Five months ago, not even the biggest baseball fan had heard of David Bote.
He was 25 years old and posting mediocre stats across the board as an infielder on the Cubs’ minor league affiliate teams. And despite being picked in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB draft, Bote seemed destined to end up as a minor league career journeyman, condemned to a lifetime of obscurity and the pain of watching many of his teammates make it to the spotlight of the major leagues.
Yet fast-forward to the evening of August 12th, when Bote was in the process of making MLB history with one mighty swing of the bat. What happened between March and August to catapult David Bote from anonymity to stardom?
The story starts back in 2011, when Bote enrolled at Liberty University and joined their baseball team as a walk-on, helped by his high school resume of leading his team to the Colorado state title. Bote soon transferred to Neosho County Community College, where he performed well enough to earn a draft pick by the Cubs the following year.
A capable fielder with the potential for significant power, he bounced around the minor leagues for the next 6 years, but could never quite post the numbers to earn himself a call-up.
But in 2017, he earned a minor league All Star Game selection, which made him resurface on the Cubs’ radar. So when second baseman Ben Zobrist and third baseman Kris Bryant landed on the disabled list at the end of April, Bote found himself making his MLB debut in a game against the Colorado Rockies.
He had played every position except for catcher during his time in the minor leagues, so the Cubs’ front office saw him as a utility man who could fill in for either of the injured players’ positions. During his major league stint, Bote compiled a .263 batting average with 5 RBIs on 5 hits in 19 plate appearances—a small sample size, but a good enough performance to ensure his call-up again later in the season.
That second call-up came in the middle of July, and a little over a week later, Bote made headlines for the first time when he hit a game-tying, two-run home run with one out in the bottom of the ninth against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Two pitches later, Anthony Rizzo hit the walk-off solo home run to give the Cubs the win.
In the following weeks, opposing pitchers began to throw low and inside to Bote. This tactic worked to great effect, briefly incapacitating him as a hitter, and it seemed as if he was on his way back to the minor leagues.
But Bote recognized his weakness and managed to turn it into a strength in the span of a few days. That is an adjustment few, if any, MLB players could make in so short of a time, not to mention a rookie. The Cubs recognized this and kept Bote on the roster, albeit in a pinch-hitter capacity.
So on August 12th, in the bottom of the ninth against the Washington Nationals, when Cubs manager Joe Maddon looked to his bench for a pinch-hitter, he turned to Bote as the natural candidate.
It was the situation kids always dream of—bottom of the ninth, two outs, the bases loaded, and Bote comes to the plate with a chance to win the game. The Cubs were down 3-0, and Bote soon worked the at-bat to a full count against Nationals reliever Ryan Madson, bringing the Cubs to their final strike.
In the blink of an eye, Bote was rounding the bases and being mobbed by his teams at home plate. He had done the improbable and hit the walk-off grand slam, pouncing on a low and inside sinker. The Cubs had won 4-3!
But exactly how astronomical were the odds of him hitting that walk-off grand slam, with the Cubs down to their final strike?
Between 1950 (when reliable data began to be tracked) and 2018, just under 6,000 grand slams took place in the MLB (including two of them in the same inning in 1999 by St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Fernando Tatis), and over 180 (about 3% of all grand slams) of them were walk-offs, much larger numbers than one might expect. But only 29 (about 16% of all walk-offs) were ultimate grand slams, meaning they were walk-offs hit when the team was down by 3 runs. And 16 (about 8.9% of all walk-offs) of those were super ultimate grand slams, meaning they also were hit with 2 outs.
Of those 16 super ultimate grand slams, only 3 (about 1.7% of all walk-offs—including Bote) were golden homers, meaning they were also hit with the team down to their last strike. When you add in any one of the other factors surrounding Bote’s at-bat, such as that he was a rookie and a pinch hitter, or that it was a full count, or that the Cubs had been shut out until that point in the game, Bote’s home run was the first of its kind.
So it’s difficult to calculate what his odds were of hitting that grand slam when he stepped up to the plate, or even when he was down to the final strike, because it truly was unprecedented in all the 149 seasons of Major League Baseball.
But you can make your own approximation depending on what qualifications you choose to exclude. Does it really matter that the Cubs hadn’t scored until Bote stepped up to the plate? Or do we really have to narrow down the walk-off grand slam category into ultimate, super ultimate, and golden grand slams?
Feel free to leave a comment on this blog post with your thoughts. One statistic that might help in your estimation is that in 2017, approximately 2.9% of plate appearances with 2 outs and the bases loaded resulted in grand slams.
The baseball season is in full swing, with the postseason fast approaching, and FanWide can help you find MLB game watch parties so you can enjoy the game with other fans of your team.