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
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."
There is some dispute as to how far the ball Gil Carter hit actually traveled. Some say he clubbed that little, white hunk of cowhide just over 600 feet while others claim it touched down more than 700 feet from home plate.
To whatever description of the events that took place on Aug. 11, 1959, you subscribe, one fact isn't up for debate. Carter probably hit a baseball a greater distance than anyone before or since, earning a well-deserved place in Minor League lore for his efforts on a steamy, summer night in Carlsbad, N.M.
The Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia credits the ball Carter hit with having traveled 650 feet in the air. The town's newspaper at the time, The Current-Argus, used aerial photographs the following day to determine that the ball came to rest some 733 feet from home plate at Montgomery Field. Carter, a Cubs' farmhand who was playing for the Carlsbad Potashers of the Class D Sophomore League, doesn't have an exact distance on how far the ball went, simply saying that he had never hit a ball that hard before and never came close to hitting one with such force again.
Baseball is rife with stories about prodigious home runs. Tales of how far Babe Ruth hit a ball are an accepted part of baseball legend while Mickey Mantle's attempts to blast a ball out of the old Yankee Stadium have also been well chronicled. In fact, Mantle's 565-foot blast in Griffith Stadium in 1953 is acknowledged by many as one of the longest balls, if not the longest, ever hit. But it still pales in comparison to Carter's wallop.
"I haven't hit a ball harder and certainly not that far," said Carter, a Negro Leagues veteran who saw time with the Kansas City Giants and the Memphis Mud Hens. "I watched it go, and it came down two blocks from the ballpark. I knew it was something special, I could feel it in my bat when I hit it. I just stood there and watched it."
"In Carlsbad back then, they got their television reception from El Paso [Texas], which is about 165 miles away," said Carter. "So everyone had antennas on the top of their houses and the ball went over everything. The guy that owned the house where the ball came down, he brought it in and gave it to me. He was amazed, said the ball knocked a pear out of his pear tree."
The pitcher that evening was Odessa's Wayne Schaper, who would go on to serve as a high school principal in Texas before becoming the president of his local school board, a position he still holds. Schaper, who retired from baseball after the 1961 season, was actually throwing a no-hitter that evening before Carter broke it up with a run-scoring double in the seventh inning.
The game was all but decided -- Odessa was leading 6-1 -- by the time Carter came to bat again in the bottom of the ninth. Carter was a former heavyweight boxer who grew up on a farm near Topeka, Kan. He also tossed hay, carried bricks, turned cement and worked with his grandfather on the railroad as a teenager, so he was not without some strength in his 220-pound frame.
But his imposing physique did little to intimidate Schaper, who says he planned on brushing Carter back after breaking up the no-hitter two innings earlier. The belt-high fastball that was meant for Carter's ribs, however, drifted back over the plate and into the history books.
"I threw that fastball and it went click," Schaper, 69, said. "I knew it was gone when he hit it. I've seen some big shots. Frank Howard was my roommate in Victoria of the Texas League, and he hit one of the longest shots I ever saw off Gaylord Perry in Corpus Christi. But nothing like that one."
"You knew it was gone when it left the bat just from the trajectory and the way it sounded," Schaper said. "I knew it was going to be out of the park, but I didn't think they'd measure it the next day and it would be 650 feet away."
The home run was Carter's 29th of the season, a new club and league record. He would finish the season with 34 homers, but clearly none would ever be as special. Carter has the ball in a case in his Topeka home and has had it autographed by some of the game's greats, including Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell and Ron Santo. He also has the bat, a Louisville Slugger F182 model.
"The bat has a skinny handle and a big barrel," said Carter, 74, who also says he belted a ball more than 500 feet in Winnipeg, while playing in the Northern League in 1960. "When I hit that ball, I knew it was something special because I could feel the bat give a little when I hit it. [Schaper] didn't have too much of a curve, but he threw awful hard and he was still throwing in the 90s during my last at-bat."
Carter's tape-measure homer was the highlight of an all-too-short career. The Potashers won their division that season and reached the league finals before getting swept by Alpine. Carter played in the Northern League the next two seasons with, among others, Lou Brock, who had yet to be traded to St. Louis. He also played against Joe Torre and Stargell before calling it a career and moving to Wichita, where he played semi-pro ball and worked on a farm. The Wichita Dreamliners, the semi-pro team on which he played, won a national championship with Carter slugging away in the middle of the batting order, but after four years he was through with the hard ball. He continued to play slow-pitch softball until he was 65, at which time he said he could still hit the ball 400 feet.
Carter still keeps a scrapbook from his playing days, much of which is centered on his big home run. Occasionally a reporter will wander through Topeka wanting to talk or give him a call for some insight into what is believed to be the longest home run ever hit. And Carter is always ready to oblige.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com.