Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Rare Baseball Feat, But Does Anyone Care?

Certain individual feats catch the imagination of MLB fans and journalists. Two that come to mind would be hitting for the cycle and throwing a no-hitter. These feats involve elegant number combinations and signify a player's excellent performance. They're also relatively rare. Since 1876, there have been 269 no-hitters; and since 1882, there have been 291 occurrences of hitting for the cycle. Doing the math, that's about two no-hitters and two cycles per year.

On a similar note, a couple years ago I posted a question for which I didn't have an answer:
When was the last time a player had two steals and two homers in the same game? 
It led to an interesting discussion, with Pauly finally tracking down a box score that showed Carlos Beltran accomplishing the feat in 2004. I was glad to know that it had been done, but I was still wondering how many times it had been done. So the mystery lingered.

From mid-2007 through 2009, I scoured box scores nearly every day during baseball season in hopes of noticing a player who accomplished the feat, but I found none. I also did an occasional web search to see if I could find answers in baseball history. I even tried asking Jayson Stark on Twitter. But other than Pauly's Carlos Beltran find, I was coming up empty. Just how rare is it for a batter to go for two homers and two steals in a single game? The answer was proving to be elusive.

Until now.

Thanks to Sean Holtz of Baseball Almanac, he searched his digital box score database which goes back nearly 100 years (early 19-teens) and has provided what might be the most complete answer available. According to Holtz, the feat has only been recorded 13 times. This means that hitting two homers and stealing two bases in a single game is about as rare as throwing a perfect game, which has been done 20 times.  

So who are these legends of the game that we've never heard about? Here's the list of 13 men known to have hit at least two homers and stolen at least two bases in one game:

#, Name, Date, Team, Pos
1. Jack Fournier, 1921-05-21,STL,1B
2. Don Kolloway*, 1941-06-28,CHW,2B
3. Tommie Agee, 1971-07-22,NYM, CF RF
4. Joe Morgan, 1973-04-15,CIN,2B
5. Howard Johnson,1987-07-11,NYM,3B
6. Dante Bichette, 1994-06-27,COL,RF
7. Kirk Gibson, 1995-05-28,DET,DH
8. Gary Sheffield, 1995-09-18,FLA,LF
9. Chipper Jones, 1999-09-05,ATL,3B
10. Carlos Beltran, 2004-08-27,HOU,CF
11. Rafael Furcal, 2005-04-15,ATL,SS
12. Chris Duffy, 2006-09-07,PIT,CF
13. Ryan Spilborghs, 2009-05-02,COL,CF LF

*All the people on this list hit exactly two homers and stole exactly two bases in their games, except one. Don Kolloway hit two jacks and was an absolute jackrabbit on the bases with four steals.

Now, in fairness, our data for perfect games goes back further than our data for these 2-homer/2-steal games. And it appears that going for two homers and two steals in a game has become more common since 1994. This could be for a variety of reasons. But still, since 1994, only eight guys have gone 2/2 in a game and only seven guys have thrown a perfect game. I'm willing to concede that throwing a perfect game is a more impressive feat, but hitting two homers and stealing two bases in a game is much more difficult than hitting for the cycle.

So why doesn't going 2/2 in a game get more media attention? I obviously missed Ryan Spilborgh's 2/2 in 2009, even though I had been trying to keep an eye out for it. Going back and reading that game's recap is actually funny because, aside from the box score, there is no mention of the special achievement. The article simply says, "Spilborghs homered twice and drove in three runs."

Maybe what we need to do is create a name for going 2/2 in a game. After all, throwing a "no-hitter" and hitting for "the cycle" sound cool and give symbolic meaning to these special feats. Perhaps we could name going 1/1 in a game as "[Blank]," and then 2/2 would just be "Double [Blank]." Any suggestions for a name out there? You never know, if we toss out five or six ideas, one of them might stick. One day we could hear Joe Morgan on Sunday Night Baseball say, "Hanley Ramirez just got a [Blank] with that steal. Now a [Blank] is what they call getting a homer and a steal in the same game. Back in my day, one time I got a Double [Blank]. That's two homers and two steals in a game."

But I digress. The important thing is that at least now we know. So the next time a player on your favorite team comes up to bat in the top of the 9th with two homers and a 12-3 lead, rather than rooting for him to hit that third homer, which has been done hundreds of times, you might want to instead root for him to single and steal second and third. Then he'd join a much more exclusive club.


lisa :) said...

Okay - I vote for the name you actually gave to Kolloway, call it a Jackrabbit. Jack being the home run part and rabbit being quick ont eh steal. Then a 1/1 can be, "He's got a jackrabbit" and the 2/2 can be, "Holy cow! A double jackrabbit!"

Don't know if it's got the finesse, but it sort of makes sense as a name.

Greg McConnell said...

Hmm... jackrabbit. I wish that I had made that connection... I was so close! I was trying to think of animals that blend speed and power. In particular, I started with cats. I looked up "Cheetah," and while it is the fastest land animal, a cheetah "lacks muscles for climbing." So I had to rule that one out. So far we'll put jackrabbit in the running.

If I think of any other ideas, I'll post them here. But in the meantime, if a player hits a homer and gets a steal, I probably will find myself referring to that as a jackrabbit.