All posts by Mark Simon

I am a researcher and writer at Sports Info Solutions in Bethlehem, Pa.

Deion Sanders and the story of a sparkling win

Here on the walk-off beat, I’ve done the football theme a few times here with Bo Jackson and Jim Thorpe, and it was inevitable that I was going to get around to Deion Sanders eventually.

Alas, Neon Deion (or Prime Time if you prefer) never had a walk-off RBI in his 641-game MLB career. So I’ve decided that telling a story of a walk-off in which Sanders scored the winning run is good enough.

Fortunately there’s a game that doesn’t disappoint. My guess is that it’s forgotten by many, because it was played in the strike-shortened 1994 season. It’s also a game whose ending most fans of the home team’s fans didn’t see.

The host Braves trailed the Phillies 8-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning on May 10 of that year. This was meant to be a loss, a day in which Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Steve Bedrosian combined to give up eight runs.

But as were the ways of the 1990s Braves, they found ways to win this sort of game sometimes. The way they won this one was a little wacky.

The Braves scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth before making an out. The last three came in on rookie Mike Mordecai’s three-run home run, which was his first career hit.

The tying run came in when Javy Lopez singled just over the glove of Phillies first baseman John Kruk, plating Sanders with the tying run.

Over the next five-and-a-half innings, neither team could score. Phillies reliever Mike Williams survived four hits and five walks to pitch four scoreless innings. Mike Stanton matched that with four scoreless of his own.

The first two batters in the Braves’ 15th made outs, but Sanders then doubled on a 3-0 pitch and stole third after an intentional walk to Dave Gallagher forced Stanton to the plate.

Stanton was a decent hitter, one who ended his career 8-for-24. They weren’t all pretty hits.

After the stolen base, Stanton bunted. Or did something resembling bunting.

The writer Thomas Stinson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described the quality of the bunt as “an artistic atrocity.”

It was a pop up, an ugly bloop. Ugly, but perfectly placed. Phillies third baseman Dave Hollins had come charging in to field what he thought would be a ground ball. The bunt went right over his head and landed untouched.

Sanders came home with the winning run and the Braves had an improbable victory.

There’s one other cool story to go with this game, as documented by Stinton in the AJC. He noted that Bedrosian’s six-year-old son, Cody, was at the game that night and threw out the first pitch to his father. Cody Bedrosian battled leukemia during his childhood and was well known to members of the Braves. It wasn’t a great start to the day, given that his father gave up a 481-foot grand slam to Pete Incaviglia. But the finish made up for it and then some.

“Cody came up and gave me a hug,” Stanton told reporters afterwards. “And I said this night was for him – because it was before the game even started. Winning just made it better.”

Steve Bedrosian later told Jack Wilkinson for the book Game of My Life: Memorable Stories of Braves Baseball: “Deion Sanders was the biggest person who befriended Cody … Deion and Mike Stanton. A lot of people look at Deion in a different way. But if you get to know him, he’s a great guy. I don’t know if it’s because he played two sports or rubbed people the wrong way. But he made Cody sparkle.”

Cody Bedrosian survived his battle. If my check of LinkedIn is correct, he’s currently working for Turner Sports in television commercial scheduling and placement.

Advertisements

The story of Pete Rose’s last walk-off RBI

Pete Rose played in 199 walk-off wins, the most of any player for which Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index has data. That might be the most all-time, though I’m wondering about the totals for the likes of Ty Cobb. Regardless, it’s not surprising that Rose had so many given his longevity.

What I thought was most interesting in Rose’s walk-off ledger was that his 20th and final walk-off RBI was a triple as a 45-year-old player manager in 1986 for the Reds against the Phillies, a month prior to the last game of his playing career.

How amazing that someone of Rose’s age, aptly named Charlie Hustle, would continue to live up to that moniker right to his final days in the big leagues.

And then I was disappointed by an the account of one Philadelphia sportswriter, who said that Rose had been given the triple in error, that he’d never reached (or presumably come close to) third base.

Nonetheless, the scoring stands 32 years later and it’s apt that a goofy decision remains intact given the bonkers nature of the baseball game in which it happened. Let us summarize the newspaper accounts and the box score thusly:

“It was weird. And it was wild. And it was wacky,” wrote a young Jsyson Stark in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer the next morning. “But was it baseball?”

Indeed it can be confirmed that each team fielded nine men and moments involving sticks, gloves and spheres took place on a dirt field, surrounded by greenery. So it was baseball. And it was weird.

Though the teams combined for 13 runs, each team yielded three unearned runs. A Rose error opened the door to two Phillies runs in the seventh inning, allowing the visitors to go ahead 3-2 on Jeff Stone’s two-run single.

In the ninth inning, two more Reds errors turned a 4-3 Phillies lead into a seemingly safe 6-3 cushion. Except it wasn’t so safe.

The Reds scored three runs to tie in excruciating fashion. Phillies second baseman Juan Samuel botched a potential double play grounder. The tying run scored with two outs on a passed ball by Phillies catcher John Russell.

