"Hot Rod" Kanehl: First Mets Player To Hit A Grand Slam (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 the Mets first Spring Training to earn a spot on the 1962 expansion team's roster. 

Legend has it, Kanehl once jumped over a fence to attempt catching a fly ball. His all-out hustle & determination earned him the nick name “Hot Rod” Kanehl.

He became a favorite player of manager Casey Stengel. Being named to the roster going north despite the opinions 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. To which Stengel replied, 'You're full of baloney, he can run the bases."

Kanehl debuted on April 15th in the second home game in Mets history, that day he was hitless as a pinch hitter. Kanehl began April being used mostly as a pinch hitter & pinch runner. 

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 from third & 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. 

Hot Rod 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 Giants' 16 game winner, Billy Pierce in a 9-6 Mets loss.  

First Mets Grand Slam: On July 6th, 1962, in a game against the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds, Kanehl stepped in as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded, in the bottom of the 8th inning facing Bobby Shantz. Kanehl hit the first Mets grand slam in team history, as his blast cleared the bases with Jim Hickman, Elio Chacon & Joe Christopher all scoring on the way to the Mets 10-3 win. 

Hot Rod hit well enough to get his average back up to .310 by the start of August. In the final ten days of that month, he drove in runs in five different games. 

Although he was not a great hitter, he was certainly versatile on the field making him very valuable on a poor fielding team. Hot Rod would play at seven different positions for the ’62 Mets, everywhere but at catcher & pitcher. 

He made 22 errors at second base (second most in the league). Playing at third base he made eight more errors in 63 chances with two more in the outfield. 

He finished the season hitting .248 with 4 HRs 10 doubles 2 triples 8 stolen bases & 27 RBIs. He posted a .296 on base % with a .618 OPS.

1963: Kanehl made the Mets team again the next season & would play at seven different positions once again. On June 5th he had a three hit day while driving in a pair of runs in a 11-9 loss. 

Kanehl was batting just .174 by early June then began to slowly hit reaching the .200 mark again by mid-August. On August 16th he hit his only HR of the year, coming off the Dodgers veteran Johnny Podres.

He finished the year at .241 with one HR six doubles nine RBIs & six stolen bases playing in 109 games.

1964: This season Kanehl got to play in the new Shea Stadium. In the Mets first win in their new stadium, which was his first start of the year, Hot Rod drove in two runs in a 6-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

At the start of May he hit safely in 16 of 19 games & was batting over .400. On June 9th he drove in two runs with a 2nd inning base hit off Dick Ellsworth. The Mets went on to win the game in 12 innings. 

In 98 games he batted .232 hit one HR seven doubles a triple & 11 RBIs. He posted a poor .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 after the passing of Casey Stengel he was loyal to his former manager to the very end, being one of the few Mets players to attend the funeral. 

Passing: In 2004 Kanehl passed away in Palm Springs from a heart attack at the age of 70.


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