On August 26, 1977, in Cincinnatti, with the Reds down 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th inning against Phillies relief ace Tug McGraw, Dan Driessen belted a line drive that hit the fence at Riverfront Stadium and rebounded over center fielder Jerry Martin all the way to the infield for an inside-the-parker. Then Johnny Bench followed with a more traditional four-bagger over the left field wall, ending the contest and sending the crowd home happy.
Perhaps the most exciting regular-season walk-off home run of the decade took place on August 2, 1970. At Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, the Phillies trailed San Francisco 6-3 in the last inning. Undeterred, Larry Hisle doubled, Doc Edwards singled, and Terry Harmon walked off Giants’starter Ron Bryant. San Francisco manager Charlie Fox finally replaced Bryant with Mike Davison. The next batter, Tony Taylor, blasted the first “Ultimate Grand Slam” in Phillies franchise history, capping off a wild 7-6 walkoff win for the Fightin’ Phils.
Taylor and Bench are one of many ballplayers through the years to enjoy special hitting days and milestones in August. In fact, on August 22, 1979, Bench set a Reds club record when he hit his 325th career home run. He is still the team all-time team leader with 389 homers, and also tops the franchise with 1,389 RBI.
On August 1st, 1971, Giants’ rookie Dave Kingman, who had launched a grand slam homer against Dave Guisti for his first big league hit a day earlier, blasted two more longballs against the Bucs. Playing first base and batting cleanup in his first major league start, Kong victimized All-Star pitcher Dock Ellis twice in the second game of a doubleheader sweep over the Pirates at Candlestick Park. San Francisco’s Game 1 first baseman, Willie McCovey, had hit a go-ahead 3-run shot in the 8th inning of the opener. Willie Stargell, who went on to lead the majors with 48 home runs, contributed two solo shots for the visitors. Pittsburgh avenged the sweep in October when they ousted the Giants in four games during the NLCS.
A year later, Nate Colbert, who was a one-man team for San Diego virtually all year, was his own wrecking crew as his Padres took down Atlanta 9-0 and 11-7 in a doubleheader sweep. Colbert tied a major-league record with five home runs, and set another with 13 RBI. Nate was on hand as an 8-year-old at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis when Stan Musial hit five home runs in a doubleheader.
In 1972 the Padres struggled through their third year of existence in familiar territory – the National League West basement, where they would finish in each of their first six seasons. One of the club’s few bright spots in 1972 was Colbert, their 6′ 2″, 190 pound slugging first baseman. Despite the Padres scoring a league-worst 488 runs, Nate somehow drove in 111, 5th best in the majors. The next highest total for a Padre was Leon Lee with 47.
Colbert was the San Diego offense; his 38 home runs were more than three times better than team runner-up Lee’s 12. He also led the team in hits, 141, (30 more than Lee’s 111), 87 runs, (37 more than Lee’s 50), 70 walks (29 better than second baseman Darrel Thomas’ 41), and doubles (28). Colbert only hit .250 and did strikeout 128 times, but imagine what he could have done in a lineup with an actual table-setter or two in front of him (opening day leadoff man Enzo Hernandez hit .195 and #2 hitter Darrel Thomas, .230), or some more protection behind him. Colbert’s 111 RBI were 22.75% of his team’s runs scored, an all-time record. Only 10 men in baseball history have driven in more than 20% of their team’s runs, and the only other hitter to do it in the 1970s was Frank Howard, with 126 RBI out of Washington’s 626 runs (20.13%) in 1970.
In another doubleheader hitting rampage, on August 24th, 1974, Kansas City’s Hal McRae tied the major league record with six extra-base hits – 5 doubles and a home run – as the Royals split a doubleheader with the Indians. In all, he went 6 for 9 in the twinbill with 7 RBI. It was a breakout year for the 28-year-old McRae, who batted .310 with 36 doubles and 88 RBI in his first season as a full-time player.
On August 1, 1977, Willie McCovey set a National League record and moved into second place all-time by hitting his 18th, and final, career grand slam. He is currently fifth on the all-time list:
Two future Hall of Famers hit the final homers of their career in August during the decade, while two others set impressive milestones.
- On August 24, 1971, Mr Cub, Ernie Banks, hit #512, the final home run of his career, a first inning shot off Cincinnati’s Jim McGlothlin, as the Cubs beat the Reds, 5-4.
- On August 17, 1973, at Shea Stadium, 42-year old Mets outfielder Willie Mays hit the 660th and final home run of his career off Reds lefty Don Gullett in a 2-1 loss. Willie’s team was far from finished, however, and despite slipping to 61-71 in last place on August 30, the ‘Ya Gotta Believe’ Mets stormed back to win the National League East, and won the pennant before being turned away by Oakland in seven games in the World Series.
- On August 10, 1971, Harmon Killebrew of Minnesota became the 10th player reach 500 home runs; he clubbed two off Baltimore starter Mike Cuellar, who nonetheless won the game 4-3, with a 10 inning effort. Killebrew retired with 573 homers, 12th on the all-time list.
- Finally, on August 13, 1979, the Cardinals’ outfielder and stolen base king Lou Brock, reached the 3,000 hit milestone in a 3-2 victory over the Cubs. The 40-year-old retired after the season with a .293 lifetime average, 3023 career hits, 938 steals, and 900 RBI.
Here are the top single season August home run hitters during the 1970s:
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His most recent book, 1970s All-Star Baseball: A History of the Decade’s All-Star Games can be found on Amazon:
His bestselling 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: