It’s a trivia question that most baseball fans would struggle with: Who was the first American League or National League batter to have a 7-for-7 game in the twentieth century? Even with the hint that it was a Detroit Tiger, the question is a tough one to answer. Ty Cobb would be a good guess. So would George Kell or Hank Greenberg or Al Kaline. But those are all wrong answers. The correct response, of course, is César Gutiérrez.
The Venezuelan signed his first professional contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates in June 1960 at the age of 17. Although the details of his time in the Pirates organization are murky, his minor-league career got off to a rocky start and he was released in 1962.1 Gutiérrez was signed by the San Francisco Giants before the start of the 1963 season,2 and he went on to have great success as a Giants farmhand.
Gutiérrez was named his league’s top shortstop in four of his first five seasons in the Giants’ minor-league system (1963, 1965-67).3 He won the Pacific Coast League batting crown in 1967 with a .322 batting average − 14 points better than Lou Piniella – and he followed that up by tying for the PCL lead in hits in 1968.4 Surprisingly, all he had to show for it at the major-league level were a pair of monthlong stints riding the bench at the beginning and end of the 1967 season.5
By the spring of 1969, the now 26-year-old Gutiérrez was getting frustrated. He made the Giants out of spring training that season, but he was sent back to Triple-A Phoenix after going 5-for-23 (.217) in San Francisco’s first 38 games.6
Fortunately for Gutiérrez, the Giants sold his contract to the Tigers at the end of Phoenix’s 1969 season,7 which finally gave him regular playing time at the big-league level. Gutiérrez was unremarkable in 17 late-season games with the Tigers, hitting .245 with only one extra-base hit in 49 at-bats, yet he remained the starting shortstop at the start of the 1970 season.
Detroit came into its June 21, 1970, doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians in third place with a disappointing 31-30 record, nine games behind the juggernaut Baltimore Orioles. The Tigers’ 1970 season was one to forget, a huge letdown after their 1968 World Series championship and a 90-win campaign in 1969. Denny McLain, who had been Detroit’s dominant ace,8 still hadn’t thrown a pitch for the Tigers in 1970. Ten days remained on his suspension for participating in a bookmaking operation.9
The lowly Indians started the day in fifth place in the AL East with a 29-32 record. They were riding a seven-game winning streak, which was their longest in over four years. It didn’t last. Detroit snapped the streak with a 7-2 victory in the first game of the doubleheader.
Although Gutiérrez was Detroit’s regular shortstop in 1970, manager Mayo Smith regularly pinch-hit for him in the late innings, including four consecutive games on June 10-13. When Gutiérrez’s batting average dropped to .211 on June 15, Smith gave rookie Ken Szotkiewicz a shot as the regular shortstop. Szotkiewicz started five games in the next week, including the first game of the June 21 twin bill. He went 0-for-4 in that game, dropping his average to .130. Gutiérrez was back in the starting lineup for the second game of the doubleheader.
Rick Austin, a 23-year-old lefty making his major-league debut, got the start for Cleveland.
Gutiérrez, the game’s second batter, began his historic performance by blooping a single to short right field. He scored three batters later on an RBI groundout by Jim Northrup, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead.
Cleveland came roaring back in the bottom of the first against Detroit starter Mike Kilkenny (3-1, 4.70 ERA), scoring five runs on a grand slam by Tony Horton and a solo homer by Chuck Hinton.10 Kilkenny was removed after retiring only two of the eight batters he faced.
Gutiérrez started a Detroit rally in the top of the third by lining a one-out single to left field. The Tigers went on to score four runs in the inning on a pair of two-run homers by Kaline and Northrup, knocking the rookie Austin out of the game. The four-run outburst cut Cleveland’s lead to 6-5.
Gutiérrez opened the fifth inning by grounding a pitch from reliever Dennis Higgins to deep short; he hustled down the line to narrowly beat Jack Heidemann’s throw to first and register his third hit of the game.11 He was stranded on the basepaths.
Cleveland scored single runs in its next two at-bats on sacrifice flies by Horton and Heidemann.
Gutiérrez’s fourth plate appearance was in the top of the seventh. He opened the inning by pulling a double down to left-field line. Three batters later, Northrup hit his second opposite-field, two-run homer of the game, slicing Cleveland’s lead to 8-7.
Gutiérrez came to the plate in the eighth inning with two outs and runners on the corners. He lined an RBI single to the opposite field off righty Fred Lasher for his fifth hit of the game, tying the score, 8-8.12
The game went into extra innings, giving Gutiérrez an opportunity to improve upon his 5-for-5 stat line.
His next plate appearance came against Dick Ellsworth with two outs in the top of the 10th and a runner on first. Gutiérrez hit a grounder up the middle. Heidemann kept the ball in the infield with a diving stop near second base, but Gutiérrez beat the throw to first on a close play.13 It was his sixth hit of the game. Kaline’s grounder forced him at second to end the inning.
