Ollie Carnegie's Ultimate Grand Slam

Ollie Carnegie, perhaps the greatest player in the Bisons’ storied history, hit a rare ultimate grand slam in an early-season game at Offermann Stadium in 1938. An ultimate grand slam occurs when a player hits a home run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning with their team trailing by three runs – thus resulting in a one-run walk-off win.


Minor League records are incomplete, but to understand how uncommon an ultimate grand slam is, one needs only to look at how infrequently the feat has happened in the major leagues. It’s been documented to have occurred only thirty-one times in the big leagues since 1925 and once prior to that in 1881.[1] It most recently happened when Josh Donaldson homered with the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth inning to lead the New York Yankees to an 8-7 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on August 17, 2022.


Carnegie hit his historic blast against the Syracuse Chiefs on Friday, May 13, 1938. The 5’8” slugger “knocked the Friday the 13th jinxes for a twister,” when he hit his ultimate grand slam to lead the Herd to a 6-5 walk-off win.[2]


At that point in his career, Carnegie had already established himself as a star. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native had already played with Buffalo for seven years and was coming off a season in which he hit .308 and led the Bisons with 21 home runs. The Buffalo Times wrote: “In point of service, he’s the senior member of the club. In point of value, his rating is equally high.”[3] However, as his amazing early-season performance against Syracuse seemed to foretell, the Bisons best player was about to take his game to another level and have the best season of his legendary career.

Carnegie won the 1938 I.L. MVP.


The Bisons sent Bill Harris to the mound against Syracuse southpaw Johnny Gee on a chilly May afternoon. In fact, Buffalo had its three previous games postponed due to cold, rainy weather. W.S. Coughlin of the Courier-Express reported that “one of the smallest crowds to see a ball game here in years” was on hand due to the miserable weather conditions.[4] Coughlin continued: “If all the paid customers who braved the marrow chilling winds that raked the stands were laid end to end, they would not have scratched from home plate to second base, but they were treated to a great show by Carnegie.”[5]


The Bisons scored first on a sacrifice fly by Marv Olson in the fourth inning. Carnegie increased Buffalo’s lead in the fifth inning when he hit a ball “over the center field wall close to the scoreboard” for a solo home run and a 2-0 Bisons lead.[6] Those were the only runs the Herd were able to score until after Gee exited the game in the seventh inning for a pinch-hitter.


Meanwhile, Harris, “never a hand to care for cold weather, had his curves working like a charm for six heats, as the Chiefs failed to come close to a score.”[7] However, Syracuse finally broke through against him in the seventh inning, when Dee Moore and Jimmy Adair both hit solo home runs to tie the game at two runs apiece.


It all fell apart for Harris in the eighth inning. Three singles and “a late throw to second” by third baseman Joe Martin led to three more Syracuse runs.[8] The Chiefs pushed another run across in the ninth inning against reliever Herman Fink on three singles – or as Coughlin so eloquently wrote, “a trio of one station blows.”[9]


Buffalo entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 5-2 when Syracuse reliever Gene Thompson “developed a streak of wildness” to help set the stage for Carnegie’s heroics.[10] Facing the top three hitters in Buffalo’s lineup, Thompson “lost all sense of direction” and walked the only three batters he faced – Marv Olson, Greg Mulleavy, and Jim Oglesby.[11]


That brought Paul Gehrman in from the Syracuse bullpen with the unenviable task of facing Ollie Carnegie with the bases loaded and nobody out. Carnegie was already having a big day – he was 2-for-2 with a solo home run, a double, and two walks. But with the bases full and no place to put him, Gehrman was forced to pitch to the slugger.


The third pitch Gehrman delivered was a high curveball, and Carnegie drilled it over the left-field fence for a walk-off grand slam. Coughlin wrote: “The gallant Italian slugger climaxed a perfect day at the dish by clubbing his second circuit smash of the afternoon, immediately after the bases became intoxicated in the ninth inning to blow the cover right off the ball game in the most approved Meriwell fashion.”[12]


Carnegie’s game-winning blast delivered the Bisons a 6-5 victory and gave the slugger a rare ultimate grand slam. His perfect 3-for-3 game raised his average to .333 with four home runs, 17 runs scored, and 21 RBI through just 17 games.


Carnegie went on to finish the 1938 season slashing .330/.389/.649 with 45 home runs – which is still a Bisons record – and 136 RBIs. Buffalo ended up fourth in the regular season standings, but swept Syracuse in four games in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Newark in five games in the Governors’ Cup finals. Following the season Carnegie was honored for his amazing campaign when he was named the league’s MVP, the only time in his illustrious career he won the award. He’s still Buffalo’s all-time leader in games played (1,273), hits (1,362), home runs (258), RBI (1,044), and doubles (249) and is one of only three former Bisons to have his number retired by the team – along with Luke Easter and Jeff Manto.

[1] https://www.mlb.com/news/all-time-ultimate-grand-slams-c290137154 . It should be noted that it’s possible there may be other times it’s occurred that haven’t been discovered yet due to incomplete play-by-play data [2] W.S. Coughlin, “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs as Bisons Take Thriller,” Buffalo-Courier Express, May 14, 1938. [3] Francis Dunn, “Light Eating Carnegie has Appetite for Enemy Hurling,” Buffalo Times, May 14, 1938. [4] “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. [5] “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. [6] “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. [7] “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. [8] “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. [9] “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. [10] “Carnegie is Easy on Food, but not on Enemy Pitchers,” Buffalo Evening News, May 14, 1938. [11] “Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. [12]“Carnegie’s Homers Ruin Chiefs…”. Meriwell was a reference to the popular Frank Meriwell, a fictional hero who excelled at sports, solved mysteries, and was featured in dime novels, comic strips, and radio dramas during that period.