More “15 Minutes of Baseball Fame”!  Grover Land and the Most Unusual Home Run Ever!

More “15 Minutes of Baseball Fame”! Grover Land and the Most Unusual Home Run Ever!

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More “15 Minutes of Baseball Fame! Grover Land and the Most Unusual Home Run Ever!

A few years ago, I volunteered to write one of the player biographies for the SABR publication, “Winning on the North Side: The 1929 Chicago Cubs.” There were some well-known players on that team, including Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, Gabby Hartnett, manager Joe McCarthy, and Charlie Root. I was hoping I’d get assigned one of them. But as luck would have it, I drew the “short end of the proverbial straw” and was assigned to write the biography of one of the most obscure ball players ever. He wasn’t even a player on the team…he was a coach!

His name was Grover Land. I’m sure you’ve never heard of him. Actually, I hadn’t either until I got the assignment. As a matter of fact – after having written the [boring] biography – I may actually be one of the few people alive who has ever heard of Grover Land!

Grover was a backup catcher (1908-1915) for the Cleveland Indians and the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the Federal League. He hit a robust .243 for his career in 293 games. His OPS+ of 60 is the lowest number I’ve ever seen.

Just in case you’re so intrigued by his name and you really, really, want to read about him (actually, I can’t imagine why anyone would!) here’s a link to my biography: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/798bc3cf. If you do read it, you’ll probably be the first. After, ahem,  “thanking” my editor for giving me the dubious assignment, I stared at my blank computer screen for hours trying to figure out how in the world I was ever going to come up with 3-4,000 words on a guy no one’s ever heard of. Ugh!

Well…all I can say is thank God for Bill Francis, the keeper of the players’ clip files in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. Bill sent me Grover’s file and I starting hunting through it in a desperate search for any nuggets of interest.

I’ve written about many marginal ball players over the players, and Grover is right up at the top of my “Most Obscure” list. But this is what I’ve learned about even the most obscure player: If you look hard enough, you’ll always find something interesting. And sure enough, Grover proved to be no exception. Try this on for size:

During the summer of 1914, Grover was the principal player in possibly the most unusual home run ever. Umpire Bill Brennan was flying solo in a Federal league game between the Tip-Tops and the Chicago Whales. Without any help, Brennan grew tired of running to the dugout for new balls every time a foul was hit into the stands; so he came up with the bright idea of stacking up a bunch of extra balls into a pyramid just behind the pitcher’s mound for easy access. He figured he’d save himself some energy.

And sure enough, as the story goes, Grover Land came up and smashed a low liner that rocketed squarely into newly crafted baseball monument. The sizzling missile sent the extra balls flying in all directions like pool balls ricocheting after a break.

What followed can only be described as mass confusion. Land kept running around the bases – no one told him to stop! – while every Chicago infielder, plus the pitcher and catcher grabbed a loose ball chased after the burly catcher. One-by-one they all caught up and put the tag on him. But he kept running…and running! After he crossed home plate, there was nothing left for umpire Brennan to do but award an ”inside the diamond home run” – because no one could identify the legally batted ball that started the play! Yes…Even obscure Grover Land had found his way into baseball immortality. It was the shortest home-run hit on record. The ball was said to have traveled all of 70 feet! 

It’s a great story, but did it really happen? Despite numerous contemporary accounts found in Land’s clip file mentioning the incident, Land has no home runs recorded in his Baseball Reference entry. Was the record-setting home run later disallowed? Is it an oversight? Was it just too embarrassing to include in the record books? Unfortunately, we may never know.

Gosh…I’d sure hate to take away old Grover’s “15 Minutes of Baseball Fame”!

Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search

Information: Excerpts edited from the Wikipedia page.

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I’m a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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