June 26, 1970: Frank Robinson's back-to-back grand slams

This article was written by Mike Huber

Before a paid attendance of only 13,194 fans, the Baltimore Orioles took on the Washington Senators in the 71st game of the season, a night contest at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in the nation’s capital. Earl Weaver’s Birds were in first place, on their way to a 1970 world championship, while Ted Williams’s Senators were already 14½ games back, lodged in the cellar in the American League Eastern Division. On this night, Frank Robinson turned in an all-star performance, becoming only the seventh major-leaguer to hit two grand slams in the same game.

The day before (June 25), in a 14-inning game at Boston’s Fenway Park, Robinson had gone 2-for-8 with a home run, two runs scored, and two runs batted in. He had collided hard with the right-field fence in the bottom of the 13th while robbing Reggie Smith of a home run. Robinson’s back was bothering him when he came to bat in the top of the 14th, so much so “that he couldn’t take his normal swing, so when he came up … with the bases loaded and one run already in, he bunted, beat it out, and knocked in the second run of the inning.”1 The Orioles would score six times that inning, beating the Red Sox, who managed only one extra-inning run, 13-8. Despite the injury, Robinson played in Washington on Friday night. His “competitive nature was a quality everyone respected.”2 After the game, he scoffed at the idea that he wouldn’t play, saying, “My back is sore, but I could play.”3 Robinson claimed to be more concerned about his 7-year-old son Kevin’s 104-degree fever; after returning from Boston, he had stayed up with Kevin, and had gotten only five hours’ sleep before the game with Washington.

On the 26th, Baltimore’s Dave McNally squared off against Joe Coleman. Both teams started the game hitting. Baltimore left fielder Don Buford singled to lead off the game and Paul Blair doubled deep to left field. Buford was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first base. Frank Robinson lined out to the second baseman, Boog Powell walked, and Brooks Robinson struck out to end the inning. The Senators had two singles and a walk in their half of the first, but a timely line-drive double play also kept them scoreless.

Coleman and McNally settled into a routine. Coleman gave up a solo home run to Buford in the top of the third, but he had three-up, three-down innings in the second and fourth. McNally faced the minimum of nine batters from the second inning through the fourth. Through four innings, Baltimore had a 1-0 lead, having left three men on base.

The game livened up in the top of the fifth. Mark Belanger popped out to short, and McNally drew a walk. After a single by Buford and a walk to Blair, Frank Robinson connected on a 2-and-2 offering by Coleman, smacking “a 390-foot wallop to the base of the scoreboard in right field.”4 Following the game, he said of his first grand slam, “The amazing thing … is I was just trying to hit the ball. There were two strikes.”5 Powell then stroked a double to the gap between center field and right field, chasing Coleman from the game. Reliever Joe Grzenda came on to retire the next two batters.

McNally set down the Senators in order again, and then Baltimore came to bat in the sixth inning with its five-run lead. After two singles, two walks, and one run scored, Frank Robinson trotted to the plate with the bases loaded again. This time, on a 2-and-0 count, he “blasted a pitch” from Grzenda “into the upper deck in left-center field, a distance measured at 462 feet.”6 The Washington fans seemed to sense the moment when Robby came to bat in the sixth. They gave him three standing ovations: one when he came to bat, another as he circled the bases, and again when he took his position in right field in the bottom of the inning.7 Robinson recollected, “The second time, I knew what was coming. It was 2-and-0.”8

The Orioles added two runs off Washington’s fourth pitcher, Horacio Pina, in the top of the ninth inning. The Senators’ runs both came on homers by Rick Reichardt. He was the sole bright spot for Washington. He walked in the first and was hit by a pitch in the fourth, before being doubled off the bag by a line drive to shortstop Belanger. In the bottom of the seventh and again in the bottom of the ninth, Reichardt cleared the wall on fly balls. Each team’s right fielder had hit consecutive home runs in the game; however, Robinson’s were both grand slams and Reichardt’s were bases-empty shots, a significant difference of six runs. The final score was 12-2. The Orioles got 12 hits and 10 walks off the four Washington pitchers. The win increased Baltimore’s won-lost record to 46-25.

“Robinson’s tremendous feat completely overshadowed Dave McNally’s 7-hitter,” a Baltimore sports columnist opined.9 McNally helped his cause at the plate by walking three times and scoring twice. He earned his 11th win of the season, striking out four. Three of the four K’s victimized slugger Frank Howard. The Orioles’ Buford had a great night as well, going 4-for-5 with a home run, three runs scored, and three RBIs. All nine Baltimore players reached base at least once in the game. The Orioles’ infield turned three double plays. But on this night, Robinson’s slams were the news.

The grand slams were Robinson’s first as an American Leaguer, after five in the National League (he ended his career with eight). He was the second Oriole after Jim Gentile to hit two bases-loaded home runs in a game (on May 9, 1961). On August 14, 1998, Chris Hoiles became the third. Like Gentile in 1961, Robinson hit his two on consecutive trips to the plate (in fact, on consecutive swings!). He became the seventh major leaguer to hit two grand slams in a game. Of the previous six, only one, Tony Cloninger, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, was from the National League (Cloninger accomplished the feat on July 3, 1966).

After this game Robinson told reporters that after his first slam, he was not thinking about hitting a second home run with the bases loaded, because he’d “learned from experience they don’t come when you do.”10 With his 2-for-4 performance, the future Hall of Famer raised his batting average to .332 and his 13th and 14th homers of the season elevated his OPS (on-base average plus slugging average) to 1.006. Baseball-almanac.com summed up this event nicely: “What makes this feat so wonderful is that it is a team effort. One man may end up with all the glory (and RBIs), but without his teammates getting on, he just has two solo home runs.”11 That was the case for the Senators.

 

Acknowledgements

The author thanks Rachel Hamelers, science librarian and reference services manager at Trexler Library, Muhlenberg College, and Bill Stetka, director of Orioles Alumni, for their assistance with obtaining sources.

 

Sources

Elliot, Jim, “Frank’s Bat Lifts Birds to 12-2 Win,” Baltimore Sun, June 27, 1970.

Jackman, Phil, “Frank’s 2 Slammers Swat Reeling Nats,” Baltimore Sun, June 27, 1970.

Maisel, Bob, “The Morning After,” Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1970.

Patterson, Ted, The Baltimore Orioles: Four Decades of Magic from 33rd Street to Camden Yards (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1994).

Baseball-almanac.com, “Two Grand Slams in One Game,” (baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats11.shtml).

Baseball-reference.com, “June 26, 1970 Baltimore Orioles at Washington Senators Play by Play and Box Score,” (baseball-reference.com/boxes/WS2/WS2197006260.shtml).

 

Notes

1 Bob Maisel. “The Morning After,” Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1970.

2 Ted Patterson, The Baltimore Orioles: Four Decades of Magic from 33rd Street to Camden Yards, 113.

3 Jim Elliot, “Frank’s Bat Lifts Birds to 12-2 Win,” Baltimore Sun, June 27, 1970.

4 Ibid.

5 Phil Jackman, “Frank’s 2 Slammers Swat Reeling Nats,” Baltimore Sun, June 27, 1970.

6 Elliot.

7 Ibid.

8 Jackman.

9 Elliot.

10 Ibid.

11 “Two Grand Slams in One Game,” baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats11.shtml.