White Sox

The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Home runs simply don’t sound like this.

“We were all in awe.”

Those who were there say they’ve never seen one hit like this, either.

“It just disappeared into the night. The ball just kept on truckin’.”

Last August, White Sox prized outfield prospect Luis Robert grabbed a brand new bat in the Charlotte Knights dugout. From the on-deck circle, he joked to his teammates he was going to hit a home run.

“Because when I get a new bat I usually hit homers,” Robert said.

What happened next on this memorable night in Durham, N.C., only adds to the legend of Robert. He is still in the infancy of his young baseball career, but is already telling a special, even mythical story that will soon be adding many chapters when he makes his major league debut this spring in Chicago.

Those who witnessed Robert completely obliterate this one helpless baseball say they will never forget what they saw. They’re still talking about it six months later.

“I think everyone just looked at each other like, did that really just happen?” said Nick Madrigal, who was standing on first base.

Robert’s towering home run went so far into the darkness, nobody has any idea where it actually landed, which is even more perplexing considering what stands in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Triple-A stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

First, there’s a 32-foot high fence they call the Blue Monster, named after the famous Green Monster at Fenway Park. Beyond that, there’s a concourse and concession area. And even beyond that, stands a massive 25-foot high snorting bull, made famous in the 1988 movie, "Bull Durham."

Durham Bulls players win a free steak whenever they hit the bull with a home run.

Robert’s homer sailed high over everything: the fence, the concession stand, even the enormous bull. Nothing but gravity could stop it.

“That was honestly the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He should have gotten a steak for hitting it over the bull,” catcher Zack Collins said.

Robert believes it was the hardest contact he made on a baseball last year. Watching as the ball left the stadium (and possibly the city of Durham) in a heartbeat, his teammates aren’t going to disagree with him.

“One thing that stands out about that home run is how fast it got out. It got out in what felt like a matter of seconds,” Madrigal said. “It was still going by the time it got over the bull. That was one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve ever seen.”

Everyone in the ballpark watched in awe as the ball rocketed into infinity, everyone except Robert, of all people.

“When I hit that ball, I didn’t follow it. I didn’t know how far the ball went,” Robert explained through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Then my teammates told me how far it went and then I saw the video and I was impressed with myself. I saw in the news that they didn’t know if the ball has landed yet.”

Maybe it still hasn’t.

“The pitcher knew it immediately,” said Danny Mendick, who was playing shortstop that night. “And everyone (on the Bulls) just put their head down and was like, ‘Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen.’”

Robert began to realize the sheer enormity of his home run as soon as he trotted to first base.

“I remember I was running the bases and the first baseman said, ‘Damn bro,’” Robert said. “And the Latinos from the other team were saying, ‘You are an abusador.’”

That’s Spanish for the word “beast.”

“What I remember about that game was that homer. He hit the ball really high and it was over the bull,” said Yoan Moncada, who happened to be on a rehab assignment and batted in front of Robert that night. “It was impressive. When I played in Triple-A, I didn’t see anybody hit a homer like that.”

Which begs the question: has anyone ever hit a ball that far at that ballpark?

Scott Strickland is the assistant general manager of operations for the Durham Bulls. He’s worked there for 16 years. Is Robert’s home run the farthest ball he’s ever seen hit there?

“Yes. I would agree with that. I would absolutely agree with that,” Strickland said. “The way it disappeared, everyone was in shock. It was very quiet in the ballpark because it was so shockingly well struck.”

How far did it actually travel? No one will ever know, but what about an estimate?

“That ball more than likely landed on the street that’s behind the office building,” Strickland said.

So for the record, that would mean Robert hit the baseball over the fence, over the concession stand, over the 25-foot bull and now over an office building.

“I would estimate that he hit it north of 450, but probably between 450 and 475," Strickland said. "The hard part there is, that ball was still going up. It’s not like it was coming down as it was going over the bull’s head. It was still going up.”

That sounds more like over 500 to me.

And here’s the crazy part. Robert doesn’t think this was the longest home run he hit last season.

“The farthest I think was the one I hit in Birmingham. It was over the scoreboard,” Robert said.

If you’re wondering whatever happened to the bat Robert used to launch this majestic home run, it didn’t have much of a shelf life.