Onwards this game went into the 11th inning. Max Venable started the winning rally for the Reds with a walk against reliever Tom Gorman (best known for allowing an 18th inning home run to pitcher Rick Camp the year before). After a force play, Rose came up. Phillies right fielder Glenn Wilson played shallow, not expecting the right-handed Rose to drive the ball to the opposite field.

But that’s what Rose did. Phillies rightfielder Glenn Wilson retreated to try to catch it, overran it, recovered, but then had the ball clunk off his body and his right hand, and fall away. The winning run scored and Rose had his final walk-off RBI. It was the only one scored a triple.

Norm Cash somehow never had a walk-off

At first glance, this will appear to be a simple story about a couple of walk-off wins. But there’s more to it than that, so stick with me the whole way through.

White Sox youngster Norm Cash probably went home a little tired after a doubleheader between the White Sox and Tigers on May 30, 1959. It didn’t start great, but it ended well, with John Romano singling in the winning run after an intentional walk to Cash in the bottom of the ninth inning. The free pass made sense strategically in that it set up a double play, but Cash was hitting a meager .192 and was perhaps gettable with some good pitching.

Cash was 31 games into his career at that point and it’s unlikely he gave the walk much thought, since his team won the game. But that walk was a part of something remarkable.

Flash forward to May 10 1974, with Cash in the final season of a highly productive career that included 377 home runs. This time, in a game against the Red Sox, he came to the plate with a runner on second and nobody out in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth. He was given another intentional walk. This time it was Ben Oglivie playing the role of hero, hitting a walk-off double to give the Tigers a victory.

Such was the baseball life for Norm Cash, whose teams combined for well more than 100 walk-offs in his presence. And yet he had NO WALK-OFF RBIs in his career!!!

Let’s run through how ridiculous that is.

– He played in 1,050 regular season home games in his career and hit .276/.383/.515 in them. You’d figure he’d run into a walk-off by accident.

– He played in 103 regular season games in which his team won by walk-off. And he wasn’t the walker-offer in any of them!

– He had 111 plate appearances at home, in the ninth inning or later with the score tied. He hit .171 with one extra-base hit (a double), including 0-for-his-last-17. We should point out that teams were clearly scared of his walk-off potential. He was walked 27 times (12 intentional) and hit by a pitch twice.

– He had 31 plate appearances in the ninth inning or later at home WITH A RUNNER IN SCORING POSITION and the score tied. He was walked 15 times. In the other 16, he had one hit, an infield single in which the baserunner on second had no chance to score.

That hit came in a doubleheader in which Cash hit three home runs and newspaper accounts note that one was the first fair ball hit out of Tiger Stadium.

(also noteworthy, the newspapers describe a defensive shift in which Senators manager Mickey Vernon moved his center fielder to the left of his pitcher to try to cut off a run, but perhaps that’s for another time).

Cssh was described as having a good sense of humor about most things. After all, he was the guy who wanted to bat against Nolan Ryan using a piano leg for a bat (Ryan pitched a no-hitter that day). So I’d like to think he’d have a good appreciation of how he has the most home runs of any player without a walk-off. It’s really quite remarkable.

Hometown Hrbek a walk-off king

Loyal reader and Twitter follower Jim Passon suggested this player as a subject.

I like a hometown boy makes good story in baseball. You know what I like even more? When a hometown boy makes good with walk-offs.

One really good example of that is Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, a Minneapolis product who went from 17th-round pick to a key player on two World Series championship teams.

Hrbek impressed enough to jump from Class-A to the major leagues in 1981 and made an immediate impact, hitting a game-winning home run in the 12th inning at Yankee Stadium in his first major league game.

But here we’re concerned with walk-offs and Hrbek has a significant distinction. In 1987, when the Twins won their first title since moving to Minnesota, Hrbek had a franchise single-season record five walk-off RBIs. The mark has not been matched or bettered since, not by Kirby Puckett, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, or Joe Mauer.

If you were looking for a sign that this was going to be the Twins season, you might have found it on Opening Day when the Twins faced the Athletics. Center fielder Kirby Puckett had a highlight-show kind of game, hitting a home run and robbing Mickey Tettleton of a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning. But it was Hrbek who had the final say.

First, he drove Puckett in from third with the tying run on a groundout in the eighth inning. Then, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th, he singled to left center off reliever Bill Krueger to win the game.

What did manager Tom Kelly tell Hrbek before he got to the plate?

“Not to try to be Superman,” Hrbek told reporters after the game.

Supermanning when it came to walk-offs was a team effort.

The 1987 Twins won 16 games via walk-off, one shy of the most in the time for which Baseball-Reference has data (1908 to 2018). Hrbek, the hometown guy, was their leader in walk-off magic.

Most Walk-Off Wins (1908-2018)

(* = won World Series)

1977 Pirates 17
1959 Pirates 17
1997 Marlins 16*
1987 Twins 16*
1943 Yankees 16*

Let’s salute a Hank Greenberg walk-off

Just having a little fun this offseason documenting walk-off moments that I find interesting and unusual. If you have one you’d like to see, let me know.

