On this date in 1962, Rod Kanehl became the first Met to hit a grand slam homer in a 10-3 rout of the Cardinals in the Polo Grounds. Kanehl connected off Bobby Shantz.
Kanehl played eight seasons in the minors with the Yankees and Reds organizations before getting his shot at age 28 with the Mets in 1962.
Kanehl became of favorite of Casey Stengel for his hustle and versatility, playing everywhere but pitcher and catcher. Reportedly, when Stengel died in 1975, Kanehl was the only former Met to attend the funeral.
Kanehl played in 340 games over three years and batted .241 with six homers and 47 RBI.
Our own Barry Duchan wrote about Kanehl just last month and said:
For those of you too young to remember Kanehl, he was the all-purpose utility man for the early Mets, who played every position except pitcher and catcher, and no doubt, would have played those, too, if only he was asked.
What endeared Kanehl to Mets’ fans was his genuine “regular guy” quality. Today, with even utility infielders making a million dollars a year, it’s tough for the average fan to identify with any big league player. But Kanehl, who was probably making no more than the average school teacher, cop, or truck driver, was truly the ordinary guy who happened to be playing in the big leagues. Kanehl would ride the New York subways and buses, and converse with fans on a man-to-man basis without any condescension whatsoever. Rod would hang out with fans all the time. He appreciated their support and they appreciated his hard work, hustle, and desire, even if you got the feeling that maybe the fellow who played shortstop on your weekend softball team was just as good a ballplayer as Rod Kanehl and maybe he was.
“Do you know that the very first banner the fans hung up in the Polo Grounds had my name on it?” Kanehl told Sports Illustrated in 1966. “We hadn’t played a game there yet, but there it was. It said: ‘We love the Mets.’ And under that, ‘Rod Kanehl.’ ”
Sadly, Rod Kanehl died from a heart attack on Dec. 14, 2004. He was 70 years old. In spite of his limited ability, Kanehl will always have a place in Mets’ lore.