This annotated week in baseball history: Aug. 19-25, 1938

On Aug. 20, 1938, Lou Gehrig hit his 23rd and final grand slam. Today, Richard looks at some of the all-time leaders in that category. Here’s everything you want to know in grand slam trivia.

Given all the other associations that come with Lou Gehrig—his consecutive games streak, the disease that bears his name, the “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium—it is not a surprise that his accomplishments on the field are sometimes overlooked. Gehrig is a Hall of Fame talent, of course, a career .340 hitter (.361 in the World Series) and a man who likely fell short of 500 HRs and perhaps 3,000 hits only because of his illness.

When it comes to Gehrig’s feats on the field, my preference is one based on just 23 of the 493 home runs in “Biscuit Pants’” career. These were no ordinary 23 home runs; they make up Gehrig’s entire collection of grand slams. They are also the most ever hit in a career.

Gehrig’s record is partially a testament to his teammates, of course, although it is odd to think of a Yankee-related home run accomplishment that is based on Babe Ruth not hitting a homer, since the Bambino was typically just ahead of Gehrig in the batting order. (Ruth had 16 career grannies, good for eighth all-time.)

Behind Gehrig on the list is Manny Ramirez, who has knocked 20 grand slams. Ramirez is the same age this season as Gehrig was in his last, but lacking the latter’s durability, he has come to the plate more than 1,300 fewer times. His ratio in slams-to-plate-appearances is therefore better. I don’t think slams-per-PA will ever replace total slams in the popular imagination, so Gehrig is safe for the moment.

Ramirez is the only active player close to Gehrig’s total. Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. both have 15. Mike Piazza and Richie Sexson come in at 14 each, but those are the only other actives in the top 15. Barring a late-season tear by Ramirez, it appears Gehrig will remain on top for another year, a remarkable run.

Of course, sheer number of grand slams is not the only notable measurement. The single season record belongs to Don Mattingly and Travis Hafner. Mattingly set his record in 1987 with six. Somewhat improbably, they were the only six of Donnie Baseball’s career. Hafner tied the record just last season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hafner hit his during a stretch when he belted five home runs in eight times at-bat with the bases loaded. During his record setting season, Mattingly never hit more than four over eight bases-jucied ABs.

Individual game grand slams bring out even more records. Fernando Tatis holds what is probably my favorite record (no, really, I wrote it about it for my first blog ever, on my old site), which he set by hitting two grand slams in an inning. Incredibly, they both were off the same pitcher, the unfortunate in question being Chan Ho Park. For my money the blame falls on manager Davey Johnson for not taking a guy who obviously had nothing out of the game.

The other most notable two slammer—it’s a short list; Bill Mueller is the last guy—is pitcher Tony Cloninger. Cloninger was a relatively good-hitting pitcher, with a career OPS of .482. July 3, 1966 was the offensive day of his life. He he hit a first inning grand slam against Bob Priddy and a fourth inning granny off Ray Sadecki.

Good-hitting pitcher or not, Cloninger’s July 3 still represents nearly 20% of his career homers and 12% of his career RBIs. Incidentally, Cloninger also pitched pretty well that day, allowing just three runs while throwing a complete game. One of those runs came on a home run off the bat of Sadecki.

Debut grand slams are also worthy of note, as only three players have achieved the feat. In 1898 a pitcher, Bill Duggleby, hit a grand slam in his first major league at-bat, the first player to do that. More than 100 years would pass before another man would reach such lofty heights; Jeremy Hermida slugged a grand slam in his first at-bat for the Marlins in 2005.

So how long would the baseball world have to wait for another such feat? Well, not long. In 2006 Kevin Kouzmanoff (great name) of the Padres hit a grand slam in his first at-bat. That means an event happened once in the period 1898-2004, and then twice in the period 2005-06. I don’t know what that means, but I’ll be keeping my eye out to see if it happens again this year.

Finally, no writing on grand slams would be complete without discussing Robin Ventura. Ventura was for many years the active leader in grand slams, and remains tied for fourth (with Willie McCovey) on the list today. Ventura is also scattered all around the lists of grand slam trivia. He joins Cloninger on the list of players with two grand slams in one game, having hit his pair in September of 1995 for the White Sox.

Ventura was not content with that bit of trivia, and created more for himself on May 20, 1999. In the opening game of a double-header while playing for the Mets, Ventura hit a first inning grand slam off of Jim Abbott. In the nightcap, Ventura did it again, this time socking a fourth inning granny off Horacio Estrada. He remains the only player to homer with the bases full in both games of a doubleheader.

Finally, there is perhaps the most famous of all Robin’s grand slams, the one that isn’t. In the 1999 NLCS, Ventura smacked a Kevin McGlinchy pitch over the right field wall at Shea with the bases loaded, giving the Mets a walk-off win. Ventura was picked up between first and second base by his jubilant teammates, meaning he never actually got home. Officially, the then-active leader in grand slams, having just hit the first postseason walk-off grand slam in history, was credited with a single.

Funny how life works out sometimes.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

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