Fifty years ago, on the morning of Oct. 3, 1971, the baseball trivia question was asked like so: “Can you name the one player in baseball history who has hit three home runs in a postseason game?”
It wasn’t a particularly hard trivia question — the player was obviously Babe Ruth.
But the point is: He was alone. Ruth had smashed three homers in Game 4 of the 1926 World Series against St. Louis. He homered in the first and third innings off starter Flint Rhem and he homered in the sixth off reliever Hi Bell. Yes, the Cardinals pitchers that day were Flint Rhem and Hi Bell. They also pitched a guy named Vic Keen. Baseball had a lot of good names in the 1920s.
The Yankees actually lost that series — the last World Series they would lose until 1942.
But that’s OK because Ruth did it against the Cardinals again two years later, 1928, this time in the clinching Game 4. He homered in the fourth and seventh off starter Bill Sherdel and homered in the eighth off the legendary Pete Alexander, who was 41 years old and a shell of himself by then but somehow had kept fooling hitters during the season.
Anyway, on that morning in 1971, Ruth was the only guy to hit three homers in a postseason game.
That day, Pirates slugger Bob Robertson hit three home runs in a National League Championship Series game against the Giants.
Before going any further, I just have to share with you what the New York Daily News’ Phil Pepe wrote about that: “Bob Robertson spent the 1968 season in the invalid league. He missed that season because of kidney surgery, the result of a birth defect. He spent the second game of the 1971 NL playoff series hitting three home runs. There is a difference.”
Yes, I suspect there is a difference between hitting three home runs in a postseason game and recovering from kidney surgery.
But the point is — Robertson’s feat was fine, certainly, but nobody compared it to what Ruth did. You have to remember that 1971 was just two years after baseball added championship series to each league, and in those days there was no all-encompassing “postseason game” concept. No, what Babe Ruth did was in the WORLD SERIES, which was its own thing. Nobody confused the two.
The next player to hit three homers in a postseason game was Reggie Jackson, of course, whose three home runs on three swings in the decisive Game 6 of the 1977 World Series is one of the most famous performances in baseball history. By the way, if you ever want to watch that third home run off Charlie Hough …