The debate as to the longest home run ever hit in baseball history can go on for hours, since it’s virtually impossible to garner a fully accurate measurement – and even so, there have been a number of tape-measure home runs in more than a century’s worth of baseball.
A homer though that is often considered one of the longest blasts in history was the shot off the bat of New York Yankees’ slugger Mickey Mantle on May 22, 1963.
Many baseball fans know this as the homer that hit off the right-field façade at the old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. A few different measurements have been thrown around, but some experts claim this home run would have traveled 734 feet had its path not been stopped.
Again, the debate could last forever … or maybe not. Maybe the longest home run in baseball history has in fact been right under our noses here in the Diocese of Brooklyn this whole time.
New York City baseball fans may remember the sweet left-handed swing of Ed Kurpiel. The star first baseman for Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, in the early 1970s was a big-time power hitter and even set the N.Y.C. high school record for home runs. But it was his mammoth home run in 1972 that has forever etched his name in the record books.
Kurpiel’s journey began as a baseball and basketball prodigy for the Catholic Youth Organization teams at St. Gerard Majella, Hollis. After spending a year at Eastern Military Academy, Cold Spring Harbor, L.I., he transferred to Molloy for his final three years of high school.
Playing for the late great Jack Curran, Kurpiel was the center on the basketball team and star player on the baseball squad. He was part of three-straight city championship baseball teams from 1969 to 1971 – including the 1971 Stanners’ team that won the title as a result of the Mount St. Michael Academy, the Bronx, team having to walk off the field to attend their senior prom.
It was at Molloy that Kurpiel learned discipline and the importance of an education, and he attributes those values to Coach Curran.
“In order to play at Coach’s level, you had to give 110 to 120 percent,” he said.
Word of Kurpiel’s potent bat spread throughout the country to the point where he was the 1971 first-round draft choice and No. 8 overall pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. At just 17 years old, “Fast Eddie” would be pursuing his dream of playing professional baseball.
“He (Kurpiel) was probably the most dominating high school baseball player I’ve ever seen,” said Sammy Albano, the second baseman for now-defunct Most Holy Trinity H.S., Williamsburg, who faced Kurpiel in a non-league game every season. “When he got up, we just played him deep. When people talk about Catholic high school baseball, he definitely was the gold standard.”
The Longest Home Run
After spending his first season in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kurpiel was assigned to the Class-A Modesto Reds of the California League. He was experiencing an early-season slump, but he had just the remedy.
He had plans later that summer to propose to his girlfriend Katie, a parishioner at St. Clare’s Church, Rosedale, and a senior at the time at Dominican Commercial H.S., Jamaica. But rather than wait, Kurpiel flew Katie out to California so the two could get engaged right away.
The day after Katie said “Yes,” she accompanied Kurpiel and the Reds on a road trip to Moana Stadium in Reno, Nev., to take on the Reno Silver Sox on May 31, 1972.
On the first pitch of Kurpiel’s first at-bat of the day, he launched a 96-mph fastball for a three-run home run deep over the right field fence. He was just happy to be out of his slump and in fact hit another home run later that game.
“I really didn’t think twice about it to be honest,” Kurpiel said. “I knew the air was light out there … the ball flew very well.”
When the stadium – which was located 4,500 feet above sea level – was getting ready to be torn down in 2012, local sportswriters hypothesized that Kurpiel’s blast was the longest in the park’s history. Using a fiberglass measuring device, the writers estimated that the long ball traveled 738 feet.
“It’s mind-boggling to me,” said Kurpiel of the homer. “I guess being engaged and the excitement of that and the adrenaline flowing … some things just happen. That’s all I can say.”
Kurpiel’s minor-league baseball career lasted 10 seasons and included three championship titles. He was called up to the big leagues late in the 1974 season but never played in a big-league game.
Now 61, Kurpiel has been retired for five years after working nearly 30 for UPS after his baseball career. He and Katie live in Virginia Beach, Va., where he enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren. He’s also an avid golfer who has sunk three hole-in-ones in his lifetime.
While hitting what could very well be the longest home run in baseball history may be Kurpiel’s claim to fame, he’s just as proud of how his time at Archbishop Molloy positively shaped the rest of his life.
“With the teachers at Molloy and Coach Curran, there were no shortcuts,” Kurpiel said. “There was no way around anything. You were held accountable for everything. I’m so thankful for that because that blended into my whole life, not even as a baseball player but as a father, as an employee for UPS. Everything I felt I always did was top-notch, and it all started from that point. It gave me the foundation that I needed.”
So while it may be difficult to pinpoint the longest home run ever hit in baseball history, Kurpiel’s blast is undoubtedly in the conversation, and the swing that produced the trajectory of that record-setting baseball has its roots in here in the diocese.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.