Golden anniversary: Willie Kirkland and the sacrificial sacrifice

50 years ago today, Willie Kirkland laid down the most sacrificial sacrifice of all-time. It’s the sort of bizarre little thing no one really notices—but exactly the bizarre sort of story that I just love.

July 9, 1961: Kirkland’s Indians play the Chicago White Sox in a doubleheader. After the Indians drop the first game, Kirkland gets off to a great start in the second game.

He steps to the plate in the second inning, and hits a two-run home run giving Cleveland a 2-0 lead. Not bad.

It gets better for him. Two innings late, Kirkland returns to the plate, and swats another ball over the fence. The Indians now lead 3-0.

The White Sox storm back to take a 7-3 lead by the sixth inning, when Kirkland again comes to bat. For the third time in three tries, he hits the ball over the fence for a homer. The Indians now trail, 7-4. Kirkland has all his team’s RBI, and, more importantly, is on the verge of history: a possible four-homer game. He should have at least one more time to bat in this game, too.

Sure enough, he gets another trip to the plate the next inning during an Indians rally. The Sox don’t trust him after his previous three times up, though, and walk him. That must have been quite the disappointment to the fans.

But the day isn’t over. Kirkland comes to the plate one final time in the ninth inning. At this point, the Sox lead 9-8, with runners on first and second with none out. The Sox would pitch around Kirkland at their risk: if they walk him, the winning run is in scoring position with none out. This puts Kirkland in an enviable position. One more homer and he is in the history books. The urge to swing away must be overwhelming.

Or not. He doesn’t swing away. He pokes a sacrifice bunt down the third base line to advance the runners.

There’s never been anything quite like that. There are dang few instances in baseball history where a batter combines a sacrifice hit and three home runs in one game. But a sacrifice hit after ripping three homers? There’s something you truly don’t see every day.

Give Kirkland credit for selflessness. But I don’t know if you should give manager Jimmy Dykes credit for strategy.

Oh, neither run scores. The Sox intentionally walk the next batter to load the bases and put a force at every base, and then induce a game-ending double play ground ball. White Sox 9, Indians 8.

Random fact: In the same game, Kirkland’s teammate Vic Power has the worst one-game WPA by any batter in all 1961: -0.570 WPA. He is 2-for-5 with a double and triple, but the hits come at low-leverage times. Power is the guy who hits into the game-ending double play.

Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event that occurred X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim.


4,000 days since Jaime Navarro plays his last game.

4,000 days since the Phillies trade Curt Schilling to Arizona for Travis Lee, Omar Daal. Nelson Figueroa, and Vicente Padilla.

25,000 days since the Cubs get Paul Derringer from the Reds.

30,000 days since Jesse Haines posts his 14th consecutive win. His line in this stretch: 15 G, 14 GS, 120.2 IP, 100 H, 34 R, 28 ER, 36 BB, 43 K, and a 2.09 ERA. It’s the longest winning streak in the career of the Hall of Fame pitcher.


1874 Jack Powell, 200 game winner, born.

1886 Joe Start, one of the best baseball players of his generation, born.

1895 Pink Hawley, a pitcher who normally had very poor run support, helps his own cause by lacing an inside the park home run off of Hall of Famer Kid Nichols.

1901 The Pirates win, putting the career record of manager Fred Clarke over .500 (296-295), where it will stay. Though Clarke is rarely thought of as a manager, for a brief spell he was the all-time winningest manager, until John McGraw overcame him.

1902 A’s 4, Red Sox 2 (17) in game where Rube Waddell and Bill Dinneen both go the distance.

1904 Iron Man Joe McGinnity wins two games in one day, though in an oddity for him both wins are in relief, not two complete games.

1912 The White Sox purchase Eddie Cicotte from the Red Sox.

1914 The Red Sox purchase Babe Ruth from Baltimore in the International League for more than $25,000.

1918 Larry Cheney of the Dodgers tosses five wild pitches in one game.

1921 Hippo Vaughn plays his last game. It’s just a few years after he was a premier pitcher.

1921 Pittsburgh’s director of public safety, Robert J. Alderdice, says Pirates fans can keep balls hit into the stands.

1922 Burleigh Grimes, Hall of Fame spitballer, allows a leadoff home run for the only time in his career. Max Flack of the Cardinals hits it.

