Ultimate slam: game over

Granted, it sounds like something you’d order for breakfast at Denny’s, but the Ultimate Grand Slam is a real, if rare, feat in major league baseball.

So let’s start by defining it.

{exp:list_maker}1. It must be a walk-off home run with the bases loaded.
2. It can occur with one, two, or no outs.
3. The fourth run must provide a one-run margin of victory. {/exp:list_maker}

So we’re talking ninth inning or extra inning slams only. Grand slams hit by the visiting team don’t count; grand slams hit by the home team, no matter how dramatic, in innings one through eight are automatically disqualified. And even a bottom-of-the-ninth slam is out if it results in a two, three, or four-run margin of victory. So we’ve set the bar pretty high.

Theoretically, a batter could hit a slam that would give his team a one-run lead in the bottom of the fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth inning, and then the skies could open up and wash out the rest of the game. That would qualify as an ultimate grand slam, but it belongs in the realm of the hypothetical, something that has never happened in major league history and may never happen. On the other hand, there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen today or tomorrow.

There are 27 ultimate grand slams in major league history. No surprise that the dead ball era is something of a dead zone for grand slams. When Roger Connor of the Troy Trojans hit the first ultimate slam on Sept. 10, 1881, it was also the first grand slam in National League history. So one could say that a Trojan warrior was the major league home run leader before Babe Ruth came along.

Connor’s ultimate slam was the only one during the 19th century. In fact, his feat remained unique all through the first quarter of the 20th century all to himself. Then one fine day it happened again in the House That Ruth Built. Appropriately, the master builder himself was the batter. The Bambino’s blast was the first of 26 in modern baseball history. So when and where did all these mighty feats occur? Well, as Joe Garagiola used to say during his pre-game show, “Let’s go to the ballpark.”

No. 1: 09/24/1925, Yankee Stadium. Hitter: Babe Ruth. Pitcher: Sarge Connally. Yanks 6, White Sox 5.

Ruth struck with one out in the 10th inning, so this was also the first extra-inning ultimate slam (there were five total). Fitting that the Bambino would achieve the modern era’s first ultimate slam, though they wouldn’t have called it that at the time. This was the only one hit in the original House that Ruth Built; but 77 years later, Jason Giambi would hit another extra-inning ultimate slam in remodeled Yankee Stadium.

No. 2: 05/23/1936, Crosley Field. Hitter: Sammy Byrd. Pitcher: Cy Blanton. Reds 4, Bucs 3.

This was as undramatic as an ultimate slam can be, as it came with no outs in the ninth inning. Or was it? As the 4-3 score indicates, the Reds went from scoreless to victorious on the last pitch of the game. Believe it or not, Sammy Byrd, formerly a reserve outfielder for the Yankees from 1929-1934, was frequently used as a pinch-runner for the aging Ruth.

No. 3: 07/08/1950, Forbes Field. Hitter: Jack Phillips. Pitcher: Harry Brecheen. Bucs 7, Cards 6.

Like the Bambino 25 years before, Jack Phillips, a former Yankee, went deep with one out in the 10th inning. No other comparisons to the Babe can be made, however, as Phillips, a utility player, hit just nine home runs (one for each season in the majors) during his career. His blow was the first ultimate slam by the Pirates, who have hit four. No other team has more than two.

No. 4: 06/16/1952, Polo Grounds. Hitter: Bobby Thomson. Pitcher: Willard Schmidt. Giants 8, Cards 7.

More high drama at the Polo Grounds starring Bobby Thomson—less than a year after his better known blow in the 1951 playoffs. This time around, the Flying Scot came through with one out in the ninthh inning. Wonder what Russ Hodges had to say about it…maybe “The Giants win the game! The Giants win the game! The Giants win the game!”

No. 5: 07/15/1952, Shibe Park. Hitter: Eddie Joost. Pitcher: Satchel Paige. A’s 7, Browns 6.

