Tuesday, April 6, 2010

First time not always a charm

Braves rookie phenom Jason Heyward, above, joined an exclusive club on Monday, as he became the 105th player in Major League history to hit a home run in his first at-bat. Now, all the preseason reports peg Heyward as a "can't-miss" prospect, so unless every scout, scribe, teammate and opponent who ever watched Heyward play are loony, chances are he won't finish his career as a member of another club, one he probably doesn't want to become a card-carrying member of.

That would be one of the 20 players in big league annals who homered in their first at-bat, but never belted another round-tripper again. I won't recount all the names here (gleaned from baseball-almanac.com), since you probably haven't heard of any of them, with the exception of Hoyt Wilhelm, whose best work was done on the mound. It should be noted that Wilhelm is the only Hall-of-Famer on the list.

Here's the quirky part of the story, though: Statistically speaking, Heyward, despite all of his potential, actually has a better chance of joining that group (20 of 104, 19.2 percent) than he does of becoming a member of the 14-player community who homered in their first at-bat and went on to record at least 100 homers (13.5 percent), or the six-player group who went on to join the 200-homer club (5.8 percent).

For the record, here are the 14 players who homered in their first Major League at-bat and hit at least 100 career dingers:

Player, career HR
Gary Gaetti, 360
Carlos Lee, 307
Jermaine Dye, 298
Tim Wallach, 260
Earl Averill, 238
Bill White, 202
Jay Bell, 195
Terry Steinbach, 162
Wally Moon, 142
Bob Nieman, 125
Whitey Lockman, 114
Brad Fullmer, 114
Carmelo Martinez, 108
Marcus Thames, 101

There are two more players on the cusp of making this list: Mike Jacobs of the Mets (99 career HR) and Miguel Olivo of the Rockies (96).

At the other end of the career spectrum, there have been 41 players in big-league history who hit home runs in their final career at-bat, the most notable being Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams in 1960 (that list also includes Albert Belle and Mickey Cochrane).

And 11 of those 41 really went out with a bang, for it was their only career round-tripper. The last player to do it was Chris Jelic with the Mets in 1990.

A big moment for Jelic, certainly, but for few others -- I'm a huge Mets fan and I don't even remember him.

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