Category Archives: Make Every Win A Walk-Off

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.

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Honus Wagner hit 1 walk-off HR … against guess who?

I wanted to see if I could find a 19th-century walk-off in the Newspapers.com archives and I am pleased to report that was a successful venture.

“Game is Booming. New England has a Violent Attack of Baseball Fever” read the headline on Page 5 of the Pittsburgh Press. That story is pertinent only to offer context on the condition of the sport on April 26, 1899. The article below it is more our concern, telling of how the Louisville Colonels defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a rather exciting competition the day before.

What’s cool about this one is that the story’s hero is third-year infielder Honus “Hans” Wagner. Wagner is best known for his time as a shortstop with the Pirates, but he actually began his career with the Colonels in 1897 and was playing third base in this game. Wagner was a good player from the time of his debut, but he made the jump to true superstar, future Hall-of-Famer and baseball legend that season, with this game being one of his signatures.

As most games at the turn of the century were, this one was a pitcher’s duel between Pete Dowling of Louisville and Jesse Tannehill of Pittsburgh and was tied 1-1 after each team scored in the fourth inning. The Colonels’ run came on a long Wagner home run. Wagner had a strong defensive game too, the highlight being a diving catch on a popup that he chased down near first base after a long run and headlong dive. The Courier Journal wrote that it was “one of the most remarkable plays ever made by an infielder (in fairness that writer probably didn’t have that much baseball to draw upon). The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette preferred the leaping catch of a line drive.

Props should also go to Louisville outfielder Dummy Hoy (a pioneer – a deaf major leaguer) who made a tough catch on a line drive that he turned into a double play, squashing a Pieates threat in the eighth inning.

There is great description of the end of this game in the newspaper – When Wagner comes up in the ninth inning, Tannehill tells his left fielder to move back. The problem was that he couldn’t position the left fielder beyond the outfield fence. Because that’s where Wagner hit the ball, this home run a high pop up that cleared the wall, though not by much.

This was not necessarily a foreshadowing of Wagner’s power (he hit only seven home runs all season). But it was a foreshadowing of his greatness. He hit .341 with 114 RBIs and 37 stolen bases in 1899. The next year the Colonels went defunct. Their owner, Barney Dreyfuss, became part-owner of the Pirates.

Guess who became the Pirates’ starting shortstop? Honus Wagner, of course. He went on to record more than 3,400 hits and become the greatest shortstop of all-time.

I do think it’s cool though that Wagner, an all-time great among greats, had only one walk-off home run in his career. And it’s a great trivia question to ask which team it came against.

Minutiae
Let’s run through one item on the sports page in each of the papers I sourced that day.

Post-Gazette: An advertisement for an Andrae Bicycle. “Our Motto: Justice. ‘I see’ said the blind man after he had ridden an Andrae an entire year without a mishap. ‘Why they never disappoint.”

Pittsburgh Press: The reprint of a story from the Washington Post titled “From An Underworld. Queer Creatures Spouted From An Artesian Well Are Puzzles To Scientists. Half Fish and Half Beast …”

Courier JournalThe biggest headline on the page is “Home Cure For Blood Poison. Beware of the Doctors’ Patchwork; You Can Cure Yourself At Home.” Sounds dicey.

Turns out it’s an ad for Swift Specific of Atlanta.

This is a walk-off story about George Brett, but someone else too …

I was hoping that in George Brett’s logs that there would be at least one walk-off moment from the 1980 season. That’s one of the all-time great seasons by a hitter in my lifetime. Brett hit .390/.454/.664, albeit in only 117 games. He struck out 22 times in 515 plate appearances. His performance was valued at 9.4 WAR, which is extraordinary considering the number of games he missed.

And there was.

But as good as I feel for George Brett and that season, I feel kind of bad for the opposing pitcher. Mike Parrott won 14 games and posted a 3.77 ERA for the Mariners in 1979. He was named their Opening Day starter and deservedly so, given that the Mariners didn’t have many good pitchers and that he was a first-round pick with some promise. On the back of his 1982 baseball card, it notes “The Mariners’ starting pitcher for the 1980 season opener, Mike gained win vs Blue Jays, April 9.”

