First of all, I want to apologize for the many typos in yesterday’s post. I wrote it in some haste and to a tight deadline, owing to an early-evening recording session. Also, my editor – namely me – edits like Emilio Bonifacio plays second base, i.e. clumsily.
I also want to apologize in advance to those of you who are jazz fans rather than ball fans, because I’ll probably be writing mostly about baseball the next little while, for a number of reasons. First of all, ’tis the season – it’s October, when the most meaningful games are played, after a 162-game marathon just to determine the dance-partners. And I’ve neglected baseball for quite a while, and have heard about this from readers who are baseball fans. You can’t please everybody, not even if you try.
Also, a string of recently published idiotic articles and other items about jazz have set my head to spinning and left me wanting to take a rest from it for a while, rather than use what’s left of my energy to respond, which is a waste of time. (These items include the New Yorker Sonny Rollins “spoof” which backfired badly, Justin Moyer’s moronic “jazz hit-piece” in The Washington Post, which basically stated that jazz isn’t any good because he doesn’t like or understand it, and John Halle’s piece in a leftist rag called Jacobin, which more or less said that jazz isn’t important anymore because it has lost its counter-culture appeal and political relevancy, whatever that means. Gee, and I thought it was music to be listened to and enjoyed, silly me. Then came the news that Annie Lenox – who’s singing I actually really like – will be the latest pop star to make an arriviste “jazz album” in her later years, on Blue Note, no less. And she’ll be doing “Strange Fruit”, which she stated in an interview is a really dark song about lynching and racism….. Really? I hadn’t noticed, I’ll have to give Billie Holiday’s version another listen. Then there’s the recent release of “Blue” by a band called Mostly Other People Do the Killing, a down-to-the-last-detail, note-for-note recreation of “Kind of Blue”, which shows a lot of faux-intellectualism, nerdy effort and initiative on their part, but begs the question “why?” As in, where’s the jazz, the originality, the improvisation? Either some of these people have to get out more, or I have to stay in more.
Anyway, the focused cluster-fuck effect of all this has seized up my jazz brain and driven me away from writing about it for a time, while I collect my thoughts, what’s left of them. In the meantime, baseball, and for all you jazz fans who subscribe to these posts and couldn’t care less about the game, just hit the delete button and I’ll be back to jazz eventually.
If the epic and hyperactive A.L. wild card playoff game between the Royals and A’s resembled War and Peace, then the N.L playoff game which the Giants won 8-0 over the Pirates last night was as simple and minimal as haiku :
Bumgarner was God,
Crawford’s slam left in a rush,
As did Bucco fans.
Really, that was it. Madison Bumgarner pitched lights-out baseball, Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam in the fourth inning to make it 4-0 Giants and that was all she wrote. By the time I tuned in, it was 5-0 in the seventh inning and the Giants tacked on three more meaningless runs, but the game was for all intents and purposes over in the fourth inning. Baseball seems like a really simple game when someone pitches as masterfully as the Bummer did last night. I’ve seen pitchers throwing no-hitters who were less dominant than he was, the Pirates couldn’t do a thing with him. They managed four dinky singles and one walk, didn’t have more than one base-runner in any inning until the eighth, when the Giants made two cheap errors. He threw 109 pitches in going the distance, 79 of them strikes. The thing was though, the 30 pitches that weren’t strikes were just as deadly as the ones that were, the Pittsburgh hitters just chose to lay off those ones, their only small victory. I felt terrible for the Pirates and their fans, but in a must-win game up against a pitcher like this with a big lead, there’s absolutely nothing you can do but glumly turn in your 27 outs and go home.
Late in the game, or maybe just after it, came the surprising announcement that while grand slams have been hit by players at every other position in post-season history, Crawford’s was the first ever by a shortstop, dating all the way back to 1903, the year of the first World Series.
It’s often been said that in watching any given baseball game, you stand a chance of seeing something that’s never happened before, and this is true. Just in case though, baseball has a guy with a huge main-frame in a hollowed-out cave on the side of a mountain somewhere, churning out new stats or wrinkles, such as, “That was the first time a player with the middle name of Morris has been hit by a pitch in a Thursday afternoon game.” Or, “That pinch-hit double was the first ever by a hitter using someone’s else’s batting gloves”. And on and on.
Sometimes they’re legit and truly amazing though, like this Crawford grand slam business. Think of it, thousands of post-season games, and this was the first ever by a shortstop. Then I got to wondering if it really was that statistically odd. I mean, grand slams aren’t all that common anyway and until recently, shortstops as a group have generally been among the weaker hitters in the game. Then I realized that post-season history includes all sorts of pitchers hitting, both pre- and post-DH, and that they definitely have been the weakest hitters as a group, so this was a real statistical anomaly.
