Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson is presented with the ball he hit out of Memorial Stadium by Michael Sparaco, 15, and Bill Wheatley, who retrieved the ball from under a car in the parking lot. (Staff file photo, Baltimore Sun / September 12, 2006)

The solitary orange banner waved over the left field wall at old Memorial Stadium for years. “HERE” is all it said in blocky black lettering.

No other words were necessary. Everyone knew what it meant: here’s where Frank hit it out.

Wednesday marks the 47th anniversary of that historic home run, when Orioles outfielder and future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson became the only player to hit a baseball completely out of the old ballpark on 33rd Street during a game.

It happened on May 8, 1966, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, when Robinson hit a mammoth two-run shot off Indians starter Luis Tiant in the first inning.

The ball cleared 50 rows of bleachers near the foul pole and was measured as traveling 451 feet on the fly.

It ended up in the stadium parking lot under a car, 540 feet from home plate. As the 30-year-old Robinson stoicly circled the bases, he was given a standing ovation by the crowd of 49,516.

Reached Tuesday at Major League Baseball’s offices in New York, where he is an executive vice president of player development, Robinson declined to talk about his historic home run.

But 47 years later, two of Robinson’s former Orioles teammates recalled the moment vividly.

“When he hit it,” said Paul Blair, then a young Orioles center fielder, “everybody couldn’t believe how far and high it was. It just kept going and going out. I’d only been there two and a half years. But I’d never seen one hit that high or far.”

Boog Powell, the Orioles’ hulking first baseman who hit two homers and drove in four runs in the doubleheader, had a similar reaction: “I just said ’Wow.’ Then I got up and said ‘That damn thing went out of here!’”

Powell, who hit 34 homers that season and finished with 339 over a 17-year major league career, had hit his share of tape-measure shots.

In batting practice, he once hit a homer that cleared the stadium near the left-field foul pole. And he had hit two or three others that ended up in the last row of seats.

But as he watched Robinson’s shot soar out of the ballpark — Powell was due up after the next batter, third baseman Brooks Robinson — Powell said one of his first thoughts was: “I gotta follow that [stuff]?”

Blair said the expression on Robinson’s face never changed as he went into his home-run trot and the crowd roared.

“He was always Frank,” Blair recalled. “He was always business. He just took it as ‘This is what we’re supposed to do.’”

But at an Orioles banquet a day later, Robinson spoke movingly of the one-minute standing ovation.

“It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “That crowd really inspired the whole ballclub.”

Making Robinson’s homer even more compelling was the fact that Tiant had thrown three straight shutouts going into that game, which the Orioles won 8-3 to sweep the doubleheader.

“Tiant didn’t seem to have any reaction at all” when he gave up the homer, Powell recalled. “But I remember going out to first base after the inning and his teammates were just getting on his butt. Ballplayers will do that. They have no mercy.”

The home run ball ball was tracked down by two fans who returned it to the Orioles slugger.

As for the bright orange HERE flag, an Orioes official said it was won by a fan in a club-sponsored giveaway after the final home game at Memorial Stadium in 1991.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com
twitter.com/kevincowherdsun