All posts by Mark Simon

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

A walk-off binds Babe Ruth and the 1919 White Sox

Babe Ruth hit 12 walk-off home runs. I like the first one the best.

It came in the final home date of the season for the 1919 Red Sox, who failed to defend their World Series title. They were playing the White Sox, the team that was about to dethrone them as AL champs (and the team that would later deliberately lose the World Series to the Reds). The White Sox needed only one win in these two games to clinch the pennant.

But while there would be a celebration in Fenway Park that day, it would not be one for the visiting team.

The Red Sox took an early 3-0 lead in a game that Ruth started on the mound. He couldn’t hold it. He moved to left field with the score 3-3 in the sixth inning. The score stood that way until the home ninth when Ruth faced Lefty Williams (one of the “8 Men Out”).  Ruth’s opposite-field home run, over the high fence in left field ended the game. The ball was said to have gone through a window in a building across Landsdowne Street.

Wrote James O’Leary of the Boston Globe

“…the efforts of the Roman populace were only murmurs compared with the vocal explosion with which upward of 31,000 baseball fans expressed their feelings at Fenway Park yesterday afternoon when Babe Ruth made his 27th home run of the season. Nothing like this demonstration was ever heard in Rome or anywhere.”

The home run being the 27th was notable in this regard. It tied the single-season record for home runs set by Ned Williamson of the Chicago White Stockings in 1884 (that was a fluke record – Williamson never hit more than nine home runs in any other season in his 13-year career).

In-between games, Ruth was honored by the Knights of Columbus for his remarkable season (little did they know, he’d be headed elsewhere in the offseason). Both teams participated in the ceremony (which I find fascinating). Ruth also donated the bat with which he hit the homer to the Liberty Loan Newsboys’ Association where it was to be auctioned for a memorial fund for a newsboy killed in World War I.

The second game didn’t feature a walk-off, but the Globe tells a story that I deem worth repeating. Ruth thought he had the record-breaking home run in that game, but umpire Bill Evans said the ball landed in play, then bounced a short fence in the outfield, behind which a few thousand people were crowding in. The paper describes an argument that took place later between the umpire and “a sergeant of the military guard” who brought with him a written statement from a fan saying that call should have been a home run.

“It would be well for you to attend to your police duties and leave the umpiring to me,” Evans said.

Ruth hit the record-breaking home run at the Polo Grounds a few days later against the Yankees.  This one was a game-tying home run in the ninth inning. This too was a mammoth shot, described by W.O. McGeehan of the New York Tribune as both the first ball to clear the right field roof of the Polo Grounds and the longest home run ever hit (!)

The 1919 White Sox clinched the AL pennant that same day. They would be bonded by their shared celebrity for the moment, but there was much more ahead for the Bambino and the Black Sox. That story had not yet been written.

Ruth minutiae

-Babe Ruth hit 5 of his 12 walk-off home runs against the White Sox. That included two in a three-day stretch in 1922 and a grand slam when down by three runs in 1925.

Ruth broke his home run record again in 1920. After finishing 1919 with 29 home runs, he walloped 54 in his first season with the Yankees. That time he tied the record with a walk-off home run against the St. Louis Browns and broke the mark with a home run against … the White Sox.

Note: If any of this was covered in Jane Leavy’s or Leigh Montville’s biographies of Ruth … I don’t have either book. This was just something I noticed that I thought was cool

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Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that walk-off?

Jackie Robinson’s most memorable moment in the 1955 baseball season was a steal of home against the Yankees in the World Series. It’s a famous play, one that Yankees catcher Yogi Berra disputed until his death, claiming that Robinson should have been called out.

I’ve got a play from 1955 that involves Jackie Robinson touching home plate that is pretty cool, and there’s no disputing it.

It comes from a regular season game with the Cardinals on June 6. The Dodgers had already made the race for the NL pennant a runaway, winning 37 of their first 49 games. But it looked like on this day that the Cardinals had their number. They had a 4-1 lead through five innings and 28—year-old rookie standout Luis Arroyo on the mound.

Though the Cardinals were 20-26, Arroyo had been awesome, going 6-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his first eight appearances. This is the same Arroyo who was the closer on one of the greatest teams of all-time, the 1961 Yankees. But that was then and this is now.

