Seventeen years ago today—May 28, 1998—Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter made the decision to intentionally walk Barry Bonds with the bases loaded. It’s the rarest of baseball strategies, but it didn’t feel nearly as wrong as it might have: Bonds was, after all, the most fearsome hitter of all time.
Bonds was a pinch-hitter that night (he ended up walking in both plate appearances), and came into the game with 13 homers and a fantastic 1.045 OPS. So when he came up with the bases loaded, two outs, and Arizona up by two runs, Showalter made the call to put him on and force in a run, just to take the bat out of his hands.
“You try to give your club the best opportunity to win a game,” Showalter said. “It might not have been good, but it was better than the option we had.’’
It worked, too, but it was a close-run thing; pitcher Gregg Olson got the next batter, Brent Mayne, to line out to right on a full count. The strategy also worked the next time it was used: in 2008, when Rays manager Joe Maddon called for a bases-loaded intentional walk for Josh Hamilton with two out and a four-run lead.
Since the intentional walk was first recorded as a statistic in 1955, those are the only two instances of batters being handed an RBI along with their free pass. But researchers have discovered four prior instances, and each and every time, the team issuing the bases-loaded intentional walk has gone on to win the game. I urge you to read that entire list, but let me pull out this one:
Napoleon Lajoie, May 23, 1901 - the Athletics were batting against the White Sox in the top of the ninth inning. They were down, 11-7, but had the bases loaded and none out with Lajoie - on his way to a Triple Crown - up. Manager Clark Griffith inserted himself as relief pitcher and “calmly sent four wide ones across” to deliberately force in a run, bringing future home run champs Socks Seybold and Harry Davis up with the bases still full. Griffith then disposed of Seybold, Davis, and Morgan Murphy on infield grounders, saving the 11-9 win.
Chill the fuck out, Clark Griffith may or may not have said. I’ve got this shit.