Today in Baseball History: Fernando Tatís hits two grand slams in one inning

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Fernando Tatís spent parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues, playing for the Rangers, Cardinals, Expos, Orioles, and Mets. In nearly 3,500 plate appearances, he hit .265/.344/.442 with 113 home runs and 448 RBI. It was a fine, fine, career.

He’ll probably be remembered most for two things, though: (1) being the father of Fernando Tatís Jr., who in less than one full major league season already looks like he’ll be a massive, massive superstar; and (2) the time on April 23, 1999 he hit two grand slams in a single inning.

The feat had, needless to say, never happened before. Indeed, up to that date, only four teams had ever hit two grand slams in an inning: the 1969 Houston Astros, 1986 Baltimore Orioles, 1980 Milwaukee Brewers, and the 1962 Minnesota Twins.

But, yep, it really happened:

 

While some of these history items go long, that video kind of tells you all you need to know, so we won’t dwell on it too much. But there are at least three things which led to the double slams which have always stuck in my mind.

First off, Tatís — like Dante from “Clerks” — was not even supposed to be there that day. At least not at that part of the order.

Early in the 1999 season Cards manager Tony La Russa had routinely batted an aging Eric Davis in the cleanup spot behind all-world slugger Mark McGwire. Davis had a sore hand that night, however, and the weather was cool, so La Russa gave the veteran the night off and moved Tatís, who typically batted fifth, up to the cleanup position. Davis would never get right in 1999 and would only play in 58 games. Tatís, after his two-slam night, went on to have the best season of his career, hitting .298/.404/.553 with 34 homers and 107 RBI. He’d still spend far more time in the fifth slot — La Russa was stubborn like that — but he did bat cleanup around 40 times that season, mostly after Davis was shelved for good mid-season.

Second: those two homers probably should not have been grand slams in the first place. That they ended up being homers hit with the bases loaded was actually due to mistakes by the Cardinals third base coach, Rene Lachemann.

Before Tatís’ first slam, Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire was at the plate with runners on first and second. McGwire hit a check-swing single, but for some reason Lachemann held the man on second, Darren Bragg, at third. Bragg could’ve scored easily, but instead it led to the bases being loaded for Tatís.

Before the second slam Cardinals pitcher José Jiménez was initially on first base, and then took second on an error, but Lachemann had him go station-to-station from second to third on an Édgar Rentería single and then told him not to tag up from third on a McGwire fly to right, again, preceding Tatís’ homer. For his part, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after the game that he couldn’t believe Lachemann didn’t send Jiménez home on the Rentería single.

The third thing which makes me scratch my head was that Tatís was able to hit both of them off of the same pitcher: Dodgers starter Chan Ho Park.

I realize that today’s pitcher usage patterns are not what they were 20 years ago, but even in 1999 it would not be uncommon for a pitcher getting lit up like Park was to be yanked from the game before he had a chance to face Tatís again. It was the third inning and Park had already faced 21 batters and had already thrown over 80 pitches before Tatís picked up his bat again. Yes, pitchers are often asked to “wear one,” as they say, but it was still “only” a 7-2 game, it was still early, and in the offense-crazy year of 1999 a five-run deficit was not insurmountable. It’d make some sense to maybe get Park out of there, especially before he had to face a guy who demolished him earlier in the inning.

Nah. Dodgers manager Davey Johnson just left Park in to pitch. And you think your boss hates you. Right after the slam Johnson lifted Park for reliever Carlos Pérez, who allowed only one more run in four innings of work, and Jeff Kubenka, who finished the game with two shutout innings. The Cards ended up beating the Dodgers 12-5.

Twenty+ years later and no one has yet matched Tatís’ feat. I can’t imagine any opposing manager or opposing pitcher will ever give anyone else the chance to do it, frankly.

 

Also today in baseball history:

1919: The major leagues open a reduced 140-game season. The season is shortened due to (a) reduced manpower, as many players had not yet been returned from military service following the previous November’s Armistice which ended The Great War; and (b) as something of a P.R. move after the league’s owners took a lot of flack over not immediately reducing the length of 1918 season due to the war.

1954: Hank Aaron hits the first of his 755 major league home runs. This first one comes off of Vic Raschi of the St. Louis Cardinals.

1955: The White Sox tie a modern major league mark for most runs scored by a single team in a game as they beat the Kansas City Athletics 29-6. In 1897 the Chicago Colts — now the Chicago Cubs — scored 36 against the Louisville Colonels, but baseball’s context and rules and things were pretty different then so the record wasn’t recognized. This record — also held by the 1950 Boston Red Sox, who scored 29 in a game against the St. Louis Browns — would not be broken until the Rangers scored 30 against the Orioles, who used to be the St. Louis Browns, in the first game of a doubleheader in 2007.

1964: Houston’s Ken Johnson becomes the first pitcher ever to lose a nine-inning no-hitter. Second baseman Nellie Fox’s error allows the only run as Cincinnati wins 1-0. Bet Fox was buying the beers that night.

2000: New York’s Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada become the first teammates to each homer from both sides of the plate in the same game, helping the Yankees beat the Blue Jays in Toronto.

2006: Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez is reprimanded by SNY for saying, in the previous night’s game, that women “don’t belong in the dugout.” He said it after seeing Kelly Calabrese, the Padres’ full-time massage therapist, sitting, in full uniform, in San Diego’s dugout. The next night Hernandez would apologize on-air, calling his comments “insensitive.”