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Stobbs best remembered for single pitch [UPDATED]

Published 3:59am Monday, May 20, 2013 Updated 6:00am Monday, May 20, 2013

Chuck Stobbs was a major league baseball pitcher in the late 1940s and 1950s, mostly with the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators. He ended his 15-year major league career with the Minnesota Twins, in their inaugural season of 1961.

During those 15 years Stobbs pitched close to 1,900 innings. He’s best remembered for a single pitch, on April 17, 1953.

When Stobbs made his major league debut in 1947, at age 17, he was the youngest player in the major leagues. The Virginia native, 23, was acquired in the offseason in 1953 to give Washington its only left-handed pitcher.

The week had been cold and wet for baseball at Griffith Stadium in the nation’s capital.

Stobbs was a last-minute managerial decision. The New York Yankees had struggled against another lefty earlier that week. Stobbs, as noted by baseball historian Jane Leavy, held his own against the Yankees through four innings.

“In the fifth inning, with New York leading 2-1, Stobbs committed pitching’s cardinal sin,” said Leavy, “walking Yogi Berra with two outs to bring Mickey Mantle to the plate.”

Later, as a coach with the George Washington University Colonials, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, Stobbs always admonished young pitchers: no two-out walks.

Mantle took the first pitch for a ball. On the Yankee bench, shortstop Jim Brideweser gazed at the distant scoreboard hovering over left field and told coach Jim Turner, “I bet this kid (Mantle) could hit that big scoreboard.”

It was 391 feet to the base of the left field wall and another 69 feet to the back of the bleachers. The scoreboard projected 15 feet above the 55-foot back wall of the stadium. It was adorned with the smiling visage of “Mr. Boh,” the advertising logo for National Bohemian beer.

“Naw,” Turner said. “Nobody could do that.” Nobody ever had.

As Stobbs went into his windup, 11-year-old Bill Abernathy got to his feet. He and his father, as researched by Levy, sat in the presidential box occupied by Dwight Eisenhower the day before.

“I said to myself: ‘Wow, this wind is really blowing.’ Straight out to left field.”

The Weather Bureau later said gusts up to 41 mph blew toward the bleachers between 3 and 4 p.m.

The pitch was a fastball or slider. Stobbs later said he couldn’t remember which. Either way, he left it over the plate.

Mantle timed his swing perfectly on April 17, 1953. The baseball glanced off the beer sign and landed outside the stadium.

“The ball exited the stadium so fast that broadcaster Bob Wolff did not have time to raise his voice in narrative exclamation,” wrote Leavy. “It was hit so high, Washington infielder Wayne Terwilliger said that Mantle was at second base by the time the baseball landed.”

The baseball headed toward Fifth Street NW, outside the stadium.

“This one’s got to be measured,” said Red Patterson, the Yankees public relations man as he dashed from the press box. He returned with the baseball and reported astonishing news that it had traveled 565 feet, making it the longest home run ever measured.

Patterson said a young boy found the ball and had taken him to its landing spot in the back yard of 434 Oakdale Place.

Mantle rounded the bases with customary modesty, head down. Stobbs lowered his head, too.

“His glove fell off his hand,” Abernathy said. “He just looked at the mound.”

The Washington Post headline read, “Mantle’s 565-Foot Homer Clears Leftfield Stands.” A panoramic photograph with an arrow superimposed on the stadium traced the trajectory of the baseball. Thus the “tape measure home run” was born.

After leaving professional baseball, Stobbs spent a brief time as an insurance salesman, in addition to being a college and major league coach. He was 79 when he died on July 11, 2008.

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