By Nathan Hale
1999 was supposedly the Year of the Grand Slam, but it was 31 years
ago -- during the Year of the Pitcher -- when one of the more remarkable
bases-loaded blasts was hit.
Bobby Bonds, a 22-year old outfielder just called
up by the San Francisco Giants, announced his
arrival in grand fashion, clearing the bases in the
sixth inning with a homer off Los Angeles
Dodgers reliever Jack Purdin. The hit came in
Bonds' third career at-bat and made him the first
player in 70 years to hit a grand slam in his first
Bonds arrived in San Francisco hotter than a
pistol, leading the Pacific Coast League with a
.367 batting average before his call-up from
Triple-A Phoenix. In his debut, he joined a
powerful Giants lineup that included Willie
McCovey, Willie Mays and Jim Ray Hart.
McCovey had just been voted the starting first
baseman for the NL All-Stars by his fellow
players on account of his .307 average (eighth best) and league-leading 18
HR and 48 RBI. Mays finished nine votes behind Hank Aaron and his .236
BA in the voting for outfielders despite having 12 homers; Hart also stood
among the leaders, tied for second with 14 round-trippers.
The Dodgers-Giants rivalry wasn't much to speak of in 1968. On this night,
fans saw a face-off between two pitchers who would share the league lead at
season's end with 18 losses apiece: Ray Sadecki and Claude Osteen.
Sadecki emerged victorious, racking up 10 strikeouts and allowed just two
hits in the Giants' 9-0 victory.
Osteen did not fare as well, allowing six hits, three walks and hitting Bonds
with a pitch before giving way to Purdin in the sixth. Purdin was in the midst
of the best season of his four-year career, finishing the year with a 3.05
ERA. But Purdin wasn't so reliable this time, and Bonds made him pay with
a grand slam into the Candlestick Park seats.
BONDS' HOMER SIGNALED THE ARRIVAL of a legitimate offensive threat.
Never one to wait for a home run, Bonds would set a major-league record
(broken by Rickey Henderson in 1988) with 30 career leadoff homers. He
would achieve 30 homers and 30 steals in a season a record five times
(matched by his son Barry in 1997) but consistently struck out at an
alarming pace. At his best he smacked 39 homers and swiped 43 bases in
1973; at his worst he whiffed an unprecedented 189 times in 1970.
However, no player, Bonds included, has ever matched the clutch hitting
and good fortune of Bill Duggleby, who remains the only man ever to hit a
grand slam in his first at-bat. The right-handed pitcher, who would later
come to be known as "Frosty Bill" due to his less-than-warm-relationship
with teammates and a tendency to wear dark suits in the summer, found the
bases juiced when he stepped to the plate for the first time as a member of
the Philadelphia Nationals on April 21, 1898. He returned to the dugout after
a quick circuit of the bases to make him the only player ever to hit a grand
slam in his first major-league at bat.
Duggleby finished the 1898 season with just one homer and six RBI. He
would go without another round tripper until 1904 but finished his career with
six dingers in eight years. His record on the mound was an inauspicious
93-100, and he led the NL in home runs allowed with 10 in 1905.
SINCE THEN, ONLY TWO ROOKIES HAVE come
close to matching Bonds and Duggleby, both putting up a four-spot for their
first big league hit. In 1982, Seattle's Orlando Mercado entered the majors
with a bases-clearing shot off Steve Comer. And less than two weeks after
Fernando Tatis became the first man to swat two grannies in an inning in
April 1999, Red Sox rookie catcher Creigton Gubanich knocked a grand
salami of his own off a first-inning offering from Oakland's Jimmy Haynes on
May 3. (Gubanich had gone hitless in three at-bats in his major-league
debut on April 22.)
A typical good-field, no-hit catcher, Mercado lasted eight seasons in the
majors despite a meager .199 lifetime batting average and only seven career
home runs. So what's due in the books for Gubanich remains to be seen.
Perhaps the best thing he's got going for him is that he is one of two
graduates of Phoenixville High School in Pennsylvania currently playing
catcher in the majors. The other is Mike Piazza.
Gubanich's first-hit grand slam almost didn't happen. With two outs,
Oakland A's third baseman Olmedo Saenz dropped a pop foul by Reggie
Jefferson, who subsequently walked to load the bases for Gubanich. Bonds
enjoyed similar good fortune. Had he debuted a day later he would have
found not Osteen and Purdin on the mound, but big Don Drysdale toeing the