Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Baseball Post

Brandon Crawford, the sixth guy -- according to the broadcasters -- in the history of baseball to hit a grand slam in his first game. Wow! I'm glad I have something to write about other than Buster Posey after all. Instead, I get one of my favorite topics, baseball and memory.

Here's the thing. As soon as Crawford's HR went out of the park, I immediately said -- Bobby Bonds. I didn't think it was nearly as rare as (again, according to the broadcasters) it turned out to be, but I clearly knew that Bonds did it. I knew that it was against the Dodgers, too, although I thought that he had another hit, maybe a double, in the game, which was wrong; I think I once knew it was a 9-0 game, but I had forgotten that. Here's the box from it.

Now, the problems. I thought I remembered watching it, but that's clearly (I assume!) wrong; it's a Tuesday game, and there were no nationally televised Tuesday games in 1968. Since it was the Dodgers, though, we were almost certainly listening on the radio; the Dodgers had an affiliate in Phoenix, as I've mentioned here before (we also could sometimes get the Giants station from San Francisco, but we wouldn't be doing that against the Dodgers). Could I really be remembering it from then? I was 4 -- 4 1/2, if that helps -- in June 1968. Seems unlikely, no? I have no-question clear baseball memories from 1970, and perhaps from 1969, but nothing else from 1968, I don't think. But there's a bit more. I seem to have a memory of seeing Bonds play for the Phoenix Giants. Two memories: one is my dad saying that we had to go out and see him, because he wasn't going to stay there long; and then a specific memory of watching him pull up at third with a triple. Real, or not? No idea. Bonds hit 7 triples in 60 games with Phoenix that summer, for whatever that's worth. Did I conflate that with some other player hitting a triple a couple years later? Was it really Bonds that I remember my dad talking about, or someone else, later -- or was it Bonds, but what I'm really remembering is my dad telling the story after the fact?

I can tell you only what I remember, and what, from looking it up, could have been the case. That's about it.

Now, I'm pretty sure I remember seeing the famous Mays/Bonds catch live on NBC's Game of the Week (Bonds and Mays converge in right-center, Mays leaps over Bonds and higher than the old Candlestick fence to catch it). That was in 1970. It certainly makes sense I would have been watching, since we only saw the Giants on TV a few times a year. But since that catch wound up being part of the Game of the Week opener for a while, it's possible that's what I remember. I don't think so, though.

Here's something I didn't know about Bonds until now: he lost it overnight. In 1979, age 33, he had an OPS+ of 122, playing every day, so he was a solidly above right fielder. The next year for the first time in his major league career he just didn't hit: OPS+ 71. And then in 1981, age 35, OPS+ 96...he tried again the next year in the minors, didn't hit at all (300 OBP/321 SLG in ~100 PAs), and that was that. Of course, Bobby Bonds was a truly great player, but with no value at all past age 33, not a HOFer.

Just amazing that someone could do something that doesn't seem all that extraordinary in 2011 and have it be only the sixth time in major league history.


  1. Cool. Since we're talking about rarities, I'm going to ask this again in hopes that someone reading this knows how to find out the answer: I was at Wrigley for a game in the late '80s in which both the first and last pitches of the game were hit for home runs. Cubs won; I believe the last-pitch homer was Bobby Dernier's (a rarity in itself). Would the databases be able to identify other games in which this happened? (I know very little about where baseball stats come from, obviously -- like, how they know that only six guys have hit grand slams in their first games.)

  2. The slam thing was from Elias and their database. To do it yourself, you just go to, the most awesome place in the world.

    Bobby Dernier's HR log is at:

    The first thing you do is try hard not to look at the bottom line on the page -- the extra inning inside-the-park one that beat the Giants in Philly. I believe my non-journalist brother was at that horror show of a game.

    As for appears to be May 21, 1987, against the Reds. Tracy Jones started the game off with a HR, and Dernier ended it with one. Jamie Moyer pitched, and the wind was surely blowing out (HRs by Jones, Eric Davis, Bo Diaz, Dunston, Sandberg, Mumphrey, and Dernier).

