In the 101-year history of the World Series, only 14 games have ended with a home run. So rare are these walkoffs that we expect them from potent sluggers such as Mark McGwire or clutch superstars like Derek Jeter. Or at the very least, from guys who can drive the ball over the fence once in a while.
We certainly don't expect them from Scott Podsednik, who had no home runs in 507 at-bats during the regular season for the Chicago White Sox. This stretch reminded me of my own power futility: zero homers from Tee-Ball through high school.
How inspiring -- and shocking -- it was to see Podsednik drive Astros' closer Brad Lidge's 96-mph fastball over the right-center field fence and into White Sox lore. His 408-foot blast gave Chicago a 2-0 lead over Houston, and helped the Sox sweep the Astros for their first championship in 88 years. As Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver said after the homer, "These things aren't supposed to happen."
It wouldn't have happened if the White Sox hadn't traded Carlos Lee's power for Podsednik's speed last December, a move Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti opined was like "trading mashers for midgets." In this case, the midget (though Podsednik is 6-feet) won out.
Podsednik proved that smaller, tenacious, fundamentally sound ballplayers are just as exciting and valuable as sluggers, and for that he should be recognized as Sportsman of the Year. For too long, our fascination with the long ball has encouraged guys to become bigger and stronger, and to ignore other aspects of the game. With a crackdown on steroids this season, I renewed my appreciation for little rascals such as Podsednik, the Cardinals' David Eckstein and the Angels' Chone Figgins. All three led their respective teams to the playoffs while combining for 16 homers during the regular season.
Podsednik flourished under manager Ozzie Guillen's small ball approach. From the leadoff spot, Podsednik batted .290 and stole 59 bases in 129 games. Chicago went 81-48 when he played, and 18-15 when he didn't.
Like the Brooklyn Dodgers 50 years ago, the 2005 White Sox won by mixing timely hitting with great pitching. Fittingly, they clinched the World Series with a 1-0 victory in Game 4 with Podsednik sacrificing the winning run to second base on a 30-foot bunt. Perhaps a walk-off homer would have been more dramatic, but that only happens once in a lifetime for some people.
React: Who's your Sportsman of the Year?
Sports Illustrated will announce the 2005 Sportsman of the Year winner on Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Check back every weekday until then to read more Sportsman picks from SI writers.