There’s a reason that this was noted as Parrott’s baseball-card fact.

After winning on Opening Day, things didn’t go so well for Parrott. Thus began a long losing skid and a painful season in more ways than one. It is documented here that Parrott was hit in the groin by a batted ball.

Meanwhile, everything turned up roses for Brett, who was leading the Royals to the 1980 AL pennant.

As the season wound down, the Royals and Mariners played an epic game on September 30. The Royals had clinched the division already, though they were on an uncharacteristic eight-game losing streak. The Mariners were 59-97. The game is actually notable for something unrelated. Mariners pitcher Rick Honeycutt was ejected in the third inning because the home plate umpire said Honeycutt was cutting the ball with a thumb tack

The Royals led 4-3 in the ninth inning, but Bruce Bochte hit a game-tying home run for the Mariners against Royals starter Dennis Leonard.

In the 10th, Parrott came on on in relief for his first appearance in six days. And Parrott got through the next four innings. The one chance he had to face Brett resulted in an intentional walk, one that paid off when Parrott struck out Hal McRae and got Amos Otis to fly out with the winning run on third.

In the 14th inning, the Mariners broke through to take the lead on Dave Edler’s bunt hit.

Here’s where Parrott stood. He entered the game 1-14 with a 7.42 ERA and had dropped 14 straight decisions. He was in position to win this one. Wills rolled the dice and stayed with him.

The dice came up snake eyes.

Willie Wilson reached on an infield single and stole second. U.L. Washington singled, with Wilson holding at third. That brought up Brett in what was unfortunately, a mismatch. Brett hit a game-winning three-run home run on a 1-1 pitch. Afterwards, he spoke of how much fun he was having, even though the chase to hit .400 (which was basically out of reach) was stressful.

In the end, things worked out alright for all involved. Brett won an MVP , won a World Series with the Royals in 1985, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Parrott pitched one more game that season and lost that one too. He finished 1-16 with a 7.28 ERA. pitched one more year with the Mariners (it went a little better, but not much- his losing streak was snapped at 18 games. Only Anthony Young -27- has had a longer one since then), then spent five seasons in Triple-A without getting recalled. Three of those years were with the Royals organization.

After his playing career ended, Parrott became a baseball lifer. He’s been a minor league pitching coach since 1988(!) and has been with the Diamondbacks organization since 1997. One of his minor league managers, Phil Nevin, called Parrott “outstanding.” He’s spent the last three seasons with the Hillsboro Hops. By all accounts, he’s fared very well.

Props to him for sticking it out and making the most of what must have been a rough time in his career. I would bet that his struggles helped him considerably as a coach, because he can always tell one of his players “You think you’re struggling …”

Ron Gant was Mr. Walk-Off for the early 1990s Atlanta Braves

When you talk about the Atlanta Braves of the early 1990s, the players you probably most often reference are the ace pitchers — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, along with outfielder David Justice and first baseman Fred McGriff. And when I bring up walk-offs, the obvious name that comes to mind is Francisco Cabrera, who had the winning hit in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS against the Pirates.

But you’re forgetting someone who was very important to the early part of that run. I’m referring to their version of Mr. Walk-Off, Ron Gant. Gant was a pretty good player in his time. He hit 321 home runs and finished in the top 15 of the MVP voting four times. He was there for the Braves bad times and for the good ones as well.

Gant had eight walk-off RBIs for the Braves from 1991 to 1993, the first three years of the Braves divisional dominance. That included four that were vital to the Braves winning the NL West in those years — two in September 1991 and two in September 1993.

He put the Braves back into first place by a half-game over the Dodgers with 20 games remaining with a bases-loaded hit off the wall against Dodgers reliever Roger McDowell on September 14, 1991. Eleven days later he got the winning hit in the opener of a doubleheader against the Reds, at the conclusion of which the Braves were 1 ½ games back with 10 to play. They would rally to win the division in the final weekend of the season.

