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On This Day: Leo Cardenas belts four home runs in doubleheader

Leo Cardenas (left) and Chico Ruiz during spring training. (Jack Klumpe)

Leo Cardenas belted four home runs on this day in 1966.

The 160-pound shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, whose four long balls and eight RBIs, were just one shy of Stan Musial’s five homeruns in a doubleheader set a dozen years earlier.

Ever more amazing was the fact that the Cuban-born Cardenas, who was 6-for-8 that afternoon, insisted he wasn’t swinging for the fence in any of his plate appearances that day against the Chicago Cubs.

“I just try to meet the ball,” he told reporters. “I do not swing at the fences anytime. Not one time do I just go for a home run.”

Wonder what would have happened if he did?

The four blasts by Cardenas were his sixth and seventh home runs that week. Two of those were hit off of San Francisco ace Juan Marichal, which wasn’t an easy thing to do, especially given the right-hander’s unusually high leg kick, deadly accuracy, and notorious reputation for intimidating batters.

Cardenas, who was once accidentally shot by festive supporters of Fidel Castro while playing for the Havana Sugar Kings in the Triple-A International League, hit a half-dozen home runs off Marichal during his career.

In drilling a pair of homers off Chicago’s Bill Hands in the first game and two more with Ernie Broglio on the mound in the nightcap in his near record tying performance on June 5, 1966, Cardenas — a five-time All-Star and one of major league baseball’s best fielding shortstops — said he was totally unaware of Musial’s record.

Musial set his home run record against the New York Giants in a doubleheader on May 2, 1954.

“No, I never knew about it,” Cardenas said matter-of-factly after the game. “No one had mentioned it to me in the dugout.”

Cardenas, a .257 lifetime hitter who played sixteen years in the majors, crushed a career-high 20 home runs that season.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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