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In historic year for Tennessee baseball, let's dive into Vols' long-ball past | Strange

University of Tennessee baseball fans are having a, um, blast, watching the Vols launch shots over the fence.

Whether it’s been Luc Lipcius, Evan Russell, Jordan Beck, Trey Lipscomb, or, this year, Christian Moore and Blake Burke, the home run has been an element of UT’s baseball resurgence in the Tony Vitello era.

This 2024 season is far – Vol fans hope – from done. Yet already we’ve witnessed both Moore and Burke surpass the program record for career dingers.

So, today, a dive into Tennessee’s long-ball history.

At this writing at the end of the regular season, Moore has claimed the UT season record for home runs with 27. He’s also the career king with 54. Burke has so far added 16 homers to his total this year for a career mark of 46, second only to Moore.

Tennessee's Christian Moore, who owns season and career records for homers, hits against South Carolina at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on May 18. The Vols won 4-1 to sweep the series.
Tennessee's Christian Moore, who owns season and career records for homers, hits against South Carolina at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on May 18. The Vols won 4-1 to sweep the series.

They’ve gotten there in three seasons. The two juniors play side by side in the Vols infield, Moore at second, Burke at first. They bat 1-2 in the order.

They arrived at Tennessee from the far reaches of the continent, Moore from Brooklyn, New York, and Burke from California.

The career record on opening day belonged to Lipcius, 40 home runs from 2017-22.

I studied the progression of the school home-run record. At least the progression from 1951. Tennessee first fielded a baseball team in 1897 but no individual stats are available for the first four decades.

Maybe the Vols had a collegiate Sultan of Swat in the Roaring ‘20s. If so, his name is lost to history. The first individual stats appear for 1951, perhaps not coincidentally Tennessee’s initial trip to the College World Series.

So the home run record begins with Bert Rechichar. Best known as a football star and captain for Robert Neyland’s 1951 national champions, Rechichar hit four dingers in ’51.

The first Vol to reach double figures in a season was Phil Garner, with 12 home runs in 1969. The Bearden High product would go on to a long career as a player and manager in the major leagues.

Garner’s mark lasted only until 1973 when Bobby Tucker, an outfielder from Memphis, propelled 13 balls over the fence. Tucker departed as the career champ with 34.

He remains the all-time leader in slugging percentage at .721. Tucker, who died in 2013, holds the distinction of being UT’s only four-time All-SEC honoree.

Chuck “Boom Boom” Barclift raised the bar to 20 homers in 1980. The first-baseman from Charlotte, North Carolina, was a transfer from Louisburg College and played just two seasons at UT.

Barclift’s record survived 18 years. The man who broke it was Sonny Cortez, an outfielder from Long Beach, California.

Cortez smacked 24 home runs in 1998. A junior college transfer, Cortez arrived for the 1996 season and hit 12 homers. He missed ’97, then returned as a senior to double that total and surpass Barclift’s record.

And that’s where it stayed until a couple weeks ago.

On May 16, Moore hit his 25th and 26th homers in a win over South Carolina. He added No. 27 the next day.

As for the career record, we return to Tucker’s 34 from 1970-73.

Doug Hecker took it to 37 in 1990-92. Todd Helton upped it to 38 as a junior in 1995 before leaving for what would be a Hall of Fame career in the bigs.

In 2022, Helton’s mark fell to both Russell, 39, and Lipcius, 40. Each was benefiting from an extra year of eligibility granted due to the 2020 season being shortened by COVID.

Now they’re all looking up at Moore and Burke. And it’s not over yet.

Mike Strange is a former writer for the News Sentinel. He currently writes a weekly sports column for Shopper News.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee baseball home-run hitters through history