He says it eventually broke.

Robert played 47 games for Charlotte last season, slashing .297/.341/.634. The rest of the International League likely rejoiced when he signed that big extension with the White Sox this offseason, basically punching his ticket for the major leagues on Opening Day.

“He had played so well against us. The question was already going around, ‘What in the world is he doing down here?’ And then he hit that one,” Strickland said of Robert’s home run. “If there was a debate at all of whether or not this kid is a future star or a future big leaguer, then that question was 100 percent answered in that one swing.”

Somewhere somebody probably has the baseball from that one swing.

That is, unless it’s still going.

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Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

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USA Today

Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

Early in the 2005 season, there was one White Sox player that fans thought was on thin ice and another who actually was on thin ice.

Despite playing great defense at third base, Joe Crede hadn’t exactly won over the fan base yet. He hit just .239 in 2004 with a .717 OPS in his second full major league season. He was already 27 and the White Sox had used their first round draft pick in 2004 to select hot shot third baseman Josh Fields, who was already considered an MLB Top 100 prospect.

So when Crede got off to a 3-for-21 start in the team’s first six games in ’05, there were already calls for his benching.

It wasn't going to happen. Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen were prepared to be patient with Crede. They seemed more concerned with closer Shingo Takatsu.

Takatsu had taken the South Side by storm in 2004, entering games in the ninth inning to standing ovations and the sound of a gong playing over the speakers at U.S. Cellular Field. After taking over the closing duties in June, Takatsu converted 19-of-20 save opportunities in his first year with the White Sox.

Still, there were concerns that his unique frisbee style of pitching wouldn't last once teams saw Takatsu more than once. Those concerns were heightened when the Indians tagged him for three solo home runs on April 7, 2005, leading to the White Sox’s first loss of the season. Takatsu’s only blown save in 2004 also came to the Indians and Guillen was already voicing his concerns.

“I might not use him against (the Indians),” Guillen told the Chicago Tribune. “They have a good left-handed lineup. Right now, he’s going to be there no matter what. We’re going to see the next couple days.”

It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence, especially considering the White Sox had already played three straight close games against the Indians, including two one-run victories.

But that was the situation as the White Sox went to Cleveland with a 4-2 record for the Indians’ home opener. Freddy Garcia took the mound for his second start of the season, while Kevin Millwood countered for the 3-3 Indians.

Here was Guillen’s lineup:

LF Scott Podsednik
2B Tadahito Iguchi
DH Carl Everett
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
CF Aaron Rowand
SS Pablo Ozuna
C Chris Widger
3B Joe Crede

The White Sox-Indians game from Apr. 11, 2005 will air Saturday at 4 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago. For the full White Sox Rewind schedule from the 2005 season, click here.

Remember That Guy: White Sox infielder Geoff Blum

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USA TODAY

Remember That Guy: White Sox infielder Geoff Blum

Say “Game 3” to any White Sox fan and there’s one name that will immediately come to mind.

Geoff Blum.

Blum was born April 26, 1973 in Redwood City, Calif. He was a star shortstop for Chino High School in Chino, Calif and attended UC Berkeley, where he was All-Pac 10 in 1994. The Montreal Expos selected him in the seventh round of the 1994 MLB Draft. After the 1995 minor league season at high-A West Palm Beach, he spent his winter playing for the Hunter Eagles of the Australian League. In 1996, Blum played at Harrisburg (AA) of the Eastern League, then moved up to Triple-A Ottawa for 1997.

He had his best minor league season in 1998 when he hit .277 with six home runs across four levels, though he missed some time with an elbow injury. Blum started 1999 in Ottawa and finally, on Aug. 9, made his MLB debut for Les Expos de Montréal, going 2-for-4 with a run, double and two RBIs in an 8-0 win over the Padres at Stade Olympique.

Blum is the only player in Expos history (1969-2004) to collect multiple hits AND multiple RBIs in a major league debut. On Aug. 13 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Coors Field, Blum hit his first big league home run off Mike DeJean. As it turns out, all eight of his home runs in 1999 came on the road, including one off Randy Johnson on Aug. 31 in Arizona.

