The 1966 baseball season was the first for the Braves in Atlanta. After 13 seasons in Milwaukee, the ballclub moved to establish itself in downtown Atlanta, bringing Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, and Eddie Mathews to their new home. Besides those sluggers they brought a 25-year-old pitcher named Tony Cloninger, who on July 3, 1966, became the first National League player to hit two grand slams in a game.
The Braves were visiting the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park on that Sunday afternoon. A modest crowd of 27,002 was there. The two teams had the Alou brothers in the leadoff spots: Felipe Alou for the Braves and Jesus Alou for the Giants. Atlanta had won two of the first three games of the series, but the Braves were in eighth place in the 10-team league entering the contest, 15 games back of first-place San Francisco. Before Cloninger took the mound in the bottom of the first, his team had taken a seven-run lead.
To open the game, first baseman Felipe Alou popped out to second, and then center fielder Mack Jones singled. Right fielder Hank Aaron forced him at second, and then the hit parade started: left fielder Rico Carty singled to right and catcher Joe Torre launched a home run to deep center field, and it was 3-0. Second baseman Frank Bolling and shortstop Woody Woodward each singled, chasing Giants pitcher Joe Gibbon. Bob Priddy entered the game and walked third baseman Denis Menke to get to Cloninger, batting ninth. Cloninger worked Priddy to a full count and then sent the next offering to almost the exact same spot as Torre’s homer, clearing the 410-foot sign in center field. Six hits, seven runs. Alou grounded to short, making two of the three outs in the inning.
Carty homered with two outs in the top of the second, making it 8-0. San Francisco first baseman Willie McCovey had struck out to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Before the Braves came to bat, Giants manager Herman Franks brought in Dick Dietz to catch, taking McCovey’s spot in the lineup and catcher Tom Haller moved to play first base. Ray Sadecki became the third Giants pitcher in the top of the third after Priddy allowed a double to Woodward and walked Felipe Alou with two outs, and struck out Jones. Sadecki pitched the rest of the way and faced 33 batters in 6? innings.
(The Giants’ fielding carousel continued in the top of the fourth. Shortstop Jim Davenport was lifted. Don Mason was sent in to play second base and second sacker Hal Lanier moved to shortstop. To complete the infield sweep, Ozzie Virgil entered the game in the seventh inning, replacing third baseman Jim Ray Hart. And Don Landrum came in to play center field in the fifth, replacing Willie Mays.)
In the fourth inning, Aaron grounded out and Carty walked. Torre reached on an error by Hart, and Bolling singled, scoring Carty. Woodward popped out to short, giving the Braves two outs with two on. Menke walked, again bringing up Cloninger. On an 0-and-1 count, Cloninger smacked his second bases-loaded home run of the game, lining a drive over the opposite-field fence in right. Tony had come to bat three times in the first four innings and had hit two grand slams, driving in eight runs. Alou followed by reaching on an error and Jones struck out. In all, Atlanta sent nine batters to the plate in the fourth and scored five runs on two hits, two walks, and two errors. After just 3½ innings, the score was Atlanta 13, San Francisco 0.
Cloninger had accomplished what no other National League player, and no other major-league pitcher, had ever done: he hit two grand slams in a game. Both had come with two outs and both were set up by Menke’s walks to load the bases.
The Braves were not finished. Hank Aaron hit his league-leading 25th home run to start the Braves’ fifth inning. In the eighth, Woodward doubled, moved to third on a Sadecki wild pitch, and scored on Cloninger’s single to left, making it nine RBIs for Tony on the day. Atlanta added two more runs in the ninth, on two doubles, a single, and a sacrifice fly.
San Francisco put three runners across the plate in the game, with solo tallies in the fourth, fifth, and eighth innings. In the fourth, Willie Mays walked, moved to second on a Cloninger wild pitch, and scored after back-to-back singles by Hart and left fielder Len Gabrielson. Giants pitcher Sadecki homered to start the fifth and Haller homered to lead off the eighth. On this Sunday afternoon, the pitchers would hit three home runs. The final score was Atlanta 17, San Francisco 3.
