Where Have You Gone Tony Cloninger? Baseball Turns Its Lonely Eyes To You.
“Where have you gone, Tony Cloninger? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” For those who recognize the preceding Simon & Garfunkel words will also notice that I substituted Tony C.’s name with Joe D.’s. That’s right! The “Great” Joe DiMaggio as Ernest Hemmingway referred to the ‘Yankee Clipper’ in his novel the Old Man and the Sea.
One might also ask who is Tony Cloninger? Of course, any die-hard Red Sox fan can tell you that he served as the team’s pitching coach for both the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Or that he currently serves as the team’s player development consultant. Then, I am sure Yankee fans remember that he served as New York’s bullpen coach for four of their World Series Championship teams. But it was what Tony did on July 3, 1966 that should be the most memorable. Tony hit two grand slams in the same game.
Jim Northup, former star outfielder with the Detroit Tigers, who also accomplished the same feat (6/24/1968), claimed: “…hitting two grand slams in a single MLB game is an outstanding feat. It’s rarer than a perfect game.”
As of 2012, two grand slams in one game have been accomplished 14 times, and after Felix Hernandez threw his gem (8/15/2012), it marked the twenty third ‘perfect game.’ Tony Cloninger is the first and probably the last pitcher to ever hit two grand slams in a single game.
For those not familiar with this hard throwing right hander, he pitched for the Braves in both Atlanta and Milwaukee and with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds over a twelve year span. He had a career won/loss record of 113-97. His finest season was in 1965 with a 24-11, 3.29 record. Tony’s batting stats for his career was 11 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .192 batting average. He cleared the fences five times during the 1966 season.
While the Braves relocated to Atlanta from Milwaukee before the 1966 season, so did its powerful line-up of Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, Rico Carty and Eddie Matthews. Oh, and Tony Cloninger, who batted .234 with 23 RBIs and 5 homers.
It was one day in particular that the Braves’ pitcher demonstrated his batting prowess. On July 3, 1966 at Candlestick Park, the Braves beat the San Francisco Giants by a score of 17-3. Not only was Tony the winning pitcher, he was also responsible for driving in half of the Braves runs that day.
Cloninger hit the first of his grand slam after Joe Torre hit a 3-run dinger off of Joe Gibbon. Gibbon was relieved by Bob Priddy. Priddy walked Menke to load bases before surrendering Cloninger’s blast over the left-centerfield fence with two outs to make it 7-0.
Then in the fourth inning Torre reached on an error by the third baseman, then Frank Bolling singled and Menke walked again, meaning Tony once again came up with two outs.
With Torre on third base, he had the following conversation with coach Grover Resinger, “Hey Joe (Torre), Tony’s gonna hit another one and set an all-time record. I feel it!” Torre chuckled, “Go on, I’ve been up for five years and I’ve never seen anyone come close to hitting two in one game.”
On his second pitch, Ray Sadecki tried to sneak a fastball past Cloninger, who sliced it toward right. Mays and Jesus Alou sped toward the ball and both watched as it cleared the fence. Resinger went wild in the third base coach’s box.
Tony ended up finding a place in history by hitting two grand slams and collecting nine RBIs for the day both records for a pitcher. He was the first and only pitcher to hit two grand slams and his nine RBIs broke Vic Raschi’s record of seven from August 4, 1953.
After his big day at the plate, Tony observed, “Funny thing nobody asked me about my pitching!”