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One Particular Grand Slam

August 23, 2020

Hugh Atkins

It’s funny how my baseball memory works. The San Diego Padres were hitting grand slams at a record pace this week. Many baseball fans likely think of Lou Gehrig when they hear about historic grand slams, but I think of a pitcher–Wade Blasingame.

The Milwaukee Braves signed Blasingame as an amateur free agent in 1961 when he was just 17 years old and gave him a $100,000 bonus. Blasingame appeared in two games in 1963 and was 9-5 in 1964 in 28 games, including three complete games and a shutout.

© T.C.G.

Blasingame came into his own in 1965. After a shutout against the Houston Astros on July 26 of that year, George C. Crawford of United Press International wrote that Blasingame had “an excellent opportunity to become the first 20-game winner for the Milwaukee staff since Spahn turned the trick in 1963… .” The first 20-game winner since 1963? Heck, it was only 1965.

Blasingame fell short of 20 wins that year but had a fine season nonetheless, going 16-10 with 117 strikeouts in 224 innings; however, he also issued 116 walks. By the way, Tony Cloninger won 24 games for the Braves in 1965, ending the one-year dry spell.

With Blasingame’s emergence, it appeared the Braves were headed to Atlanta with a strong rotation made up of left handers Blasingame and Denny Lemaster and right handers Cloninger and Ken Johnson. But it didn’t quite work out like the Braves planned it.

In 1966 Blasingame slumped to 3-7, and his earned run average jumped to 5.77. After appearing in 10 games in 1967, the Braves traded him to the Astros. Two days later, Blasingame made his first appearance for the Astros–against the Braves. He came into the game in the top of the ninth inning with the score tied 3-3 and retired Tito Francona to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth, the Braves trotted out Bob Bruce, the pitcher they acquired from the Astros in the Ed Mathews deal. It just so happened that Mathews was the first batter Bruce faced. Mathews promptly hit the ball out of the park to win the game for the Astros, making Bruce the losing pitcher and Blasingame the winner. It had to be sweet revenge for Blasingame–and the ultimate revenge for Mathews.

© T.C.G.

Blasingame’s next appearance came ten days later, and it was also against the Braves. Blasingame was perfect for 2 ⅔ innings, but then his old bugaboo, lack of control, got the best of him. Blasingame walked Cloninger, Felipe Alou, and Mack Jones, bringing Henry Aaron to the plate. Aaron hit a grand slam and the Braves led 4-0. I was listening to this game, and even though I was a huge Henry Aaron fan, I remember feeling bad for Blasingame.

Blasingame finished the season with a record of 4-7 and a 5.96 earned run average after the trade. He pitched for the Astros until 1972, and after ten games that season, the Astros traded him to the New York Yankees. He appeared in 12 games for the Yanks and that wound up his career at the age of 28. Blasingame finished his career with a 46-51 record and a 4.52 ERA. He gave up 75 home runs, only one of which was a grand slam.

Wade Blasingame was an original member of the 1966 Atlanta Braves, so he always will hold a special place in my heart. I hope he looks back fondly on his days in the big leagues, but I bet he also thinks about Henry Aaron whenever he hears about a grand slam.

(All statistics are from Baseball Reference. Game details are from Retrosheet. Quote from George C. Crawford is from United Press International and the July 27, 1965 edition of the Portage Daily Register.)

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