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Free Pass—Players who were intentionally walked with bases loaded - Brief Article

Baseball Digest, May, 2000 by Jerome Holtzman

In the 20th century, only Nap Lajoie, Bill Nicholson and Barry Bonds drew a base on balls with the bags filled

BEFORE LEAPING INTO THE NEXT millennium, some mention should be made of the intention al walk. Not the ordinary intentional pass which is common; there have been thousands. But the intentional walk with the bases loaded, the ultimate compliment.

As far as can be determined, this occurred only three times during the 1900s and as such is worthy of a special examination. The recipients, in order, were Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie of the Philadelphia A's in 1901, Bill Nicholson of the Chicago Cubs in 1944, and Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants in 1998.

According to the rulebook, an intentional walk is defined as one in which "the pitcher makes no attempt to throw the last pitch to the batter into the strike zone but purposely throws the ball wide to the catcher outside the catcher's box."

Intentional walks were not included in official score sheets until 1955. But this strategy began in 1896 when William "Kid" Gleason, captain of the New York Giants, had pitcher Jouett Meekin walk Chicago slugger Jimmy Ryan to get to George Decker, a weaker hitter. Decker struck out to end the game.

Because of the absence of official stats for the succeeding 59 seasons, the intentional walk, though resurrected by researchers, has essentially been lost in the fog of time. Especially the bases-loaded walk, which has been extremely difficult to confirm.

Some old-timers, for example, insist Babe Ruth was among the beneficiaries. It is a likely but erroneous assumption. The Babe came close. On July 26, 1926, Joe Shanti of the Indians tried to put him on with two outs and the bases filled in the sixth inning but the Babe was impatient. He stepped across the plate and fouled off what would have been ball four. Umpire Brick Owens called him out for stepping out of the batter's box.

For many years, it was said Joe Medwick, the St. Louis slugger, drew a bases-loaded walk during his 1937 Triple Crown season, but it has never been confirmed. Trying to check it out, Ev Parker, writing in the National Pastime, contacted Harry Danning, among others. Danning answered the question with a question: "If you were a rival manager, would you walk Medwick to pitch to Johnny Mize?"

Ted Williams, who would seem to be a candidate for this honor, never strolled with the bases loaded. Neither did Hank Aaron, Stan Musial or Harmon Killebrew. Same for Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Willie Mays. Willie McCovey, who holds the one-season intentional walk record, 45 in 1969, was also investigated and found wanting.

Mel Ott of the Giants is the biggest problem. He drew five intentional passes in the second game of a meaningless 1929 double-header with the Phillies. Ott and the Phillies' Chuck Klein were tied for the home run title with 42. To prevent Ott from taking the lead, Burt Shotton, the Phillies' manager, told his pitchers not to give him anything to hit.

They followed instructions to the letter. Ott's fifth walk was delivered with the bases drunk with two outs in the ninth, on a 3-2 count. But apparently it was not intentional. If it was, none of the New York or Philadelphia writers mentioned it in their game stories.

It was Ott, when he was managing the Giants in 1944, who ordered pitcher Andy "Swede" Hansen to walk "Swish" Nicholson in a July 23 doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. "He's killing us," Ott said. "Put him on."

Nicholson had hit three home runs in the opener and connected again in the seventh inning of the nightcap. Nicholson came to bat again in the eighth. The Giants were leading, 10-7. A grand slam would have given the Cubs an 11-10 lead. Ott didn't want to take the risk. Andy Pafko flied out to end the inning.

Nap Lajoie walked 43 years earlier, on May 23, 1901, against the White Sox. The Sox were ahead, 11-7, in the ninth. Fearing that Lajoie, who led the league with a .422 average, would hit a game-tying grand slam, Clark Griffth, then a pitcher-manager who was working in relief, walked Lajoie with no outs. It was the boldest move of all. The next three batters went out on ground balls and the Sox won, 11-10.

The last intentional bases-loaded pass occurred May 28, 1998. Arizona manager Buck Showalter, hanging on to an 8-6 lead, saluted Barry Bonds of the Giants when the career leader with 298 free passes came up with two outs in the ninth. This reduced the Diamondbacks' lead to 8-7. Brent Mayne hit a hard liner to right for the final out.

After the game, Ron Perranoski, the Giants' pitching coach, said, "Babe Ruth is the only one I've ever heard them do that to but that was a little before my time."

Jerome Holtzman is the Official Historian for Major League Baseball. He is a frequent contributor to

COPYRIGHT 2000 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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