Posted May 21, 2013

Scary outfield collisions from Babe Ruth to Bryce Haper

Bryce Harper
Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Matt Kemp was in the midst of another stellar year when he crashed into Coors Field’s centerfield wall last August. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

Last week, both Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Shane Victorino of the Red Sox ran into outfield walls. Neither player went on the disabled list as a result of those collisions but both were scary, especially Harper’s. The 20-year-old budding superstar left the field with blood streaming down his neck after being cut by crashing into the rightfield fence at Dodger Stadium. Baseball history is littered with incidents of players injuring themselves by running into outfield walls, many of them coming away far worse off than Harper and Victorino. Here are a few recent examples, followed by some memorable ones from baseball’s long history (including one by Babe Ruth):

ROSENBERG: Harper needs to slow down, for his own sake

Aaron Rowand, May 11, 2006

Rowand, then with the Phillies, broke his nose on this tremendous catch and suffered additional fractures around his left eye that needed to be surgically repaired, but he only missed the minimum 15 days and had a great season at the plate in 2007. (Watch here.)

Jason Bay, July 23, 2010

Bay was already having an awful season when he was injured on this play, in which he suffered a season-ending concussion in his first year with the Mets. Two years later, on June 15, 2012, he suffered another concussion when he slid head-first into the wall after attempting a diving catch.

Josh Hamilton, September 4, 2010

Hamilton broke two ribs making this leaping catch at the wall and missed 24 games in September with the Rangers heading to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Hamilton won the American League MVP that season despite playing in fewer games in a 162-game season than all but three previous Most Valuable Players.

Carlos Gonzalez, July 3, 2011

Gonzalez sprained his wright wrist making this catch. He initially missed just four games but was ultimately forced to the disabled list by the injury, which effectively cost him a month of the season.

Mike Baxter, June 1, 2012

Baxter was sidelines for 58 days with a sprained sternoclavicular joint in his chest after making this crucial catch to preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter last year.

Matt Kemp, August 28, 2012

In 2007, Kemp suffered a separated right shoulder running into the same portion of the rightfield wall in Dodger Stadium that Harper hit while trying to track down what turned out to be an RBI triple by Jeff Baker of the Rockies in the fourth inning of this game. Kemp spent 17 days on the disabled list. Five years later, he ran into the centerfield wall at Coors Field and left the game, though he didn’t go on the DL. Related or not, Kemp has not been the same player since. Before that play, Kemp had a .988 OPS in 2012, an excellent follow-up to his 2011 season in which he finished as the NL MVP runner-up. In 71 games since that his OPS is .678, including .672 this year.

This is certainly not a new phenomenon. Players have been crashing into outfield walls as long as there have been outfield walls and players to crash into them. These four stand out:

Babe Ruth, July 5, 1924

Babe Ruth got a bad jolt when rushing headlong into the concrete wall in right after a foul-liner off [Joe] Judge’s bat in the fourth. The Bambino was knocked unconscious for about five minutes and badly bruised his left hip, but gamely insisted in sticking in that game and also in the second (going 3 for 6 on the day with two doubles and a run scored). –Washington Post

First, check out this amazing photo. Then consider that Ruth didn’t miss a game that entire season and didn’t see his performance suffer at all. Also: it was Babe Ruth, for crying out loud!

Pete Reiser’s entire career

Reiser hit .343/.406/.558, led the league in a variety of offensive categories and finished second in the National League MVP voting as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 22-year-old centerfielder in 1941, but World War II and outfield walls conspired to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

According to an Associated Press story at the time of his death in 1981, Reiser suffered five skull fractures and seven concussions from collisions with outfield walls over the course of his career. Reiser was taken away on a stretcher 11 times, was once temporarily paralyzed after a collision with the wall and was given his last rites after a collision with the wall in Ebbets Field in 1947. On one play in St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park, Reiser was chasing a ball hit by Stan Musial, hit the outfield wall at full speed and broke both clavicles. “He never was able to throw the same,” remembered his manager Leo Durocher, “and he had a great arm. If he hadn’t run into walls, he certainly would have been in the Hall of Fame.”

Bobby Valentine, May 17, 1973

Valentine was a well-regarded, if fading, prospect who had been the fifth overall pick in the 1968 draft and hit .340/.389/.522 in Triple-A as a 20-year-old shortstop in 1970. Traded from the Dodgers to the Angels the previous offseason, Valentine was hitting an empty .302 when, playing centerfield, he broke both bones in his lower right leg in a collision with Anaheim Stadium’s outfield fence. The injury, which ended his season and robbed him of whatever potential he had left as a player, was described in gruesome detail by Sports Illustrated‘s Ron Reid the following June:

Chasing a home-run ball hit by Oakland’s Dick Green, Valentine fractured both bones in his lower right leg when his pursuit ended in a freakish collision with the tarp serving as an outfield fence in the Angels’ park. . . .

