Harmon Killebrew was the First to Clear Tiger Stadium’s Left-Field Roof

Before Navin Field was double-decked and renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938, right-handed hitters had only a high green wall to clear in left field. “There goes another home run into Cherry Street,” broadcaster Ty Tyson would tell his radio audience every time a ball sailed over. But beginning in 1938, batters had to contend with a two-story grandstand that stood nearly 90 feet high and 340 feet from home plate. Such storied sluggers as Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio were never able to put a ball over the roof in left.

On August 3, 1962, however, Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew finally accomplished something that had frustrated a generation of sluggers. In the fourth inning, with Rich Rollins on first base, one out, and the Tigers leading, 3-0, on a warm Friday night, the thick-chested Killebrew wrapped his bat around a Jim Bunning pitch. The ball soared toward left field, hugging the foul line all the way. It hit the top of Tiger Stadium’s roof and bounced over, landing on the lower roof that covered the exit ramps.

“It was a high fastball,” Killebrew said after the game. “I knew it was gone. I stood and watched. I was worried that it wouldn’t stay fair.” The home run, Killebrew’s 27th of the season, put him just three behind Detroit first baseman Norm Cash, whose 30 round-trippers were leading the league. “He’s a strong son-of-a-gun,” Tigers manager Bob Scheffing said of the Twins’ left fielder, who would rack up 573 home runs in a Hall-of-Fame career that stretched from 1954 to 1975. “He hit it just right.”

For all the hubbub over Killebrew’s monster shot, it was a lowly single by the Twins’ little centerfielder, Lenny Green, that decided the game. In the eighth inning of a 4-4 tie, the Pershing High School grad ripped a Bunning pitch through the right side of a drawn-in infield to account for the winning run in Minnesota’s comeback victory.

The over-the-roof shot seemed to energize Killebrew. While Cash slumped, hitting only nine home runs the rest of the season, Killebrew banged out 21 more to wind up with 48, comfortably ahead of runner-up Cash’s 39.

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