27 years ago today, the Cardinals acquired switch-hitting outfielder Mark Whiten from the Indians in exchange for pitcher Mark Clark and minor league infielder Juan Andujar. Andujar never advanced past Double-A while both Whiten and Clark would go on to have mediocre major league careers. Whiten, however, made history on one magical, history-making night with the Cardinals.
The Cardinals visited the Reds in Cincinnati for what became a three-game series. The first day featured a doubleheader with one game being made up after having been postponed due to rain in June. In the first game, the Reds won a wild one, walking off 14-13 winners thanks to a two-run Reggie Sanders triple in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals exacted revenge in game two, mostly thanks to Whiten.
Whiten went 0-for-4 with a walk and an RBI in the first game, so he wasn’t off to the best start. That, however, changed quickly as he staked the Cardinals to a 4-0 first-inning lead when he mashed a grand slam off of Reds starter Larry Luebbers. The Reds clawed back for a pair of runs against Bob Tewksbury in the bottom half of the first, then the two sides exchanged zeroes for the next three innings. The Cardinals tacked on an extra run in the top of the fifth on a sacrifice fly in what was looking like a normal game.
Whiten, who fouled out in his second at-bat, came to the plate in the sixth following back-to-back walks issued by reliever Mike Anderson. Whiten pushed the Cardinals’ lead to 8-2 with a seemingly effortless swing on an Anderson pitch, depositing it over the fence in right-center for a three-run homer.
In the seventh, the Cardinals put together another threat, hitting three consecutive two-out singles to plate one run and bring Whiten back to the plate against Anderson. It was the same result: Whiten nailed a three-run homer out to right-center field. The Cardinals lead was moved to 10 runs at 12-2.
Three homers and 10 RBI is already an outstanding night, but Whiten wanted to make history. He stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth with the Cardinals leading 13-2. Gerald Perry had just singled with one out off of Rob Dibble. Dibble fell behind 2-0, so he came back with a fastball which Whiten absolutely destroyed, sending it way out to center field for his fourth homer of the game, this time a two-run blast. The Cardinals would go on to win in a cakewalk, 15-2. Along with the four homers, Whiten finished with 12 RBI.
At the time, Whiten was the 12th player to have a four-homer game. He is still one of only two players with a 12-RBI game. Jim Bottomley, also a Cardinal, accomplished the feat in 1924 against the Brooklyn Robins in a six-hit performance.
It took almost nine years for the feat to happen again, as Mariners outfielder Mike Cameron homered four times against the White Sox on May 2, 2002. The feat had never happened twice in the same season, let alone twice in the same month, but Shawn Green would enjoy a four-homer game of his own three weeks later on May 23 against the Brewers. Carlos Delgado added his name to the list on September 25, 2003, as did Josh Hamilton on May 8, 2012. 2017 saw two more four-homer games from the Reds’ Scooter Gennett on June 6 and the Diamondbacks’ J.D. Martinez on September 4.
1993 was a breakout year for Whiten. Though he played 116 games in 1991 and 148 games in 1992, he mustered only nine home runs in each season. He finished ’93 with 25 homers and 99 RBI. Sadly, however, that would be the peak of Whiten’s career. He had an even better campaign in ’94 but it was cut short due to the strike. Whiten came close to reaching that level of production in 1996, which he split between three teams. In the following four years, Whiten hit 12 total home runs. In 2001 and ’02, Whiten played in the Mexican League, then spent ’02 and ’03 with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.
Despite his very obvious power potential Whiten’s four-homer performance was unlikely. To that point, he had homered twice in a game just once, and he would go on to do it only three more times. Additionally, of the 11 players to have a four-homer game prior to Whiten, five of them were future Hall of Famers: Ed Delahanty, Lou Gehrig, Chuck Klein, Willie Mays, and Mike Schmidt. Sometimes, though, you’re just in the zone and opposing pitchers are serving you fastballs on a silver platter.