Gutiérrez was the next batter. He hit a line drive that deflected off Hennigan’s glove and bounced to Graig Nettles at third.14 Nettles’ rushed throw pulled first baseman Horton off the base, and Gutiérrez had his third infield single of the game. Both Nettles and Horton later confirmed that Gutiérrez would have beaten out the play even if Horton was on the bag.15
Gutiérrez’s perfect 7-for-7 game was remarkable considering that he came into the game with a .217 career batting average. The seven hits raised his average from .218 to .249.
Gutiérrez became the first American League or National League batter to have a 7-for-7 game since Wilbert Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles turned the trick against the St. Louis Browns on June 10, 1892.
Pittsburgh’s Rennie Stennett duplicated Gutiérrez’s 7-for-7 game on September 16, 1975, in a 22-0 pasting of the Chicago Cubs. As of the start of the 2022 season, it was the last time an AL or NL batter had gone 7-for-7. Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants came closest; he went 7-for-8 against the Miami Marlins on August 8, 2016.17
Gutiérrez may have had the most impressive 7-for-7 game of the twentieth century. He recorded all seven hits with the game still undecided and four of those hits were key to Detroit’s victory.18 Although Stennett’s seven hits came in a nine-inning game, five of those safeties came once the outcome had been determined. Every Pittsburgh starter – including pitcher John Candelaria – had at least one hit in the lopsided affair.19
The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Gutiérrez explained his unconventional approach at the plate after his record-setting game. “I swing a heavy 36-ounce bat and I do not go for the long ball,” he said.20 “I hit bloopers.”21
The 7-for-7 game helped Gutiérrez reclaim Detroit’s starting shortstop job. He finished the season hitting .243 with no homers and 22 RBIs in 135 games.
McLain’s return to the mound on July 1 failed to spark the Tigers. He was suspended twice more that season – once for dousing two sportswriters with buckets of ice water and another time for carrying a gun onto a team flight. He went 3-5 with a 4.63 ERA and Detroit finished in fourth place, 29 games behind Baltimore.
Brinkman took over as Detroit’s starting shortstop in 1971, and Gutiérrez spent the season as a sparingly used utility infielder. He hit .189 in only 37 at-bats.
In March 1972 Gutiérrez’s contract was sold to the Montreal Expos, who sent him down to Triple A. He never made it back to the big leagues.23
He finished his four-year career in the majors with a .235 batting average, no homers, and 26 RBIs in 545 at-bats. Gutiérrez’s 7-for-7 performance was the only time in his big-league career that he recorded more than three hits in a game.
This article was fact-checked by Kurt Blumenau and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, the Baseball Player Contract Cards Collection from The Sporting News, and the Registro Histórico Estadístico del Beisbol Profesional Venezolano website. Unless otherwise noted, all play-by-play information for this game was taken from the article “Cesar 7-for-7 as Tigers Win Pair” on page 1-D of the June 22, 1970, edition of the Detroit Free Press.
1 Gutiérrez was assigned to the Johnson City (Tennessee) Phillies in 1960, a Philadelphia affiliate in the Short Season D Appalachian League. It’s unclear why he wasn’t assigned to the Kingsport (Tennessee) Pirates, a Pittsburgh affiliate in the same league. The author was unable to find any record of him playing in a minor-league game in 1960. He hit .254 in 122 games with the Hobbs (New Mexico) Pirates in the Class D Sophomore League in 1961. Although he was assigned in 1962 to the Burlington (Iowa) Bees, a Class D Pittsburgh affiliate in the Midwest League, the author was unable to find any record of him playing in a minor-league game that season. The young Venezuelan may have encountered significant cultural and language obstacles in Tennessee and Iowa. At the time, only seven Venezuelans had ever appeared in the American or National League. “Phillies Play Cubs Here Tonight,” Johnson City (Tennessee) Press, June 28, 1960: 7; “Player Batting Game Stats Finder,” StatHead.com, https://stathead.com/tiny/aisev, accessed August 5, 2022.
2 The Giants signed many outstanding Latin American players in the 1950s and 1960s, including Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Jesús Alou, and Matty Alou. Most of those players were signed by Giants scout Alex Pompez. On September 10, 1963, the three Alou brothers appeared in a game for the Giants against the New York Mets. It was the first time three brothers played on the same team in a major-league game.
3 Gutiérrez was the All-Star shortstop in the Class A Western Carolina League in 1963 and 1965. He was also the All-Star shortstop in the Class A California League in 1966 and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1967.
4 Ozzie Virgil Sr. finished second in the PCL batting race in 1967 with a .319 average. Piniella posted a .308 average. Gutiérrez and veteran Billy Cowan both had 158 hits in 1968, although Cowan had 33 more at-bats.
5 When Gutiérrez made his major-league debut on April 16, 1967, he became the 11th Venezuelan to play in the American or National League. During San Francisco’s first 24 games of the 1967 season, Gutiérrez made only 7 plate appearances. He was 0-for-5 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. He was demoted on May 10, 1967, and recalled at the end of August. He started only one game in September 1967, going 3-for-16 (.188). Gutiérrez was recalled by San Francisco on September 3, 1968. Despite the fact that the Giants were well out of the pennant race and Gutiérrez had led the PCL in hits that season, he did not get into in any games with San Francisco. He appeared to have been blocked by a classic “good field, no hit” shortstop, Hal Lanier. Player Batting Game Stats Finder, StatHead Baseball, https://stathead.com/tiny/aisev, accessed September 9, 2022.
