Detroit Tigers: Once-In-A-Lifetime Home Runs

Daniel Norris of the Detroit Tigers rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Chicago Cubs on August 19, 2015. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Daniel Norris of the Detroit Tigers rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Chicago Cubs on August 19, 2015. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /
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Bruce Kimm

In the summer of 1976, fans flocked to Tiger Stadium whenever rookie sensation Mark Fidrych was scheduled to pitch. The excitement peaked on August 17 when Fidrych and his Detroit Tigers hosted the California Angels. There were 51,822 people on hand to watch this Tuesday night matchup between two teams with losing records. It was the largest crowd of the season at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. That’s how strong Birdmania’s appeal was.

Nobody had a better vantage point to watch it all unfold than Bruce Kimm, who caught each of Fidrych’s 29 starts that year. Kimm and the rest of Detroit manager Ralph Houk’s lineup would be facing some tough competition in this one. The Bird’s counterpart on the mound was left-hander Frank Tanana, the native Detroiter and future Tiger. Tanana went on to finish third in AL Cy Young Award balloting in 1976, right behind runner-up Fidrych. It was likely to be a low scoring game.

The Angels tallied single runs off Fidrych in the fifth and sixth innings. In the bottom of the sixth, Kimm drew his second walk of the game. His first one went for naught when he was caught stealing to end the third inning. This time around, he scored on Ron LeFlore’s triple to put the Tigers on the board. Alex Johnson’s sacrifice fly tied the contest at 2-2.

It was still knotted up heading into the bottom of the eighth. Tanana returned to the mound for the Halos. Kimm led off the inning for the Bengals. The right-handed hitting rookie banged the southpaw’s first offering against the facing of the upper deck in left field. Triumphantly, Kimm threw both fists in the air as he made his way around the bases, literally jumping on second base, according to Detroit Free Press beat writer Jim Hawkins.

The Tigers took the lead for the first time all night thanks to Kimm’s home run and held on for a 3-2 victory. Fidrych picked up his 14th win of the season. Afterward, the Bird chirped that he was just as happy as his batterymate, “and he’s really happy.” Kimm, who wasn’t used to being the center of reporters’ attention after a game, especially after one of Fidrych’s starts, said,

"“I knew when I hit it, it was gone. I’m always excited when I do something good, but this was great…I just went up there looking for a good ball to hit. I had been taking the first pitch all night. Ralph had me taking to try to get on base…I’m not known as a great hitter…My last time up in a game, I expect a pinch-hitter every time… It’s a strange feeling to be surrounded like this. It feels great.”"

Houk had pinch-hitting options available to face Tanana, including right-handed hitting veterans Bill Freehan and Mickey Stanley. Instead, Houk opted to send Kimm, Detroit’s ninth-place hitter, up for one more plate appearance. Whether it was a hunch or a vote of confidence in his catcher, the decision paid off in a big way. Houk remarked,

"“I wasn’t going to pinch-hit for him. He had been getting on base, and I didn’t think it was worth the gamble to send a pinch-hitter up there who hadn’t seen Tanana all night.”"

Detroit Tigers
Frank Tanana was the only pitcher to give up a home run to the Detroit Tigers’ Bruce Kimm. (Photo: Detroit Free Press) /