Only four pitchers have given up two walk-off grand slams in one season. Satchel Paige, of all people, is one of them. No wonder he didn’t want to look back! (Actually, he’s in pretty good company, as the other three are Lindy McDaniel, Lee Smith and Francisco Rodriguez.) Paige gave up the first (though not an ultimate grand slam) to Sammy White of the Red Sox on June 30, 1952. A little more than two weeks later, Paige entered a game against the A’s and couldn’t get anybody out in the ninth inning. He came on in relief of starter Duane Pillette, pitched to four batters, and gave up three singles and the slam by Eddie Joost.

Joost had never been much of a power hitter in his 20s while he was in the NL, but when he came to the A’s in 1947, he embarked on six straight years of double figures (13-23) in home runs. Since this was long before the steroid era, we can safely conclude that Joost was not juiced. This blow was doubly discouraging to the Browns, as they had to regroup quickly and go out and play the second game of a double-header. For the record, they lost the second game 11-3. Not that the Browns ever needed to make excuses for losing, but after the American League deprived them of Eddie Gaedel’s services as a pinch-hitter the year before, it’s no wonder they struggled.

No. 6: 09/11/1955, County Stadium. Hitter: Del Crandall. Pitcher: Herm Wehmeier. Braves 5, Phils 4.

This was the first (of 15) ultimate slams with two outs, which would seem to make it a little more special than its predecessors. This was the second game of a double-header, so it was a resounding conclusion to a long day of baseball in Milwaukee. The Phillies had lost the first game 13-5. So imagine their mindset as they go into the ninth inning of the second game with a 5-0 lead. Herm Wehmeier’s thinking shutout and the Phils are thinking split. Maybe Wehmeier suffered a momentary lapse in concentration after losing his shutout. Del Crandall certainly wasn’t the biggest long ball threat on the Braves in those days, but like your Little League coach always used to say, “It only takes one.”

No. 7: 05/11/1956, Forbes Field. Batter: Danny Kravitz. Pitcher: Jack Meyer. Pirates 6, Phils 5.

One out in the ninth inning and up steps rookie catcher Danny Kravitz, who had stayed in the game after serving as a pinch-hitter. He couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to launch his first major league home run. No telling which team was more shocked by the outcome.

No. 8: 07/25/1956, Forbes Field. Hitter: Roberto Clemente. Pitcher: Jim Brosnan. Pirates 9, Cubs 8.

Two and a half months later and Forbes Field is again the scene of an ultimate grand slam. This time, the hero is more plausible. Roberto Clemente went deep with nobody out in the ninth inning. I say he went deep, but that may be something of a misnomer, as his grand slam was an inside-the-park job, the only one in the history of ultimate grand slams. This happened before Jim Brosnan made a name for himself as an author. Too bad, as this would have given him something to write about.

No. 9: 08/31/63, Wrigley Field. Hitter: Ellis Burton. Pitcher: Hal Woodeschick. Cubs 6, Colt .45s 5.

This one came in the ninth inning with two outs. If any video exists of this finale, I’d be willing to bet that Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse let loose with his heartiest “Hey, hey!” Ellis Burton hit only 17 home runs in five seasons as a part-timer. Appropriately, this blow came during the 1963 season, Burton’s best, when he hit 13.

No. 10: 08/02/70, Connie Mack Stadium. Hitter: Tony Taylor. Pitcher: Mike Davison. Phils 7, Giants 6.

I actually remember watching this one on television. Tony Taylor was the first Phillie to ever hit an ultimate grand slam, and he did it during the team’s final season in Connie Mack Stadium. Taylor connected with no one out in the ninth inning. Even though he was a longtime fan favorite in Philadelphia, he might not have been the most likely man on the roster to hit an ultimate grand slam. On this particular day, he was batting leadoff. Pitcher Mike Davison, however, was not the most worthy opponent. His record that year was just 3-5 with a 6.50 ERA. After 1970, there was no more major league baseball for Davison, and just one more season of Triple-A ball.

