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1966

(Editor's Note: This story has been updated with new sources and information since it was originally posted)

Clash of the Titans

Was it or wasn't it?  

That's still the question surrounding Grant's Leron Lee's unbelievably long blast in 1966 at the McClatchy Lions home diamond off of Lions' star pitcher, Pat Fall

The event pitted Fall, a 6’0” fireballer against Lee, the best hitter in the Sacramento Valley. Scouts had packed the stands. The contest lived up to its billing.    

In his third at bat, Lee came to the plate in the top of the fifth inning with teammate Grantland Johnson on second base. The Grant Pacers were losing 5-1. Lee, who was 0-2 for the afternoon, and had an 0-2 count on him, laced a ball off Fall to right center field.  

From his vantage on second base, Johnson stood there dumbfounded. "He absolutely crushed it. We'd never seen a ball hit that far," he remembers. "It must have traveled 500 feet." 

Lee remembers, "It was probably the best shot I ever hit in my life." 

The ball sailed well over the right fielder’s head, bounced once and disappeared over the neighbor’s fence, a long distance away.  

"Easily it was going to be a home run," says Lee, who says he'd rounded second when the ball bounced over the neighbor's fence. He had continued running because "…most of the ballparks in those days we had to run them out (few diamonds had fences)." 

Immediately, there was a discussion among the two umpires as to what to call the blast: an obvious home run or a ground-rule double since the ball in fact did bounce over the barrier. When home plate umpire Joe Duarte instructed Lee to return to second for a ground-rule double, Pacer coach Jim Ramey heatedly argued the call. 

While the two continued arguing, Fall turned to base umpire John Hathaway. "Are you kidding?" the pitcher asked in disbelief, surprising the umpire.  

"We don't know what else to do," Hathaway explained.  

"You give him a home run."  

"I mean, seriously," Fall says some 45 years later.  

Asked if he realized he was locked in a titanic struggle with one of the great prep stars in Sacramento baseball history, he offers this perspective. In the first at bat, he struck Lee out. In the second, he got him to hit a comebacker to the pitcher for an easy out.  

In his third time up, Fall had Lee down 0-2 in the count, when McClatchy catcher Ned Bishop called for a fastball away. Fall shook him off, and threw a slider, which slid right into Lee's wheelhouse instead of down at his feet. "He just turned on it," Fall says. "And the rest is history."  

What History has not been able to tell us--unequivocally--has been the distance the ball traveled before bouncing over the neighbor's fence. Some, like Johnson, have speculated that the fence easily lies 500-feet from home plate. 

He has good reason to believe the distance. According to Lee, California Angels scout Joe Gordon (a former Yankee and American League MVP), measured the distance and came up with 575 feet.  

The following day, Pat Falls remembers McClatchy coach Bill Whiteneck stepping off the distance with a real estate appraiser's measuring wheel, and came up with an approximate distance of 465'-485', according to Fall, who participated in the activity. 

The Sacramento Bee's account of the story on May 18, 1966 called the blast a "465-foot, ground rule double." Apparently, the Bee reporter learned of Whiteneck's measurement. 


Recently, BaseballSacramento.com went out to the McClatchy ballfield to confirm the distance.

With a 100-foot tape measure and the aid of McClatchy grad John Caffrey (1969), we surveyed the distance from home plate down the right field line to the neighbor's fence, and came up with a measurement of 435 feet.  

Additionally, we measured from the plate to the McClatchy Field Scoreboard out in right center field (which did not exist in 1966), and found that distance to the base of the poles to be precisely 425'. From the scoreboard to the fence behind was an additional 18', for a total distance of 443' from home plate to the neighbor's fence on line with the scoreboard.  

We made this secondary measurement because it is likely that the ball traveled somewhere in the right centerfield area before bouncing over the neighbor's fence. No one we talked to has said the ball traveled directly down the right field line. So, we make the assumption that the ball landed somewhere between the scoreboard and foul line (see photo below).  

With these new measurements, we determined Lee's ball traveled approximately 435' - 440' on the fly. Still, a very impressive blow for a 17-year-old, especially with a wood bat.  

That summer the Cardinals made Lee their first round pick (7th Overall) in the June 1966 draft. He played eight years in the major leagues, and then went to Japan. There he enjoyed an 11-year career, often leading the Japanese League in home runs, RBI and average. 

Pat Fall didn’t fare too badly; he was selected by the Kansas City Athletics in the 9th Round. Both men have been retired from the diamond for more than 30 years.

Johnson didn't realize his dream of playing second base for the San Francisco Giants. Instead, he went on to represent District 1 on the Sacramento City Council, and in 1999 became the first African-American to serve as California's Secretary of Health and Human Services.

    

 

McClatchy_Field_Scoreboard

If anyone has first-hand knowledge of this incident in Sacramento baseball history, we invite them to contact us!
RAC (at) BaseballSacramento.com



Created and updated 02/22/10
Updated 07/14/11
All contents © Rick Cabral 2010, 2011

 

 

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