These Two Tiger Stadium Home Runs Were Nullified Due to Rules Violations

It is one of the rarest occurrences in baseball, but it happened twice at Tiger Stadium within a three-year period when two home runs were nullified after the batter passed the runner at first base.

In both cases, Tiger Stadium’s unique upper deck overhang in right field may have  played a role.

According to Official Baseball Rule 7.08 (h), any runner is out if he passes a preceding runner before that runner is out.

According to Retrosheet there are over 100 documented instances since 1915 where a batter was called out after passing a baserunner. Yet there are only 14 time that a batter who hit a home run passed the runner on first and was called out and two occurred in Detroit.

On April 21, 1967, Tony Oliva of Minnesota was facing Denny McLain in the third inning with César Tovar the runner at first base. I distinctly remember hearing what happened when I was at Lane’s Market in Dearborn with the game on the radio. This is how the Free Press described the next day on what happened.

Oliva sent a high fly ball to deep right center. Al Kaline went back to the fence as if he had a play but the ball hit about five rows into the upper deck boxes. Tovar however played it safe and wandered only five or six steps off of first base. Oliva running hard passed him just as the ball settled in the seats. First base umpire John Stevens immediately called Oliva out and waved Tovar the the rest of the way around the bases with a run.

Although Oliva was ruled out he was credited with a single. He later homered in the 9th inning off of Larry Sherry in the 12-4 loss to the Tigers.

After the game Tovar told the Associated Press:

“The first base coach (Jim Lemon) told me to tag. I tag. I waiting. I yell at him (Oliva) ‘don’t pass me.”

Tiger manager Mayo Smith told the AP:

“I guess you would have to fault Tovar for not playing to half way on the fly ball but Oliva should have been watching the man in front of him.”

What I remember is that either Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell or Ray Lane mentioned that Kaline had appeared to have purposely faked that he was going to catch the ball which would have fooled Tovar. I only wish I could have asked Kaline that question. It’s also possible that with a high fly ball Kaline thought he might have had a play to make if the ball missed the right field overhang which went over and above the right field fencing by 10 feet.

When Navin Field was renovated and renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938 the entire stands were double decked.

The biggest challenge for the architects was that the right field stands were hemmed in by busy Trumbull Avenue so the clever designers clipped the number of rows in the lower deck but extended the upper level above the outside sidewalk as the upper stands were positioned over the right field warning track a full 10 feet closer to home than the outfield fence below.

It became known as a signature feature of the beloved ballpark and it was not uncommon for a lazy fly ball that seemingly looked like it would be caught by the outfielder was stolen from him when it landed in the overhang.

The second bizarre incident when a homer was nullified at Tiger Stadium occurred on July 9,1970, eight days after Denny McLain, in front of 53,000 fans, returned to pitch for the first time that season after a 13-week suspension.

In December of 1969 the Tigers acquired Boston’s utility infielder Dalton Jones in a trade for infielder Tommy Matchick. Jones had always hit well at Tiger Stadium.

During the Red Sox’s 1967 “Impossible Dream” season Jones led the American League with 13 pinch hits and had a career-high .289 batting average. He had several key hits for the Red Sox during the pennant drive including a 10th inning homer off of Mike Marshall in Detroit that beat the Tigers.

In the seventh inning Jones faced his former Red Sox teammates when he pinch-hit for Jim Price with the bases loaded. Jones hammered a 2-2 serving from Vicente Romo off the facing of the upper deck in right field for what would have been the only grand slam of his career. However, Jones passed Don Wert between first and second after Wert had gone back to first to tag up. Jones was called out, thus ending up with a three-run single.

After the game Jones told the Free Press:

“I knew it was gone and I was real excited, that’s all. I guess about halfway between first and second base I kinda came to my senses. Then I started hoping that he (first base umpire Marty Springstead) didn’t see it.”

Unfortunately, in some circles Dalton Jones is best remembered for his embarrassing gaffe and the grand slam that didn’t count.

As for Tony Oliva: he’s a Hall of Famer and his mistake has been long forgotten.

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