Opposites attract when Kuiper calls Bonds' 756th

Originally Published: July 28, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

You think it's hard to hit 755 home runs? Let's talk about a feat that's just as hard:

Hitting one home run.

And only one.

In 3,379 at-bats.

FEWEST HRS SINCE WORLD WAR II
• With at least 3,000 at-bats:
PLAYER HR AB
1. Duane Kuiper 1 3,379
2. Frank Taveras 2 4,043
3. Roger Metzger 5 4,201
4. Dal Maxvill 6 3,443
T5. Doug Flynn 7 3,853
T5. Jerry Remy 7 4,455
T5. Sonny Jackson 7 3,055
T5. Greg Gross 7 3,745
T5. Bud Harrelson 7 4,744
10. Hal Lanier 8 3,703
11. Jose Lind 9 3,677

Now you may think we're only tossing a crazy statement like that out there as some cheap stunt to get your attention. But this is one cheap stunt we can back up with actual facts.

And the actual facts tell us there are more members in the 750 Homer Club (two) than there are in the One Homer In 3,000 At-Bats Club (one). Feel free to look that up.

So as we interrupt pretty much all our regularly scheduled programming these days to commemorate a man who is about to hit more home runs than anyone else who ever played major league baseball, shouldn't we be fair? And just? And balanced?

Shouldn't we devote at least one small sector of cyberspace to the man who has made history in the most diametrically opposite way possible?

Well, of course, we should. So here's to the King of Not Hitting Homers. Here's to Duane Eugene Kuiper -- for 12 seasons a sure-handed, not-so-power-packed big league second baseman, and now, (irony of ironies) for the last 14 seasons, a terrific broadcaster for those San Francisco (Home of Barry) Giants.

In a few weeks, we can celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Home Run That Made Duane Kuiper Famous. So mark your calendars. It happened on Aug. 29, 1977. Who among us will ever forget it?

Duane Kuiper
Ron Kuntz Collection/Getty ImagesDuane Kuiper, left, played second base for 12 major league seasons with the Indians and the Giants.

OK, so the answer to that is: just about everybody. But not Kuiper himself, naturally. He has retold this tale a whole lot more than 755 times since then. That's for darned sure.

He was playing second base for the Indians back then, in only his third full season in the big leagues. He stepped in to hit against White Sox pitcher Steve Stone in the first inning of a game at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Only 6,236 witnesses were on hand. We're sure millions more wish they were.

"I remember I hit it, and I saw Wayne Nordhagen, the right fielder, running after it, and I saw his number," Kuiper reminisced. "And I never saw a right fielder's number. I saw him running back, and I said, 'You know what? This is going to go out.'"

That's a thought that didn't exactly race through Kuiper's brain every time he swung the bat, you understand. So pay attention -- because, in fact, this ball did go out. Way out. Deep into the third row. Or possibly the fourth.

But the precise location isn't important now. What's important is that the historic baseball clattered off (what else?) an empty seat and caromed back onto the field.

So Nordhagen, astutely recognizing that this was a guy who was capable of playing eight more seasons without ever hitting another home run, picked up the ball and fired it toward the Cleveland dugout. Which means Kuiper got to save the baseball.

But that's not all he saved.

As he was leaving the dugout to head for the plate a second time that night, his teammate, Bill Melton, said to him: "You're not going to use that bat again, are you?"

"So I said, 'Yeah, why not?'" Kuiper recalled. "He said, 'You may not hit another one. You ought to put that one away.' Well, I didn't know he was telling the truth. But I tried to bunt for a hit my next time up, and then I did put my bat away. Never used it again."

Instead, he gave the bat and the ball to the equipment manager, who had them mounted together, with a plaque that read: "Duane Kuiper's first major league home run." A few years later, a clairvoyant teammate grabbed a marker and added the fateful words, "and only," on there. But that's not important, either.

MOST AB SINCE WORLD WAR II
1 HOMER OR NONE
PLAYER AB HR
1. Duane Kuiper 3,379 1
2. Woody Woodward 2,187 1
3. Al Newman 2,107 1
4. Floyd Baker 1,929 1
5. Emil Verban 1,816 1
6. Don Sutton 1,354 0
7. Pepe Frias 1,346 1
8. Bob Randall 1,325 1
9. Tim Johnson 1,269 0
10. Luis Gomez 1,251 0

What's important is that Kuiper has the ball and the bat. You'd think he'd have sent them off to Cooperstown years ago. But mysteriously, Cooperstown has never asked. So Kuiper knows just where to look anytime he wants to savor his magic moment.

"Yeah, in the attic," he laughed. "It's mounted in the attic. It would probably take me 10 minutes to get to it, but I have a general idea where it's at."

