Tyrone Horne didn’t even want to play on July 27, 1998.
The slugging Arkansas outfielder, who was well on his way to an MVP season in the Double-A Texas League, simply was not in the right frame of mind to be in the lineup that evening against San Antonio. He had been up most of the night before and didn’t get to sleep until the wee hours of the morning, leaving him tired and distracted, enough so that he told Mike Hardge, his roommate and best friend, that he was planning on asking for the day off.
When Horne arrived at the ballpark that day, however, he learned that Travelers manager Chris Maloney had already made out the lineup card and that he was batting third. J.D. Drew, who was St. Louis’ top pick in the draft that year [fifth overall] was getting the day off for which Horne was hoping.
Maloney’s decision to play Horne proved to be fortuitous because Horne went out that day and accomplished something that no other player in baseball history – Major Leagues or Minor Leagues – has ever done before or since – he hit for the home run cycle.
Horne connected for a solo homer, two-run and three-run homers as well as a grand slam to cement his place in baseball lore.
And to think, it almost didn’t happen.
“I saw I was in the lineup and normally I hit fourth but he gave J.D. Drew the day off,” Horne, 50, said.
“So I went and took batting practice and it was probably the worst batting practice I ever had in my career. Do you remember the movie Major League when Willie Mays Hayes was hitting the ball straight up into the cage during batting practice? That was me. I was God awful and I was thinking man, this is going to be a long night.”
Well, Horne was partially correct. It was a long night, but not for him. The San Antonio pitching staff – specifically Pete Zamora – bore the brunt of Horne’s destructive effort.
That game and that season proved to be the highpoints of Horne’s career, one that showed great promise but largely went unrecognized.
“I had 37 homers and I missed two weeks of the season with a pulled hamstring… Imagine if I didn’t miss those two weeks.”
MANY OPTIONS AVAILABLE, ONE PATH TAKEN
Horne was a three-sport star at West Montgomery High School in the Greensboro, NC suburb of Mount Gilead. He was the running back on the football team and the big bopper on the school’s baseball team. While he played basketball as well, his talents in the outdoor sports are what attracted the attention of pro baseball scouts and college football coaches.
Horne’s prowess as a prep star earned him the distinction of being named to the North State Journal’s 100 in 100, a listing of the greatest high school athletes in the history of each of The Tar Heel State’s 100 counties. Horne rushed for 1,382 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior but late in the final regular-season game of his high school career he broke and ankle trying to score and never played football again.
“I regret not playing football after high school,” said Horne, who was named The Central Tar Heel Player of the Year as a senior. “That was my best sport. I was the top running back in North Carolina and I was getting a lot of offers. My last high school game was a rivalry game and I broke my ankle in the fourth quarter. We were up 19-0 but we hadn’t beaten them in two years so I didn’t want to come out of the game.
“It was a sweep play. I always felt like I was invincible on the field because I never got hurt. That was my first major injury playing football and I didn’t play anymore after that.”
Horne healed, however, and prepped for a baseball season that would culminate with him being selected in 44th round of the 1989 First-Year Player Draft by the Montreal Expos. He began his career in the Gulf Coast League that summer and struggled, hitting .206 while driving in 13 runs over 68 at-bats. Horne meandered through the Montreal system for the next five-plus seasons, occasionally showing off the power that would become his trademark in later years while hitting .285 over 2,252 at-bats.
Still, Horne never made it above Double-A with Montreal and was dealt to the Yankees midway through the 1995 season.
“We had a lot of competition within our own organization back in the 80s and 90s with the Expos,” Horne said. “They were drafting top-level athletes as outfielders and we had to compete every day, whether it was in outfield drills or in games, just to get playing time. We just competed and competed and that’s why the organization was so successful.
“We had guys like Rondell White, Cliff Floyd, John Vander Wal, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and they pushed everybody from the majors on down.”
1998 AND THE GAME
Horne bounced between the Yankees, the Mets, the Marlins and the A’s over the next two years before landing with St. Louis for the 1998 season. He was assigned to Arkansas and would put together the season of a lifetime.
“Ty was a guy that could hit; he was a heck of a hitter,” Maloney said. “He had a knack for hitting that ball and putting a charge in it. He was a very dangerous hitter and he had the year of his life that year. We had a monster offensive club that year and Ty was the leader of the pack.”
Horne helped lead that pack to an East Division title with a league-best 80-60 record. The East Division was less offensive than the West, where the top three run-producing teams in the league resided. Wichita, El Paso and Midland were all in the West and their parks were hitter’s havens. San Antonio, however, was the lone Western Division exception. Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium proved to be a difficult venue for home-run hitters with Horne proving to be one of the few exceptions.
So it was that Horne entered the game in question feeling not quite right. When combining his shaky batting practice session along with the previous night’s troubles and the fact that he was facing left-hander Pete Zamora, Horne appeared headed for a long evening. Five and six-game series were commonplace in the Texas League at the time and that often meant facing the same starting pitcher twice. Zamora had already faced Arkansas in the series opener and kept Horne hitless.
“He was a three-quarters lefty and his ball runs in on left-handed hitters,” Horne said. “I was 0-for-4 against him in the first game and it was difficult to pick up his arm slot. I kept getting jammed. In that last game, I don’t know what happened but by game time I was locked in and ready to go.
“What people don’t understand is that San Antonio is a pitcher friendly park. The wind blows in and it’s hard to get the ball out. But that night it was calm and I was locked in. The first pitch he threw I took and I thought, “okay, I saw his arm slot so he’s in trouble’. I got my timing and whatever he threw to me, even on takes, I was locked in. The first one was a two-run homer to left and I hit it good, in the gap and it just kept going. I’m thinking as I’m running, “oh my God, the night before I smashed one there and the wind knocked it down’. I was surprised.”
