Stargell blasts longest home run in Olympic Stadium history

Written by: Matt Kelly

Asked to describe the talents of Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, fellow inductee Sparky Anderson famously said the Pirates slugger had “power enough to hit home runs in any park, including Yellowstone.”

While Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, home of the Expos, didn’t possess the acreage of America’s iconic national park, it certainly carried a reputation for being cavernous. But with one mighty swing on May 20, 1978, Stargell went the distance and then some, slugging the longest homer in the history of Stade Olympique.

Stargell, who hit the most homers of any major leaguer in the 1970s, was no stranger to tape-measure slams. In addition to smacking the longest home run at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, he was also the first player to hit a homer out of Dodger Stadium.

“I never saw anything like it,” Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton said of Stargell’s Los Angeles blast. “He doesn't just hit pitchers, he takes away their dignity.”

Stargell had also terrorized pitchers at the Expos’ former home, Jarry Park, by slugging many home runs into the public pool behind the right-field scoreboard.

So when Stargell arrived in Quebec for the Pirates’ first road set in Montreal in 1978, he was certainly on the Expos’ radar. And right-hander Wayne Twitchell was right in the path of Pops.

Stargell came into the weekend two homers shy of tying future Hall of Famer Duke Snider on the all-time home run list. The former Brooklyn Dodgers legend was working in the Expos’ broadcast booth that day when Stargell launched his first home run off Twitchell – a three-run blast in the first inning – to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.

Then, with a runner on in the fourth, Stargell turned a Twitchell pitch into one of his most majestic blasts – and one that Montreal fans would not soon forget.

“One of the most awesome things I have ever seen in my life,” Expos pitcher Rudy May said of the blast – and who could doubt him? Stargell’s homer kept carrying until it looked like it might hit the far side of the dome. With a thud, the ball landed in the upper deck in right field – the first time any ball had landed that high at Olympic Stadium.

The estimated distance: 535 feet.

“He made perfect contact,” Twitchell would later admit. “This ball made it to the upper deck in a heartbeat. It was like trying to watch a tracer bullet – you could hear it when it hit. I was kind of in shock.”

The Pirates would cruise to an easy 6-0 win that day, but the main headline was Stargell’s towering home run. Though others would famously hit tape-measure long balls at the Big O – Vladimir Guerrero’s 502-foot blast in 2003 is also legendary – nobody would surpass Stargell’s mark before the Expos left Montreal in 2004.

In a show of good sportsmanship, the Expos painted the seat where Stargell’s blast landed in a shade of Pirates yellow. The seat was moved to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario, after the Expos relocated to Washington, D.C.

The team also presented Stargell with a life preserver to commemorate “all the swimmers he chased out of the pool” with his homers at old Jarry Park.

Stargell would go on to claim the World Series MVP and his second Fall Classic title the following season in 1979. He finished with 475 home runs, including some of the longest the game had ever seen, before his retirement in 1982.

Stargell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988. He passed away on April 9, 2001.

Matt Kelly was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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