The Dodgers rallied for two runs in the sixth, with Pee Wee Reese homering for one and an RBI ground out by Frank Kellert producing the other. Arroyo stuck it out and got through the seventh and eighth innings unscored upon to take a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

In today’s game, Arroyo would have been long gone and a parade of relievers would have tried to finish the Dodgers off. In 1955, Harry Walker let Arroyo stay in the game, even after walking Gil Hodges to lead off the home ninth.

What’s funny here is that if Robinson had done what he intended to do, Arroyo might have escaped unscathed. But Robinson’s two bunt attempts both went foul. The third try was a normal swing and turned out to be the charm – Robinson hit a game-winning home run to left center field.

It marked the third time in two seasons that Robinson beat the Cardinals with a walk-off hit, the second time he’d done it with a come-from-behind-walk-off home run. Difference being that this one is another chapter in the most memorable season in Brooklyn Dodgers history.

Robinson Minutiae

You would have thought that Robinson would have had a walk-off steal of home in his career, but he never did. The Dodgers didn’t have a walk-off steal of home in Robinson’s tenure. They did have one a year after he retired – Jim Gilliam had one against the Cardinals in 1957.

Robinson did a pretty good job tormenting the Cardinals, posting a .342 batting average against them, the highest for him against any team. Coincidentally, 1955 was his worst season against them. He hit .282.

The title of this blog post is a tribute to a song about Jackie Robinson called “Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?”

Celebrating Ernie Banks’ Hall of Fame walk-offs

It’s a beautiful day for a ball game. Let’s play two.

If we’re going to talk Ernie Banks and walk-offs, we have to talk about two of them. And the best pair I’ve got is that he hit two walk-off home runs against Hall-of-Fame pitchers.

The first came on August 18 1960 against the Dodgers. The Dodgers finished fourth in the NL. The Cubs finished seventh, so this game wasn’t particularly consequential. However, it was a pretty good game.

It was a pitcher’s duel between Don Drysdale of the Dodgers and Glen Hobbie of the Cubs. Give Hobbie, who led the NL with 20 losses that season, credit for going toe-to-toe with Drysdale for just under two hours. The Dodgers had a few scoring chances, but three of them were killed by double plays.

The score was even until the bottom of the ninth. Right fielder Bob Will led off for the Cubs with a wicked line drive. Edward Prell of the Chicago Tribune described it as hitting Drysdale’s hand and head before caroming right to first baseman Norm Larker, who caught it on the fly for the out.

Banks was up next. Drysdale was not injured, but perhaps dazed. And Banks ended his day with a walk-off home run on Drysdale’s first pitch.

The other came on September 4, 1967 and we’re glad to report it was on a day in which Banks played two. This was part of a crazy stretch in which the Cubs (and Banks) played four doubleheaders in four days at Wrigley Field. This one was another pitcher’s duel – Rich Nye of the Cubs against Claude Osteen of the Dodgers. The teams were even at one run apiece through nine innings because Lou Johnson hit a game-tying home run off Nye with two outs in the ninth (the end was Nye jokes go here).

By the 11th inning Nye was out and Osteen and Ron Perranoski had been relieved by Don Sutton. The Cubs were in need of an ending and Banks provided it, hitting a home run on a 2-2 pitch to win the game.

Minutiae

– Banks only hit four walk-off home runs in his career. Those two are half of them.

– Banks twice played in doubleheaders in which the Cubs won both games by walk-off. One was in 1958. The other was in 1968. The 1958 one is cool because the game was won by Walt Moryn’s two-run home run off Sandy Koufax. Banks was on base when the home run was hit. It was Moryn’s third home run of the game.

The time there were inside-the-park walk-off HR on consecutive days

The walk-off inside-the-park home run is normally an every few years sort of occurrence. In the time for which Baseball-Reference.com has data (1925 to 2018), there have been 27 documented. It’s a cool list of players, one highlighted by Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr.

There is only one instance in this time of two walk-off inside-the-park home runs being hit in the same season. In fact, they were hit on consecutive days!

The first came in a game between the Phillies and Astros on August 1, 1966. The Astros came back from three runs down to tie the game in the ninth, and nearly went ahead in the 10th when Jim Wynn tried to steal home. The Astros contended afterwards that Wynn beat the tag at the plate, but umpire Ed Vargo called him out.

It got worse for Wynn in the bottom of the inning. In attempting to catch a fly ball hit by Richie Allen (also known as Dick Allen, which will be important in a bit), Wynn crashed into the fence and disclocated both his elbow and wrist. Allen circled the bases for the walk-off inside-the-park home run. Wynn recovered from the injuries well enough to play nearly the full 1967 season, in which he hit a career-high 37 home runs.