“Not spending another thousand bucks for a solid fence was the worst mistake of my life,” said Angels General Manager Harry Dalton.

“Because the fence was vinyl,” Valentine says, “I wasn’t hesitant about running into it.” He should have been. The ball missed Valentine’s glove by an inch, and his leg drove into the vinyl between two support poles so that the tarp first yielded, then ensheathed his calf like a vise before flinging him back to the ground with a grotesque bend in the middle of his shin.

Ken Griffey Jr., May 26, 1995

Griffey broke his left wrist making this circus catch against the wall and missed 73 games in a season in which the Mariners needed one of the greatest comebacks in major league history to win their division by one game.

ChicagoIrishman - No love for Rodney McCray?

Twenty years ago Friday, Rodney McCray was pursuing a long drive that he hoped a stiff wind would knock down so he could snag it. Turns out, McCray was chasing baseball history, too, though he had to run through the right-field fence at Portland's old Civic Stadium to reach it.

The tale of the ball that stayed in the stadium and the outfielder who went out of the park became what might be the most famous baseball blooper ever, the clip of McCray slamming through the plywood wall painted with a sign that read "Flav-R-Pac," with a section of the fence flipping up "like a doggy door" as he disappeared through it, he says.

All these years later, McCray remembers details, like how he landed in a puddle on the other side of the wall, soaking the bottom of his uniform pants. No one else can forget the play, either.

McCray has schmoozed with Jay Leno, made $4,000 for a Powerade commercial that features the clip and had his own bobblehead doll. The clip is also featured in a film at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown that greets visitors as they start their tour. All it cost him, miraculously, was a few scrapes and bruises.

"I'm a household name throughout baseball," says McCray, who played 67 games in the majors, including 18 for the Mets in 1992, and is now the outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Dodgers' minor-league system. "They know me as the guy who crashed through the wall. It's a flattering thing."

Funny, but McCray wasn't even supposed to play on May 27, 1991 when his Triple-A Vancouver Canadians, a White Sox affiliate, met Portland. But his manager came to him about 20 minutes before the first pitch and said he needed him in right field, though he normally played center.

Chip Hale, now the Mets' third base coach, hit the ball that made McCray famous. He was ordered to hit-and-run, so he was hoping for a grounder through the hole. Hale thought he had slugged a homer, but ended up with an RBI triple when the ball ricocheted back into the infield.

Hale recalls watching McCray give chase and thinking, "He's going to have to stop soon, isn't he?"

But the field was Astroturf and the warning track was rubber, McCray says in a recent telephone interview, so he didn't realize he was so close to the wall. Plus, the other Vancouver outfielders didn't warn him and a strong wind had been taking the life out of hard-hit balls all night, so McCray thought he had a chance.

After the crash, as Hale rounded first, he thought of McCray, "Hopefully, he's alive."

"I was just locked in on the ball," McCray says. He even had the ball in his glove briefly, but then he hit the wall to the right of the 369-foot sign and it came out. When he landed on the other side, multiple things flashed through his mind, including the absurdity of what had just happened and the scene in "The Natural" in which the character Bump Bailey runs into the wall and later dies. McCray suffered a cut on his forehead and he had bitten his lip, but finished the inning before taking himself out for a pinch-hitter.

"Eating was uncomfortable that night and the beer didn't taste too good," he says with a laugh. He played the next day.

Was he lucky? "There were beams behind the plywood and I hit the beam parallel to the ground - that was the forehead abrasion - but I missed the horizontal. Otherwise, who knows?" he says. "Being a plywood wall, that helped, too."

He acquired a cool nickname - "Crash" - which has stuck to this day. To commemorate the 15th anniversary in 2006, he went back to Portland for a Rodney McCray Bobblehead Day, where 2,000 dolls with a swinging fence were given away. He threw out the first pitch. McCray sent one of the figures to Hale, who displays it in his den. The right-field wall was named "McCray Alley," though the team no longer plays there and the ballpark is a soccer stadium.

McCray enjoys the attention and is tickled that the clip plays every day at the Hall of Fame. "Not too many guys get there, in whatever form," he says.

But he disputes the idea that it's the greatest highlight ever.

"No, it would've been if I held onto the ball," he says. "But no one ever forgets it. I just wish it had been a Coca-Cola sign. Flav-R-Pac was a little meatpacking company and they donated a check to my favorite charity, the United Negro College Fund, but I would've gotten some endorsements."

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