The day Reggie Jackson hit a home run off Tiger Stadium’s light tower at the 1971 All-Star Game
The Oakland right fielder was a last-minute add to the lineup
Reggie Jackson wasn’t supposed to play in the 1971 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. He was a last-minute add to the lineup after the Minnesota Twins’ Tony Oliva had to drop out with an injury.
The Oakland A’s right fielder wasn’t in much better shape than Oliva because of a strained left hamstring.
As it would turn out, Jackson’s inability to run would be completely forgotten after his third-inning at-bat turned the fortunes of the American League All-Stars, who were looking for their first win since 1962.
When Jackson came up to bat, his team found itself down, 3-0, to the National League All-Stars. The AL bench started to allow doubt and cynicism to creep into their thoughts.
“When we fell behind 3-0, we said, ‘Oh, oh, here they go again,’ ” right fielder Frank Robinson said.
Standing on the mound was Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis — you know, the pitcher who threw a no-no while on LSD. Jackson stood across the base as a pinch hitter for teammate Vida Blue.
What happened next left everyone at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium speechless. Jackson absolutely obliterated the ball, and the only thing that stopped it from going 600-odd feet was the ball hitting the base of the light tower at the park.
“It was one of the hardest-hit balls I’ve ever seen,” said first baseman Harmon Killebrew. “It’s too bad it hit the light standard, or you really would have seen something.”
The ball traveled 370 feet past the right-field fence, another 100 feet past the generator at the base of the field, and the 31 mph winds carried the still-rising ball into the light tower, which ultimately halted the ball and sent it back to a painted blue star in right field.
“I think it would’ve gone 600 feet,” said pinch hitter Frank Howard. “You’ll never see five balls hit like that in a lifetime. He crushed it. … That ball was really creamed. It would’ve gone out of any ballpark in America.”
Said Jackson: “Do I get an extra charge outta hitting one like this? Sure. Nothing thrills me more than to see a fellow like Frank Howard hit one 550 feet. When he says what he did about the one I hit tonight, I can’t think of any finer compliment I’ve ever received.”
Jackson wasn’t the only one who got a kick out of his homer, as Robinson turned around minutes later and crushed a two-run shot to put the AL up 4-3. There were six home runs hit in the American League’s 6-4 victory over the National League on July 13, 1971, but the only one that anybody wanted to discuss was Jackson’s mammoth shot.
“His home run picked us up and got us going,” Robinson said.
Said right fielder Al Kaline: “Reggie hit the ball so hard and so far that it gave me a tremendous boost.”
The National League’s first three runs came on a two-run jack from center fielder Johnny Bench in the second and a solo shot from right fielder Hank Aaron in the third. The pair took 21-year-old pitching sensation Blue to the woodshed on those blasts.
Killebrew padded the American League’s lead in the sixth inning with a two-run homer to make it 6-3. The National League would get one more run on the board, thanks to a long ball from right fielder Roberto Clemente.
“Really, it’s got to be the longest I’ve ever hit,” Jackson said. “If I had stood at second base and hit it with a fungo bat, I couldn’t have hit it further.”