No. 11: 08-11-1970, Busch Stadium. Hitter: Carl Taylor. Pitcher: Ron Herbel. Cards 11, Padres 10.

Coming just nine days after Tony Taylor’s feat at Connie Mack Stadium, this one occurred with two outs in the ninth inning. Even more amazing: What are the odds of two guys named Taylor performing one of baseball’s rarest feats within such a short time span? The San Diego Padres probably weren’t pondering that when they made their way off the field in defeat. That season (only their second), the Padres were averaging just 4.2 runs per game (second from last in the league) on their way to a 63-99 record (last place in the NL West), so to score 10 runs and lose in the bottom of the ninth certainly qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. Ron Herbel, by the way, led the league in appearances that year, but don’t read too much into that. He gave up 14 home runs in 111 innings while with the Padres.

No. 12: 04/22/1973, Cleveland Stadium. Hitter: Ron Lolich. Pitcher: Sonny Siebert. Indians 8, Red Sox 7.

If you’re wondering if Ron Lolich is related to Mickey Lolich, the answer is yes, they are cousins. If you’re thinking this was probably the biggest home run of his career, that answer is also yes. Since he only hit four during his career, I feel I’m on pretty secure ground asserting that this dinger, coming with two outs in the ninth inning, was his biggest ever…even without doing any more research. Since Lolich came in as a pinch-hitter for Oscar Gamble, the DH, and then assumed the DH position, this blow went into the record books as the first ultimate grand slam by a DH. It came in the first game of a double-header; the Indians were unable to ride the momentum to victory in the second game, as the Bosox shook off the shell shock and won 5-2.

No. 13: 05/01/1979, Busch Stadium. Hitter: Roger Freed. Pitcher: Joe Sambito. Cards 7, Astros 6.

Roger Freed was certainly strong enough to hit the ball a long way. He just wasn’t a good enough hitter to do it often enough. A former MVP in the International League and the American Association, he couldn’t approach same in the big leagues. But on this day, with two out in the 11th inning, he came on strong after coming in as a pinch-hitter. He had achieved some renown with the Cardinals as a pinch-hitter, especially in 1977 when he hit .398 in limited duty. This blow, the next-to-last home run of his major league career, was off one of the best NL relievers, yet it did not prevent him from being demoted to Triple-A later in the 1979 season. After one more year at Triple-A in 1980 he retired. That ultimate slam was surely the highlight of his career and something he must have looked back on with pride. His retirement was relatively short, however, as he died of a heart condition at only 49 years of age.

No. 14: 04/13/83, Veterans Stadium. Hitter: Bo Diaz. Pitcher: Neil Allen. Phils 10,. Mets 9.

Bo Diaz had a couple of decent power years (18 HR, 85 RBIs in 1982; 15 HR, 64 RBIs in 1983) for the Phillies, so his hitting an ultimate grand slam (two outs in the ninth) is a pleasant surprise, not a shocker. It was all part of a memorable season for the Venezuelan backstop, as he also caught Steve Carlton’s 300th victory and hit .333 for the Phillies in the World Series. Diaz retired in 1989, but he had even less time to enjoy his retirement than Freed. He was killed in 1990 when his head and neck were crushed by a satellite dish he was adjusting at his home in Caracas.

No. 15: 08/31/1984, Arlington Stadium. Hitter: Buddy Bell. Pitcher: Pete Ladd. Rangers 7, Brewers 6.

Before Nolan Ryan came to the Rangers in 1989, it was difficult to say “baseball history” and “Arlington Stadium” in the same sentence. Buddy Bell’s ultimate slam with two out in the ninth was a rare piece of history in that facility. Then, just one month later, the Angels’ Mike Witt pitched a perfect game there.

No. 16: 04/13/1985, Kingdome. Hitter: Phil Bradley. Pitcher: Ron Davis. Mariners 8, Twins 7.

