Rickey Henderson holds the all-time MLB record for home runs leading off a game, by a wide margin. His 81 are a full 50% more than the runner-up, who has 54. He played forever, led off for his entire career, and was an excellent hitter with solid power who couldn’t be pitched around, so it’s no surprise to see him far and away at the top of this list.
Some of Rickey’s leadoff homers have been especially memorable. When the Oakland A’s were in the 1989 World Series, he hit one to open Game 4 (video). In 2000, when he signed midseason with the Seattle Mariners, he hit one in his first plate appearance for his new team, at age 41 (video). In 2003, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the final dinger of his career was a leadoff drive (video).
But perhaps the most impressive demonstration of Rickey’s leadoff power came on July 5, 1993. The A’s were hosting a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, and he went deep to open both games.
The first came against Indians starter Paul Abbott, in a game that Oakland later won on a homer by Mike Aldrete, who is now the A’s first base coach. Rickey’s second tater came against Mark Clark, though Cleveland later caught up and tagged a loss on Oakland’s future former pitcher coach, Curt Young.
At the time, Rickey became only the second player ever to hit leadoff homers in both games of a doubleheader. It’s since been done twice more. Here’s the full list:
- 5/30/1913: Harry Hooper, BOS, vs. WSH
- 7/05/1993: Rickey Henderson, OAK, vs. CLE
- 8/21/1999: Brady Anderson, BAL, vs. CHW
- 8/13/2018: Ronald Acuna, ATL, vs. MIA
Hooper and Henderson are Hall of Famers, while Acuna, who did it at age 20, is a budding superstar. Anderson isn’t quite up to that lofty standard, but he still surpassed 200 homers in his career and made his mark on history by swatting 50 in 1996, making him only the 15th player ever to reach that mark at the time.
When it comes to single-game achievements, it’s always interesting to put them in the context of other celebrated feats. Pitchers have thrown 23 perfect games in history, or 21 if you only count the Modern Era starting in 1901. A hitter has racked up four homers in a game on 18 occasions. There have been 15 unassisted triple plays by fielders.
But this one has all of those beat, with only four occurrences, though of course it benefits from the fact that doubleheaders themselves only happen a few times per year. It even edges out pitchers who have struck out 20 batters in regulation, which has happened five times.
“That’s a long time,” Henderson said at the time, regarding the 80-year gap between Hooper’s big day and his own, “but we don’t play many doubleheaders.
“It’s a great feeling in that sense, but for me, the biggest thing is getting our team a run and getting us in the ballgame,” he said.
To find something more rare, you have to look for things like Fernando Tatis (Sr.) hitting two grand slams in one inning (video), or Bill Mueller hitting slams from both sides of the plate in a game (video), or Wilbert Robinson and Rennie Stennett notching seven hits in a nine-inning game (video). Here are some more records to browse through.
As for leadoff homers, the career list is full of great and mostly recent names, as you’d expect. The Top 10, in order: Rickey (81), Alfonso Soriano (54), Craig Biggio (53), Ian Kinsler (48), Curtis Granderson (47), Jimmy Rollins (46), Brady Anderson (44), Ichiro Suzuki (37), Charlie Blackmon (36), and George Springer (36).
But one man stands at the top, and it’s not even close. And 27 years ago yesterday, he doubled down on it in one of the most rare feats in league history.