All posts by Mark Simon

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

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 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.

Want to read about a 1919 White Sox walk-off?

If anyone’s wondering what I’m doing: I miss baseball in the offseason. I try to come up with fun projects to kill time. This winter, my project takes me back to something I did a lot on in the mid-2000s … walk-offs. Looking for the most interesting and unusual ones I can find. If you would like to request one, please do. But keep in mind, I’m mostly avoiding the famous ones.

We spin the clock back to July 20, 1919 and a match between the first place White Sox and the second-place Yankees, who were 4.5 games behind in the standings.

This game was a pitcher’s duel, as most pre-1920 games were, between Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox and Ernie Shore of the Yankees. Shore’s claim to fame is a game in which he threw nine perfect innings of relief after a young pitcher named Babe Ruth was ejected after walking the first batter (Ruth reportedly punched the umpire). In this one, Shore allowed one run through nine, matching Cicotte, who yielded but one run and three hits through 10 frames.

A few of the White Sox were playing at positions different from what we know them for. Buck Weaver was at shortstop instead of Swede Risberg, who was subbing at first base for Chick Gandil. Fred McMullin started at Weaver’s usual spot, third base. What’s particularly jarring is that the lineup put forth by Kid Gleason features five consecutive hitters whose names we know as part of the banished Eight Men Out. Risberg’s sacrifice fly accounted for the White Sox only run through the first nine innings.

We can also note that these weren’t the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig, but rather that of Wally Pipp and Home Run Baker. Duffy Lewis drove in the only run with a seventh-inning single.

There were 30,000 fans estimated to be in the crowd that day, described by the New York Herald as a “howling mob of rabid enthusiasts.”

With two outs in the 10th inning, you could hear a few of them, per the Chicago Tribune. “Into the bleachers this time” and “Hit it over the fence, Joe,” they yelled. Two pitches into the at-bat their cry was answered. One big wallop and the ball sailed over the fence.

It was the second of four consecutive walk-off wins by the White Sox, the first of three straight wins over the Yankees.

And it was the only walk-off home run of Shoeless Joe Jackson’s career.

Remembering Rickey Henderson’s earliest walk-off moments

To kill time and have a little fun this offseason, I’m covering the walk-off beat. I’m documenting stories of not-well-remembered baseball walk-offs. Scan through the other ones I’ve done and you’ll see stories on the likes of players ranging from Ted Williams and Adrian Beltre to former 1969 Met Ed Charles. Is there someone you’d like me to write up? Send me a tweet

I was listening to an ESPN 30-for-30 podcast about the end of baseball legend Rickey Henderson’s pro baseball career. With MLB teams unwilling to sign Henderson, he decided to play in the Golden Baseball League, an independent league based on the West Coast.

The podcast detailed how Henderson fared and what it was like to watch an icon’s final days in that 2005 season (spoiler alert: Henderson had a .456 on-base percentage and San Diego won the league championship).

But what if I told you about a neat tidbit from the earliest days of Rickey Henderson’s MLB career? In 1979, he debuted with an otherwise highly-forgettable Oakland Athletics squad that went 54-108 under Jim Marshall (Billy Martin improved the team by 29 wins in 1980).

One of the first times that Rickey was really being Rickey was in a three-week stretch in late August and early September, when he hit .338 with an .829 OPS and seven stolen bases in 17 games. The Athletics went 10-7 in that run.

Among the games was a 4-3 win over the White Sox in which Henderson was 3-for-5 with three extra-base hits and three runs scored. He noted after the game that each hit came against a different pitch Henderson led off the 10th inning with a triple to right center against a Mike Proly slider. After a pair of intentional walks, Jeff Newman hit a ground ball that was booted by the White Sox shortstop, scoring Henderson with the winning run.

How cool is this quote from a humble Henderson after the game? “There are some things I want to achieve and my teammates are helping me as much as (they) can, but I have to bear down to make it happen.”