If the first inning surprised Horne, the second inning brought more unexpected success when he connected for grand slam. A solo homer followed in the fifth and that it was it for Zamora before Horne completed his “cycle” with a three-run blast in the sixth off Miguel Garcia. He had a chance to get a fifth homer but struck out in the ninth on a 3-2 Jeff Kubenka changeup. Still, he finished with 10 RBI and Arkansas had a 13-4 victory.
“I remember having good stuff,” said Zamora, who is the pitching coach for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate in El Paso. “I kind of went through their order but every time he came up, he just squared me up. I was just unable to get him out. I don’t remember hanging many pitches. He just didn’t miss anything and when he got up it was ‘Oh, this guy again’.
“I never felt like it was a hitter’s park, either. I don’t think I gave up too many there aside to Tyrone. He earned every one of those. These weren’t windblown homers; he squared them all up. It was impressive.”
Zamora gave up six home runs in 66 innings for San Antonio that season, with Horne accounting for three that night. Horne became, at the time, just the sixth player in Texas League history to drive in 10 or more runs in a game and the first to do so in nearly four decades.
Horne’s home-run heroics didn’t end that night, though. He and his teammates hopped a bus for a 10-hour ride to Little Rock for the Texas League All-Star game, where Horne competed in the Home Run Derby the following evening. Of course, he won.
“It was so crazy,” Horne said. “I was so locked in and just seeing the ball well.”
Horne finished the Texas League season with a career high 37 homers, 139 RBI and a .312 batting average to win league MVP honors. The Baseball Hall of Fame also called and asked for the bat from his historic evening.
“I had 37 homers and I missed two weeks of the season with a pulled hamstring,” Horne said. “Imagine if I didn’t miss those two weeks.”
Horne with the Arkansas Travelers
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE TEXAS LEAGUE STAYS IN THE TEXAS LEAGUE
Horne’s incredible season resulted not in him earning a promotion to St. Louis for a few September bench-warming games but a trip to Triple-A Memphis, where he appeared in three games. It would mark the last time he would reach that level in his career. Horne went 4-for-11 with an RBI for Memphis to finish the year at .340 with 140 RBI.
The call for which Horne was waiting, however, wouldn’t come.
“We were playing against the Tulsa Drillers in the [Texas League] semis and we got beat,” Horne said. “At the end of the last game the manager called seven or eight guys into his office and I was one of them. He was going one-by-one, you’re going here, you’re going there. He told JD he was going to Memphis. He called me Bull. He said Bull, you’re going to Memphis.
“As soon as he said that, I walked out of the office. I did well in Memphis and it was the same thing. They called people into the office but not me. I led the whole organization among outfielders in batting average and home runs and I didn’t get a call to the big leagues. If they had called me up just for batting practice, I would have been happy with that. I wasn’t a trouble maker or anything like that. I was a leader in the clubhouse and on the field. I retired in 2001 and to this day I don’t understand why I was never called up.”
Maloney said he doesn’t recall why Horne was never promoted to St. Louis. He mentioned that the Cards were stocked in the outfield at the time and had a very deep system so that may have impacted the decision not to add Horne to the 40-man. Otherwise, he said Horne always played hard for him.
Tyrone Horne holding the Idaho state championship trophy in 2013. (Photo: greatest21days.com)
Horne, who was inducted into the Texas League Hall of Fame in 2007, wouldn’t get a chance with the Cards. He was released following the season and spent 1999 and 2000 in the Double-A Eastern League with the Phillies and Yankees, respectively. He did run into Zamora again in the Eastern League and joked that he got knocked down by the first pitch Zamora threw upon their reunion [in 2000].
There wasn’t much too much for Horne to kid about by that point, though. He went to Korea to play for part of the 2000 season and also played some independent league ball that summer and in 2001. A ruptured disk in his neck, however, forced him into retirement following the 2001 season at the age of 31.
“The problems started in 2000 with the Yankees,” Horne said. “I thought I had a pinched nerve. I would swing the bat and my arm went numb. I wound up playing the whole 2001 season with ruptured C5 and C6 disks. I used to dive in the outfield, run into walls. My daughter told me I could have been paralyzed but by the grace of God I wasn’t.
“I had surgery and they took out the ruptured disks and the movement in my neck was decreased. I was 31 and in my prime and I couldn’t play anymore. I was heartbroken. I felt like I was robbed. I felt like I could have played longer if I wasn’t hurt but I guess it wasn’t in the cards. I was depressed and upset and I felt my career was cut short. Even though I played 13 years. I felt I could have played at least three more years.”
Horne has stayed in baseball, though. He has been a varsity high school coach in Idaho for the last 19 years. He also went through Major League Baseball’s Scout School program and is currently looking to get back into the professional game as a scout.
He returned to school upon retirement, fulfilling a promise he had made to his mom when he began playing professionally. Horne got his degree from Idaho State in 2006 and will receive his Masters’ degree this fall. He has spent the better part of the last 20 years working as a social worker and in the mental health field.
While Horne never got the chance that he most likely deserved he has no regrets.
“What I see is that this should be a fairy tale story,” Horne said. “I was a 44th-round pick and nine times out of 10, picks that late don’t make it past the first year. My whole playing career I had to work extra hard to make sure I was going to be on the team. Where I got drafted, I had to work extra hard on everything – conditioning, hitting, throwing, base running, everything. And that hard work paid off.
“I once talked with some older guys from the Expos and no one expected me to play that long. The 1989 draft where I came in, at the time there were only five or 10 guys still playing and they were all high-round picks.”
All except Horne, who seemed to buck the odds, both in terms of his career and what he did one famous night in the Texas League.