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Chris Duncan hit the greatest home run I have ever seen

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The memory is vivid, but documenting the feat is not so easy.

NLDS Game 1: St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

As I read the news this week of former Cardinal Chris Duncan’s ongoing battle with cancer, one moment flashed back from my memory. It wasn’t a pivotal moment or something that lingered in the news past the next day’s box score. But it’s a moment I witnessed and will never forget.

In 2006, I saw Chris Duncan hit the most majestic home run I have ever seen.

What I remember is this: I was at Dodger Stadium, seated in the lower bowl about even with the first baseman. It was the middle innings of what had been a fairly uneventful game.

Chris Duncan came to the plate and unleashed that ferocious swing. His feet would spin just after he connected, almost like he was standing on loose sand, from the sheer torque of his swing.

The ball came off his bat and went towering into the night - so high the it almost seemed to disappear above the umbrella of lights. It flew straight down the right field line, fair by a few feet, but at the point that crossed the wall, it was still higher than the foul pole. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a home run that was hit that high.

And I remember hearing Vin Scully say “that was the highest home run I’ve ever seen,” or maybe he said it was “one of the highest.” But I remember him saying that, because it cemented the importance of what I had just seen.

And so I wanted to write something about that home run. But as I sat down at the keyboard, I started to have some doubts. Was this home run all that I remembered it to be? I felt like I needed some evidence beyond my own memory.

It wasn’t too hard to find the Game Log: July 21, 2006. Sure enough, there’s a Chris Duncan solo home run in the Top of the 4th. It was off Brad Penny - a detail I did not remember. But there’s not much more. It tells us the home run went to right field and lists it as a fly ball. So that confirms the basic facts, but nothing more.

I looked for video but MLB.com’s archived video begins (in earnest) in 2008. There were no random crowd videos on YouTube, either. Of course, YouTube was barely a year old and we weren’t all walking around with cameras in our pockets at all times. But even so, a record of this spectacular home run was proving hard to find.

I looked for the Vin Scully call I remembered, but it’s not like every utterance from his 67-year career is archived. And how did I hear that, anyway? I was at the game. It was not uncommon for someone to bring a radio into the park... so maybe I heard it over one of those? Or maybe I watched a highlight or a rebroadcast of the game later? Or maybe it never happened.

I had to accept the possibility that this majestic home run - a moment I’ve described to people several times over the years - may have been a figment of or an exaggeration of my imagination.

But still I wondered... why had this moment stuck in my mind if it wasn’t special? I’ve been to - I don’t even know - probably around a hundred Cardinal games in my life. And when I really think about it, there’s not many home runs that I remember in specific, vivid detail.

I remember when Jack Clark homered in the very first game my Dad ever took me to. I remember an Albert Pujols homer that essentially won the 2004 NLDS against the Dodgers. I remember a few scattered others, all in big, dramatic moments. I don’t really remember any from the middle innings of random, mid-season games... except that Chris Duncan home run.

I reached out to Dan McLaughlin on Twitter, knowing that he had called the game. He said that he kind of remembered that home run specifically, and definitely remembered some towering shots from Duncan. After thinking on it some more, he said he thought I was right about that home run in LA.

That wasn’t exactly confirmation, but given the thousands of games McLaughlin has called, I was encouraged that this was a home run he still had some memory of.

So I dug deeper. I looked into the next day’s newspaper archives in hopes that the narrative of the game story might describe the home run. Most papers ran the same AP copy, which in short versions just noted that “Duncan homered.” But in those few papers that let the story run eight paragraphs deep, it did note that “he led off with a towering drive over the back wall of the right field bullpen...”

The Post-Dispatch seems to have had a printing error, with a promised game story not running on the 22nd but on the 23rd instead. But in his piece, Joe Strauss calls it “a monstrous fourth-inning shot beyond the Cardinals bullpen in right field.”

But the most poetic description of all - the one that best matches my memory - came from the LA Times gamer from Steve Springer:

I could find no pictures of the home run itself. The closest thing I could find was this AP photo, which looks to only have run in the Decatur Herald & Review. It could be taken after the home run, or it could be after Duncan scored later in the game on a Juan Encarnacion double.

AP

And that’s all the documentation there is for the greatest home run I have ever witnessed in person. But it definitely happened, and the picture in my mind is clear as day. I’ll continue to do my best to describe it in words, though truly... you had to be there.

Thank you for the magical moment, Chris.

UPDATE:

VEB’s own Michael_68_1999 had a recording of the home run, with Vin Scully’s call no less! So now you can watch it for yourself:

Seeing it again myself for the first time in 13 years, I have a few thoughts:

  • The video mostly confirms what I remember, and yet it can’t quite capture the experience of being in the ballpark. You get a sense of how high the ball went, especially on the angle they use for the instant replay. But from where I was sitting, down the first base line, the ball passed me at essentially it’s highest point... and wow.
  • Vin Scully’s call wasn’t exactly what I remember, but it was in the spirit I remember... “And I mean to tell you, did he ever crush that thing. A mile high, going way back in the Cardinal bullpen.”
  • My favorite moment from the video is the closeup of Duncan’s face in the replay... I can’t quite tell what it is he’s saying, but he’s clearly impressed with what he’s just done as well.

Thanks, Michael_68_1999.