Final at-bats of the great sluggers

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.”

Carl Yastrzemski
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.

Jose Canseco
Twins 6, White Sox 5: October
6, 2001
: Canseco pinch hits for catcher Mark Johnson in the top of the
ninth and hits a fly ball to center fielder Torii Hunter.

Dave Winfield
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.

Carlos Delgado
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.

Willie Stargell
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.

Stan Musial
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.

Fred McGriff
Orioles 5, Devil Rays 4: July 15,
2004
: McGriff grounds out to second baseman in the bottom of the sixth to
end an 0-3 day, with one strikeout, and is replaced at dh by Damian Rolls.

Lou Gehrig
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.

Eddie Murray
Rockies 2, Dodgers 1: September
20, 1997
: Murray pinch hits for pitcher Antonio Osuna in the bottom of the
ninth and grounds into a 5-4-3 double play to end the game.

Gary Sheffield
Nationals 7, Mets 4: September
30, 2009
: Sheffield pinch hits for pitcher Tim Redding in the bottom of the
ninth and is intentionally walked.

Mel Ott
Cardinals 4, Giants 3: July 11,
1947
: Ott, the Giants’ player-manager, pinch hits for pitcher Larry Jansen
late in the game and goes 0-1 on a ground out to an unknown infielder.

The “R” in WAR
How a person can be a hero by being a zero.

Eddie Mathews
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.

Ernie Banks
Phillies 5, Cubs 1: September
26, 1971
: Banks pops out to third baseman Deron Johnson in the bottom of
the eighth to end a 1-3 day, with one walk.

Frank Thomas
Twins 12, A’s 2: August
29, 2008
: Thomas strikes out swinging against pitcher Craig Breslow in the
bottom of the eighth to end a 2-4 day, with one run scored.

Ted Williams
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.

Willie McCovey
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.

Jimmie Foxx
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.)

Mickey Mantle
Yankees 4, Red Sox 3: September
28, 1968
: Mantle pops out to shortstop Rico Petrocelli in the top of the
first and is replaced at first base by Andy Kosco.

Mike Schmidt
Giants 8, Phillies 5: May 28,
1989
: Schmidt draws a walk from Mike LaCoss to load the bases in the bottom
of the ninth to end an 0-3 game, with two walks.

Reggie Jackson
White Sox 5, A’s 2: October
4, 1987
: Jackson singles to center fielder Ken Williams in the top of the
eighth to end a 2-3 game, with an rbi, walk, and double.

Rafael Palmeiro
Blue Jays 7, Orioles 2: August
30, 2005
: Palmeiro strikes out looking against Jason Frasor in the top of
the eighth to end an 0-4 game, with two strikeouts.

Harmon Killebrew
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.

Mark McGwire
Astros 9, Cardinals 2: October
7, 2001
: McGwire pinch hits for center fielder Jim Edmonds in the bottom of
the ninth and hits a fly ball to center fielder Glen Barker.

Frank Robinson
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.

Sammy Sosa
Rangers 3, Indians 1: July 31,
2007
: Sosa hits a grounder to third baseman Casey Blake for the forceout at
second, in the top of the eighth, and ends an 0-3 day, with one hit by pitch.

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.

Willie Mays
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.

Babe Ruth
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.

Hank Aaron
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.

Barry Bonds
Padres 11, Giants 3: September
26, 2007
: Bonds hits a fly ball to center fielder Brady Clark in the bottom
of the sixth and ends an 0-3 day. Bonds is replaced by Fred Lewis in left
field.

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
Single: 5
Walk: 2
Homer: 1
Sacrifice fly: 1


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steve
Guest
steve

when I see the name yaz with these real sluggers, I think of a player who had the luck of playing in a small ballpark for a very long time. his home/road splits. Add in the fact he hung on the last 5 years due to an owner who loved him, yawkey.

Danny Wind
Guest
Danny Wind

Mathews and McGwire would both bat in the postseason following the games listed here. McGwire struck out in his final at-bat (and was then pinch-hit for by Kerry Robinson!), but Mathews managed to draw a walk in his final time up.

author
Guest
author

Forgot about the Cardinals even being in the 2001 playoffs, and I somehow thought Mathews was not on the Tigers’ Series roster in 1968. Mathews’ last game was game 4, vs. Bob Gibson. McGwire was terrible in that ALDS vs. Arizona, 1-11, and 0-3, three swinging strikeouts, in his last game, vs. Curt Schilling.

Jackson
Guest
Jackson

Why diss Yaz – the last Triple Crown winner since 1967?  A handful on the list played into their 40’s – with not too many HR’s coming in the later years.  He belongs on the list way more than six known steroid users on there!!!!

Adam Hardy
Guest
Adam Hardy

McGwire went 1 for 11 in the 2001 NLDS against the Diamondbacks. In game five, he was 0-3 with three strikeouts (all swinging).  In what was to be his next plate appearance, he was lifted for a pinch hitter…Kerry Robinson (career 69 OPS+).  Now THAT’s a lesson in humility!

zubin
Guest
zubin

Well, I guess there is a reason these guys were ready to retire.

Steve Treder
Guest
Steve Treder

Fun stuff, an interesting piece.

Philip
Guest
Philip
During his first decade as a player, Carl Yastrzemski won three batting titles, the major’s last Triple Crown and drove in more runs in American League play than any player except Harmon Killebrew. He lead the league in slugging percentage three times and on-base percentage in five seasons. Yaz had been named to five All-Star squads, won five Gold Gloves, an league MVP award and led the Red Sox to their first pennant in 21 years. From 1971-1978, the Red Sox were contenders year after year as Yaz continued his climb up the ladder on the all-time batting lists. Characterized… Read more »
steve
Guest
steve
looks like the redsox player protectors come out in full force. “how dare anyone besmirch the all mighty slugger yaz” (.462 career slugging). yaz didn’t do much of significance other than the 63 batting title before 67. He played on a pretty stacked lineup the second part of his career. Rice was not that bad at playing the short wall in fenways leftfield. yaz finishing out at first and as dh his numbers pale compared to other players at that position. (the word) Belting??? 36 homeruns in 1000 ab’s is like 1 every 28 or say 30, hardly a slugger.… Read more »
steve
Guest
steve

last 5 years homers by yaz was actually, 69 homers in 2,352 at bats. do the math.
and 5 years out of 23 a slugging average over .500

Philip
Guest
Philip
As I said… ‘‘Yaz belted 36 homeruns in 1004 at-bats, hit .286 and slugged .459 at Fenway in those ‘last 5 years.’’‘ ‘‘AT FENWAY.’’ … ‘‘AT FENWAY.’’ … ‘‘AT FENWAY.’‘ Steve, look at the Boston roster, 1979-83. Who do YOU play in Yaz’s place AND get the Red Sox more wins? Not other teams’ DH. But with what the RED SOX had at their disposal at the end of the 1978 season. You claimed Jean Yawkey only kept Yaz around out of ‘love.’ So, go ahead. Put Nichols, Poquette, Dwyer, Nichols or Hancock in his place and try to improve… Read more »
Cliff Blau
Guest
Cliff Blau

Yaz career HR:  Home 237, Road 215
not a big split

OPS+ last five years: 108, 116, 95, 110, 106
Doesn’t look like hanging on to me. 3.7 WAR those years.

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