Del Crandall's Sayonara Slam
Del Crandall’s Sayonara Slam: On September 10, 1881 (that’s 129 years ago yesterday), the Troy Trojans beat the Worcester Brown Stockings (or Ruby Legs, as they were also known) by a score of 8-7. The teams (let alone the game) remain unremarkable in baseball history (the Trojans and Brown Stockings were only in the National League for a few years each), except that — at least so far as anyone can tell — the game’s last frame was marked by a baseball rarity called a “Sayonara Slam.” A “Sayonara Slam” is not simply a home run that ends the game (nor is it simply “a Japanese home run”), but a blast that comes in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded. On September 10 of 1881, the first Sayonara Slam in major league history (so far as we know) was registered when Hall of Famer Roger Conner (a lifetime batting average of .316) came to bat for the Trojans with two outs in the 9th. With the bases loaded and the Trojans trailing 7-4, Conner (the leading home run hitter of the 19th century), parked the baseball beyond the centerfield fence — and the Trojans won, 8-7.
Let’s be clear: while it’s not known when or how the term Sayonara Slam first came into use, its most proper definition is of a player who bats in the last inning with the bases loaded, two out, with his team down by three runs — and hits a grand slam home run to win the game. Oddly, the last recorded “Sayonara Slam” (to say a hit is a “Sayonara grand slam” is redundant, don’tchaknow), took place in Japan on July 18 of this year, when the Yokahama BayStars victimized the Yomiuri Giants in the bottom of the 9th with a “gyaku-ten sayonara” — a game ending grand slam home run (and get this: former Nats’ wannabe Termel Sledge, playing for the BayStars, hit a home run to bring his team within three). It doesn’t appear that regular stats are kept of Sayonara Slams (or, at least, I can’t find it), but we know that the Phillies’ Bo Diaz hit one against the Mets on April 13, 1983 — which, according to an entry in his biography, was only the 11th in baseball history. The Diaz blast won the game for the Phillies, 10-9.
Perhaps the most memorable Sayonara Slam came on September 11, 1958 — when Milwaukee Braves tough guy Del Crandall came to the plate with the bases loaded against the no account Phillies, who were then mired in a century long slump. Milwaukee had entered the final frame of the first game of a doubleheader at County Stadium behind 4-0, with their hopes of a win fading fast. Which was a surprise, because Milwaukee ace Lew Burdette had pitched a tight game, giving up only a few hits to the Ponies. Even so, the scoreboard at Milwaukee County Stadium told the tale. With Milwaukee in the pennant race, the game was seen as key to the Braves’ hopes for another appearance in the World Series. With nobody out in the final half-frame, Milwaukee bopper Johnny Logan tripled before Eddie Mathews fouled out, but Logan scored from third. Score: 4-1. Henry Aaron then reached on a single, George Crowe made an out, but the next two batters — Chuck Tanner and Bennie Taylor — were able to reach base on wounded duck hits. The bases were loaded with two out when Crandall came to the plate. The savvy backstop worked the count to 3-2, but then launched his grand slam into the bleachers in left field: it was a perfect (a classic) three-and-two, two outs, bases loaded “Sayonara Slam.” Final Score: Braves 5, Phillies 4.
Crandall is an interesting story. The California native wasn’t a great hitter, but Hank Aaron called him “a hell of a defensive catcher.” He might have been the best defensive catcher of his time: he won four gold gloves, made eight All Star appearances, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (which did not seem to harm his career). He hit home runs for Milwaukee in their two World Series’ appearances — in 1957 and 1958. Crandall became somewhat of a legend for being a tough talking no-nonsense player . On the first batter of the first game he caught for the Braves (who were then in Boston) he was ejected by umpire Jocko Conlan for questioning Conlan’s called balls on the first two pitches from the Braves’ pitcher. Conlan came out from behind Crandall, stooped over the plate with his brush, and then looked Crandall in the eye. “Ain’t no busher gonna come up here and tell me how to call a game,” he told him. Crandall eyed Conlan and shook his head. “You can shove your ‘busher,’” he said. And Conlan tossed him.