Updated: Jan 10, 2021
I know I'm not the only one who thinks this, but watching a baseball player rob a home run might be the most exciting thing a sports fan can ever experience. For a game centered around some of the most fantastic "highlight reel" moments, witnessing an outfielder jump up high and steal a round tripper simply never gets old for me.
One of the main reasons I love them so much is that when I was a kid, I played a lot of outfield. From my days as a terrified right fielder in elementary school, to my later years as a less terrified center and left fielder in high school, I always dreamed to have the opportunity to feel like Torii Hunter or Ichiro and have my own Sportscenter Moment.
Every so often, I go onto YouTube to relive some of the plays that gave me that dream. It's truly remarkable that sites exist so that we can cherish these moments whenever we need that extra motivation.
Of course when we talk about robbing home runs, there are few names more synonymous to your average Millennial than the legendary Minnesota Twins' center fielder Torii Hunter, who seemed to make it his life's purpose to steal moments from just about every slugger in that era.
But while many baseball historians will perhaps correctly shine most of their praise on guys like Hunter, Jim Edmonds, Ichiro, Bo Jackson, or Mike Trout, none of those fantastic players hold the award for my personal favorite home-run robbery of all time. Because while all of them have had some truly stunning highlights that I'll never forget, the one that has continuously blown me away every single time I've seen it comes from Gary Matthews Jr.
If you were to search Gary Matthews Jr's name on Google right now, the one thing that will become immediately obvious to you is that his career can pretty much be summed up by this one play. While all the guys I mentioned earlier have all made their marks on the game and are all generally remembered by most fans, Gary here is only brought up in the context of this one singular moment from July 1st 2006. Heck, the play constitutes the longest paragraph documenting his career on Wikipedia, and is only dwarfed only by an HGH controversy he found himself in a year later.
That isn't to say that Gary's career wasn't worth remembering, it's just that it wasn't too notable to begin with. Born the son of Gary Matthews Sr., who was coincidently the 1973 NL Rookie of the Year, Junior started his career in 1999 with the San Diego Padres. After his first year in the bigs, he bounced around the league playing for the Cubs, Pirates, Mets, and Orioles before returning to San Diego to finish the 2003 season. Then in 2004, he shipped off to the Texas Rangers, He finally had his breakthrough season in 2006, when he earned his first and only All Star selection and completed the game's 15th (and latest) Natural Cycle in the history of the game.
After the 2006 season, he left Texas for the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim), and stayed there until 2010, when he finished his career in 2010.
With all that being said, I believe Gary Matthews Jr is on the shortlist for the greatest one-hit wonder in the history of baseball, a sport that was birthed and popularized in war camps during the Civil War, survived two massive World Wars, and withstood the beginning and end of the Boston Red Sox's dynasty. Gary Matthews Jr's robbing of Mike Lamb inside the friendly confines of the recently abandoned Globe Life Park in Arlington, then named Ameriquest Field in Arlington, is simply the most sublime and beautiful play of its kind.
Here are just a few things that make this the greatest catch ever made.
1) It was made by a center fielder. I believe that barring some exceptions, only the center fielder is able to make a catch deserving of the moniker "greatest of all time". I didn't make the rule, I'm just enforcing it.
2) You see almost the entirety of Gary's run up to the catch. The television crew did a great job transitioning from the immediate contact to the play at large. It helps illustrate just how far Gary had to run just to have the minute opportunity to jump up a fence and catch the ball.
3) When Gary leaps up, he is not only in the center of the frame, but he's the only human being in the shot. It's just a man, a fence, and endless grass.
4) After he somehow runs the distance and jumps up a wall to catch the ball like he's a participant on American Ninja Warrior, Gary does this almost majestic pirouette, like he's become the heir to Michelle Kwan.
5) The call made by the commentators was close to perfect. Not only do they show the appropriate amount of excitement and hype, which is kind of rare when it comes to classic baseball clips, but they don't try to do too much with the call. Stand up job, guys.
I could go on, but I'll stop it there. But I implore you, if you think that you can find a better home run robbery, please send them over to @SoSBaseball on Twitter and await my judgement.
To close up this week's blog post, I wanted to cover my bases on the off chance that Gary Matthews Jr. is reading this. I'd like to thank you for giving the world this marvelous moment. It's one that I'll personally never forget.
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Featured Image was taken from Sports Illustrated
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