This morning, my inner baseball nerd got to wondering: Just how much of an anomaly? How many grand slams have been hit in post-season history, and what is the breakdown, position-by-position? I had to know and this is what the Internet was made for, it was fairly easy to find out the answers.
My research and math may be a little off, but as far as I can tell, not counting Crawford’s last night, there have been 57 grand slams hit in the post-season – 18 in the World Series itself, and 39 in the various and more recent playoff series – the LDS and LCS of each league.
Between 1903 and 1968, the post-season was the World Series and only the World Series, so it stands to reason that WS grand slams are a little more rare. The first one was hit in the 1920 Series by a Cleveland Indians outfielder named Elmer Smith and was overshadowed later in the game when his teammate, shortstop Bill Wambsganss, turned an unassisted triple play (as it turned out and not surprisingly, the only one ever in Series play.) The next Series grand slam didn’t come until 1936, by Yankees second baseman Tony Lazzeri. The first National League one wasn’t hit until Chuck Hiller, a second baseman for the S.F. Giants, bopped one in 1962.
Not surprisingly, outfielders and first basemen have led the way in WS grand slams. I’m not going to separate outfielders into right, centre and left, I have neither the time or patience for this. Here are the breakdowns by position : Six by outfielders (Elmer Smith, Mickey Mantle, Jim Northrup, Dan Gladden, Jose Canseco, Lonnie Smith.) Five by first basemen (Moose Skowron, Joe Pepitone, Kent Hrbek, Tino Martinez and Paul Konerko. The surprise here is not so much that three of them were Yankees, but that Lou Gehrig wasn’t one of them.) Surprisingly, four by second baseman (Lazzeri, Gil McDougald, Bobby Richardson and Hiller. It’s hard to say whether McDougald hit his in 1951 when playing second base or third because he played both positions in that Series, but I’m guessing second base because he played a little more there that year.) Oddly enough, only one by a third baseman – Ken Boyer, for the Cardinals in 1964. The only catcher to hit a grand slam in the Series is Yogi Berra – who else would you expect? When it comes to pitchers, it gets really bizarre. There have been two post-season grand slams hit by pitchers, one in the WS and one in the ALCS. Both came in 1970 and were hit by Baltimore Orioles’ pitchers – Mike Cuellar off Jim Perry of the Twins in the ALCS and, a few days later, Dave McNally, off Wayne Granger of the Reds in the Series. Only in baseball. So that’s 18 WS slams, zero by shortstops.
Outside of the World Series, there have been 39 October grand slams hit, before Crawford’s last night. One by a pitcher – Cuellar. Two by catchers – Eddie Perez and Buster Posey. Six by first basemen – Will Clark, Andres Galarraga, Adam LaRoche, Lance Berkman, James Loney and Paul Goldschmidt. Three by second basemen – Edgardo Alfonzo, Kaz Matsui and Robinson Cano. Six by third basemen (that’s more like it!) – Ron Cey, Bobby Bonilla, Gary Gaetti, Robin Ventura, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Roberts. Fifteen by outfielders – Dusty Baker, Ron Gant, Albert Belle, Devon White (yay!), Paul O’Neill, Ryan Klesko, Troy O’Leary, Ricky Ledee, Vladimir Guerrero, Johnny Damon, Reggie Sanders, J.D. Drew, Shane Victorino (2) and Nelson Cruz. Five have been hit by designated hitters – Don Baylor, Edgar Martinez, Jim Thome (2) and David Ortiz. This is kind of a grey area though. All of these came in A.L. playoff series and these guys generally were DHs, but Baylor played some first base, Martinez some third base, and Thome both third and first base, so it’s possible these slams came when they were playing one of those positions in a game. There has been only one October grand slam by a pinch-hitter – Mark Lewis of the Reds, against the Dodgers in the 1995 NLDS. The only sure thing is that none of these guys was a shortstop.
So, after 111 years of post-season play (not counting 1904 and 1994, when there was none), Brandon Crawford became the first shortstop to hit an October slam, amazing. It’s actually a double-first though. It’s also the first grand slam in the (admittedly short) three-year history of the wild card playoff system. Think about it, none by a shortstop in 109 years and then, after just six wild card playoff games, a shortstop hits the first one.
Only baseball has that kind of statistical wackiness, one of the things that make it such a great game. It may not do much for the less obsessive types out there, but having sorted out the October salamis, I know I’ll sleep better tonight.
© 2014, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.