Alex Rodriguez closing in on Gehrig’s grand-slam record

24 04 2011

Alex Rodriguez hit his 22nd career grand-slam homer last night, pulling within one of Lou Gehrig‘s all-time record.

We’ll acknowledge but then move past the first comparison that probably came to your mind: Gehrig hit all his homers without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. And perhaps the second thing you thought of (if not the first) was that maybe A-Rod has hit better in the clutch than you realized.

What really stands out to me about A-Rod’s spot among the grand-slam leaders is that he is the only player in the top eight in career homers as well as career grand slams. Go to the top 10, and you can add Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, who both hit 16 grand slams. But for the most part, the leaders in grand slams are not who you would think they’d be: great sluggers mostly, but not the greatest.

In fact, five of the six leading grand-slam sluggers played with hitters who were more feared than they were, or at least as feared. Five of the six leading grand-slam sluggers followed feared sluggers in the batting order for significant stretches of their careers:

To be sure, Ventura was a good slugger and the others were great ones: Ramirez, Murray and McCovey each with over 500 homers and Gehrig with 493. And I haven’t done (and won’t do) the research to figure out how many of their homers followed walks to the feared sluggers they followed. (I did confirm from multiple randomly chosen box scores that they hit behind the feared sluggers.)

I will note, though, that the sluggers these hitters followed walked a lot: Ruth was third all-time, Thome ninth and Thomas tenth. Ortiz, Thome, Thomas, Mays and Ruth led their leagues in walks some seasons they were teammates with grand-slam leaders. Ripken got 1,129 career walks, including 107 intentional walks. Piazza drew 146 intentional walks.

Belle was more of a free swinger. But he hit 50 homers and 52 doubles in 1995, with Ramirez hitting behind him. I don’t care how much a pitcher or manager feared Manny, Belle was not going to see a strike with men at second and third and first base open.

Of the grand-slam leaders, perhaps Murray was more feared than Ripken at times. He hit 73 more homers and was a switch-hitter. But Ripken won two MVP awards (Murray never did). And Murray grounded into 315 double plays (6th all-time; Ripken was first with 350, though it doesn’t appear that stat goes back very far). You may be more afraid of Murray with the bases loaded than of Ripken with the bases loaded. But you’d rather face Murray with the bases loaded than give Ripken a good pitch to hit with men on second and third and first base open.

A-Rod was the most feared slugger on the Rangers and Yankees for virtually all of his time with either team, though he played with lots of excellent hitters. While he was a Mariner, Ken Griffey Jr. was the more feared hitter. But Rodriguez hit in front of Griffey in all the box scores I checked, except for in 1999, when he did follow Griffey, who is tied for 12th at 15 grand slams. (They were the only teammates in the 600-homer club.)

Clearly grand slams are an intersection of ability (no singles hitters high on the grand-slam charts) and random opportunity, influenced by batting order, pitching performance and strategy. Just as clearly, if you are a great slugger who happens to follow a great slugger in the lineup, you get more opportunities to hit grand slams. And these batters delivered notably in those opportunities.

As you might expect, Yankees do really well on the grand-slam leaderboard: Gehrig and A-Rod at the top and Ruth tied for ninth. Don’t forget that Ventura played two seasons for the Yankees, too. (Dave Kingman, tied with Ruth and Aaron for ninth, was also a Yankee for eight games, if you want to count him). Jason Giambi (who spent a few years hitting behind A-Rod) is tied for 15th with 14 grand slams. Joe DiMaggio and Gary Sheffield check in at 13, Don Baylor at 12 (I saw a couple of those), Reggie Jackson, Tino Martinez, Danny Tartabull, Bernie Williams and Dave Winfield at 11.

The oddest fact about Yankees and grand slams: Don Mattingly holds the record for most grand slams in a season with six, hit in 1987 (Travis Hafner matched that feat in 2006). And those were the only grand slams Mattingly ever hit. That’s one of two home run records Mattingly holds, though he hit only 222 for his career and never more than 35 in a season. He also shares (with Griffey and Dale Long) the record for most consecutive games with a homer, eight.

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10 responses

13 01 2013
A champion like Bernie Williams would be a sure Hall of Famer in football or basketball « Hated Yankees

[…] Alex Rodriguez, another automatic Hall of Famer on record who’s tainted by drugs, came along after the championship run that Bernie led. He’s most comparable to Steve Young in the 49ers, but he doesn’t have a Packers or Steelers counterpart. Since we’re looking at the run of four titles in five years, he doesn’t count. Even if we extended through the 2003 World Series, A-Rod didn’t arrive until the next year. Randy Johnson, a sure Hall of Famer, didn’t join the Yankees until 2005. […]

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12 02 2013
Kevin Youkilis joins a long line of Red Sox heroes who’ve become Yankees « Hated Yankees

[…] favorite. Youk signed a one-year deal to play for the Yankees, probably playing third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabs from surgery (and longer, if the Yankees can unload A-Rod or get out of his […]

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2 11 2013
Wrapping up the 2013 season: Congrats to Red Sox, Mo, Pettitte | Hated Yankees

[…] the Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, I said I’d rather have Soriano over the next seven seasons (the time […]

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15 12 2013
Joe Torre should have made the Hall of Fame as a player | Hated Yankees

[…] Rivera playing 12 years apiece for him. And he had six years of Roger Clemens and four years of Alex Rodriguez. Throw in another six years of Ozzie Smith and Torre had 40 years of Hall of Famers pretty much in […]

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6 04 2015
Alex Rodriguez’s disappointing decade as a Yankee | Hated Yankees

[…] is unquestionably a clutch situation, grand slams, as I’ve noted before, also are a function of the batting order. Yankee fans care most about a different type of clutch hitting, and A-Rod didn’t deliver […]

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21 09 2015
Yankees among the best almost everywhere but starting pitcher | Hated Yankees

[…] Schmidt is an easy call as the best ever at third base. But if you set aside the drug issue, A-Rod certainly belongs in the best-ever consideration at third base. His time at shortstop (1,272 games, […]

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10 01 2016
Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team | Hated Yankees

[…] of Fame, but others don’t. Lou Gehrig had only six more hits than Buckner, but he had the record for grand slams and that consecutive game streak. And a Triple Crown. Just four hits behind Buckner in all-time […]

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4 04 2016
The 5 best first basemen in Yankee history | Hated Yankees

[…] held the career record for grand slams with 23, until he was finally passed by Alex Rodriguez (who, I should note, has played first base for the Yankees in two games). Giambi, with 14 grand […]

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19 07 2016
Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers? | Hated Yankees

[…] in career RBI, fourth in homers, eighth in runs and 20th in hits. Throw in three MVP awards, the major league record for grand slam homers, five home run titles, two RBI titles, a batting championship, 329 stolen bases, a 40-40 season. […]

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12 08 2016
Alex Rodriguez: The most disappointing great Yankee ever | Hated Yankees

[…] Alex Rodriguez closing in on Gehrig’s grand-slam record […]

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