When you go 1-for-5, does that constitute a good day at the plate? Phil Bradley would probably say yes, even though his only hit of the day came on the game’s last swing of the bat, when he doubled his team’s run output with two outs in the ninth inning. Before the arrival of Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Ken Griffey Jr., the Kingdome was a pretty dull place, but on those rare occasions when it got lively, the concrete dome could make the noise deafening. I’m guessing the 24,676 on hand raised the decibel level considerably after Bradley went deep.

No. 17: 08/29/1986, Anaheim Stadium. Hitter: Dick Schofield. Pitcher: Willie Hernandez. Angels 13, Tigers 12.

When the visiting team has a 12-5 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, it probably has the game all but chalked up in the win column. As the home team whittles away at the lead, the visitors would probably get a bit nervous. Still, with a 12-9 lead, one out to go, and a premier closer like Willie Hernandez on the mound, the odds would still appear to be in your favor. After all, Dick Schofield was not known for power hitting. In fact, during his 14-year career, he was in double figures only one season. This was that season. By way of contrast, his dad (also named Dick Schofield) played 19 seasons in the majors and never hit more than three in one year.

No. 18: 06/21/1988, Tiger Stadium. Hitter: Alan Trammell. Pitcher: Cecilio Guante. Tigers 7, Yanks 6.

Hard to believe that as late as 1988, something could happen at Tiger Stadium that had never happened there before, but there it was. With two out in the ninth inning, Alan Trammell hit the one and only ultimate slam in the venerable old ballpark’s history—and over the Yankees, which made it that much sweeter. Since the Yanks had a 6-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, they probably weren’t expecting much pushback. Speaking of slugging and pushback, Trammell was one of the key players in that Diamondbacks-Dodgers brawl earlier this season.

No. 19: 05/17/1996, Camden Yards, Hitter: Chris Hoiles. Pitcher: Norm Charlton. Orioles 14, Mariners 13.

If you want to consider an ultimate slam with two outs as the ultimate-ultimate slam, then Chris Hoiles’ blast should be an ultimate-ultimate-ultimate, as it came with a full count and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Gotta love those something’s gotta give situations! The attendance was listed at 47,259 that day, and since the game lasted four hours and 20 minutes, I’m sure some of fans left early and have regretted it to this day.

No. 20: 07/29/2001, PNC Park. Hitter: Brian Giles. Pitcher: Billy Wagner. Pirates 9, Astros 8.

Some classic ballparks (e.g., Ebbets Field, Comiskey Park, Sportsman’s Park, Griffith Stadium) were born and died without ever witnessing an ultimate slam. Dodger Stadium, now in its second half-century, is still waiting. Fenway Park, now in its second century, is still waiting.

Then there’s Forbes Field, which had three. Fast-forwarding past Three Rivers Stadium, the Pirates then added a fourth at PNC Park in its inaugural year. Brian Giles’ historic blow came with two out in the ninth. The Astros had been in the lead, 8-2 w hen the Pirates rallied. Billy Wagner used to light up the radar gun at 100 on a regular basis, so I’m guessing Giles timed one of those fast balls just right. Less than a year later (on July 6, 2002, to be exact), the Astros made some grand slam history of their own at PNC Park when Daryle Ward hit one during a 10-2 rout of the Pirates. Ward’s blast was not only the first grand slam to land in the Allegheny River on the fly, it was the first-ever home run to land in the drink sans bounce.

No. 21: 05/17/2002, Yankee Stadium. Hitter: Jason Giambi. Pitcher: Mike Trombley. Yanks 13, Twins 12.

Giambi is the oldest active player with an ultimate slam on his resume. He also has the distinction of ending the longest game in the annals of ultimate slams. His long ball came with one out in the 14th inning. The game lasted five hours and 45 minutes and there’s no telling how many of the 39,420 were still around when Giambi went yard. Even so, I’m guessing the subway cars leaving the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium station were unusually festive on that particular Saturday morning. The Yankees won 103 games that year, but I’ll wager none had a more dramatic finish than this one.