In 1993, he had two walk-offs in a three-day span (September 15 and 17) to help the Braves hold off the Giants. The first is the best story of the bunch. The Braves trailed the Reds 6-2 in the ninth inning. Ryan Klesko hit a two-run home run to make it 6-4. Then after Otis Nixon and Jeff Blauser got hits off Jeff Reardon, Rob Dibble came into the game in relief.

Gant was 2-for-16 with seven strikeouts in his career against Dibble, so he couldn’t afford to get behind in the count. He took what I believe to be a highly-awkward swing (judge for yourself here) and hit a line drive down the left field line. The ball hit the top of the fence, but rather than come back into play, it went over the fence for a walk-off three-run home run.

“The fans that left, they should never let them see a game again,” Gant told reporters afterwards. “They aren’t true fans.”

Brief editorial comment: I’m inclined to agree, albeit with allowances for emergencies. Fans who leave in the bottom of the ninth inning of games are a pet peeve of mine.

The other win was a 2-1 victory over the Mets, won in the 10th inning when Gant doubled over the head of center fielder Dave Gallagher to plate Otis Nixon with the winning run.

“I don’t want to make it a habit, that’s for sure,” Gant said of walk-offs. “We need to start scoring more runs because this is making me feel old.”

Rajai Davis has a great walk-off history

New Mets outfielder Rajai Davis is best known for his game-tying home run against Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the World Series. But he’s got a pretty good walk-off history too.

Davis has nine walk-off RBIs, which is pretty good considering that he doesn’t even have 400 RBIs for his career.

Among the highlights:

– Davis has two career walk-off triples. Walk-off triples are hard to hit. They don’t typically happen because the circumstances around walk-offs don’t usually lend themselves to triple hitting (the official scorer will likely award a double in circumstances in which it’s a close call).

There were none in the majors last season. The Mets have one in their history (by Cleon Jones). Davis has more than the Mets do (this will probably be an SNY trivia question in some fashion next year, be ready!).

Baseball-Reference has data back to 1925. In that time, only two players have more walk-off triples than Davis: Joe DiMaggio and Connie Ryan (3 each).

– Remember the day the Mets lost to the Marlins, 2-1 in 20 innings? That was June 8, 2013. Davis does. He had a walk-off hit in the 18th inning of a 4-3 win against the Rangers that day too.

The Mets have three walk-off wins of 18 innings in their history, but only one 18th-inning walk-off hit. Funny coincidence, it was by Cleon Jones (1972 against the Phillies – a single).

– The coolest of Davis’ walk-off hits was a grand slam against Sean Doolittle of the Athletics on June 30, 2014. The Tigers trailed the Athletics 4-1 but loaded the bases with one out in the ninth. Fellow future Met Austin Jackson was the last of the three to reach base, walking after a nine-pitch at-bat.

Davis hit the second pitch, a curveball, out to left field as the fans at Comerica Park went bonkers. Many were in attendance to see a ceremony honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1984 champion Tigers. Those who stuck around to the end (and I read an article that said many left) got a heck of a finish.

After the game, Davis was asked if he could remember his last walk-off. He told reporters that “It was in my dreams when I was sleeping.”

Sounds like a walk-off fan’s delight.

And for the record, the Mets have eight walk-off grand slams in their history, the most recent by Jose Bautista last season. But they’ve never hit one when down by three.

The time a Lou Gehrig walk-off HR capped a huge comeback!

I don’t have a particular reason to write a walk-off post on Lou Gehrig, other than that I thought that there would be a good story there. And there is.

On September 8, 1937, the Yankees and Red Sox played a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won the first game in walk-off fashion, with Gehrig scoring the winning run on a hit by Myril Hoag. The second game is where the goodness lies.

The Red Sox were winning 6-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The lead was built up by two RBIs from left fielder Buster Mills and three runs scored by Hall-of-Famer Jimmie Foxx. It was held by pitcher Jack Wilson, who had allowed only two hits through the first eight innings. The 1937 season was Wilson’s best. He went 16-10 with a 3.70 ERA. But there was a notable blemish in the form of this game.