1925 Dazzy Vance becomes the only pitcher to ever club an inside the park home run off fellow Hall of Famer Pete Alexander.

1927 Babe Ruth drives in a personal best seven runs in one game. He’ll tie that mark three times. In this game, Ruth is 5-for-6 with two doubles and two homers. His 13 total bases in one game also are a personal record (which he tied in his last great game in 1935).

1927 Ted Lyons ties a personal high with his ninth straight quality start. He went 6-3 with 83 IP, 64 H, 28 R, 16 ER, 19 BB, 12 K, and a 1.73 ERA. Only 12 strikeouts! This game was also his 17th straight complete game, but that wasn’t a personal best.

1929 Billy Southworth plays his last game. He’ll become a Hall of Fame manager. (Began his managing career this year, but it won’t take off until the 1940s).

1931 Freddie Lindstrom breaks his ankle sliding into third base.

1932 Ben Chapman of the Yankees hits three homers in a game—two of which were inside the park.

1937 Joe DiMaggio goes 5-for-5 for the only time. He hits for the cycle, with two home runs.

1940 The first shutout in the All-Star Game: NL wins 4-0.

1943 Bucky Harris manages his 3,000th game. (1,452-1,522 for his career).

1944 Mel Ott goes 0-for-3 with 3 Ks for the only time.

1946 The All-Star Game returns after a one-year wartime hiatus. AL wins, 12-0.

1948 A very belated major league debut for Satchel Paige.

1951 Harry Heilmann dies.

1953 Philadelphia’s Robin Roberts relieves in the eighth inning, ending a streak of 28 consecutive complete games.

1954 Red Schoendienst has his longest hitting streak max out at 28 games. He goes 48-for-124 with 11 doubles and three triples in that span.

1955 Arch Ward, the sportswriter who first proposed the All-Star Game, dies.

1955 Willie Wilson born.

1958 The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Anti-Trust Monopoly has hearings on baseball’s anti-trust exemption. Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle and other basebal figures speak. Stengel gives an extended talk in Stengel-ese gibberish that no one can comprehend. When Mantle testifies immediately afterward, he gets a big laugh by deadpanning “My views are the same as Casey’s.”

1960 The Dodgers release pitcher Tommy Lasorda. He’ll be back.

1961 Ninth-inning pinch -it grand slam by Sherm Lollar gives the White Sox a 7-5 win over the Indians.

1965 Frank Howard fans seven times in one doubleheader.

1966 Astroturf installed in Houston’s outfield.

1967 Dick Allen hits his 100th home run.

1968 NL 1, AL 0 in the lowest scoring All-Star Game ever.

1969 Lou Brock hits his 100th career home run.

1969 Seattle Pilots pitcher Fred Talbot hits a grand slam. In a radio promotion, a listener receives $27,000 for it. Talbot’s teammates decide to set up a practical joke. They send him a fake telegram from the fan saying he’ll give Talbot $5,000 of his winnings.

1969 Tom Seaver has his would-be perfect game. In the ninth inning. The Cubs’ Jim Qualls hits a single for the only base runner Seaver allows all game. Seaver fans 11 batters in his victory.

1970 Seaver hits his first career home run.

1970 Atlanta’s Chief Nok-a-Homa joined by his cousin Chief Round-the-Horns. Doesn’t take.

1970 Detroit’s Dalton Jones passes a teammate on the bases after hitting a grand slam. He has to settle for a three-run single.

1971 Vida Blue and Rudy May square off on a great pitchers’ duel. They both go 11 innings and neither allows a single run. Blue has a Game Score of 100, and May ends at 103, the last time both starters have a Game Score in triple digits—which has never happened again. The A’s top the Angels 1-0 in 20 innings.