No. 22: 06/30/2006, Great American Ballpark. Hitter: Adam Dunn. Pitcher: Bob Wickman. Reds 9, Indians 8.

No surprise that Adam Dunn would go deep to end a ball game (in this case with two outs in the ninth), but there is an historic footnote to this one, as it was the first (and to date the only) interleague ultimate slam. It was not, however, the first intrastate home run. The first was No. 7, which pitted the Pirates against the Phillies. So I guess you could say it was the first intrastate interleague ultimate slam.

No. 23: 05/20/2010, Turner Field. Hitter: Brooks Conrad. Pitcher: Francisco Cordero. Braves 10, Reds 9.

When the Reds took the field in the bottom of the ninth, they were ahead 9-3. Then the roof caved in, culminating with Brooks Conrad’s slam with one out. Well, Georgia’s best known fictional female, Scarlett O’Hara, was renowned for her “Tomorrow is another day” philosophy. On this day in Atlanta, it was a particularly apt, as the Reds put the loss behind them, moved on to Cleveland, and beat the Indians by a 7-4 score the next day. Brooks Conrad might seem an unlikely candidate for grand slam heroics, but he was enjoying a career year (for him) in 2010, as he finished with a .250 average, eight home runs, and 33 RBIs in 156 at-bats.

No. 24: 07/07/2011, Progressive Field. Hitter: Travis Hafner. Pitcher: Luis Perez. Indians 5, Jays 4.

With one out in bottom of the ninth, pitcher Luis Perez sees lead-footed Travis Hafner coming to bat and thinks, “Best case scenario: game ending double play.” (I guess we could coin an acronym here: GEGIDP.) Perez might not have been thinking worst case scenario…until it happened.

No. 25: 08/16/2011, Minute Maid Park. Hitter: Brian Bogusevic. Pitcher: Carlos Marmol. Astros 6, Cubs 5.

The Astros had been on the losing end of a couple of these ultimate slams, so it was about time they finally won one, in this case with one out in the ninth inning. The perpetrator, Brian Bogusevic, was a first-round pick in 2005. After hitting .287 in 2011, he appeared to have a future with the Astros, but after a .203 season in 2012, the Astros let him go. The Cubs signed him and sent him to Triple-A Des Moines. On June 25, 2013, the Cubs brought him up from Triple-A Des Moines. To make room for him, Carlos Marmol, who served up the slam to Bogusevic, was designated for assignment. Curses, foiled again!

No. 26: 09/27/2011, Chase Field. Hitter: Ryan Roberts. Pitcher: Javy Guerra. D-backs 7, Dodgers 6.

Since it was late in the season, I don’t know if the roof was open or closed at Chase Field, but I’m guessing that after Ryan Roberts went yard with two outs in the 10th inning, the 25,669 fans really raised the roof, figuratively speaking. Then again, it was the next-to-last game of the season on a Tuesday night, so I’m guessing the crowd was smaller than announced.

Roberts really tattooed that one…but if you’ve ever seen Roberts, you’d know that “tattooed” could be an adjective as well as the past tense of a verb. It was a fitting end to Roberts’ season, as the home run, his 19th, was the most he’s ever hit in a season, and 2011 was the only season in which he had enough at-bats to qualify for a bating title. Since the Diamondbacks had already clinched the NL West title, the game was meaningless. Still, you couldn’t ask for a more meaningful ending to a meaningless game.

So there were three ultimate slams in 2011. Just when you thought ultimate slams were becoming commonplace, they became rare. We had none in 2012 and so far 2013 has also been barren.

Given the paucity of home runs during the first two decades of the 20th century, it is not surprising that no ultimate slams were recorded. But with the livelier ball in the next three decades, it is surprising that only one was hit in the 1920s, only one in the 1930s, and none in the 1940s. Of course, there were only 16 teams playing 154 games each in those days, so there were fewer opportunities. Even so, one would expect more than two ultimate slams in three decades.

