sluggers reached the milestone — Maris, McGwire, Sosa, Bonds and, most recently, Judge.
Ruth’s 60th was the sixth and final home run Zachary gave up in 1927, and three of them came off the bat of Ruth. The lefty had a solid MLB career that lasted 19 seasons, over which he posted a 3.73 ERA. He appeared in three World Series, helping the Senators defeat the New York Giants with a 2.04 ERA over 17 2/3 innings in 1924, and winning Game 3 of the ’28 Series against the Cardinals while Ruth’s teammate on the Yankees.