Hanukkah is upon us, so this seems like an apt time to salute the greatest Jewish hitter of our time, former Tigers legend Hank Greenberg.

Greenberg came close to challenging Babe Ruth’s home run record when he hit 58 in 1938. Over a four-year period from 1937 to 1940, Greenberg averaged 43 home runs, 148 RBIs and a 1.094 OPS. But Greenberg’s career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the military from 1941 to 1945, returning to the Tigers at age 34. He homered in his first game back on July 1.

Four days later, Greenberg was on the bench with a sore elbow for a game against the Red Sox. It was quite the wild affair. The Tigers blew a lead of 5-1. The Red Sox took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth. It didn’t hold.

The Tigers scored a run in the eighth to cut the lead to 8-7 and that score stayed through a rain delay until the bottom of the ninth. The fun-named Jimmy Outlaw led off with a bunt hit. Bob Maier bunted as well and was safe at first when Outlaw beat the throw to second. Hack Miller didn’t hack (he was no hack?). He bunted too, advancing the runners to second and third with one out.

Something odd happened next. Tigers pitcher Zeb Eaton batted for himself and struck out. With Joe Hoover due up next, Tigers manager Steve O’Neill called on Greenberg to pinch-hit. Why Greenberg didn’t bat for Eaton, I have no idea (the Free Press says he was a good-hitting pitcher. He hit .250 with two home runs in 32 at-bats that season. Still, the Tigers appeared to have subs available. They hadn’t used a non-pitcher off the bench the whole game.

Anyway, Greenberg came up, and the Red Sox elected to pitch to him rather than walk him, knowing that Greenberg was aching and was 2-for-11 since his military return.

After Greenberg hit a foul ball that was almost caught (which would have ended the game), Frank Barrett hung a slider on a 2-2 pitch and Greenberg took it to left center for a base hit. It plated both the tying and winning runs. As Lyall Smith wrote in the Free Press “It was one of the nicest, cleanest, most opportune singles the Tigers have seen for years.”

It took Greenberg a while to fully heal up, but when he did, he was something close to his old self. In his last 49 games of the season, he hit .362/.448/.603 with 47 RBIs. He hit a pennant-clinching home run in the ninth inning of the Tigers’ final game of the season.

He was similarly successful in the World Series driving in seven runs in seven games as the Tigers topped the Cubs. Greenberg played two more seasons, one with the Tigers and one with the Pirates. He finished with a 1.017 OPS and 331 home runs in an abbreviated 13-year career. He certainly was able to walk off with his head held high.

Jim Thorpe is safe at home

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.

Ultimately, this kind of walk-off is just grand

I wanted to look up a game that featured an ultimate grand slam. For those unfamiliar, an ultimate grand slam is a walk-off home run that comes with two outs in the final inning and the home team down by three runs. There was a cool one this year with David Bote of the Cubs, but I prefer obscure to recent here, in case you didn’t notice.

There have been 15 ultimate slams in the time period for which Baseball-Reference.com has data, so there are some fun ones to choose from.

I am very much enjoying looking at the box score from the May 17, 1996 game between the Mariners and the Orioles. This was some game. Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro each drove in six runs. Cal Ripken Jr. had four hits. Ken Griffey Jr. had three. Edgar Martinez had two.

But they were the secondary stories. In baseball, the last shot doesn’t always go to the superstars.

By the bottom of the ninth inning, the game was challenging the record for longest nine-inning game (it finished a minute short of the mark at the time, which coincidentally was set by the Orioles earlier in the season). Every player in the starting lineup for this game had at least one hit. Except for one. Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles, the No. 8 hitter, came to bat with his team trailing 13-10 with the bases loaded and two outs. Mariners reliever Norm Charlton had already pitched to two Hall of Famers in the inning – Ripken and Roberto Alomar. They were on the corner bases. Bobby Bonilla was on second.

Now, let’s not label Hoiles a bad player. He was a very good catcher, who happened to be in a mini-hit drought (he was 5-for-29 for the month). Charlton proved to be the cure.

The newspaper reports state that much of a crowd of more than 47,000 had left, perhaps turned off by the game’s length. Shame on them.

The count stretched to 3-2. Charlton threw his best pitch, a forkball, and Hoiles hit it out. Left fielder Brian Hunter jumped for it, but couldn’t get close enough to it.

“There were 80 hits out there and I was the only guy without one,” said Hoiles, who also holds the distinction of being the first catcher to hit two grand slams in the same game. “I just wanted to drive in a couple of runs.”

Orioles manager Davey Johnson was pretty excited. He called it “the most unbelievable thing I’ve seen in my life.”

We’d beg to differ given that he was in the Mets dugout when Bill Buckner let a ground ball go between his legs. But we understand and salute his passion for the rarity of the ultimate walk-off.

If you want to see the Hoiles homer, click here.