From the time he arrived in Milwaukee with the rest of his Braves teammates from Boston in the spring of 1953, Joe Adcock quickly became a fan favorite in the nation’s newest major-league city.
The impressive power numbers of the mighty 6-foot-4, 220-pounder were often overshadowed by the likes of Eddie Mathews and Henry Aaron. But even those two prolific sluggers couldn’t keep up with Adcock’s knack for the peculiar, dramatic or larger-than-life moments that seemingly all baseball fans lovingly embrace.
The 34-year-old right-handed hitting slugger from Louisiana tacked onto that legacy on May 4, 1961, by powering a game-ending grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning off rookie right-hander Jim Golden of the Los Angeles Dodgers on a cool evening at Milwaukee County Stadium.
The blast, the eighth slam of Adcock’s career, gave the Braves a thrilling 10-6 win, ending a long game and a long day for Adcock. The big first baseman was hitless and struck out three times in his four at-bats – stranding six runners – against starter Don Drysdale. To add to his miserable day, Adcock’s fifth-inning error resulted in a run that gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.
A chilled crowd of 7,373 began the cool evening buzzing about astronaut Alan Shepard’s impending round trip to outer space, the nation’s maiden manned space voyage, planned for the next morning. Three hours and 44 minutes later, the crowd’s favored topic turned to the question of where Adcock’s latest round-tripper ranked on his list of impressive home-run feats.
Adcock endeared himself to Milwaukee fans by being the first player to hit a ball into the center-field seats at the historic Polo Grounds in 1953. A year later he smacked four homers and a double at Ebbets Field to establish a major-league standard for total bases in a single game. In 1959 Adcock’s shot in the 13th inning ended a County Stadium game that Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix began by twirling 12 perfect innings. (Adcock hit the ball out of the park but was called out for passing Hank Aaron on the basepaths and his hit was officially a double.)
Adcock’s walk-off slam against the Dodgers not only added to his legacy of the unique, it also helped the Braves escape an early-season funk. More than a year removed from a remarkable run that saw the Braves either win the National League pennant or lose it on the final day of the season each year from 1956 to 1959, he was an aging player on an aging team trying to prove it could still compete for the pennant under second-year manager Charlie Dressen.
After a lackluster April produced a 6-6 record, the Braves opened May by hosting a three-game set against the Dodgers, the team many favored to win the National League pennant. Adcock’s homer, just his second of the season and only the fifth by the Braves in the first 15 games, enabled Milwaukee to take the series with the Dodgers, two games to one. The blast also lifted the Braves to a game over .500 at 8-7 and had Adcock hoping his early-season slump was behind him.
“A couple of years ago I was caught in the same kind of slump,” Adcock said. “Then one day the Dodgers came to town. I got a hit to win the game and got a good streak going.”1
After finishing 1-for-5 against the Dodgers, Adcock was hitting just .228 with 2 homers and 10 RBIs in 57 at-bats.
“There’s no question but I’ve been lunging instead of waiting for the ball,” Adcock said. “When you’re not going good at the plate, you’re bound to pick up some bad habits.”2
Adcock said Drysdale was throwing fastballs and he was swinging under the ball. Golden threw Adcock a fastball that he hit over the right-field fence.
“I had missed on three clutch appearances before this one,” he said. “It felt pretty good to see things turn out this way. It’s always a struggle with me. I hope it’s over.”3
If Adcock was the hero of the 10th inning, it was the heroics of outfielder Lee Maye that enabled the Braves to stay close to the Dodgers during the first nine frames. Maye, the fastest outfielder on Dressen’s squad, had three singles and took a Drysdale fastball on the arm to reach base four times.
The 26-year-old Alabaman also used his arm to turn the game in the ninth by throwing out Ron Fairly at the plate, preventing a big inning that would have ended the game in regulation.
In the extra frame, after the Dodgers took a 6-5 lead on a Gil Hodges homer in the top of the inning, Maye put his legs to work to save the game after singling for the third time. With one out, he got a good jump off first base when Frank Bolling hit a comebacker to Golden. Golden wheeled to fire to second but had to hesitate when shortstop Maury Wills and second baseman Charlie Neal were indecisive and late covering the bag.
