Final at-bats of the great sluggersby Arne Christensen
January 26, 2011
When I recently put together a list marking some similarities between Ken Griffey Jr. and Willie Mays, the most striking oddity was that both made their final appearance as pinch-hitters late in games that their teams lost by one run: Mays grounded out, shortstop to second for the force at second; Griffey grounded out, second to shortstop for the force at second. I'd earlier seen that the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, produced another oddity as they played their final games on October 6 and 7, 2001, with both flying out to deep center field in their last at-bats.
It seemed that Ted Williams, with the famous “Adieu” of a homer in his final at-bat at Fenway Park, was perhaps the only, and certainly one of very few, top home run hitters to end his career with a bang. Following up on that thought by researching how retired hitters with over 450 homers closed out their careers turned up mostly cases of sluggers fading into futility, with many producing only routine grounders or pop-ups from their final swing.
Few of them reached base in any way, and no one matched Williams' feat. One of the most common endings for the sluggers was pinch hitting after the 6th inning in a loss that usually meant nothing in the standings: looking at the box scores, you could see their managers calling on them one last time in the hope they'd deliver a bit of glory and a final warm memory before stepping off stage, only to be disappointed.
Many veteran players and managers emphasize that baseball is a game that teaches you humility: this list shows how even the greatest major league batters were brought down by age and slowing reflexes to end their time at the plate with a whimper. It's arranged in ascending order, from Carl Yastrzemski and his 452 homers to Barry Bonds and his 762 homers.
To introduce this list, here’s a quote from Yaz as he anticipated his final game: “I tried to get a home run for my three thousandth hit and it took me twelve at bats just to get a single. I’ve learned that lesson.”
Red Sox 3, Indians 1: October 2, 1983: Yaz pops out to second baseman Jack Perconte in the bottom of the seventh to end a 1-3 day, with one walk, and is replaced in left field by Chico Walker.
Indians 17, Royals 7: October 1, 1995: Winfield pinch hits for first baseman Paul Sorrento in the bottom of the seventh and hits a grounder to second baseman Keith Lockhart. Herbert Perry replaces Winfield at first base in the eighth inning.
Mets 8, Pirates 4: May 10, 2009: Delgado strikes out looking against pitcher John Grabow in the bottom of the eighth to end a 1-4 day, with one run scored, and is replaced at first base by Fernando Tatis in the ninth.
Expos 6, Pirates 1: October 3, 1982: Stargell starts at first base and hits a single to pitcher Steve Rogers to lead off the bottom of the first, and Doug Frobel pinch runs for him. (Frobel scores a run on a Mike Easler sacrifice fly.) Stargell had gone 0-8, with one walk, in nine previous games as a pinch hitter.
Cardinals 3, Reds 2: September 29, 1963: Musial singles off pitcher Jim Maloney to score Curt Flood in the bottom of the sixth to end a 2-3 day. Gary Kolb pinch runs and scores a run for Musial, who is replaced by Charlie James in left field in the seventh.
Senators 3, Yankees 2: April 30, 1939: Facing Pete Appleton, Gehrig flies out to center fielder George Case in the bottom of the eighth to end an 0-4 day at first base, batting fifth in the order.
Senators 3, Tigers 1: September 27, 1968: Mathews pinch hits for pitcher Pat Dobson in the bottom of the ninth and grounds into a forceout at second; Eddie advances to second on an error by first baseman Frank Howard. Dick Tracewski pinch runs for Mathews.
Red Sox 5, Orioles 4: September 28, 1960: Williams hits a solo homer to center field off pitcher Jack Fisher in the bottom of the eighth to end a 1-3 day, with a walk and two runs scored. Carroll Hardy replaces Williams in left field in the ninth.
Giants 7, Dodgers 4: July 6, 1980: McCovey pinch hits for second baseman Rennie Stennett and hits a sacrifice fly to center fielder Rudy Law to score Jack Clark in the top of the eighth.
Phillies 4, Dodgers 3: September 23, 1945: Foxx goes 1-3, with a double in the third inning and two rbis, before being replaced at first base by Tony Lupien. So we know his last at-bat was an out, but we don’t know exactly how it happened. (Foxx had pitched a few games in July, August, and September of ’45.)
Royals 8, Rangers 6: September 26, 1975: Killebrew pinch hits for first baseman Tony Solaita in the top of the ninth, hits a grounder to shortstop Leo Cardenas, and reaches on Cardenas’s error, which scores Frank White and loads the bases. Rodney Scott pinch runs for Killebrew.
Orioles 3, Indians 2: September 18, 1976: Robinson, the Indians’ player-manager, pinch hits for shortstop Frank Duffy in the bottom of the eighth and hits a single to left fielder Al Bumbry, scoring Joe Lis. Robinson is replaced by pinch runner Alfredo Griffin.
Ken Griffey Jr.
Twins 5, Mariners 4: May 31, 2010: Griffey pinch hits for catcher Rob Johnson in the bottom of the ninth and hits a grounder to second baseman Nick Punto for the forceout at second. Michael Saunders pinch runs for Griffey.
A’s 3, Mets 2: October 16, 1973: Mays pinch hits for pitcher Tug McGraw in the bottom of the tenth and hits a grounder to shortstop Bert Campaneris for the forceout at second. Mays is replaced at pitcher by Harry Parker in the eleventh.
Phillies 11, Braves 6: May 30, 1935: Ruth starts in left field and grounds out to first baseman Dolph Camilli in the top of the first before being replaced by Hal Lee after the first inning.
Tigers 5, Brewers 2: October 3, 1976: Aaron hits a single to shortstop Jerry Manuel, which scores Charlie Moore in the bottom of the sixth and ends a 1-3 day. Jim Gantner pinch runs for Aaron.
In their final at-bats (I'm assuming Delgado and Sheffield won't come back), these 30 players went a combined 6-27, with two walks and McCovey’s sacrifice fly; the homer by Williams is the lone extra-base hit among the 30 at-bats. In other words, they hit .222, with a .267 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage. These percentages would be woeful for even an average middle infielder hitting in the ‘60s or some other offensively impoverished decade.
Here's a fuller breakdown of what the 30 players did in their final at-bats:
Ground out: 10
Pop up: 3
Fly ball: 4
Strike out: 3
unknown out: 1
Sacrifice fly: 1
Arne Christensen runs an eclectic baseball history blog called Misc. Baseball, as well as the 1995 Mariners website.