Scooter Hobbs: Vols start new era of Gorilla ball

Published 8:58 am Friday, June 21, 2024

The LSU baseball record book should be able to rest easy.

The Tigers’ unbreakable record should be safe, at least for now.

Tennessee was making eyes at it for a while. And the Vols are still playing, with either two or three more games in the College World Series finals against Texas A&M over the weekend.

Email newsletter signup

This has been a crazy CWS, so you never count out anything.

And it looks as if the wind might be blowing out of cavernous Charles Schwab Field for the all-SEC showdown.

But the Vols will need 10 home runs in the two or three games just to tie — another bomb to beat, of course — what has always been assumed to rank right up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak as an untouchable baseball record.

The 1997 LSU team hit 188 home runs in turning what was known then as the Gorilla Ball era into the Geauxrilla Ball sideshow.

Tennessee has 178 in its 70 games, which is the same number of games the Tigers played in 1997.

Anything is possible but we will assume the Vols will come up a little shy of that mark.

Good thing. It’s already been a tough year for LSU’s unbreakable records now that — in some people’s eyes — Iowa’s Caitlin Clark eclipsed Pete Maravich’s all-time leading NCAA scoring record.

At least that one came with an asterisk the size of Jupiter. Clark had 3,951 apples against Pistol Pete’s 3,667 oranges.

It would be like saying Secretariat beat Wayne Gretzky’s record of 1,963 hockey assists.

So give it a rest.

But LSU’s home run record could have fallen with no questions asked.

Those 1997 Tigers, of course, who won a second consecutive national championship that year, a fourth overall, were using nuclear bats with no real restrictions on firepower.

It was such a shock to baseball purists, the kind who get teary-eyed over “Field of Dreams,” that the rules-makers went about making sure that the record 188 dingers would never be touched.

Also, they were afraid some innocent third basemen might get killed in the mortar fire (the paperwork can be quite a hassle).

So the spoil-sports watered down the bats enough that a few teams starting thinking about bunting.

That’s the main reason the LSU record was considered unbreakable. Previously the record had been a mere 161, by Brigham Young in 1988.

No team since 1997 has even sniffed the home run record until Tennessee this year.

But Tennessee’s muscle flex this year was enough of a tease that, Skip Bertman said, apparently some of the old 1997 Tigers have been texting each other like the 1972 Miami Dolphins when an NFL team is unbeaten late into the season.

It might suggest, however, that the record isn’t as unbreakable as LSU might have thought.

The home run, for sure, is back in vogue.

Still, the most amazing sidebar to that LSU record was never seriously threatened this year.

On March 17, Alabama held Tennessee without a homer, the first of seven homerless games for the Vols.

LSU, circa 1997, had at least one bomb in all 70 games that season, which has never been duplicated and probably never will be.

The streak was actually 77 games over three seasons, and it began in the final game of 1996. You might have heard of it — the famous Warren Morris walk-off to beat Miami for the CWS title.

It lasted six games into 1998.

There’s wasn’t much suspense at the end of ’97 — LSU played Alabama for the national championship and Danny Higgins led off the finale with a home run.

Earlier in that year, Alabama beat LSU 28-2 — the LSU runs coming, of course, on a pair of solo home runs.

At least once along the way, the Tigers got their lone home run in extra innings.

According to the biggest single-game output was seven home runs. The Tigers twice hit six dingers and eight times had five.

Brandon Larson had 40 of the home runs, still an individual SEC record, but only one other Tiger, Mike Koerner, had more than 20, two more in fact.

Christian Moore leads Tennessee with 33, but four other Vols have 20 or more.

Gorilla Ball may indeed be back.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at