Golden’s hesitation was all Maye needed to beat the throw, sliding safely into second and upending Wills. Mathews then drove Maye home with a sharp single to tie the game.
Maye’s ability to keep the Braves in the game using his bat, arm, and legs didn’t surprise the Milwaukee faithful who caught glimpses of the young outfielder’s skills the previous two seasons. In 1959 Maye hit .300 in 51 games and in 1960 he hit .301 in 41 games.
Entering the ’61 season with fan favorite Billy Bruton traded to the Tigers during the offseason, Maye was a logical replacement for Bruton’s speed and defensive savvy. Dressen rewarded Maye’s big day – which saw his average climb to .348 – by announcing after the unlikely win that Milwaukee’s outfield moving forward would include Aaron in center and Maye in right.4
Maye’s day not only set up Adcock’s heroics, it covered a rough evening on the mound for Braves’ starter Bob Buhl and a parade of four relievers. Carl Willey picked up the win despite giving up the go-ahead homer to Hodges in the top of the 10th.
Buhl held the Dodgers scoreless through the first three innings, allowing just a hit and a walk, both in the second inning. The Braves, meanwhile, picked up a run in the bottom of the second when Aaron led off with a line-drive double to left and scored on a two-out single by catcher Charlie Lau. The veteran Lau was in the lineup after Del Crandall suffered a shoulder injury on April 20.
In the top of the fourth, Buhl gave up two runs on two hits, two walks, and a costly error by Mathews. The Dodgers made it 3-1 in the fifth when Davis doubled with one out and scored when Adcock booted Wally Moon’s grounder for an error. Adcock had a chance to atone for the error but struck out against the hard-throwing Drysdale with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the fifth.
The Dodgers’ lead went to 4-1 when Johnny Roseboro led off the seventh with a homer. Crandall pinch-hit for Buhl in the seventh and grounded out. Maye was hit by a Drysdale pitch and moved to second on Frank Bolling’s infield single. Maye scored Milwaukee’s second run on Mathews’ line-drive single to right.
Up two runs in the bottom of the eighth, Drysdale ran into trouble. He hit Mel Roach with a pitch to lead off the inning and then walked Roy McMillan. Larry Sherry replaced Drysdale and Lau bunted the Milwaukee runners up. Maye tied the game by shooting a line single to right off Sherry to score Roach and McMillan.
Moe Drabowsky worked the ninth for Milwaukee and issued a one-out walk to Roseboro. He then loaded the bases with two outs by surrendering a single to Fairly and a walk to Willie Davis. Ron Piche replaced Drabowsky and promptly allowed a single to right by Jim Gilliam that scored Roseboro to give the Dodgers a 5-4 lead. Further damage was contained when Fairly also tried to score on Gilliam’s hit but was gunned down at the plate on Maye’s bullet throw.
Sandy Koufax took the mound to start the bottom of the ninth and Aaron touched up the star lefty for a line triple to left. Koufax then walked Adcock on a 3-and-2 pitch before being replaced by Golden. Golden got pinch-hitter Johnny Logan to ground back to the mound; Golden held Aaron at third before securing the force out at second. Aaron then scored on McMillan’s sacrifice fly to center to tie the game and set the stage for Adcock’s legacy-building homer the next inning.
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.
In addition to the sources cited in the notes, the author also consulted the following:
Bob Buege, Milwaukee Braves: A Baseball Eulogy (Milwaukee: Douglas American Sports, 1988).
William Normyle, “First Yank in Space Returns Safely,” Milwaukee Journal, May 5, 1961.
Bob Wolf, “Blow in 10th Wins 6-5,” Milwaukee Journal, May 5, 1961.
1 Associated Press, “Adcock’s Slump Is Over,” Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette, May 5, 1961.
4 Cleon M. Walfoort, “Lee Maye Sews Up Starting Position in Milwaukee Outfield,” Milwaukee Journal, May 16, 1961, 13.