Here’s the punchline: That game took place on September 7, 1979.

That’s the same day ESPN made its debut.

PS: Henderson recorded his first career walk-off RBI the next day, drawing a bases-loaded walk against Proly in the ninth inning. Alas, not many were there to see it. The attendance for Henderson’s first walk-off RBI was 1,596.

Bo Jackson knows walk-offs

If you’re my age, you probably remember Bo Jackson pretty well. You recall his amazing runs at Auburn, his untackleable Tecmo Bowl character from his Raiders days, or his home run to open the 1989 All-Star Game. He was a phenomenal athlete and a huge star whose career was cut way too short.

I was wondering if Jackson had ever hit a walk-off home run. He did not disappoint. In fact, it came the Saturday before that famous 1989 All-Star Game.

Jackson’s Royals trailed the White Sox 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, after George Brett had gotten doubled off second base on Jackson’s flyout to end the eighth inning. But Jackson and Brett’s teammate, Danny Tartabull picked them up with a game-tying home run against White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen in the ninth inning.

The game stretched to the 11th inning where Jackson led off against John Davis and on a 2-1 pitch, he hit a home run that cleared the fence in left center by more than 30 feet. It was his 21st home run of the season. Brett was the first to greet Jackson after the home run. You can see it here.

It was good timing too. The Miami Herald ran a 2,000-word feature by Bob Rubin on Sunday spotlighting Jackson’s phenomenal athletic ability (it asked if he was from the planet Zork). This was Bo Jackson at his peak. There was talk he could go 40-40 (he finished with 32 home runs and 26 steals).

“Watching Bo,” Mark McGwire said in the article, “he just belongs in another league.”

It’s funny to note that the next day, Jackson came up in the bottom of the ninth in another walk-off scenario, with Brett on second and one out in a tie game. He was intentionally walked. The next batter, Willie Wilson, hit a game-winning single. I suppose White Sox manager Jeff Torborg laughed when he watched Jackson homer in the All-Star Game and thought to himself “at least he didn’t do that.”

Bo Knows Minutiae
– Jackson is better known for a walk-off denial. That came in the form of a 300-plus foot throw on the fly from the left field warning track on Scott Bradley’s double, to nail Harold Reynolds at the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game against the Mariners in Seattle on June 5, 1989.

“There is no one on the planet who can make that throw, but Bo did,” said Royals catcher Bob Boone.

By the way, in batting practice that day, Jackson hit a 480-foot home run.

“I’m a better defensive player than offensive,” Jackson said afterwards.

If you want to see the throw, click here.

– The Royals needed Bo Jackson that season. They were 79-54 that season when he started, 13-16 when he didn’t.

– Bo Jackson never had a walk-off touchdown in the NFL. Of his 18 scores, 16 of them came in the first three quarters.

– If you had asked me which team Bo Jackson finished his MLB career with, I would have said the White Sox. I would not have guessed the Angels, for whom he concluded with in 1994.

– Bo Jackson’s penchant for striking out makes some of his numbers rather comical. He had 20 strikeouts in 28 at-bats against Mark Langston, 13 in 24 at-bats against Roger Clemens, 11 in 20 at-bats against Randy Johnson and 12 in 20 at-bats against Nolan Ryan. He did hit a 461-foot homer vs Ryan though.

Yo Adrian (Beltre)!

July 10, 1999 is an awesome day if you like walk-offs. There were six, among them the Mets beating the Yankees on Matt Franco’s two-run single against Mariano Rivera and light-hitting Omar Vizquel clubbing a home run to beat the Reds.

There was also one by second-year Dodgers third baseman Adrián Beltré against the Mariners. It’s significant because it was the first of his long major-league career.

It was a good pitcher’s duel between Kevin Brown and John Halama, with each allowing one run – Halama in seven innings and Brown in eight. In the bottom of the ninth, Jose Paniagua got Gary Sheffield and Eric Karros out to start the inning, but Devon White and Raul Mondesi each walked on 3-2 pitches. Beltré singled home White on the first pitch he saw.

