July 12, 1962: Hank Aaron’s walk-off grand slam caps Braves’ comeback victory

This article was written by Joseph Wancho


As the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Braves began a three-game series on July 12, 1962, they found themselves smack dab in the middle of the National League standings. Both teams had a lot of ground to make up in the second half of the season, which might explain the meager turnout of 13,426 patrons who pushed their way through the turnstiles at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. Those baseball fans had no idea that just one week after the Fourth of July, there would be skyrockets again signaling victory for their heroes. A dramatic ninth-inning home run off the bat of the team’s biggest star. Nothing would have suggested they would see history made on this night.

The Braves and the Cards seemed to be headed in opposite directions. The Braves were on their way down from a four- year span in which they claimed two pennants (1957 and 1958) and one world championship (1957). Before and after those two seasons the Braves finished second to the Dodgers by a single game in 1956 and by two games in 1959. In 1957 Milwaukee beat out St. Louis for the National League flag. Those home games commonly drew 30,000 to 40,000 fans a night. What a difference five years made.

St. Louis, on the other hand, was on the rise. The Cardinals would make their mark in this decade with three pennants (1964, 1967, and 1968). In 1964 and 1968 they claimed their seventh seventh and eighth World Series championships. But on this summer day, the Cardinals found themselves in fifth place, five games in front of the Braves, who entered one game under .500.

Bob Hendley was the starting pitcher for Milwaukee and Larry Jackson toed the rubber for St. Louis. Hendley was a journeyman pitcher; his best season would be 1963, when he posted a 9-9 record. In 1964 he was traded to San Francisco. A year later he was moved to the bullpen and also worked as a spot starter. Jackson, however, had long been an anchor of the Cardinals’ rotation. He annually pitched around 200 innings and struck out twice as many batters as he walked, and his ERA was always comfortably better than the league average. Two years later as a member of the Cubs, he led the league in wins (24), and was second in innings pitched (297⅔), and third in complete games (19).

Hendley did not fare well at all in this matchup, as he was shelled for three earned runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning of work. His early and unplanned departure from the mound forced Braves manager Birdie Tebbetts to turn to his bullpen. (Tebbetts was serving his first full season as the Braves head man. Previously, he had managed in Cincinnati for five seasons. He returned to the dugout in 1961 after Charlie Dressen was dismissed. Birdie managed the last 25 games on the schedule and retained the job in 1962.)

Tebbetts summoned Carl Willey to the hill. Willey broke in with the Braves in 1958, leading the league with four shutouts. He was a starter for much of his career, but also came out of the pen when needed. The Braves always seemed to have an abundance of starting pitching, leaving Willey on the outside. Willey did his job and kept the Braves in the game, as he pitched 4⅓ innings of relief and surrendered just one run on three hits..

Milwaukee’s Eddie Mathews smashed his 17th homer in the bottom of the fourth inning, a shot to the bleachers in right field, to cut the lead to 3-1. The Cardinals scratched their way for a run in the top of the fifth via a walk, a hit, and a sacrifice fly by Curt Flood. Willey was lifted for pinch-hitter Bob Uecker in the bottom of the frame.

Meanwhile Jackson was his usual efficient self. But an error by Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer, the reigning four-time Gold Glove winner, opened the door for two unearned runs, tightening up the score at 4-3 in favor of St. Louis after six innings.

The score remained that way until the eighth inning when Claude Raymond entered the game as the third reliever employed by Tebbetts. Raymond was unable to hold serve, though, and St. Louis plated two insurance runs courtesy of singles by Jackson and Julian Javier. As the game entered the ninth inning, St. Louis held the advantage, 6-3.

After Jackson fanned Frank Bolling for his sixth strikeout of the game, Tebbetts called on Tommie Aaron to pinch-hit for Raymond. Aaron delivered, connecting for a solo homer to left-center field. The clout was his third on the season. The Braves now trailed by two runs and the top of the batting order was due up. Light-hitting shortstop Roy McMillan’s single to left field chased Jackson from the game, as Cardinals skipper Johnny Keane went to his pen for the first time, summoning Lindy McDaniel into the game. The tall right-handed reliever had not given up an earned run in 15 appearances and 30⅓ innings of work since May 31.

Today, McDaniel’s streak came to an end. Mack Jones singled to left field and Mathews walked. The bases were loaded and up stepped Henry Aaron, who deposited McDaniel’s offering into the left-field bleachers. His 22nd home run came in fine style, a grand slam in walk-off fashion. The Braves’ win pulled the team to an even 43-43 record. The big blow capped a 4-for-5 night for Hammerin’ Hank, who also scored twice. It was his third grand slam of the season.

One would have to search through almost 35 years of box scores to find the last time two brothers each smacked a home run in the same inning. Paul and Lloyd Waner of the Pittsburgh Pirates turned the trick on September 4, 1927, victimizing Dolf Luque of Cincinnati with two solo homers in the fifth inning.

“I was trying to pull everything early in the season,” said Hank of his recent success at the plate. “Maybe I was trying too hard for the long ball because we weren’t going so good and it looked like it was up to me to hit some home runs. Anyway, I got to falling away from the pitch instead of stepping into it and then I got to moving my head so that I was taking my eye off the ball.

“So I went back to just trying to hit the ball back through the pitcher’s box, and it worked. The hits started going all over the field and I found myself getting more power. Right now, I am seeing the ball as good as I did when I led the league [with a .355 batting average] three years ago.”1 

 

This article appears in “From the Braves to the Brewers: Great Games and Exciting History at Milwaukee’s County Stadium” (SABR, 2016), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.

 

Notes

1 Milwaukee Journal, July 13, 1962: 2.

Additional Stats

Milwaukee Braves 8
St. Louis Cardinals 6


County Stadium
Milwaukee, WI

 

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