Mar 29, 2016

First Mets Player To Hit A Grand Slam: "Hot Rod" Kanehl (1962-1964)

Roderick Edwin Kanehl was born on April Fool’s Day 1934 in Wichita, Kansas. The six foot one, right hand hitter was signed after high school by the A.L. New York club as an amateur free agent in 1954.

In his first year of pro ball he hit .316 but toiled at the lowest levels of the minors for four seasons. In 1958 he went to AA ball and batted .295 getting promoted to AAA the next season.

The next two years he spent at the AA & AAA levels going to the Kansas City A’s, Cincinnati Reds &; Minnesota Twins organizations. He hit over .300 in 1961 but still didn’t’ have a contract after the season. The expansion New York Mets gave him a shot to try out at Spring Training, probably due to Casey Stengel remembering him from the minor leagues.

After eight years in the minors, Kanehl played his heart out in Spring Training to earn a spot on the 1962 expansion Mets roster. He once jumped over a fence to attempt catching a fly ball, as his hustle and all out determination earned him the nick name “Hot Rod” Kanehl.

He became a favorite of manager Casey Stengel and made the team, despite the wishes of upper management. According to the book; Once Upon the Polo Grounds," General Manager George Weiss told Stengel 'I ain't seen him do anything in the field. Stengel replied 'You're full of baloney, he can run the bases."

Hot Rod began the Mets first month being used mostly as a pinch hitter & pinch runner. Kanehl debuted on April 15th in the second home game in Mets history, that day he was hitless as a pinch hitter. On April 28th he came in the game as a pinch runner in an inning where Frank Thomas, Charlie Neal & Gil Hodges had just hit three straight HRs.

With the Mets John DeMerit at third base & Kanehl on second base, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Chris Short threw a wild pitch. DeMerit scored & the always hustling Kanehl, scored right behind him. His run turned out to be the games winning run in the first ever Mets home victory. 

He became an early Mets fan favorite, claiming to have the first banner in the Polo Grounds read “We Love the Mets-Hot Rod Kanehl”. Kanehl did hit well enough to reach the .300 mark by mid May although he didn't have too many at bats.

On June 1st he hit his first career HR, it came at the Polo Grounds against the old New York Giants now visiting from San Francisco. The following month on July 6th, he hit the first grand slam HR in Mets history. On July 6th 1962 at the Polo Grounds, Kanehl stepped in as a pinch hitter, in the bottom of the 8th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals Bobby Shantz. Kanehl's blast cleared the bases as Jim Hickman, Elio Chacon & Joe Christopher all scored on the way to the Mets 10-3 win. Hot Rod hit well enough to get his average back up to .310 at the start of August.

In the final ten days of that month he drove in runs in five different games. He would never be a good hitter, by the end of the season his average fell to .248. He was certainly versatile on the field making him very valuable on a poor fielding team. He would play at seven different positions for the ’62 Mets, everywhere but at catcher & pitcher. He wasn’t a great fielder either, making 22 errors at second base (second in the league).

Playing at third base he made eight more errors in 63 chances, & made two more in the outfield. He slumped off from there finishing the season hitting .248 with 4 HRs 10 doubles 2 triples 8 stolen bases 27 RBIs & a .296 on base %.

In 1963 he was batting just .174 in early June then began to hit a bit before falling just around that .200 mark again by mid August. He finished the year at .241 with just one HR six doubles & nine RBIs playing in 109 games. Once again he played all seven positions and made fewer errors on the field.

In 1964 he made the team again, getting to play in the new Shea Stadium. In his first start of the year he drove in two runs in the Mets first win at the new Shea Stadium in the Mets 6-0 win over Pittsburgh.

At the start of May he hit safely in 16 of 19 games and at that point was batting over .400. His average fell from there bottoming out at .232 at the end of the season. In 98 games he hit one HR with seven doubles& 11 RBIs with a .256 on base %. It would turn out to be Kanehl’s last season in the major leagues.

In a three year career he batted .241 with 6 HRs 23 doubles 47 RBIs 17 stolen bases & a .277 on base %.

Kanehl was upset at his demotion saying "Baseball is a lot like life. The line drives are caught; & the squibbers go for base hits. It's an unfair game."

Retirement: In 1975 at the passing of Casey Stengel he was loyal to the very end, being one of the few Mets players to go to the funeral. In 2004 at the age of 70 Kanhel himself passed away in Palm Springs from a heart attack.

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