BIRTH OF A TRADITION: Throw it back!

The tradition of throwing back home runs hit by the visiting team began at Wrigley Field.

By Scott A. Rowan

During the 2011 World Series, St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols put his name in the record books in the ninth inning of Game 3 by hitting his third home run of the game. Only Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth have hit three home runs in a World Series game (Ruth actually did it twice). Despite seeing history happen before their eyes, the fans weren’t cheering much until the person in the stands who caught the ball threw it back onto the field. Then the crowd roared. You see, the game was at Rangers Ballpark in Texas and the fan who threw the ball back was a Rangers diehard, not a Cardinals one.

This excerpt is from “The Cubs Quotient: How the Chicago Cubs Changed the World” by Scott A. Rowan. Available now at Amazon and

Wrote columnist Jim Caple:

The baseball gods gave Jordan Hartsell a piece of history during Game 3 of the World Series. And due to the worst tradition in baseball, she threw it back in their faces. . . . Far too many fans are throwing home run balls back onto the field, copying a stupid tradition started by Cubs fans. Why anyone would happily copy a tradition begun by baseball’s ultimate losers is beyond me.”

Throwing back a home run hit by the opposition began at the Friendly Confines in 1969 and has since become a national tradition—even if journalists despise the trend.

“THROW IT BACK! A STUPID TR ADITION” read the headline to Mike Vacarro’s NY Post column on September 5, 2010, in which he lamented, “It was very charming when the old Bleacher Bums did it at Wrigley Field back in the day; now everyone does it.”

There’s no doubt that the trend has caught on in every ballpark across the country, nor is there any doubt where it began and, according to some, where it should remain.

“I mean, the Cubs haven’t much of anything else to cherish, so why take even that away from them? You shouldn’t,” debated Terence Moore in a 2012 column for arguing that the Cubs tradition should stay just that—a Cubs tradition. “It was only a Wrigley Field tradition for years—and even for decades—and then it wasn’t. It was everywhere.”

The tradition began in 1969 with the Bleacher Bums, a group of diehard fans who wore yellow construction helmets and ruled the outfield bleachers. During the summer of ‘69, Chicago sports radio personality Mike Murphy was one of the Bums who cheered Ron Santo and the Cubs into a pennant race that eventually broke fans’ hearts. But along the way, the Bums began a national tradition. Murphy cited Ron Grousl, who he dubbed “the president of the Left Field Bleacher Bums,” as the originator of the practice.

“It was totally unplanned,” Murphy recounted in Doug Helpingstine’s book The Cubs and White Sox: A Baseball Rivalry, 1900 to Present:

I was standing next to Ron when it first occurred. Hank Aaron hit a home run into the left field bleachers, which Ron caught on the fly. He looked at the ball and said, “We don’t want this stinking ball . . . it’s an enemy homer!” With that he wound and flipped it on the fly behind second base. There was stunned silence for a moment—no one had ever seen anything like this before. Then the crowd went nuts. Cheering, laughing, jeering of the great Hank Aaron. Yes, the fans had just illustrated love for their favorite team. Fanaticism was personified in the act and in the discarded ball. From then on, enemy home runs hit into the Wrigley Field bleachers were expected to be thrown back.

Most, if not all, MLB teams have rules against throwing objects onto the field. So there’s a real chance that anyone who throws back a home run may be ejected from the ballpark. But is there any better way to prove your true allegiance to your team than being ejected for rejecting an opponent’s home run? Not if you’re a Cubs fan. Apparently, a nation of copycat baseball fans agrees.


Jim Caple, “Don’t throw that home run ball back!”, October 26, 2011, ball-back-certainly-copy-cubs-fans.

Mike Vaccaro, “‘Throw it back!‘ a stupid tradition,” New York Post, September 5, 2010, tradition_ jCOFmNyChhzDYwHUWq5jm

Terence Moore, “Baseball rituals have lost their uniqueness,”, June 27, 2012, 34015014&vkey= news_mlb&c_id=mlb.

Daniel Helpingstine, The Cubs and the White Sox: A Baseball Rivalry, 1900 to the Present (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 37.


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