Turn Back the Clock: The legend surrounding Mel Ott’s intentional walk with the bases loaded
When Barry Bonds was putting up one of his historic batting seasons in 2004 for the San Francisco Giants, he was intentionally walked 120 times during the season, including four in one game. Opposing teams feared his bat so much they were willing to give him an automatic free pass rather than see him hit another home run or extra-base hit.
There have been several instances in baseball history in which a batter was intentionally walked in a bases loaded situation, the most recent by Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager on April 15, 2022. With Texas leading 3-2 with one out in the fourth inning, Seager was given a free pass by Los Angeles Angels pitcher Austin Warren. Angels manager Joe Maddon made a gut call to walk Seager and give up the run in the relatively close game. He rationalized that the human element (with the dangerous Seager at the plate) dictated the situation, versus the numbers. Maddon was vindicated when his team ultimately won the game, 9-6.
When baseball records involving intentional walks come up, Gretna native and Hall of Famer Mel Ott is often recalled for his game on October 5, 1929, when he was walked with the bases loaded. A belief developed over the years that it actually happened, and it is often included in the all-time list of batters who were intentionally walked with the bases loaded. But a deeper look at the specifics of the game leaves the situation in question.
By Ott’s fourth major-league season, he had developed into a feared hitter, always a threat to knock one out of the park. Going into a doubleheader with the Phillies on October 5, Ott and Phillies slugger Chuck Klein were tied for the National League lead in home runs with 42.
Klein moved ahead of Ott with a home run in fifth inning of the first game of the doubleheader on a blow that hit the right field foul pole and bounced back onto the field. Ironically, Ott was the player who retrieved the ball. Meanwhile, Ott managed to get only a single in four plate appearances, as the Phillies won the game, 5-4.
The second game of the doubleheader got out of hand early for the Phillies, as the Giants scored six runs by the third inning, while holding the Phillies scoreless. Ott posed little threat of tying Klein since he walked four times and singled in his first five plate appearances.
With the Giants leading 11-3 in the ninth inning, Ott came up to bat for a sixth time. Phillies manager Burt Shotton, determined that his slugger would retain the home run lead, ordered his pitcher Phil Collins to intentionally walk Ott with the bases loaded. Following his manager’s directive, Collins hurled three balls wide of the plate.
Realizing the Phillies’ intentions, Ott became angered by Klein’s tactic. Collins followed with the next two pitches that were also wide of the plate, yet Ott swung at and missed both.
Phillies second baseman Fresco Thompson took exception to Ott’s futile attempt to hit one of the last two pitches and rushed in from his position to argue with umpire Bill Klem. Thompson was trying to make the case that Ott’s at-bat should be considered a walk whether he swung at the pitches or not. The dispute went on for several minutes, until Klem finally ejected Thompson from the game. With the game restored, Ott ended up accepting ball four.
While it was clear that Shotton’s intention was to keep Ott from getting a good pitch to hit in his last at-bat, in order to protect Klein’s home run lead, his decision to walk Ott intentionally was not an in-game tactic to protect his team’s lead or keep the score close if behind, which is the typical usage of an intentional walk.
Thus, the Phillies’ basis for using the intentional walk against Ott in his last-at bat makes the act questionable in the eyes of many baseball historians.
Ott, a left-handed hitter with a unique batting style, went on to have an illustrious career. He was considered the “Babe Ruth of the National League,” becoming the league’s all-time home run leader (511, second only to Ruth’s 714) when he retired as a player in 1947. Ott’s National League homer record was not broken until Willie Mays hit his 512th in 1966. Ott was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951.
Mel Ott Park and Recreation Center in Gretna is named in his honor.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.