6 After sitting on the bench for the first six games of the 1969 season, Gutiérrez voiced his frustration to Al Corona of the San Francisco Examiner. “It’s a good organization,” Gutiérrez said. “All I ask is that it gives me a chance. I know things are going pretty good now [the Giants were 3-3 and starting shortstop Hal Lanier was hitting .333 after six games] so I don’t complain about not playing. But if things turn bad and I still don’t get a chance then I’ll ask to be traded. I don’t have many years left and I want to get started with a regular job pretty soon.” Corona’s article also included positive comments about Gutiérrez by Giants third-base coach Ozzie Virgil Sr. and San Diego Padres manager Preston Gómez. Virgil and Gómez were from the Dominican Republic and Cuba, respectively. Al Corona, “Gutiérrez Can Bolster Giants,” San Francisco Examiner, April 15, 1969: 53.
7 According to Baseball Reference, the Giants sent Gutiérrez to Detroit on September 2, 1969, to complete the August 8 trade in which they acquired 39-year-old reliever Don McMahon. Various newspapers reported that the Tigers purchased Gutiérrez’s contract from the Giants; one source stated that the Tigers paid $60,000 for his contract. Lou Hatter, “Tigers Nip Orioles in 11th by 5-4,” Baltimore Sun, September 7, 1969: 29.
10 Horton had a career-best game at the plate: 4-for-5 with 5 RBIs (he also hit three home runs on May 24, 1970, and hit for the cycle on July 2, 1970). The 25-year-old Horton played his last major-league game just over two months later (August 28). He left the team because of mental health issues and never played another game in professional baseball. Mark Kanter and Mark Armour, “Tony Horton,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/Tony-Horton/, accessed September 9, 2022.
11 Dan Coughlin, “Lucky 7 for Gutierrez,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 22, 1970: 1-C, 8-C.
12 Lasher was a former Tiger. Detroit traded him to Cleveland for Russ Nagelson and Billy Rohr approximately one month before this game. Nagelson flied out in a pinch-hitting appearance in the top of the sixth inning.
13 Coughlin, “Lucky 7 for Gutierrez.”
14 Gutiérrez thought the ball he hit in the 12th inning ricocheted off Hennigan’s leg. According to Baseball Reference and Retrosheet, the ball was hit into center field. The author was unable to find any newspaper accounts stating that the ball went into center field. United Press International, “Gutierrez Sets Hit Record; Tigers Sweep Twin Bill,” Port Huron (Michigan) Times Herald, June 22, 1970: 1-B; Coughlin, “Lucky 7 for Gutierrez.”
15 Coughlin, “Lucky 7 for Gutierrez.”
16 Timmermann pitched two hitless and scoreless innings in the first game of the doubleheader to earn the save. He pitched three more scoreless innings in the second game.
17 As of the start of the 2022 season, the only other batter with seven hits in an AL or NL game since 1901 was Detroit’s Rocky Colavito. He went 7-for-10 in a June 24, 1962, game against the New York Yankees. Cleveland’s Johnny Burnett held the record for the most hits in an AL or NL game since 1901. He went 9-for-11 in a July 10, 1932, game against the Philadelphia Athletics.
18 Gutiérrez singled and scored in the first inning to put Detroit ahead, 1-0. His single in the third kick-started a four-run outburst. His seventh-inning double helped spark a two-run rally, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 8-7. His eighth-inning single drove in the tying run, sending the game into extra innings.
19 Stennett’s teammates hit .370 (17-for-46) in his 7-for-7 game; Gutiérrez’s teammates hit only .227 (10-for-44) in his.
21 Associated Press, “Gutierrez Slams Seven Hits in Tiger Victory,” Vincennes (Indiana) Sun-Commercial, June 22, 1970: 6.
22 Pitcher Joe Coleman and third baseman Aurelio Rodríguez were also acquired by the Tigers in the deal. Brinkman, Coleman, and Rodríguez all helped the Tigers win the AL East title in 1972. McLain went 14-29 with a 4.82 ERA for the remainder of his major-league career. He was out of baseball by the age of 29.
23 Gutiérrez continued to play in the Venezuelan Winter League until the 1975-76 season, and he wrapped up his 16-year playing career in his home country with a.252 batting average over 16 seasons. He was a Venezuelan Winter League champion with the Leones del Caracas (1961-62, 1963-64) and Tigres de Aragua (1971-72). Gutiérrez played for the Caracas Lions (Leones del Caracas) from 1960-61 to 1964-65, Magellan Navigators (Navegantes del Magallanes) from 1964-65 to 1968-69, Aragua Tigers (Tigres de Aragua) from 1968-69 to 1973-74, Zulia Eagles (Águilas del Zulia) in 1974-75, and Lara Cardinals (Cardenales de Lara) in 1975-76. “César Gutiérrez,” Registro Histórico Estadístico del Beisbol Profesional Venezolano, https://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=gutices001, accessed September 9, 2022.