Somewhat like Mrs. O'Learys cow of Chicago fire legend, Mark Whiten had no idea what a fuss he had kicked up last week. The St. Louis Cardinal outfielder's conflagration was ignited by his bat, which, in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 7 in Cincinnati, accounted for four home runs and 12 runs batted in, the best individual one-game offensive performance in baseball history. Eleven other players, including such titans as Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Gil Hodges and Mike Schmidt, had hit four homers in one game, but none of them ever had as many as 12 RBIs in a game. The dozen RBIs tied the major league record set in 1924 by another Cardinal, "Sunny Jim" Bottomley, a Hall of Famer. Counting the one RBI Whiten had in the first game of the twin bill, he also tied the record of 13 in a doubleheader set by the San Diego Padres' Nate Colbert in 1972.
So how's the 26-year-old Whiten holding up as a neophyte immortal? "Well, it really hasn't dawned on me yet," he said cheerfully before batting practice at San Francisco's Candlestick Park last Thursday, a full two days after the great event. "I hit four home runs and drove in 12—that's all I know." Indeed, the rest of baseball seems more impressed by Whiten's feat than he is. Said teammate Todd Zeile, "You can't even do what he did in batting practice."
Whiten's failure to appreciate the magnitude of his achievement is understandable: Not only is he not a baseball historian, but he also didn't even take baseball seriously until his senior year at Pensacola (Fla.) High. Yet he was the MVP on the Pensacola Junior College varsity and was drafted in the fifth round by the Toronto Blue Jays, whose scouts were more impressed with his size—he's 6'4", 220 pounds—and his formidable throwing arm than his bat. "He didn't think he'd ever play pro ball," says his Pensacola coach, Buddy Kisner.
In five minor league seasons Whiten never hit more than 15 homers or drove in more than 64 runs, and the Blue Jays traded him to Cleveland in June of 1991. The Indians, in turn, traded him to the Cardinals in March for pitcher Mark Clark and shortstop Juan Andujar.
After the first game of his memorable twin bill, Whiten was hitting a modest .248 with a career-high 18 homers and 75 RBIs. He had not hit a home run since Aug. 11 and only in '91 had he ever connected for more than one in any game. Then, as Cardinal pitcher Bob Tewksbury said in amazement afterward, "he found his zone."
In his first at bat, Whiten hit a grand slam off Red rookie Larry Luebbers. He fouled out in the fourth inning and then hit two three-run homers off another rookie, Mike Anderson. In the ninth, with a man on base and veteran reliever Rob Dibble on the mound, Whiten belted a two-ball, no-strike fastball 441 feet for the final blast. "I threw him the best stuff I've got," said Dibble.
Aware that he's still learning, Whiten plans to enroll in the instructional league this fall to work on, as he says, "the mental part of this game. It's very easy to lose your concentration out there, and it's hard to get it back." The instructional league is in St. Petersburg, Fla., and that's where he plans to marry his schoolteacher fiancèe, Sheri Smith, later in what has become, for Whiten, a big year. Year? This guy had a year in one day.
With four swings of the bat, the obscure Cardinal outfielder carved out a place in baseball history.