    Here it is:

  3. That is fabulous, thanks very much. Yes, that was the game: We picked that game because one member of our party was a Cincinnati native / Reds fan, and Lee Smith got the "win," i.e. he blew the save and allowed the Reds to tie in the top of the ninth, as I recall seeing him do on many a frustrating occasion. I remember a Bosox fan who was sitting in front of us commiserating with me about this, until the Mighty Bobby came up and and settled things. (I would think that Dernier's home-run log must be one of the shorter entries on

    So again, thanks. Still, I'm wondering how the broadcasters generate stats like "this has happened only six times in major-league history," especially while a game is in progress. Are they using something besides the public databases? Whatever it is, it must be searchable using all kinds of weird parameters.

  4. Ah, Bobby Bonds -- touted as the next Willie Mays. Too much pressure to be great, or too many injuries, but for whatever reason he never came close to Mays' superstar status or performance. Just a good to very good player for a while. And how ironic that as his career dipped severely downward as he reached his 30s, his son's career would take off famously at that age.

    As for the Game of the Week back then: I much preferred the earlier (CBS?) nat'l GOTW -- b&w only -- featuring broadcasters Dizzy Dean and PeeWee Reese -- usually doing Yankee games (CBS owned the Yankees for a few yrs back then). It was fun watching just to listen to Dean mangle the English language and deliver some colorful country sayings. And yet with all his trouble speaking properly, I recall that he was assigned to do the play-by-play, with the "color" analysis being handled by the able easy-going Reese.

    Something was lost when NBC took over GOTW duties in the mid-60s, even as they finally broadcast games in color. It just had a more sanitized and corporate feel. Curt Gowdy, knowledgable as he was about baseball, didn't quite replace Dizzy Dean for me in terms of delivering a fun broadcast, nor did his sidekicks Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek. Too many slices of bland white bread. And this was also the era -- early 70s -- when some of the charming, unique older baseball stadiums were being torn down to be replaced by cookie-cutter larger venues, with all the quirkiness of the old ones gone, including the natural grass.

    Baseball broadcasts got exciting again when ABC got involved for a while sometime in the 70s or 80s with Al Michaels or Keith Jackson calling Monday night games, joined in the booth, brilliantly but all too briefly, by one Howard Cosell. I think they had a third guy in the booth -- the Orioles great RH pitcher Jim Palmer, the handsome dude, and later Joe Morgan. Cosell's excited call of Reggie Jackson's HRs in the 1977 (?) WS was memorable. Quite a contrast with NBC's perhaps deliberately understated old school calls of the games.

  5. This really is an interesting topic. It's amazing how we have enough records of all of this stuff, often enough video, that we can convince ourselves we were watching it live, when honestly, we weren't- or even if we were, we weren't paying enough attention.

    My example of this is that I was at Andy Hawkins' Not-A-No-Hitter game in 1990. But I was only 7, and I'm pretty sure I was only concerned with the ballpark (we went there specifically because Old Comisky was about to close) and the hot dogs. But I have very clear memories of the 8th inning- memories far too clear to be from the stands.

  6. Yeah -- I have a very strong memory that I saw Mays and McCovey HR in San Diego when I was there for a couple games in (I'm pretty sure) 1971 -- but my memory isn't exactly of seeing the HRs, but of the fact of being there for them.

    OTOH, I was there for the Brian Johnson game in 1997, and that HR I remember very clearly. Of course, that's a little more recent....


    "Wasn't Mays" is an unfair standard. Bonds really was a great player, just not for all that long. Underappreciated, thanks to both the Bonds thing and the Ks.


    The Elias people supply stats for broadcasters. No idea how they do it. People with serious skills, though, could get amazing amounts of stuff from b-r.

  7. During last night's Brewers-Giants broadcast on KNBR, Dave Flemming said that he found the players-to-hit-a-grand-slam-in-their-first-game stat on It sounds like he looked it up online like any of us would.

  8. Didn't mean to be unfair to Bobby Bonds, just to note that comparison, those expectations were out there at the time, as he seemed to have the entire package as Mays did and Giants fans were hoping to see more greatness in the Giant outfield as Willie neared the end of his career.

    Typical fan/media reaction though: as with Mantle following Joltin' Joe or Yaz having to follow Ted Williams. I do say Bobby Bonds was a good to very good player, but not in the great category. Underappreciated probably is also accurate though.

  9. Besides being an interesting comment on baseball history, this post is also a useful reminder of how unreliable our memories are--including memories that are so clear we would swear by them. We humans really need to learn to have more self-doubt, since many of our problems (and more than half of our disagreements) arise from the stubbornness with which we cling to beliefs that are simply false.


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