“It’s important to me that the team looks to me in situations like that,” Beltré told reporters after the game, a pretty good quote for a 20-year-old.

Beltré’s team looked to him for walk-offs many times in a career that ended with his retirement earlier this week. In 18 of them, he came through. The second one, a home run, also came against Paniagua and the Mariners on July 7, 2001, nearly two years to the day of the first one.

Among the other highlights:

– On September 22, 2001, Beltré’s two-run single gave the Dodgers a 6-5 win over the Diamondbacks (I’ve previously mentioned my affinity for 6-5 final scores). The Dodgers staged two pretty good comebacks in this game. They were down 3-1 in the ninth inning before Paul Lo Duca hit a game-tying home run against Randy Johnson. Then they were down 5-3 in the 11th in the moments leading up to Beltré’s hit.

The hit was big at the time because it moved the Dodgers within three games of the Diamondbacks for first place with 13 games to go. The Dodgers didn’t catch them, but still pretty cool.

– On August 20, 2003, Beltré hit a two-run home run against Rocky Biddle to give the Dodgers a 3-1 win over the Expos. I like it because of the Rocky/Adrian connection (I hear Creed 2 got good reviews).

– Beltré’s last came on July 25, 2016 against the Athletics. He had four hits and drove in the Rangers’ last three runs of the game, the first with a home run in the seventh inning against John Axford to cut the Rangers lead to 6-5, the second a two-run bomb against Ryan Madson with two outs in the ninth to win the game.

“What superlatives do you want me to put on it?” asked then-Rangers manager Jeff Banister.

There are a lot of superlatives you could put on Adrián Beltré. The walk-offs are just a small piece of his excellence, but one you might have overlooked.

This walk-off is holiday-appropriate

The 1908 baseball season is best known for Merkle’s boner, a baserunning mishap by a player on the New York Giants that cost them a game that had they won, would have given them enough wins to win the NL pennant. Instead, the Cubs triumphed over the Giants in the season’s final game to take the flag. They’d go on to win the World Series.

But there was a lot of other stuff that led up to that point, including one game I just read about it that I’ll share here.

It was the Giants’ home opener against the Brooklyn Dodgers (then known as the Superbas) on April 22, 1908. It was a highly eager crowd of more than 25,000 in the Polo Grounds, a challenging group to keep in line because the stands were not equipped to hold that many people. In fact, the some of the crowd overflowed onto the field in center field (this is a totally unimaginable scenario today).

This led to some interesting obstacles. A Superbas player hit what should have been an inside-the-park home run into the mass of extra spectators, but
It was ruled a ground-rule double. The fans on the field grew larger in volume as the game went along, forcing the outfielders to play shallower than usual. The Giants benefited from this in the eighth inning when Fred Merkle (for whom the boner was named) hit a double into the fan contingent, a ball that should have been caught, according to the wonderful resource that is the Brooklyn Eagle.

The Superbas led 2-1 after 8 ½ innings. Merkle hit another of what was called a “phony double” in the ninth, but was thrown out at the plate later in the inning trying to score the tying run.

The game came down to Mike Donlin’s at-bat with a man on base. Donlin was a hitting star. He finished his career with a .333 batting average. He had returned to the team after sitting out a season in a contract dispute. He would later take an interest in theatre and perform in plays and movies.

Anyways, Donlin had a flare for the dramatic on this day, as he clubbed a two-run home run against Harry McIntire. More than 5,000 fans stormed the field to celebrate the win and make the romp around the bases with Donlin, who arrived home safely.

“The Giants had all the luck, all the time,” wrote one Eagle reporter.

So why am I sharing the story with you today of all days?

Donlin was a cocky fellow who walked around with a healthy strut. That earned him an appropriate nickname.

Turkey Mike.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!