2000 was Blum’s first full MLB season and he hit a respectable .283/.335/.449 with 11 home runs. He played all four infield positions, something he’d end up doing every year from 2000-08. Add in Blum’s ability to switch hit and that’s a pretty valuable guy to have on a team. Blum’s teammates with the 1999-2000 Expos included future 2005 White Sox teammates Dustin Hermanson and Chris Widger.

In 2001, Blum took a step back, hitting .236/.313/.351, though on July 5, he became the fifth player in Expos history to homer from both sides of the plate in a game. The Expos dealt him to the Astros in March 2002 for third baseman Chris Truby.

Blum responded with his finest season, hitting .283/.367/.440 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs. He logged his lone career five-hit game on April 19, 2003, a 14-inning loss in Milwaukee. It seems as if there was something about 14-inning games that brought out the best in Blum, as would be illustrated again later. Another 2003 highlight was Blum’s career-long 16-game hitting streak from June 25 to July 17.

In 2004, Blum repeated his 10 home runs and 52 RBI from the previous season. After his rate stats took a dip and at the end of the season, the Astros dealt him to Tampa Bay for pitcher Brandon Backe.

Blum had a down year for Lou Piniella’s 70-91 Rays, posting a career-low .215 batting average with 8 home runs in 112 games. Two of those home runs were on May 4 –– one from each side of the plate –– and Blum became the first player in Rays history to pull that off. He signed with the Padres for 2005, playing all over the infield with a respectable .241/.321/.375 slash line in 78 games. San Diego dealt him at the trade deadline.

At the time, the White Sox were reportedly interested in A.J. Burnett of the Marlins, Jason Schmidt of the Giants and Billy Wagner of the Phillies. Instead, they brought in insurance for Joe Crede and his ailing back, acquiring  Blum for pitcher Ryan Meaux. To make room for Blum on the roster, as well as pitcher Jon Adkins (who was recalled from the minors at the time) both Ross Gload and Willie Harris were optioned to Charlotte.

Blum ended up playing 31 games down the stretch, hitting .200 with a home run – Aug. 29 at Texas. But the move paid dividends. Blum popped out in a pinch hit appearance for Paul Konerko in Game 1 of the ALDS and wouldn’t appear in another game until Game 3 of the World Series. He entered in the 13th inning when he came out to play second base, replacing Bobby Jenks in the fifth spot of the batting order.

After a Jermaine Dye single and a Paul Konerko double play, it seemed as if Astros reliever Ezequiel Astacio was going to escape the top of the 14th inning with the score tied at five. Not so fast.

Blum poked a 2-0 pitch down the right field line and into the stands to give the White Sox a 6-5 lead. The Sox tacked on another run to make it 7-5, which held, and then won Game 4 to sweep the series.

Blum is one of four players in MLB history to homer in their lone career World Series at-bat, along with Jim Mason in 1976, Bobby Kielty in 2007 and Michael A. Taylor in 2019. Blum is also one of only two players in World Series history to hit a go-ahead/game winning home run in his only World Series at-bat, joining Kirk Gibson in 1988.

It was Blum’s last appearance in a White Sox uniform. He signed a one-year deal with the Padres in 2006 and performed admirably, hitting 12-for-31 (.387) as a pinch hitter and starting at shortstop in the NLDS against the Cardinals. He signed for another year in 2007 before spending 2008-10 with the Astros.

Blum hit a career-high 14 home runs in 2008, and in 2009 he recorded three walk-off hits – the only three of his career - including consecutive games against the Cubs on June 10-11. In 2010, Blum suffered one of the more unusual injuries in baseball history when he hurt his elbow while putting on a shirt.

Blum appeared in 40 games for the Diamondbacks over 2011-12 and called it a career. He debuted as Astros TV color commentator in 2013 and has been in that role ever since.

On March 3, Chino High School retired Blum’s No. 11. He is the first athlete in the school’s 123-year history to have a number retired. He also wore No. 11 for the Expos as well as with the Rays. He wore that number in honor of former All-Star third baseman Doug DeCinces.

Blum’s MLB career included 1,389 games, a .250 batting average, 990 hits and 99 home runs, with five career multi-HR games. Oh yeah, and one huge World Series home run.

Geoff Blum. We remember that guy!

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