Carved into the Mount Rushmore of Baseball Occurrences are the faces of four sacred institutions:
The perfect game
The Liberty Ford Grand Slam Inning
There are fewer things baseball fans love more than a predetermined set of circumstances happening over the course of a season. And, while the fabled perfect game has happened in 0.01% of major league starts and the cycle only occurs roughly 2.5 times every 162 games, only one of these marks of human achievement rewards a random winner with a brand new Ford vehicle. Hint: It’s not the cycle.
The Liberty Ford Grand Slam inning is a giveaway created by Ohio-based Liberty Ford auto dealership that, since it’s inception in 2014, has given a randomly chosen fan the chance to win a new car if the Indians hit a grand slam in the third inning. Why a grand slam? Why the third inning? I don’t know! But the most obvious solution is that limiting the giveaway to one inning, and one rare baseball event, means a locally-owned chain of car dealerships won’t be giving away two-year leases on brand new vehicles every other night. It’s just smart business. But it’s still not impossible to win, either.
Grand slam innings aren’t anything new. The San Francisco Giants’ radio affiliate, KNBR, has their own iteration of it where a random fan can win a large pizza. But that sucks — you can’t even drive around like a truck, no matter how hard you try. Nothing compares to excitement of the Indians’ Grand Slam inning, particularly because Tom Hamilton always hypes it up, and it’s hard not to be hyped about anything that Tom Hamilton is hyped about.
It’s grown into a sort-of cult following on Indians Twitter to watch with baited breath, and shout in all caps, when the grand slam inning is on. When the Indians were bad early in what we’ll call the Grand Slam Inning era, it was a thing to root for while the Indians weren’t winning games. Now that the team is probably going to win the American League Central, it’s a thing to root for when 162 games of the regular season don’t really matter.
Most recently, Ohio resident Marie-Elizabeth Dohar found out that she was on the block to win Saturday if Carlos Santana could come through with a grand slam over the struggling Blue Jays rotation. Santana struck out, Hanley Ramirez walked, Jake Bauers singled to unload the bases, and with that it was over. It’s rare that we actually get to know who was about to win with a Grand Slam Inning on the line, or at the very least, that person is rarely ever Very Online and noticeable to the public.
Luckily, Marie-Elizabeth Dohar is on Twitter and our own Tyler Griffith noticed her excitement in preparation for that night’s recap. So I asked her what it was like knowing she was one big hit away from winning a brand new car. It’s as silly and weird as you would expect.
I wasn’t home, so I was watching the game on my phone and the contestant’s name isn’t announced on TV. I was visiting with my grandmother, so I wasn’t even really paying attention to what inning it was. My brother called — which is weird because calling isn’t really a thing any more — and I kept declining his call because Santana was up to bat with bases loaded. I figured I’d call him back at the end of the inning. After I declined his call three times, he called my mom and was trying to explain to her. Apparently, someone he knows heard the name and called to see if we were related. From there, it was kind of crazy because there were at least four chances for me to win. My grandma and mom got super excited and put the game on the TV. In the meantime, a cousin of ours texted my mom that she heard it. But I had absolutely no idea until people started to contact us. It was such a whirlwind, and all we could do was laugh.
But how rare, exactly, is the Liberty Ford Grand Slam Inning?
Don’t worry, I ran the numbers.
Dating back to Opening Day 2014, when the promotion started, batters league-wide have come up to the plate with the bases loaded in the third inning 2128 times. Only 64 of those have resulted in a grand slam, for a 3.01 percent Ford Winning Rate (referred henceforth as, naturally, FWR). The Mariners lead all of baseball in FWR since 2014 with 9.21 percent of their third-inning bases-loaded scenarios resulting in home runs, or seven in 79 plate appearances. The Pirates, Brewers, White Sox, Cubs, and Braves have all never had a grand slam in the third inning.
You may have noticed a key name missing from that last group, which brings me to a startling revelation I had in the course of researching for this post: SOMEONE HAS ACTUALLY WON BEFORE AND NO ONE SEEMED TO NOTICE.
That’s right, the Indians have exactly one third-inning grand slam to their name since the giveaway started. Sixty-four grown men have come to the plate with a chance to send a fan home with a two-year lease on a brand new vehicle, and only one succeeded.
Look, I even made a chart.
That lone pillar in a sea of dates is none other than Carlos Santana on one fateful night of September 18, 2015, when the middling 72-73 Indians were taking on the equally middling 69-76 White Sox.
The Indians technically had a shot at the playoffs, three games back from the second Wild Card spot with only 17 games left to play. But LeBron James was preparing for his second season in his return to Cleveland fresh off an appearance in the Finals and Johnny Manziel was on the cusp of his first start with the Browns. There wasn’t much attention being paid to the Indians, even with their budding star at shortstop and signs of a dominant rotation lurking beneath a struggling, aging offense. This was during that period of time you try to block out of memory, when the Royals were in the midst of back-to-back American League Pennants, culminating in a World Series win. You know, the dark times.
In the bottom half of the third inning, Santana came up to the plate with a trio of Indians legends on base: Mike Aviles, Michael Brantley, and Ryan Raburn in an odd-numbered year. Santana took a two-seamer from Chris Sale low in the zone and deposited it in the left field bleachers.
The Indians’ official Twitter account was completely mum on the dinger and never so much as mentioned it. But they did rightfully praise rookie Francisco Lindor for his hit earlier in the game.
As for the rest of Twitter, there was... nothing. Mostly because, following the Twitter breadcrumbs, it appeared that Liberty Ford had abruptly cancelled the giveaway a month earlier. Without Tom Hamilton reminding everyone of the importance of that bases loaded situation, only a handful of Indians Twitter folks seemed to notice that it even happened:
@MegicJ_iFunny GRAND SLAM YESTERDAY IN WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN GRAND SLAM INNING ON RADIO. FORD GIVING TRUCK AWAY.— sportsyelling (@sportsyelling) September 20, 2015
Do we tweet at Liberty Ford until they are forced to giveaway a truck? Is that how this works?— Anthony DiPiero (@AnthonyDiPiero7) September 19, 2015
@MomOnWarpath It's the one where WTAM has a Grand Slam inning & draws a name. If Tribe hits a GS that inning, you win a new truck.— Sara Tonyn I don't suffer fools gladly. (@Sara_Tonyn) September 19, 2015
Somebody actually gets the Truck for the grand slam inning!!!!— jay schlesinger (@jayschlesinger) September 19, 2015
But then, a month later without much ceremony, Cleveland 19 News ran a report that Ohio resident Tom Paoloni did indeed win a two-year lease on a Ford F-150 thanks to the bat of Carlos Santana. Liberty Ford did share it on Twitter, but their 300 followers didn’t do a great job of spreading the message.
As of this writing, it’s been nearly four years since Mr. Paoloni won that two-year lease. So the dream of winning the Liberty Ford Grand Slam Inning has already come and gone for one fortunate soul.
Just like with Lee Richmond’s 1880 perfect game, the seal has been broken; it can happen again. Someday.