50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #37: Tartabull’s Three Home Runs (July 6, 1991)

Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.

Nine times in Royals history, a batter has hit three home runs in a game. Rather incredibly, though, only one has done it in Royals Stadium. Even with the ballpark’s reputation as a tough place to hit home runs, that seems to defy the probabilities. But there it is: on July 6, 1991, Danny Tartabull did something no Royals player had done before and none have been able to equal since.

As the Royals tried to squeeze a few more postseason runs out of the 1985 championship core, they made a shrewd trade at the 1986 winter meetings, sending pitching prospect Scott Bankhead, outfield prospect Mike Kingery, and pitcher Scott Shields to Seattle for Tartabull and pitcher Rick Luecken. While Bankhead and Kingery had shown some ability in extended trials in the 1986 season, Tartabull had hit 25 home runs for the Mariners in his first full season. For a Royals team that had won a World Series in spite of, not because of, their offense, a power bat was always a need. Bankhead and Kingery had solid careers, but Tartabull made an immediate impact in Kansas City, belting 34 home runs in 1987 and making a run at the franchise single-season home run record Steve Balboni had set two years earlier.

When the Royals released Bo Jackson before the 1991 season, Tartabull became the focus of the team’s offense as the biggest power threat. And he delivered, hitting 31 home runs that season. Unfortunately, the rest of the team was offensively challenged, and the Royals entered the game with Oakland on July 6 with a 35-43 mark. They were 9.5 games out of first place and bringing up the rear in the AL West, where the other six teams were all .500 or better. 

Tartabull had been on a home run binge, hitting five in the previous nine games. So it wasn’t a big surprise when he whacked a Bob Welch pitch over the left-field fence to lead off the second inning. Unfortunately for the Royals, Brian McRae had been thrown out stealing with Tartabull at the plate to end the first inning, so Tartabull’s blast only gave KC a 1-0 lead. They would tack on two more runs in the inning.

But Oakland scored one run off Royals starter Mike Boddicker in the third, then exploded for seven runs in the fourth. They added one more of reliever Carlos Maldonado in the fifth. Meanwhile, Tartabull had hit a ball to the warning track in right field in the third, narrowly missing his second home run.

He didn’t come to bat again until the sixth. This time, he did collect his second dinger of the night, putting one over the right-center field wall to cut the Oakland lead to 9-4. 

A Mike Macfarlane homer in the seventh made the score 9-5. George Brett led off the eighth with a double off reliever Rick Honeycutt, and Tartabull greeted new pitcher Gene Nelson with a mammoth home run to left-center. Suddenly, it was a ballgame, with the Royals only down 9-7.

But that was as close as they got. Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley finished out the eighth, then got Brent Mayne to start the ninth. Warren Cromartie delivered a pinch-hit single, and McRae came to the plate as the tying run. He launched a drive to deep right-center, but former Royals great Willie Wilson tracked it down for the second out. Now Brett came to bat as the tying run, with Tartabull on deck. Brett also hit the ball hard, but right at Wilson, and the game ended with Tartabull still on three home runs.

“I’d like to have come to the plate again to see what I could do,” Tartabull said. “George gave me a chance. He hit the ball hard.”

The outfielder, just days away from his only All-Star appearance, was also surprised by his special place in team history.

“There have been some bashers here–John Mayberry, Amos Otis, George Brett,” he said. “The park is so big, but on certain days the ball travels. You’ve gotta catch it on the right day.”

But so far, more than 30 years later, no other Royal has managed to do so. 

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