Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our new feature, "Cracked Bats." Know of any stories to be considered for this feature in the future? Send an email and let us know.
Talk about six degrees of separation.
The first person ever to hit four home runs in an American Association game was Dale Alexander, a slugger who could also hit for average. Alexander connected for four roundtrippers on June 14, 1935, while playing for Kansas City, but his other claim to fame was edging out Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx for the 1932 American League batting title.
The specter of Jimmie Foxx was evident again 55 years later, almost to the day, channeling itself through a hunk of lumber that Wade Rowdon used to carve his name in the American Association record books. Rowdon was the third baseman for the Iowa Cubs when he blasted four home runs on June 9, 1987, at old Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines. The bat he used, fittingly, was a Jimmie Foxx model.
Whether "Double X" worked his mojo on any of the other players who hit four homers in an American Association game -- there were five in all, including Rowdon -- isn't known. But that piece of wood, which Rowdon still owns, made all the difference in the world for one evening.
Rowdon's effort that night against Louisville came in the midst of a career season. He became the first AA player in 45 years to hit four homers in a game and tied a longstanding league record by homering in four consecutive at-bats. Of the five players to hit four homers in one league game, Rowdon was the only one to go deep twice in one inning.
"I have that bat and I hit with it for a long, long time," said Rowdon, 46. "I saved that bat and I played I don't know how many games with it. It never snapped in half. The only reason I knew it was broken is that I hit one ball right on the screws to center field and it didn't feel right. So I took the tape off the handle and there was a hairline fracture."
Adding to the six degrees theme surrounding Rowdon's effort, it's not surprising to learn that he actually picked up the bat when he was in Louisville. He was in a slump during one of Iowa's trips to Kentucky and went to the Louisville Slugger factory to pick out some new bats, hoping they would end the skid.
"There were notches on the barrel around the label, and typically in those days when some of the guys hit home runs, they notched the bat. Jimmy's bat was huge a 36-36. But I asked them to turn the bat to match my specs, which was 34-32. It felt so balanced. I even had it antiqued out with the finish. I never changed bats after that. I swung that for the rest of my career."
And on that one night in Des Moines, it seemed as if Foxx was in the building. Louisville jumped out to a 5-0 lead heading to the bottom of the second inning. But Rowdon and the Cubs rallied in a big way, earning an 18-12 victory and snapping a seven-game losing streak in the process. He got things started in the second with a solo shot off Ray Soff. Then he blasted a two-run shot off reliever Paul Cherry. Rowdon hit his third home run in the fourth inning off Jose Calderon.
"We were down 5-0 right out of the box," recalled Rowdon, who had six RBIs and scored five runs. "We were ready to go into the dugout and call it in two innings and then go home. But I remember coming up in the second inning and we had a runner on. I was down in the count, maybe 1-2, and the pitcher throws a slider inside.
"I tried to fight it off and the next thing I know, it's going off the top of the restaurant they have out there in left field (for his second homer of the inning). And then I'm thinking that I'm glad I showed up because now we're back in the game. They scored again, but we were gaining slowly and I was real happy I didn't stay home."
When Rowdon came to bat in the sixth inning, Louisville had seen enough and intentionally walked him. But that plan backfired as Damon Berryhill followed with a home run of his own. Rowdon completed his evening with a two-run homer in his final at-bat off Calderon.
"Before that last at-bat, though, I remembered that I didn't want to start pressing," said Rowdon, who got two hits the following night against Denver, extending his streak to 6-for-6 before he was finally retired. "I don't remember thinking, 'OK, I have two, I can get another one here.' We were still trying to get back in the game. We were closing the gap and we had a chance to win. I wasn't thinking about homers as much as I was about getting on base. But then I hit that third home run and now everyone else was thinking about it."
Rowdon spent parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues, seeing action in 11 games with the Cubs in 1987. He hit .337 for Iowa that year with 18 homers and 113 RBIs, his lone season with the Chicago organization. He credits then-Cubs roving hitting instructor Richie Zisk for much of his success that year. Zisk, he said, taught him how to go the other way with the pitch and hit the ball to the right side.
But even with Zisk's tutelage, Rowdon only played one more season, seeing some time with the Orioles in 1988. Rowdon, who works as a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch, lives in Florida with his wife, Roseanne, and the couple's three children, Amanda, Kendall and Benjamin.
Though he went 5-for-5 one afternoon against the 1986 Mets while with Cincinnati, the game in Iowa stands out the most in his mind.
"That game (against the Mets) was fun, but four homers in a game, that's kind of a treat," Rowdon said. "It doesn't matter what level you do it at. It's kind of a special night. It's not like you can just make it happen."
You can't make it happen unless, of course, you have the ghost of Jimmie Foxx on your side and believe in six degrees of separation.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.