1971 5-foot-3 Freddie Patek hits for the cycle.

1971 Leo Foster of Atlanta has one of the most hellish debuts in history. He commits an error on the first ball hit to him. In his first time at the plate, he hits into a double play. In the seventh inning, he tops that by hitting into a triple play.

1972 Nolan Ryan posts a Game Score of 100 in a one-hitter with 16 strikeouts versus only one walk. The only hit is a first-inning single by Carl Yastrzemski.

1973 The Expos and Reds combine for 25 walks in one game.

1973 Mets honcho M. Donald Grant addresses the team, leading reliever Tug McGraw to declare right afterward “He’s right! He’s right! Just believe! You gotta believe!” After McGraw convinces Grant he didn’t mean to mock his speech, McGraw’s statement becomes the rally cry for the surprising NL pennant winners.

1976 Larry Dierker no-hits the Expos.

1976 Tom Yawkey, Red Sox owner, dies at age 73 of leukemia.

1977 Mario Mendoza, famous for his horrible hitting, has his only walk-off hit: a single off Gene Garber for a 9-8 Pirates win in 12 innings.

1977 Phil Niekro picks off three base runners in one game.

1985 The Dodgers trade Al Oliver to the Blue Jays.

1986 Dale Murphy takes the day off, ending his streak at 740 consecutive games played.

1988 Chris Speier, of all people, hits for the cycle for the second time.

1988 Nolan Ryan wins his 100th game as an Astro, becoming the seventh pitcher to win 100 or more games for more than one team.

1988 The Rangers release Larry Parrish.

1989 Terry Francona is ejected after an intentional walk. He and umpire Ken Kaiser had an earlier run-in when Francona made a joke when bat splinters hit Kaiser in the throat.

1992 The Rangers fire Bobby Valentine.

1995 Chuck Finley allows his first ever grand slam after 1,729.1 innings. It’s the 152nd home run hit off him.

1995 Bud Black plays his last game.

1995 Major league debut: Joe Borowski.

1995 A worker installing lights into the Sky Dome falls 25 feet to his death.

1997 The Royals fire manager Bob Boone.

1998 In Triple-A, Benny Agbayani marries his fiancé at home plate.

1998 Bud Selig finally becomes outright commissioner, not just interim.

1999 The uniform Lou Gehrig wore in his “luckiest man” speech sells for $451,541 at an auction.

2002 That time, it didn’t count: AL 7, NL 7 (11) in the “Let them play” All-Star Game.

2003 The Diamondbacks’ all-time franchise record peaks at 82 games over .500 (491-409).

2003 Randall Simon of the Pirates taps the Italian Sausage with his bat in the Sausage Race game. The Italian Sausage falls, taking the Hot Dog down with her. The Polish Sausage helps them, but the Brat keeps motoring on.

2005 After 11 years, Coors Field hosts its first 1-0 game, as the Rockies beat the Padres.

2005 Adam Greenberg makes the most unfortunate major league debut ever. He gets beaned in the face in his first time up, is removed from the game, and never plays in the majors again.

2006 Ruben Sierra plays his only game.

2007 The Angels release Shea Hillenbrand.

2008 Mark Mulder plays his last game.

2010 The Mariners trade Cliff Lee to the Rangers. AL 5, NL 4.

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Greg Simons
Greg Simons

I agree, Bruce, I can’t see that happening again.

And this story highlights an issue I have with WPA.  Vic Power goes 2-for-5 with five total bases, and that’s the worst game anyone has the entire year?  As Vizzini says, “Inconceivable!”

Bruce Markusen
Bruce Markusen

Chris, a fun story about Kirkland, one I’d never heard of before. I knew he had power, but didn’t realize about the three-homer game. Somehow in today’s game I can’t imagine someone hitting three bombs and then being asked to lay one down.

Misha Allport
Misha Allport

On Willie Kirkland, one of my all-time favorites-give Vin Scully a call, he can explain to you why the bunt made perfect sense to us who lived in another world then. Thank God.