Let’s fast forward one day and 3,000 miles across the country, where the Angels are hosting the Yankees. The Angels trailed 5-1, but rallied to tie. The last two runs came with two outs in the ninth inning against the Yankees closer that day, Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford.

As if it wasn’t enough that Ford failed that day, how about this: Angels third baseman Paul Schaal batted with the score tied. He hit a line drive to shallow center. Mickey Mantle came racing in for the ball, and missed it. The ball went past him and went all the way to the wall. Schaal joked to sportswriters that it took him five minutes to circle the bases, but he beat the throw home for a walk-off inside-the-park home run.

To which I’d say: Find me another story in which Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle were the goats!

As I’ve noted before, I use old time newspaper stories to write this recap and when you get to a page with a game story, you often find yourself scanning the whole page. In this case, the second page of the game story in the Los Angeles Times is next to an article labeling Mantle ‘The Colossal Cripple.’ The story is about how Mantle is finally getting recognition he deserved as fans realize the end is near.

But there’s something smaller that also caught my eye, a really small ad for “Mr. Toyota” in nearby Inglewood. And who is Mr. Toyota in this case?

A man by the name of Dick Allen. (Please allow the artistic license to make for a fun coincidence!)

Frank Robinson vs Bob Gibson with the game on the line

Baseball-Reference.com lists 350 instances of a player hitting a walk-off home run while trailing and his team down to its last out in the span for which it has regular season data (back to 1925).

I would say that the best batter-pitcher matchup among those was Frank Robinson versus Bob Gibson.

It came in the first game of a doubleheader on September 19, 1964. Both teams were chasing the first-place Phillies (who lost that day on a steal of home!) and in the end, each team would win once.

The Cardinals probably should have swept though. They led 5-0 after three innings with Gibson pitching. Perhaps Gibson was winded by the three doubles he hit, but he was unable to hold the lead. Deron Johnson’s three-run home run in the sixth inning cut the Cardinals lead to 5-3. Marty Keough’s home run in the eighth made it 5-4. The Cardinals failed to score despite loading the bases in the ninth inning, which gave the Reds a chance at a comeback.

Give Cardinals manager Johnny Keane credit for trusting Gibson, who allowed a double to Gordy Coleman to lead off the ninth. A sacrifice by Pete Rose(!) moved pinch-runner Tommy Harper to third. Chico Ruiz struck out looking, but Vada Pinson walked on a 3-2 pitch (newspaper reports described it as “disputed”).

Robinson was 0-for-4 in the game and had struck out representing the go-ahead run in the seventh inning. He homered on Gibson’s first pitch to win the game.

Final score: Reds 7, Cardinals 5.

A couple of postscripts:

Robinson had a lot of big hits that season (he finished fourth in the MVP voting) and a lot of big hits in his career. In fact, Robinson is the only player in Baseball-Reference’s 350-home run data set to hit three walk-off home runs with his team trailing and down to its last out. This was the first of the three.

Just shy of a month later, Gibson found himself on the mound again trying to gut his way to the finish. This would also be a game with a final score of 7-5, though the result was different and slightly more important. It was the clinching game in the Cardinals’ World Series triumph over the Yankees.

Further reading: The website “Retrosimba” did a great review of Frank Robinson’s career vs the Cardinals here

Remember when Alex Gonzalez was Mr. Walk-Off?

The <em>Effectively Wild</em> podcast did a Secret Santa this winter and having never participated in one, I signed up. The person who got me did their homework, for which I’m greatly appreciative. They got me something that I, a self-declared walk-off aficionado greatly appreciated — a signed photo from former Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

Those familiar with Gonzalez know him as a) a guy who played at a time when there were two Alex Gonzalez’s playing shortstop and b) the guy who made the oft-overlooked but still very important error during the Marlins comeback against the Cubs in the Bartman game – Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.

What is forgotten as a result of both the former and latter is this: Within the span of one calendar year and four days, the Cubs’ Alex Gonzalez hit five walk-off home runs.

Five walk-off home runs in one year is a LOT. Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, hit 512 home runs, but hit only four walk-off home runs  in his entire <em>career.</em>. Also odd – Gonzalez played 331 games for the Cubs. He played 1,065 for other teams (Blue Jays, Expos, Padres, Rays, and Phillies). He didn’t hit a walk-off home run for anybody else.  All five came before Gonzalez’s big error <em>and</em> before the other Alex Gonzalez hit a walk-off home run in the 2003 World Series for the Marlins against the Yankees.

