Remarkably, the longest home run ever hit at Veterans Stadium came just 3 months into its 33 year history. Others came close (Thome missed it by a few feet), but no-one ever went further at the Vet than Willie Stargell did on June 25th, 1971.
The Phils were on their way to a last place finish in 1971, while the Pirates were on their way to a World Series championship. So nobody was surprised by the 14-4 drubbing the Pirates laid on the Phils on that hot June day. But the final score was a mere footnote to the blast Willie Stargell hit off of Jim Bunning. The left-hander launched one into the right field seats, and over 30 years later, the Phils on the field that day remembered it clearly. Said Bunning, who served up the meatball:
“The Stargell Star was a high slider that I used to get Stargell out on, only I didn’t throw it hard enough and didn’t get it in. It got over the fat part of the plate. He couldn’t hit it any further.”
Bunning probably would agree with Don Sutton, who once said of “Pops”, “He doesn’t just hit pitchers. He takes away their dignity.”
Said Larry Bowa:
“That ball was still going up. As an infielder, when a guy hits one that you know is a home run, you give it a casual look. When he swung, you didn’t take your eyes off it because you wanted to see where it was going. It was majestic.
“I couldn’t believe how far that ball went. It would take me three swings to get one up there — from second base.”
Here’s a couple of photos that give you some perspective of how far he hit it. In the first one, taken from home plate, the color area is the section where he hit the ball..and keep in mind, everyone agreed that it was still gaining speed when it hit the stands. The star marking the section where he hit it is in the upper right of the 2nd pic.
The 1964 Phillies are remembered as the team whose season was 12 games too long. Up 6.5 games with 12 to go, the team began a 3 game set with the second-place Cincinnati Reds. In the 7th inning of the first game, with the score knotted at 0-0, Chico Ruiz stole home against Art Mahaffey and the Reds held on to win 1-0. That game kicked off the biggest choke-job in the history of Philadelphia sports, as the Phils went on to be swept by the Reds, the Milwaukee Braves, then the St. Louis Cardinals during a 10-game losing streak that ended all hope for the postseason and that haunts old-time Phillies fans to this day.
But before the Phillies made the kind of history we’d all like to forget, Jim Bunning made the kind of history that we are all happy to remember.
On June 21, 1964 the Phillies faced the Mets in a Father’s Day double-header at Shea Stadium. Bunning, who was enjoying his first year in a Phillies uniform, was slotted against Tracy Stallard in Game One. Bunning was flawless as he faced 27 batters and retired them all in a 6-0 win. His was the first perfect game in team history and the first in the National League’s modern era. The previous NL perfect game came in 1880.
And to all those weirdo baseball superstition guys out there, when Bunning walked into the dugout after the bottom of the 5th, he shouted to his teammates: “C’mon, let’s get that perfect game!” He said he did so because “the pressure not only builds on the pitcher but on the fielders as well…I was just trying to relieve it by talking.”
The last out came against pinch-hitter John Stephenson. The count was 2-2 after Bunning threw 4 straight curves. Bunning came back with yet another curve and fooled Stephenson for the final strike. Here’s a fantastic picture of the final pitch (note the scoreboard):
Also, check out this great MLB Network video of Bunning’s perfecto, which includes footage of the final three outs.
Bunning finished the ’64 season with a healthy 19-8 record and a 2.63 ERA. However, he was just 1-3 in his final four outings during the Phillies collapse. Partly to blame was Phils’ manager Gene Mauch who threw Bunning on short rest after hitting the panic button (Bunning started 4 of the final 9 games of the season).
After the ’64 season, Bunning pitched three more years with the Phillies and put up solid numbers. However, he never reached the postseason in Philadelphia and after the ’67 season in which he led the NL in strikeouts, he was shipped off to Pittsburgh. He retired in 1971 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Though it was overshadowed by the final stretch of the season, Jim Bunning’s perfect game on June 21, 1964 set a standard that no Phillies pitcher matched until Roy Halladay did so 46 years later.