In the last 50 years, 2 players have 7 regular season walk-off hits that came when his team was trailing. Those are what we could call “walk-off comeback hits.”
I think it’s pretty cool that the players were teammates for a time – Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson.
I’m going to focus on Whitaker and save Gibson for another time, because of the pertinence with the recent Hall of Fame election. Whitaker is a highly-worthy candidate for induction. He’s not a perfect candidate, but he’s quite good and compares favorably to other second basemen both historically and within his era.
And he has the added bonus of being awesome at walk-offs.
Whitaker totaled 20 walk-off RBIs in a 19-year career that spanned nearly 10,000 plate appearances. And as noted, he had seven walk-off RBIs in situations in which his team trailed at the time of the plate appearance.
What’s amazing about Whitaker’s seven is how he clustered them. He had three as a rookie in 1978 and three in the final two seasons of his career.
I like his last walk-off hit because it was the last of the 2,369 hits recorded in his major league career.
It came on September 13 1995 in a game against the Brewers. The game itself was relatively meaningless. Neither the Tigers nor the Brewers were anywhere close to the division lead (the Brewers were on the outer edge of the Wild Card race). There were fewer than 9,000 fans in the stands on a Wednesday afternoon, a few weeks before the season was set to end. Whitaker and Trammell each got a rare start as it seemed to be known their time was coming to an end.
But this was a sentimental day of sorts, one in which Whitaker and Alan Trammell played in their 1,915th game as teammates, breaking an AL mark set by George Brett and Frank White. “We’ve been together longer than lots of husbands and wives,” Whitaker told reporters.
The Brewers took a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning when David Hulse hit a two-run home run. Phil Nevin got a run back in the home half when he homered, but the Tigers failed to tie after putting runners on first and second with nobody out.
The score remained 3-2 going into the home ninth. Nevin led off with a single against Mike Fetters. John Flaherty got down a successful bunt to push pinch-runner Todd Steverson to second base. Chad Curtis walked on a 3-2 pitch to bring Whitaker to the plate.
It didn’t take long for the game to be resolved. Whitaker hit a three-run home run into the second deck in right field.
“I was just hoping I remembered what to do out there,” Whitaker told reporters.
The front page headline of the Detroit Free Press sports section got it right.
Lou Whitaker Minutiae
– Whitaker hit eight walk-off home runs. Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index dates to 1925. Whitaker has the most of any Tigers player in that span.