I like walk-offs with a football theme, and in this case I’m bringing up from 100 years ago –- June of 1918 – but it’s worth it, given that the person involved is the athletic legend, Jim Thorpe.
This was a game between Thorpe’s Giants and the Pirates, with about 5,000 in attendance at the Polo Grounds on a day bothered by a light rain. They witnessed quite the game.
This one was scoreless for six innings, a deadball era pitcher’s duel between Al Demaree of the Giants and Wilbur Cooper of the Pirates. The Pirates broke through for three runs in the top of the seventh, with Hall of Famers Max Carey and Bill McKechnie (in as a manager) driving them in, the latter with a two-run triple.
Reading the newspaper accounts of this game, one thing that stood out was how the writers made a big deal of John McGraw having Jim Thorpe pinch-hit in the eighth inning as a noteworthy strategic maneuver (it’s also disappointing to see Thorpe referred to as a “Redskin” and an “Injun” but such were the times in 1918). Thorpe produced a single and scored the first run for the Giants in the eighth inning. He’d score the last run of the day too.
The Giants trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth and their rally began as many do, with a leadoff walk to one whom the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette referred to as “Bad Man Burns” (real first name: George). Burns would score later in the inning on Thorpe’s double that Pirates right fielder Casey Stengel (yup, him) couldn’t catch. A sacrifice fly by catcher Bill Rariden tied the game.
Eventually, the Giants had runners on first and third, with Thorpe at the latter spot, with two men out. This was not a case of go big or go home. It was a case of go big and go home.
The trail runner, José Rodríguez, broke for second base at McGraw’s request as pinch-hitter Joe Wilhoit swung and missed, but Pirates catcher Walter Schmidt threw the ball back to the pitcher. Thorpe boldly raced for the plate as soon as Schmidt threw. Cooper, the pitcher, made the mistake of throwing behind Thorpe to third base, and then McKechnie’s subsequent throw home to nail Thorpe was in the dirt.
Thorpe slid safely with the winning run, good for a walk-off steal of home. Or as the New York Times described it “Thorpe hurled his stature over the platter” to successfully conclude the contest.