Lights Out: Tony Cloninger’s Twin Grand Slams
When: July 3, 1966
Where: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California
Game Time: 2:42
Of course, in the 1960s, all pitchers did their own hitting. And some of them were pretty good at it.
Some of them, in fact, set hitting records that no non-pitcher has ever topped. That’s what Tony Cloninger did on July 3, 1966.
On his way to his ninth victory of the 1966 season, Cloninger helped his cause with a pair of grand slam home runs and another run batted in on an eighth-inning single. His nine RBIs in one game are still the major league record for a pitcher.
On that Sunday afternoon in front of 27,000 fans at Candlestick Park, Cloninger pitched a complete game, winning his ninth victory of the season in a 17-3 laugher over the hometown Giants. What made the game significant wasn’t Cloninger’s arm but his bat, and the nine runs it produced that afternoon (a major league single-game record for a pitcher).
Before he threw his first pitch, Cloninger already had a seven-run lead. In the top of the first inning, against Giants southpaw Joe Gibbon, the Braves struck for three runs on a Joe Torre home run. Gibbon gave up two more singles before being replaced by Bob Priddy, who walked shortstop Denis Menke to load the bases. The next batter was Cloninger, who sent the ball over the left-center field fence for a grand slam that made the score 7-0.
Cloninger was just getting started.
Batting in the top of the fourth inning against Ray Sadecki, Cloninger launched his second slam of the afternoon. And after flying out to left field to lead off the sixth inning, Cloninger collected his ninth RBI of the game in the eighth inning, singling to left off Sadecki to score Woody Woodward from third base.
Tony Cloninger wasn’t the only pitcher in this game to hit a home run. The Giants’ third pitcher, Ray Sadecki, hit a solo home run off Cloninger in the fifth inning.
Cloninger allowed three runs (all earned) on seven hits, including a pair of solo home runs: one by Giants catcher Tom Haller, and the other by the opposing pitcher, Sadecki. Pitchers’ bats that afternoon accounted for 10 RBIs. Not a bad hitter for a pitcher (with a .192 lifetime average), Cloninger hit .234 in 1966, with five home runs and 23 RBIs. Unfortunately, by 1966, he was on the downside of his pitching career, finishing that season at 14-11, 10 victories fewer than the previous year and the most he would ever again win in any single season.
Cloninger finished his 12-year career with 113 wins … and 11 career home runs.