Tony Cloninger: Only pitcher to hit two grand slams in one game


Tony Cloninger

Tony Cloninger won 113 games as a major-league pitcher over 12 seasons but is best remembered for what he did in a single game in 1966 as a batter. Cloninger, who in his post-playing days career was a coach on World Series championship Yankees teams and a consultant on World Series championship Red Sox teams, died last week at 77. Fifty-two years later, Cloninger is still the only pitcher — and one of 13 players (list below) — to hit two grand slams in the same game. On July 3, 1966 Cloninger hit a grand slam off the Giants’ Joe Gibbon as part of a seven-run first inning; when he came up in the fourth inning against Ray Sadecki with the bases loaded again, Cloninger homered again (Sadecki returned the favor leading off the fifth, homering off Cloninger, but the bases were empty). Cloninger added an RBI single in the eighth for his ninth RBI. No pitcher has ever knocked in more (Henry “Harry” Staley knocked in nine for the 1893 Boston Beaneaters, tying Cloninger for the NL record; the Yankees’ Vic Raschi knocked in seven in 1953). Cloninger pitched a complete game seven-hitter and won 17-3. “Funny thing, nobody asked me about my pitching,” said Cloninger, according to his bio at sabr.org, citing a 1966 Sporting News article. Cloninger was always a decent hitter, but ’66 was his best year at bat: he homered five times (five more than regular Braves second baseman Woody Woodward), knocked in 23 runs (20 fewer than Woody Woodward in 399 fewer plate appearances) and slugged .414 (yes, 87 points more than Woodward). Cloninger homered twice in a game earlier in 1966 vs. the Mets, but only knocked in five runs in that 17-1 win. Cloninger had good moments as a pitcher, too, but they were mostly early in his career before injuries took hold. He won 19 games in 1964, won 24 games in 1965, second only to Sandy Koufax’s 26, and 14 more in 1966, when the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta and Cloninger threw the team’s first pitch in the South. It may well have been a ball — Cloninger led the NL in walks and wild pitches in 1965 and 1966 — but he persevered, throwing 13 innings, fanning 12 and losing, 3-2, on Willie Stargell’s two-run homer in the 13th (the Pirates used three pitchers, making for a combined four in a 13-inning game; today’s managers can easily use four pitchers in an inning). Cloninger was in the top 10 in innings pitched each season from 1964-66 — 242.2, 279, 257.2 — and all those innings and all those pitches took a toll. Injuries curtailed him to 16 starts in 1967 and the Braves traded him, with reliever Clay Carroll, to the Reds in a six-player deal in 1968, for among others, Milt Pappas, whose mere presence probably reminded the Reds too much that they had traded Frank Robinson to get him. Cloninger started for a pitching-short ’69 Reds team and started and relieved for the 1970 Reds, who won the NL pennant. Cloninger contributed, winning nine games, lowering his ERA from ’69’s 5.03 to 3.88 and starting 18 times (he also walked 78 batters and fanned only 56 in 148 innings). Cloninger started Game 3 of the NLCS vs. the Pirates and left after five innings with the game tied, and started Game 3 of the World Series vs. the Orioles, who hit three home runs off him. Cloninger pitched one more season for the Reds, one for the Cardinals and retired after 1972. He returned to baseball as a minor-league pitching coach in the late 1980s’, and reunited with old Braves teammate Joe Torre as pitching coach of the Yankees who won four World Series from 1996-2000. Cloninger went to the Red Sox as pitching coach, and after a bout with cancer, became a consultant as they won three World Series in a nine-year period. Career stats: 113-97, 4.07 ERA, 352 games, 63 complete games, 13 shutouts, six saves, 1,767.2 innings, 1,643 hits, 798 walks, 1,120 strikeouts, 180 homers allowed, 88 ERA+, 4.00 FIP, .192 average as a hitter, 11 homers (one off Hall of Famer Jim Bunning), 67 RBIs, 4 MVP votes for 28th in 1965, 2.1 WAR. (The 13 players to hit two grand slams in the same game are: the Yankees’  Tony Lazzeri in 1936, the Red Sox’s Jim Tabor in 1939, the Red Sox’s Rudy York in 1946, the Orioles’ Jim Gentile in 1961, Cloninger in 1966, the Tigers’ Jim Northrup in 1968, the Orioles’ Frank Robinson in 1970, the White Sox’s Robin Ventura in 1995, the Orioles’ Chris Hoiles in 1998, the Cardinals’ Fernando Tatis in 1999, the Red Sox’s Nomar Garciaparra in 1999, the Red Sox’s Bill Mueller in 2003 and the Nationals’ Josh Willingham in 2009).

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