Gehrig walked against Wilson to lead off the ninth inning, but the Red Sox moundsman was able to get two outs, sandwiched around a walk to Hoag. That’s when the floodgates opened. Don Heffner tripled in Gehrig and Hoag to make it 6-3. Pinch-hitter Bill Dickey doubled home Heffner to make it 6-4. Frankie Crosetti hit a ground ball to shortstop that Joe Cronin bobbled, then threw away, allowing a pinch-runner to score. Red Rolfe’s walk advanced Crosetti to second.

All the while, Wilson remained in the game. Wilson would later gripe that Cronin, the manager, didn’t know how to handle pitchers (this SABR bio
is well-detailed on that). Cronin was mad that he couldn’t get pitching help from his farm system because five of the teams needed pitchers for their playoff runs. We should point out that the Red Sox had not used a relief pitcher through 17 2/3 innings of the doubleheader.

So Wilson pitched to DiMaggio and DiMaggio did what DiMaggio does: he singled home the tying run. Finally, Cronin called on Tommy Thomas to come out of the bullpen to pitch to Gehrig. The 37-year-old Thomas entered the appearance with a 6.42 ERA. This would be the 397th appearance of a 398-game career.

However, perhaps there was a method to Cronin’s madness. Gehrig was 2-for-his-last-20 against Thomas, so perhaps this was an example of Cronin playing the matchup. It didn’t matter.

Gehrig homered to win the game. The Yankees tallied eight runs in the ninth inning to win, 9-6. The five-run deficit is the largest overcome in the ninth inning by the Yankees in a walk-off win against the Red Sox in the time for which full data exists on Baseball-Reference.com (since 1908).

Minutiae
On the same page as the game story in the New York Daily News are ads for home beer keg service ($2.50) and a shoe store offering a clearance sale on Oxfords with rubber soles for 79 cents.

Gehrig had only three walk-off home runs in his career, the other two coming in 1932 against the Indians and 1934 against the Indians. That’s the same number of career walk-off home runs as Brett Gardner.

Baseball had a Jim(my) Brown too

When I say the name Jim Brown in the context of football, you know of whom I’m speaking. But if I bring up his name in the context of baseball, you probably scratch your head.

We’re here on this NFL Sunday to tell the tale of Jimmy Brown, baseball player, who was an infielder for the Cardinals from 1937 to 1943 before joining the Air Force to serve in World War II. Upon returning at age 36, he finished his career for the Pirates.

Brown was a good contact hitter, who hit .280 or better, though with minimal power in each season from 1938 to 1941. He struck out 22 times in 549 at-bats in 1941, when he slashed .306/.363/.406, the only season in which his adjusted OPS was better than league average. Nonetheless, he finished in the top six in the MVP voting twice, as players were statistically scrutinized different from how they are now.

In 1942, the Cardinals engaged in a great pennant race with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Cardinals, who trailed by 10 games in August took the lead for the NL pennant with two weeks left in the season while in the middle of a 16-game road trip and won a number of dramatic games down the stretch. On September 14, Brown’s 14th-inning double gave the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the Phillies.

The first home game after the road trip came on September 21 against the Pirates. The Cardinals were playing well, up 2 ½ games with six to play, though a pennant was no sure thing.

Brown did his best that day to make it possible. He was credited with an RBI in the fifth inning when his infield single scored aggressive baserunner Marty Marion from second base. Then in the bottom of the ninth, with a man on third and two outs, Brown singled in Marion again, this time with the winning run. This was how the Cardinals won 44 of their last 53 games.

“The chance are you are never going to see Jimmy Brown up there in the Hall of Fame. And you’d be willing to bet his chances of winning the most valuable player award any year are about as bright as one of those “solid gold” watches you can pick up for a dollar.

“But when it comes to handing out the posies to the guy who did as much – or more – than anyone else to bring the St. Louis Cardinals the National League pennant, don’t overlook James Roberson Brown of the Jamesville (S.C.) Browns, pals,” wrote Sid Feder of the Associated Press.

Brown did his part beyond that too. The Cardinals won 106 games to win the pennant by two games. He then went 6-for-20 with three walks, an RBI and two runs scored as the Cardinals topped the Yankees to win the World Series.

To learn more about Brown, I suggest reading his SABR Bioproject