Things picked up in the 1950s with five, then the 1960s gave us just one in 1963. After a gap of almost seven years, two occurred within nine days of each other in August of 1970. There were five in the 1980s but just one in the following decade. With seven in the 21st century, we are arguably in the golden age of the ultimate grand slam. We’ll have to wait another 87 years to see if that observation is borne out.

Before the day is done, No. 27 may be ready to add to the above list. Or there may be none in 2013…or 2014. But there will be more. So far, there have been none in the postseason, but that will change some day, maybe in October 2013 or maybe later…maybe much later.

Conspicuous by their absence are the Rays, Marlins, Royals, Nationals and Rockies, who have never been involved, as winners or losers, in a game that ended with an ultimate grand slam. All are expansion teams, but the Royals and Expos/Nationals have been around since 1969, so they are due.

As the above examples demonstrate, anyone can be a home run hero. The ultimate slammers run the gamut from members of the Hall of Fame to journeymen to rookies to back benchers. Anyone wielding a bat in the bottom of the ninth (or later) with his team down by three and the bases loaded may have a date with destiny.

I guess we could come up with a variation on the above involving games wherein the home team goes ahead by one on a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth, holds the opponent scoreless in the top of the ninth, and doesn’t need to come up to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Penultimate grand slams!

Research, anyone?

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Comments

  1. Marc Schneider said...

    Cool article.  I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the “ultimate grand slam” and I’m actually a little surprised there have been as many as there have been.  I saw the Brooks Conrad home run on TV and the left fielder nearly caught the ball as it hit off his glove; Conrad, in fact, thought he had caught it and threw his hands up in disgust and started to run back to the dugout before the coach told him to go ahead and run. Can you imagine the chaos if he had kept on going back to the dugout and nullifed the home run?  So it was an even more bizarre ending than a normal ultimate grand slam but, as a Braves fan, one of the great endings.

  2. Jim C. said...

    I was in the house for No. 19.  Unquestionably the greatest regular season game I ever attended.  Second place would be either (a) Cal Ripken’s last game or (b) the game at Memorial Stadium when Bo Jackson ran sideways across the outfield wall.

  3. Dave Cornutt said...

    I’m surprised to only see one inside-the-park job on the list.  I would have thought there would be more from the large-ballpark days and especially the dead-ball era.

  4. fenderbelly said...

    I just want to say that this sort of article is why THT is so great. Really interesting reading and I’m sure it took a lot of work. Thank you Frank.

  5. chuck motl said...

    There is a “phantom” GS missing from your list.  During the early 70’s, the NY Yankees were leading the Milwaukee Brewers 9-6 in the bottom of the 9th.  Don Money hit a walk-off GS and as the Brewers left the field, a rhubarb ensued.

    Billy Martin stormed the field and claimed that he had called time out as the pitch was being delivered.  Ultimately the 2nd base umpire agreed and the teams were called back from their respective clubhouses.  MIL lost.

  6. Nick said...

    I have also attended one, but it was in the minor leagues. Colorado Springs, but I wouldn’t be able to come up with a date. When you think you’ve seen everything, you see something new.

  7. Anon said...

    A few notes on the last game, the Ryan Roberts game:
    - that HR was in the 10th. You may wonder how a GS can win by 1 in extras on a GS – that would be because the DBacks gave up 5 in the top of the 10th. 5.
    - the 1st 2 hitters in the bottom of the 10th made outs so the DBacks were down 5 with 2 outs in the bottom of the 10th and won.
    - that GS made a winner out of Micah Owings. . . .who gave up all of the aforementioned 5 int he top of the 10th. Can’t be many pitchers in history who gave up 5 in extra innings and got a W out of it.
    - Roberts punctuated his HR trot with a point to Kirk Gibson in the dugout and a Gibson inspired fist pump (like GIbby in the 1988 Series).
    - while the NL West was wrapped up, home field with the Brewers was still up in the air
    - yes I saw the game, why do you ask?

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