The grand slam … unusual, yet fun

With Travis Hafner leading the charge, grand slams have been hit at an alarming rate so far this season.

Originally Published: August 17, 2006
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

As we wait for the Indians' Travis Hafner to hit his record seventh grand slam of the season, we take a cursory look at the grand slam. Nothing official, complete or laborious, but we've found the topic of grand slams comes with more questions than answers, and with more than its share of surprises and oddities, which is why grand slams are so much fun.

Hafner's six slams ties him for the most in a season with Don Mattingly, who never hit another slam in any other season of his career. How strange is that? Through Monday, there had been 98 grand slams hit this year, one every 18 games. This year is on pace for 136 slams, which would be the fourth most ever. In 2000, there were 175 slams, one every 14 games. So why then have there been 77 All-Star Games and only one All-Star grand slam: Fred Lynn off Atlee Hammaker in 1983? Does anyone else find that unusual?

Most single-season grand slams
 Travis Hafner
Hafner
Travis Hafner has hit six grand slam in 2006, and has 35 home runs overall and 105 RBI on the season.
6 Travis Hafner, Indians, 2006
6 Don Mattingly, Yankees, 1987
5 Jim Gentile, Orioles, 1961
5 Ernie Banks, Cubs, 1955
4 Nine players tied
What is the most famous grand slam of all time? Think about it. Not one jumps to mind. Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Carter, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Thomson -- none of those unforgettable home runs came with the bases loaded. You might think of 50 memorable home runs before you get to a grand slam. There have been 592 World Series games played, and there have been only 18 grand slams, or one every 33 games. Only one grand slam has ever been hit in the clinching game of a World Series, and Moose Skowron's seventh-inning shot in 1956 took the Yankees' 5-0 lead to 9-0. Ken Boyer's sixth-inning slam in Game 4 (the series went seven games) was big in 1964, Kent Hrbek's sixth-inning slam in Game 6 in 1987 was huge and Paul Konerko's seventh-inning slam in Game 2 last year erased a 4-2 deficit, and helped the White Sox to a sweep. But none of those slams was so gigantic that it will be etched in our minds forever.

The men who hit the most grand slams are, in most cases, the usual suspects. Lou Gehrig is the all-time leader with 23. Manny Ramirez is second with 20, followed by Eddie Murray (19), Willie McCovey (19) and Robin Ventura (19). Ventura hit 294 homers in his career, but 19 slams is an awful lot for 294 total home runs considering that Willie Mays (fourth all-time with 660 home runs) hit only eight grand slams and Duke Snider (407 career home runs) hit five, which means that Mets second baseman Jose Valentin has one more slam than Mays and four more than Snider. As a Met in 1999, Ventura became the only player to hit a grand slam in both games of a doubleheader. Another third baseman, Bill Mueller of the Red Sox in 2003, became the only player to hit grand slams from both sides of the plate in the same game. But neither of those third basemen hit three slams in one month as Mike Blowers did in 1995.

McCovey holds the record for consecutive years (nine) with a grand slam, followed by eight straight seasons by Ramirez and Tino Martinez, whose streaks covered the same years: 1995-2002. Two other first basemen, Cecil Fielder and Gil Hodges, hit grand slams in seven straight years. And yet another first baseman, Glenn Davis, holds the major league record for most career homers (190) without a grand slam. Derek Jeter, David Bell and Jason Varitek might have eventually approached that record, but they all hit grand slams in a four-month span last season. None of outfielder Claudell Washington's 164 home runs was a grand slam, but he's one of a small group of players in history who hit three home runs in a game in each league. Ozzie Smith holds the record for most career at-bats (9,396) without a slam. Pete Rose batted 14,053 times, and hit one grand slam -- off Dallas Green, who later became his manager with the Phillies.

How about this? For the first 98 years of the National League, only one player hit two grand slams in one game, and he was a pitcher: Atlanta's Tony Cloninger on July 3, 1966. The next NL player to do it was the Cardinals' Fernando Tatis, and he hit his two grand slams in the same inning off the same pitcher, Chan Ho Park, in 1999.

That means that Park gave up two more grand slams in one inning than Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer gave up in 3,948 career innings (I once asked Palmer about the closest he came to giving up a slam, and 25 years after it happened he recounted, almost pitch for pitch, loading the bases in Cleveland in the mid-70's, Rico Carty hitting a ball over the center-field fence and Al Bumbry reaching over the fence to catch it). Pitchers Gary Peters and Joaquin Andujar never gave up a grand slam either, but they each hit one. Last year, Braves reliever Joey Devine became the first pitcher in history to allow a grand slam in each of his first two major league appearances. And who has allowed the most grand slams in his career? Only the hardest pitcher to hit of all time, Nolan Ryan, with 10.

One of Ryan's former teams, the Mets, this year became the first team in history to hit four grand slams in a five-day span. They hit six slams in July, tying the 1996 Expos and the 1999 Indians for the most grand slams in one month. The Twins hit five slams in June -- making this the first year in history that two teams hit five slams in a month in the same year.

None of this really means anything, it's just baseball at its fun, strange, goofy statistical best. But when Travis Hafner hits his seventh grand slam of the season, we need to celebrate it properly. And chances are Hafner, unlike Mattingly, will hit another in his career. But with grand slams, you never know.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.