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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Joe Adcock

Sport: Baseball

Induction Year: 1975

No hitter in major league baseball history—not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or anybody else—ever put on a show like Joe Adcock's Saturday afternoon performance at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field on July 31, 1954.

Five trips to the plate. Four home runs, and a double that came within six inches of clearing the center field fence. Eighteen total bases.

A handful of others have hit four homers in a game, but nobody has matched the total bases or extra bases in a nine-inning game.

Adcock hit his first homer off Don Newcombe, the second homer and double off Erv Palica and No. 3 off Pete Wojey.

When he faced Johnny Podres in the ninth inning, it was obvious that the Dodgers' 21 year-old lefthander wasn't going to put the ball in the strike zone.

“The first pitch hit the dirt two feet in front of the plate,” Adcock recalled in 1991, “and the next one hit the screen. He threw another ball that Roy Campanella (the Dodgers' catcher) couldn't reach.”

When Campanella went to the mound to talk to his pitcher, umpire Dusty Boggess took off his mask and said, “Joe, they're not going to give you anything to hit. You might as well throw your bat at it.”

Adcock, who broke his bat the previous night when he hit a home run, double and single in the series opener, was determined to hit anything he could reach with a heavy bat he had borrowed from teammate Charlie White. The next pitch was a couple of feet over his head, but he got up on his tiptoes and, swinging the bat like he would wing an ax back on his farm near Coushatta, La., he knocked the ball into the center field seats. It was his longest homer of the day.

“Strictly luck,” he recalled with a chuckle.

With 25 total bases in two consecutive games, Adcock tied a major league record of 25 total bases in two straight games set by Cobb in 1925. It's still in the books, too.

One day later, after hitting another double in his first trip to the plate Sunday afternoon, Adcock was carried off the field on a stretcher after a beaning by Clem Labine.

Adcock, who had been knocked down by a Russ Meyer duster before his double, didn't hold a grudge against the Dodgers. When Labine and Jackie Robinson visited him in the hospital, he said, “I'm not mad at anybody. It's all part of the game.”

The next day, Adcock was back in the lineup—and hit a double in his first trip to the plate. (A rookie pitcher who was called up from Montreal to make his debut in a Dodger uniform that day was Tommy Lasorda.)

Seven years later, Adcock was part of another record-breaking home run barrage when he teamed with Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron and Frank Thomas to hit four consecutive home runs in the seventh inning of a game with the Cincinnati Reds. Since then, two American League teams have equaled that feat but no other National League team has done it.

Adcock had 336 home runs in a 17-year major league career—and that doesn't include one that Aaron wiped out with careless base-running in one of the most memorable games ever played.

On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix of Pittsburgh threw a perfect game at the Braves through 12 innings. But he lost a no-hitter and the game in the 13th inning. Felix Mantilla spoiled the perfect game, reaching base on a throwing error by Don Hoak. After Mathews bunted mantilla to second base and Aaron drew an intentional walk, Adcock looked at a ball and then crashed a ball over the fence to the right of the 394-foot mark.

Goodbye, no-hitter, and goodbye, ball game. But it was also goodbye, home run. Aaron, not realizing the ball had left the park, touched second base and then headed for the dugout. He later went back to touch all the bases, by that time Adcock had touched third base and he was ruled out for passing Aaron on the basepaths. It was reported as a 2-0 game, but the score was later changed to 1-0.

“I guess I should have walked Adcock,” Haddix said. But that was easier said than done. Three nights later, Gene Conley was trying to walk Adcock. One of his pitches came a bit too close, however, and Adcock reached out and slapped a bouncer that drove in Aaron with the winning run.

Adcock was the only hitter ever to hit a ball over the left field stands in Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, and he was the only man to reach the center field seats at New York's Polo Grounds.

He had a lifetime batting average of .277 and played in two World Series. The Braves beat the Yankees in 1957 and lost to the Yankees a year later after winning three of the first four games. That wasn't too shabby for a country boy who had never played baseball before he went to Louisiana State University on a basketball scholarship.

When Adcock led Coushatta High to the Class B state basketball finals in 1944, Zachary handed Coushatta a 62-45 drubbing in the championship game. LSU coach Jesse Fatherre offered basketball scholarships to Adcock and two of his teammates, Jack Hall and Ed Lester.

Like other schools, LSU was short-handed in both students and coaches during World War II. When Fatherree was drafted in the middle of the 1944-45 season, another football coach—A. L. “Red” Swanson—took over.

After the basketball season, Swanson—who also happened to be the only coach left to handle the baseball team—invited Adcock to “come out and stand around.” Up to that time, Adcock's only experience with any version of baseball had been “one-eyed cat” games with a few other farm boys in the pastures near his farm. But with trainer Marty Broussard pitching to him, he proved to be a rapid learner.

Adcock was the leading basketball scorer in the Southeastern Conference in the 1945-46 season, averaging 18.6 points per game, and had an offer to play professional basketball after he completed his college eligibility. But he had a more attractive offer, including a bonus, from the Cincinnati Reds. In addition to paying him to play baseball, the Reds paid him NOT play pro basketball.

He played with the Reds three years, but didn't blossom into one of baseball's most feared sluggers until he was traded to the Braves.

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