The impact of the home runs was a bit different depending on when they were hit. Gonzalez the Cub hit three in 2002 for the 67-95 team that finished last in the NL Central. The other two came in 2003 for the Cubs team that won the division title.

Cubs fans can appreciate that the bookend walk-offs were home runs to beat the Cardinals, the first on May 6, 2003 against Mike Timlin and the second on May 10, 2003 against Cal Eldred.

Give Gonzalez credit for consistency. After the first one, he said “I wasn’t thinking about a home run at all.”

And after the last one, he said “I’m not going up there trying to hit home runs.”

Perhaps those are the keys to hitting one. If anyone should know, it’s him.

Who hit the most walk-off HRs in the 1960s?

If I asked you who hit the most home runs of the 1960s, you’d probably guess from among Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Willie McCovey. Those are the top five in that stat for that decade.

Now, if I asked you who hit the most walk-off home runs of the 1960s, and you responded with those names, I’d laugh. Because the answer is a player you’ve probably not heard of, unless you’re a highly-sophisticated baseball fan. I hadn’t even heard of him.

I’m referring to former outfielder Don Lock, whose 921-game major league career spanned 1962 to 1969 with the Senators, Phillies, and Red Sox. In that time, he hit only .238, but he was a useful hitter, who tallied 122 home runs, including six walk-offs.

Most Walk-Off Home Runs – 1960s
Don Lock 6
Mickey Mantle 5
Eddie Mathews 5
Felipe Alou 5
Johnny Callison 5
Tommy Davis 5
Dick Allen 5
Ron Santo 5
Leon Wagner 5

Lock came up through the Yankees farm system, but had the misfortune of being traded by them to the Senators during the 1962 pennant race. The benefit was playing time the next season. The down side was that Lock was on some mediocre baseball teams.

Lock hit 27 home runs for the 1963 Senators, who finished 56-106 and 28 for the 1964 Senators, who were a little better at 62-100. His SABR bio describes his huge home run swing, which produced its share of long balls. Lock hit two walk-off home runs in 1963, two more in 1964 and two in 1966, a season in which the Senators went 71-88, which was a little better, but still rendered them a second-division team.

Lock’s first walk-off was a fun one. It came on May 8, 1963 in an epic game with the Indians. The epic nature was in the form of a pitcher’s duel between two you probably don’t know – Jack Kralick for the Indians and Don Rudolph for the Senators.

Rudolph was the better of the two through most of the night, but only by a little bit. In the first 12 innings, he allowed a total of one hit, and had a stretch in which he retired 25 straight Indians hitters. Kralick was no slouch, allowing one run through 12 frames.

In the unlucky 13th, Rudolph wilted, allowing two runs (for those curious, produced by a triple from John Romano and a single by Vic Davalillo). But after Romano’s hit, Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts pinch-hit for Kralick, a move that didn’t have a positive dividend, because the pinch-hitter struck out.

Nonetheless, a two-run lead should have been secure. It wasn’t. Three straight hits produced a run to start the inning, cutting the Indians lead to 3-2. A fielder’s choice resulting in a Senators player being thrown out at home slowed things for a moment. But then Chuck Hinton walked to load the bases.

Up stepped Lock. On a 2-2 pitch, he homered to right field to win the game.

Tebbetts was so mad, he lambasted his team’s “atrocious relief work.”

Lock’s second was pretty cool. It came against the White Sox on July 29 of that season. Most notable about that one was that it ruined the day for White Sox pitcher Joe Horlen, who took a no-hit bid through one out in the ninth inning. Chuck Hinton spoiled the history attempt with a single, but Horlen still had a chance for a 1-0 win with Hinton on first and two outs in the ninth.

Nope.

Lock hit a hanging curveball over the wall to win the game. If it’s any consolation, Horlen did throw a no-hitter four years later. Of course, that day, he didn’t have to worry about Don Lock.

Lock actually had another walk-off home run with his team trailing 1-0 in the ninth inning. It came against the Kansas City Athletics on May 24, 1966. His pinch-hit winner with two outs drew the writers covering the game his way. When teammate Ron Kline, who pitched two scoreless innings, noted that he deserved attention too, Lock had a quip ready.

“I know you did … But I hit the homer.”

Minutiae

One other note on Lock’s walk-off prowess. In 1963, his walk-off home runs came on May 8 and July 29. A year later, they came on May 9 and July 29. Kind of spooky.