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Scooter Gennett Hit Four Homers Because the Ball Is Juiced

How else to explain a player you’ve never heard of doing something this rare?

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Scooter Gennett is no longer a Brewer, apparently. In the final days before the 2017 season began, Cincinnati plucked the second baseman turned utility player off waivers, adding a bench bat to its roster with no one really noticing, and then keeping him in a reserve role through the season’s first two months. On Tuesday, everybody noticed as he accomplished a feat rarer than a perfect game, rarer than a four-strikeout inning, and just as rare as an unassisted triple play: In a 13–1 win over St. Louis, Gennett hit four home runs, becoming just the 15th player since the start of the 20th century — and 17th ever — to do so.

MLB is officially screwing with us. Freddy Galvis’s extraordinary output in the 2016 season was the previous herald that something was afoot behind the curtain at Park Avenue. The Phillies’ shortstop, who hit 20 home runs last year with a previous career high of eight, seemed the most extreme individual example of the home run binge that swept across the sport beginning in the second half of the 2015 season. Home runs last year flew at a record pace, which has only accelerated in 2017, and the trend has affected the middle and lower classes the most. It’s not that the most powerful sluggers are adding homers to their already-impressive totals, but rather that the five-homer slap hitters are bodying a dozen out of the park, and the Galvis types are reaching the 20-homer threshold previously reserved for actual power hitters.

Sure, MLB maintains that it hasn’t altered the ball, and independent laboratory testing seems to have confirmed the league’s claim. But consider the following items of evidence relating to one Scooter Gennett, standing 5-foot-10 with a 185-pound frame that looks closer to 160, fill-in left fielder for the Reds on Tuesday, and think about whether “players simply trying to hit more homers” is really the best explanation for the wackiness that has taken over the sport.

Only once in his career, in 2013, had Gennett homered even twice in a game. Entering last season, Gennett had totaled four homers in a month only one time in his career, in June 2014. He then also reached that total last April and September, in perhaps a sign that the MLB tricksters were experimenting with Gennett’s power sliders as his season HR high improved from nine to 14 on the year. Still, before Tuesday’s game, Gennett hadn’t homered since April 11, a span of 97 plate appearances with no titanic blasts into the stands, no wind-aided flies clearing the fence, not even a single measly wall-scraper in the right-field corner.

And then, after a first-inning RBI single — the home runs are the headline, but Gennett tallied 10 RBIs, too, making him just the 14th player to do so in modern baseball history — the Red took Adam Wainwright deep in the third inning for the second grand slam of his career. An inning later, reliever John Gant entered with a runner on third, and Gennett tagged him for a homer on a full count; he struck again with a solo shot off Gant in the sixth. In the eighth, John Brebbia entered and, despite reaching an 0–2 count, hung a pitch up in the zone that Gennett deposited into the right-field seats.

He hit homers worth one, two (twice), and four runs; he sprayed them to left, center, and right. He received not one curtain call but two; he hit more homers than any of the Big Red Machine’s Hall of Fame hitters managed in a single game. It’s not as if the four-homer list itself doubles as a recording of the greatest sluggers in baseball history — Mark Whiten and Pat Seerey are on it — but Gennett still stands alone as a power-sapped name amid an exclusive group of hitters. Lou Gehrig was the first to reach the accomplishment in the 20th century, and Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, and Chuck Klein later joined him; Josh Hamilton, in his 43-homer 2012 campaign, was the last addition before Gennett.

MLB can maintain its innocence and send The Ringer official-sounding and jargon-filled reports all it wants. But with Scooter Gennett, four-homer man, the league has gone too far in its strange and convoluted experiment to see what would happen to the sport over which it presides if every player suddenly could qualify for the 1927 Yankees. Baseball observers will not be hoodwinked; we know something’s up. Never had that been more clear than Tuesday night at Great American Ballpark, as Gennett’s final homer sailed, and sailed, and kept on sailing until it — and he — had made history.