Entering the game, Cloninger had had nine runs batted in for the season, and after this game, he had doubled it to 18.1 He would end the season with 23. The National League single-game record for runs batted in by a pitcher was five, a mark tied by Tony Cloninger in a June 16, 1966, game against the New York Mets, earlier that same season. His new single-game record of nine RBI still stood as of 2015.
Cloninger hit his first major-league home run in 1965, his fifth season in the majors. Tony finished the 1966 season with a .234 batting average, five home runs, and a .414 slugging percentage.
The Braves sent 52 batters to face Giants pitching. Five, including Cloninger, had at least three hits. Jones went 3-for-6, Rico Carty was 3-for-4 with an RBI, Torre went 3-for-6 with 3 RBIs, and Woodward went 4-for-6 with two doubles. Cloninger’s line: 5 at-bats, 2 runs scored, 3 hits, 9 runs batted in. On the mound, he pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits while giving up three earned runs. He struck out five, walked two, and allowed the solo home runs to Sadecki and Haller. He had won for the sixth time in his last seven starts,2 raising his record to 9 wins against 7 losses. After the sensational day with the bat, Tony observed, “Funny thing, nobody asked me about my pitching!”3
Tony Cloninger became just the fifth batter to have hit two grand slams in a game, joining the New York Yankees’ Tony Lazzeri (May 24, 1936), the Boston Red Sox’ Jim Tabor (July 4, 1939) and Rudy York (July 27, 1946), and the Baltimore Orioles’ Jim Gentile (May 9, 1961). There have been eight occurrences of this rare event since, for a total of thirteen. Cloninger’s two slams marked the first time the Atlanta Braves had two bases-loaded home runs in a game.4
The Brooklyn Dodgers’ Don Newcombe had been the only National League pitcher to hit two home runs in a game twice in one season (1955) before Cloninger accomplished the feat.5 Rick Wise has since done it as well. Wise’s pair came in a game in which he pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, on June 23, 1971.6 As of 2015, Newcombe, Cloninger, and Wise are the only three NL pitchers to have hit two home runs in a game twice in a single season.
“…And Two of Them for Cloninger: Hurler’s Hitting Feat Helps Braves Rout Giants by 17-3,” New York Times, July 4, 1966, 18.
“Two Grand Slams in One Game,” http://baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats11.shtml.
“The Ballplayers – Tony Cloninger,” http://baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Tony_Cloninger_1940&page=chronology.
“June 23, 1971 Philadelphia Phillies at Cincinnati Reds Play by Play and Box Score,” http://baseball-reference.com/boxes/CIN/CIN197106230.shtml.
“July 3, 1966Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Play by Play and Box Score,” http://baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN196607030.shtml.
“The Pitcher Who Hit Two Grand Slams,” http://platoonadvantage.com/2011-articles/the-pitcher-who-hit-two-grand-slams.html.
“RetrosheetBoxscore: Atlanta Braves 17, San Francisco Giants 3,” http://retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1966/B07030SFN1966.htm.
“Where Have You Gone Tony Cloninger? Baseball Turns its Lonely Eyes to You,” http://seamheads.com/2012/09/16/where-have-you-gone-tony-cloninger-baseball-turns-its-lonely-eyes-to-you/.
1 “…And Two of Them for Cloninger: Hurler’s Hitting Feat Helps Braves Rout Giants by 17-3,” New York Times, July 4, 1966, 18.
2 “The Pitcher Who Hit Two Grand Slams,” http://platoonadvantage.com/2011-articles/the-pitcher-who-hit-two-grand-slams.html.
3 “Where Have You Gone Tony Cloninger? Baseball Turns its Lonely Eyes to You,” http://seamheads.com/2012/09/16/where-have-you-gone-tony-cloninger-baseball-turns-its-lonely-eyes-to-you/.
4 “The Ballplayers – Tony Cloninger,” http://baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Tony_Cloninger_1940&page=chronology.
5 “The Pitcher Who Hit Two Grand Slams,” http://platoonadvantage.com/2011-articles/the-pitcher-who-hit-two-grand-slams.html.
6 “June 23, 1971, Philadelphia Phillies at Cincinnati Reds Play by Play and Box Score,” http://baseball-reference.com/boxes/CIN/CIN197106230.shtml.