Chuck Stobbs; Senators pitcher threw famous Mantle home run

Chuck Stobbs compiled a record of 107-130 with various teams including the Washington Senators, the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Chuck Stobbs compiled a record of 107-130 with various teams including the Washington Senators, the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox, and the St. Louis Cardinals. (Virginia Sports Hall of Fame via Washington Post)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Matt Schudel
Washington Post / July 25, 2008

WASHINGTON - As a journeyman left-hander for the woeful Washington Senators of the 1950s, Chuck Stobbs had few moments of shining glory. He won 15 games for the lowly team in 1956, but was best known for throwing a pitch that might have traveled farther than any other baseball in big-league history.

Mr. Stobbs, 79, died July 11 at his home in Sarasota, Fla. He had throat cancer.

On April 17, 1953, in his very first game with the Senators, he gave up a titanic blast to Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees that soared out of Griffith Stadium and into baseball lore as the longest home run ever hit.

With two outs in the top of the fifth inning and a runner on base, Mr. Stobbs faced Mantle, then 21 and in his third season with the Yankees. Mantle, a switch hitter, was batting right-handed.

Mr. Stobbs's first pitch was low. Mantle hit his second pitch, a chest-high fastball, over the left-center field wall, 391 feet from home plate. The ball flew beyond the final row in the bleachers, 460 feet away, and over a wall 55 feet high. It knocked black paint off the edge of a National Bohemian beer sign above the wall and kept going.

A press spokesman for the Yankees ran out of the stadium and retrieved the ball from the backyard of a house across the street. He paced off the distance from the outer wall of Griffith Stadium at 105 feet.

Mantle's 565-foot shot was regarded as the first tape-measure home run, and no player has hit a home run that far in the 55 years since. Several writers have questioned the accuracy of the distance, but they were not among the 4,206 spectators at Griffith Stadium that day.

"Other things happened" in the game, The New York Times reported, "but no one appeared to be interested." (The Yankees won, 7-3.)

The ball and Mantle's bat, which he borrowed from teammate Loren Babe, were sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Later in his career, Mr. Stobbs did well against Mantle, but for the rest of his life he would be haunted by that monumental blast in 1953.

"So the guy hit a home run, so what?" he said in 1993. "Somebody just sent me a blank piece of paper and asked me to fill out my recollections of that homer. I sent it back blank."

Charles Klein Stobbs was born July 2, 1929, in Wheeling, W.Va., and spent his early years in Springfield, Ohio, and Vero Beach, Fla. He moved to Norfolk for high school and was coached by his father.

At Granby High School, Mr. Stobbs was "one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of Virginia," Washington Post sports columnist Bob Addie wrote in 1957.

In football, he was a three-time all-state quarterback who led his school to three consecutive state championships. He was a two-time all-state basketball player and an All-American in baseball.

He had dozens of college scholarship offers, but turned them down to accept a $35,000 bonus from the Boston Red Sox.

He pitched in his first big-league game when he was 18 and became a friend of slugger Ted Williams, but he always considered baseball his third-best sport.

"My biggest ambition was playing college football and going to the Rose Bowl," Mr. Stobbs said in 2002, when he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. "I regret sometimes even now not going to school and finding out if I could have played football."

After five seasons with the Red Sox and one with the Chicago White Sox, Mr. Stobbs arrived in Washington in 1953. He was one of the most popular Senators of the era and showed flashes of excellence, including a 3.29 ERA in 1953.

Mostly, however, he was a hard-luck symbol of the team's futility, when Washington was mocked as "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

Mr. Stobbs won a career-high 15 games in 1956, but had another embarrassing moment, when he threw a pitch so wildly it landed in the 17th row of the stands, between first base and home plate.

He lost 20 games in 1957 and then had a short stint with the St. Louis Cardinals before returning to Washington in 1959. He pitched well in 1960, going 12-7 with an ERA of 3.32, during the original Senators' final year.

When the team moved to Minnesota in 1961, he played briefly for the Twins before retiring at 31. His career record was 107-130 (64-79 in his eight years in Washington), with an ERA of 4.29.

After coaching at George Washington University and selling insurance, Mr. Stobbs moved to Florida in 1971 to work at a baseball academy operated by the Kansas City Royals.

From 1980 to 1984, he was a minor-league pitching coach with the Cleveland Indians.

His first wife, Jocelyn Johns Stobbs, died in 1973.

He leaves his wife of 29 years, Joyce Tindall Stobbs of Sarasota; four children from his first marriage, Charles K. II of Hillsboro, Ore., Betsy of Shreveport, La., Nancy Powell of Tifton, Ga., and Hasse Peters of Sarasota; two stepdaughters, Kim Loeshman and Belinda Macumber, both of Sarasota; two brothers; and 15 grandchildren.

Mr. Stobbs enjoyed occasional reunions with his Senators teammates and was a spokesman for one of the groups vying to buy the Washington Nationals franchise in 2005. But try as he might, he could never escape the memory of Mantle's long home run.

"That's one day I'd like to forget," he said in 1999, "but nobody lets me."

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