- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Like crabgrass invading someone's lawn, "walk-off!" has taken root in sports lingo and gotten out of control. The term should appear in quotes and be followed by an exclamation point because, without TV's dime-a-dozen talking heads repeating it endlessly and effusively, there would be no " Aaron Boone wins the game with a walk-off!" Instead, we would simply (and gracefully) call a game-ending home run what we've always called it: a game-ending home run. But, really, where's the pizzazz in that?
At the All-Star break 43 "walk-off!" homers had been hit this season, 12 more than were hit at the same point last season and only 10 fewer than were hit all last year. The Royals, who rank 12th in the American League in home runs, nevertheless won three straight games in April—against the Twins and the Orioles (two)—with "walk-offs!" hit by the un-Ruthian trio of leftfielder Johnny Damon, catcher Brian Johnson and shortstop Rey Sanchez; the last hadn't hit a ball out in almost a year.
These days, everyone and his father seems to own a "walk-off!" On May 14, Angels second baseman Scott Spiezio, with 37 career dingers in four-plus big league seasons, came up in the bottom of the ninth, swung at a 2-2 slider from Texas reliever Francisco Cordero and deposited it over the rightfield wall, giving Anaheim a 7-6 win. When he reached home plate, Spiezio was pounded on the helmet by so many teammates, he says, that "my neck got a great workout."
"When I was a kid in the backyard, my dad would make up situations—5-2, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs—and I'd be at the plate, pretending to be Don Mattingly or Mike Schmidt," says Spiezio. "As soon as I hit this one, I thought about that...about my dad."
Maybe that's because 31 years earlier, on Aug. 6,1969, his dad, Padres third baseman Ed Spiezio, ended a game at San Diego Stadium with a leadoff solo blast off Cardinals lefthander Steve Carlton. "I remember rounding the bases and Carlton yelling at me, 'You son of a ... ," says Ed, who hit 39 home runs over nine seasons. "That day was one of my bigger thrills."
That day was also back in the pre- SportsCenter highlight era, when majestic feats weren't reduced to catchphrases. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the active major leaguers with the most "walk-off!" homers are Harold Baines (10), Sammy Sosa (eight) and Will Clark (seven). Only four players have hit postseason, series-ending homers: the Pirates' Bill Mazeroski in '60 and the Blue Jays' Joe Carter in '93 (both in the World Series); the Giants' Bobby Thomson in a three-game playoff against the Dodgers for the '51 National League pennant; and Mets reserve catcher Todd Pratt in last year's National League Division Series.
Although nobody is sure when "walk-off!" was first bellowed over the airwaves, former Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley (above), according to The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, is considered the father of the term. In 1993, Eckersley supposedly used it to describe that lonely stroll from the mound after giving up the winning run. Two seasons later Yankees reliever Steve Howe allowed a game-ending homer and said, "It was a walk-off pitch. You throw the ball and walk off the mound."
Not all ballplayers have bought into the media hype. On May 11, immediately after Cincinnati beat San Diego 11-9, Reds third baseman Aaron Boone was asked about his "walk-off!" dinger. "I refuse to call it a walk-off home run," said Boone. "It was a game-winning home run."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]