August 18, 1956: The Cincinnati Redlegs connect for eight home runs, including three consecutive homers by reserve Bob Thurman, in defeating the Milwaukee Braves, 13-4, in Cincinnati. The win pulled the second place Redlegs to within 1 1/2 games of the first place Braves. In addition to Thurman’s three homers, both Ted Kluszewski and rookie Frank Robinson slugged two, and Wally Post homered once for the Redlegs.
The Braves scored once in the top of the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Eddie Mathews, but the Redlegs tied it in the second on an Alex Grammas sacrifice fly. The fireworks began in the third when the Redlegs connected for four runs on three homers. Robinson hit a one-out home run, Thurman doubled and scored on a Kluszewski home run, and then Post connected for a home run to give the Redlegs back-to-back homers and a 5-1 lead off Braves starter Ray Crone.
Redlegs starter Johnny Klippstein surrendered three runs in the fourth on home runs by Joe Adcock and Toby Atwell, narrowing the Redlegs lead to 5-4. Klippstein was relieved in the top of the fifth by Hal Jeffcoat after Johnny Logan led off with a double. Jeffcoat wild pitched Logan to third base, before retiring Hank Aaron, Mathews, and Adcock in order to strand Logan and maintain the Redlegs’ lead.
Thurman hit his first home of the game in the bottom of the fifth to stretch the lead to 6-4. In the seventh, Thurman and Kluszewski went back-to-back, Thurman’s with a runner on base, to give the Redlegs a 9-4 lead. The scoring concluded in the eighth when the Redlegs hit their third pair of back-to-back homers in the game, a three-run shot from Robinson and Thurman’s third consecutive home run of the game to provide the game’s final 13-4 margin.
Unfortunately for the Redlegs, 1 1/2 games were as close as they would get the remainder of the year. They dropped back to third place the very next day after a 3-1 loss to the Braves, but it wasn’t the Braves that built them. The Redlegs went 23-15 the rest of the way, and the Braves went 24-17, but the Brooklyn Dodgers came on strong to finish the season 27-14 and win the pennant by one game over the Braves and two games over the the third place Redlegs. The winning season proved to be a boon for Cincinnati baseball. More than one million fans came to see the Redlegs play at home that season, a first for Cincinnati. Cincinnati was the last major league team (of the 16 at the time) to crack the one million mark in attendance.
It helped, too, that the Redlegs set a major league record with 221 home runs, led by Robinson’s rookie-record tying 38, 36 from Post, 35 from Kluszewski, 29 from Gus Bell, and 28 in a breakout season from catcher Ed Bailey.
Bob Thurman was a baseball lifer, who didn’t reach the major leagues until age 38, spending most of his career in the Negro Leagues and earning a spot in the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame due to his quality winter league play. As players are wont to do, Thurman had apparently lied about his age, leading others to think he was four years younger than he truly was. Thurman reached the majors in 1955, but hit only .217 with seven homers in 82 games off the bench. Thurman didn’t homer again in 1956 after his three-home run game, finishing with eight and a .295 batting average.
1957 was probably Thurman’s best major league season, coming at age 40. He batted .247 with 16 homers and 40 rbi in only 206 plate appearances with an OPS of .848. Unbeknown to most, Thurman was one of two major league players to break the record for home runs for a player age 40 or over that season. Cy Williams previously held the mark with the 12 he hit back in 1928 at age 40. Thurman’s 16 would have easily broken the record, but another former Red, Hank Sauer hit 26 for the New York Giants that season. Sauer held that record until Barry Bonds hit 28 in 2007 at age 42. Between 1956 and 1987, only four other 40+ players had more homers than Thurman’s 16: Willie Mays’s 18 in 1971, Stan Musial’s 19 in 1962, Hank Aaron’s 20 in 1974, and Ted Williams’s 29 in 1960.
Thurman’s major league career spanned all or parts of five seasons and he batted .246 with 35 home runs.