By Russ Walsh
I was seated in front of the television on Aug. 10, 2023, when 28-year-old Weston Wilson, recently recalled from the Minor Leagues by the Philadelphia Phillies, whacked a solo home run in his first at-bat in the Major Leagues. In the baseball world constantly adding acronyms (WAR, FIP, WHIP), let’s call it a FABB (First-At-Bat Blast).
It was a great TV moment. Wilson had been toiling for seven years in the Minors before getting his MLB shot. His family was in the stands. The camera caught his father wiping tears from his eyes. Bryce Harper stood at the top of the dugout to give Wilson a hug. Wilson’s smile appeared permanently affixed to his face.
My mind flashed back to a long-ago baseball season and the name Chuck Tanner. If Tanner’s name is familiar today, it is because of his long career as a manager, including a World Series championship with the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.
But in 1955, Tanner was, like Wilson, a long-time Minor Leaguer scrambling to make it to the Majors. Tanner made the Milwaukee Braves’ opening day roster that spring as a reserve outfielder. On April 12, 1955, opening day at County Stadium in Milwaukee, Tanner stepped in as a pinch-hitter for Warren Spahn, and hit the Cincinnati Reds’ Jerry Staley’s first pitch over the right-field wall to tie the game. That’s a FPFABB (First-Pitch, First-At-Bat Blast).
Tanner’s big home run was all over the news the next day, which is probably why I remembered it so clearly almost 70 years later. FABBs are special. They are memorable. They are, however, not necessarily signs of great things to come.
Tanner had an undistinguished eight-year Major League career with four different teams. He played in more than 100 games in a season only once. He hit 21 home runs in 982 plate appearances. Weston Wilson was sent back to the Minors on Sept. 7 after appearing in four games and getting 11 plate appearances. It is an open question if that one home run will be the only one he ever hits.
FABBs are rare. As of this writing, 135 of the 23,000-plus players to appear in the Major Leagues, or about 0.6%, have hit home runs in their first Major League at-bat. Twenty-seven players, including Tanner, have hit their first-at-bat home run on the first pitch they saw.
The last player to accomplish a FPFABB is Akil Baddoo of the Detroit Tigers in 2021. The first was Walter Mueller of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1922. Mueller hit only one more home run in his career and is best known today as the father of Don Mueller, an All-Star outfielder with the New York Giants in the 1950s.
Mueller is one of three players, including Luke Stewart of the St. Louis Browns (1921), and Johnnie LeMaster of the San Francisco Giants (1975), to hit inside-the-park home runs in their first at-bat (IPFABB). “Frosty Bill” Duggleby, a pitcher for the 1887 Philadelphia Phillies, is one of five players to make that first home run a grand slam (GSFABB). No player hit a first AB grand slam in the 20th century, but then Jeremy Heredia of the Florida Marlins (2005), Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Cleveland Indians (2006), Daniel Nava of the Boston Red Sox (2010) and Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants (2011) turned the trick in the new century.
A few days before Weston Wilson’s blast, on Aug. 4, Davis Schneider of the Toronto Blue Jays performed the feat. Schneider now has seven career home runs. On Sept. 1, Jasson Domínguez of the New York Yankees homered in his first time at the plate. Domínguez added another homer two days later. That leaves Wilson, at least to this point, as the newest member of the club of 25 players whose FABB was the only home run of their careers. Of that group, 12 were pitchers.
Of the 135 players who achieved a FABB, only two made it to the Hall of Fame. One was a pitcher, knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm, who hit his FABB on April 23, 1952, the only home run of his career. The other Hall member in this group is Earl Averill. The center fielder had a 13-year career that began with a FABB on April 16, 1929. Averill ended his career with 235 home runs. The home run champion among those players that began their careers with a FABB is Gary Gaetti, with 360. His FABB came on Sept. 20, 1981, shortly after he was called up by the Minnesota Twins.
Rarest of all is two FABBs in one game. This has happened only twice in baseball history and each had a special twist. On April 13, 1938, at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, Brooklyn Dodgers left fielder Ernie Koy, the third batter of the game, hit his FABB off the Phillies’ Wayne LaMaster. In the bottom of the first, Phillies second baseman Emmett “Heinie” Mueller led off the bottom with a FABB of his own against Van Lingle Mungo. That’s two FABBS, not just in one game, but in one inning.
Seventy-eight years later, on Aug. 13, 2016, rookies Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge of the Yankees became the only teammates to register FABBs in the same game. They did it back-to-back in the second inning at Yankee Stadium against Matt Andriese of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Judge has, of course, gone on to be a home run hitting superstar for the Yankees. Meanwhile, Austin bounced around the Majors for four years before signing a contract with the Yokohama DeNa Baystars in Japan in 2019. What will the future hold for the three most recent members of the FABB Club: Schneider, Wilson, and Domínguez?
Whatever happens, let us hope that their fate is better than that of Cuno Barragan, a former Chicago Cubs backup catcher, and FABB member, whose only Major League home run came on Sept. 1, 1961. In The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, next to Barragan’s Topps baseball card, the authors write, “Who the hell is Cuno Barragan?”
Russ Walsh is a retired teacher, die hard Phillies fan, and student of the history of baseball with a special interest in the odd, quirky, and once in a lifetime events that happen on the baseball field. He writes for both the SABR BioProject and the SABR Games Project and maintains his own blog The Faith of a Phillies Fan. You can reach Russ on Twitter @faithofaphilli1