Meanwhile, we still have the general idea that you, our loyal audience, don't yet comprehend the cosmic significance of the home run that plaque has preserved. So let's pause for a brief history lesson.

In the 62 seasons since World War II, no other members of the One Homer in Their Whole Darned Career Club have come within 1,000 at-bats of Kuiper's lifetime total. And just two one-homer men made it to 2,000 career at-bats: Woody Woodward (1 in 2,187 at-bats) and Al Newman (1 in 2,107).

In that same time span, every other player who batted as many times as Kuiper managed to hit at least five home runs -- with the exception of longtime ping-hitter Frank Taveras (who hit two).

And even if we take in all of baseball's eras -- live-ball, dead-ball, gloves-without-fingers, mound-45-feet-from-home-plate, etc. -- you'd still have to go back to 1886 (to the retirement of the mysterious Davy Force) to find another player who hit just one homer and came within 450 at-bats of getting as many shots to hit one as Kuiper did.

So there. Impressed yet?

The Kuiper Brothers
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezDuane Kuiper, right, along with his brothers Glen and Jeff, has been broadcasting Giants' TV games since 1994.

No wonder Kuiper hung on to the bat and the ball -- and the seat, too, for that matter. The Indians gave him the seat after they traded him to the Giants in 1982. And where can you find that historic seat now? In his garage, where it has been residing since he hauled it in from his yard because the paint started cracking.

"I like to say that I hit it so hard, the ball cracked the top of the seat," Kuiper quipped. "But it doesn't look like that happened."

At the time that home run hit that seat, it was too early in Kuiper's career for him, or anyone, to have the proper perspective on what that mighty blast represented. That home run left the yard in 1977. But Kuiper didn't leave the playing field himself until 1985. So he racked up another 1,997 at-bats in his day, every one of them 100 percent trot-free.

In all that time, he said, there were barely even any close calls. But there was one near-miss he'll never forget -- a triple off the top of the fence in 1981. And the reason Kuiper will never forget it is because the pitcher who gave it up happened to be the same guy who served up The Homer -- Steve Stone.

"I remember standing on third, looking at Stoney's face, and I realized that [having the second ball not go out] was a good thing," Kuiper said, at his sympathetic best. "To have two in your whole life -- and have them both off the same guy -- that would have been rough. Plus, Stoney was born in Cleveland. His parents lived there. He did not need to hear all that crap."

Nope, sure didn't. So instead, all the crap was reserved for Kuiper himself. As the seasons and at-bats mounted -- but the homer total didn't mount -- he heard it all from America's most compassionate fans, folks who obviously didn't sufficiently appreciate the art of not homering.

But Kuiper appreciated it. And that's what mattered. He knew exactly what he was and exactly what he wasn't. And while Hank Aaron reincarnate was what he wasn't, he never did see any problem with that.

At the end of Barry's career, I want a picture of just him and me. And whatever his total is, let's say it's 765, that will be my Christmas card. It's going to say: 'Combined, we've hit 766 together.'

-- Duane Kuiper

"You know, when I got to the big leagues, [my manager] Frank Robinson pulled me aside," Kuiper said. "And he said, 'I'll give you 10 at-bats. If you hit more than two balls in the air, I'll send you back to Triple-A.' I kind of laughed. And he said, 'This is not a joke. I will send your ass back to Triple-A,' -- because I could run, and his whole idea was: hit the ball in the hole and make the shortstop throw you out. And that was the stroke that kept me in the big leagues.

"Of course," Kuiper couldn't help but add, "I kind of had that stroke anyway."

Did he think about what he might do or say if he ever hit another homer? Sure he did. But does it bug him, even a little bit, that he never hit another homer? Not for one second.

"There's something special about one," Kuiper philosophized. "There's not a whole lot special about two. I mean, nobody ever keeps their second major league hit."

So this is our chance to recognize that Kuiper's special in his way, just as Barry Bonds' little rendezvous with history is special in a whole different way. But there's something totally cool about the way the earth has spun, in its own crazy path, to bring them together around this momentous baseball event.

What, after all, are the odds that baseball's all-time Home Run King would have the biggest homer of his life called by a play-by-play man whose specialty was not hitting homers? A billion to one? A trillion? A zillion?

"You know what?" Kuiper said. "I keep saying that, at the end of Barry's career, I want a picture of just him and me. And whatever his total is, let's say it's 765, that will be my Christmas card.

"It's going to say: 'Combined, we've hit 766 together.'"

And that, too, will be an actual fact. Feel free to look it up -- and take a moment to salute the fact that the singles hitter's total was just as unique as that other guy's.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE