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The HR king before the HR kings could walk-off too

I was listening to the great baseball podcast “This Week in Baseball History” the other day, when one of the co-hosts, Bill Parker, paid tribute to someone celebrating a birthday that week – Gavvy Cravath.

I knew of Gavvy Cravath as baseball’s home run king prior to Babe Ruth, but that was about all I knew. It’s a great listen and very detailed (it comes towards the end of the show, which dealt with the collective bargaining agreement that netted player’s free agency). My favorite part is what happened to Cravath after his baseball career ended. After managing the downtrodden Phillies for part of 1919 and 1920, he worked briefly as a minor league manager and scout, then returned home to California.

Cravath’s father was the mayor of his town, so it’s likely he passed some political skill down to his son. Cravath became a judge, a job he held for 36 years (listen to the podcast to find out how he was elected … it’s funny). Cravath was known as both “crusty” and “widely respected” per his SABR bio. He had no legal training whatsoever!

I went looking for a Cravath walk-off home run and the Baseball-Reference archives came through for me. Cravath reached the 100-homer mark on June 14, 1918 in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals. What’s notable about this home run is that it would not have been one today. The ball bounced before entering the left field bleachers (those were homers in those days!)

There was a GREAT game story sharing the events of the game in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’d love to credit the author, but he appears to be going by a pseudonym. The byline is listed as “Jim Nasium.”

How would you not want your name to be known when you could write a lede like this???

“That ancient old ruin, Cactus Cravath, intervened between a double defeat yesterday afternoon when he tottered to the plate in the 10th inning of the opening encounter and loafed around there until he had three balls and two strikes called on him and then nonchalantly whaled the next pitched ball into the left field bleachers …”

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Are you ready for some Foote ball?

There is a famous game in Cubs history known as “The Sandberg Game” because of multiple dramatics by Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg. It’s the signature win of the 1984 season, when the team won the NL East title. That it came against the Cardinals didn’t hurt its historical significance either.

Less known, but perhaps just as good of a game was the one which took place on April 22 1980 between those same teams. But the 1980 Cubs weren’t particularly memorable. They were just mediocre. And “The Foote Game” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

This was bonkers baseball at its finest, a game played in 22-mile-per-hour winds. That shortstop Ivan DeJesus, he of 21 home runs in more than 4,600 at-bats hit for the cycle within five innings was strange. What Barry Foote did may have been stranger.

Foote had two good seasons as a hitter. With the 1974 Expos, he hit .262 with 11 home runs, but was soon displaced behind the plate by Gary Carter. In 1979, he hit .254 with 16 home runs for the Cubs. In Foote’s eight other seasons, he wasn’t much of a hitter. His career batting average was .230 and he was kept around much more for his glove and arm than anything else. But on this day, he could do no wrong.

First he singled in a run in the second inning, cutting a 3-1 Cardinals lead to 3-2. Then, he doubled in two more runs in the third inning to tie the game, 6-6. The Cardinals went ahead 12-6, but in these conditions, no lead was safe. The Cubs cut the lead to 12-11 by the eighth and Foote tied it with a home run.

The Cardinals didn’t score in the top of the ninth, with Foote throwing out Garry Templeton trying to steal second base. The only way to get Foote up in the bottom of the inning was to load the bases with two outs. Sure enough, that’s what happened. And on the first pitch, Foote obliged, clubbing a grand slam against Cardinals reliever Mark Littell.

Foote was greeted at home plate with a kiss on the helmet from none other than Bill Buckner.

Final score, Cubs 16, Cardinals 12.

Barry Foote Minutiae
Foote finished with eight RBIs. It would be 22 years before another Cubs player would drive in at least eight (Sammy Sosa had nine in 2002).

1980 Phillies had a vital walk-off win in their World Series path

I’ve noted before that I enjoy walk-offs with a 6-5 final score, since that was the final score of the greatest walk-off of them all (the 1986 Mets beating the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series).

Turns out that the 1980 Phillies can stake a claim to a pretty cool 6-5 walk-off win on their way to a championship.

I’m referring to their 156th game of the season. They entered their game against the Cubs trailing the Expos by ½ a game in the standings after losing two of three to Montreal. A Bill Buckner (!) RBI double tied the score at two in the seventh inning and Steve Dillard’s RBI ground out put the Cubs ahead. But the Phillies tied the game in their half of the seventh on Pete Rose’s RBI grounder. That would be the last scoring for a while.

Among those who pitched in relief and pitched well were Hall-of-Famers Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter for the Cubs, and standouts Tug McGraw and Sparky Lyle for the Phillies. There was no more scoring in this one until the top of the 15th when the Cubs plated a pair of unearned runs, set up by an error by pitcher Dickie Noles.

But the Phillies weren’t done. Lonnie Smith led off the home 15th with a walk and Pete Rose followed with one as well. A wild pitch advanced each runner a base, and Bake McBride brought home Smith with a ground out.

Next up was Mike Schmidt, who won NL MVP that season and delivered countless big hits along the way. Not this time. With Rose representing the tying run on third base and one out, Schmidt popped out to second base.

The Phillies were undaunted. Down to their last out, they tied the game on Gary Maddox’s single. It should be noted that Maddox had been benched with Greg Luzinski and Bob Boone that day for manager Dallas Green for recent offensive struggles. The three were not happy, with Maddox going as far as to blame an article by young Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Jayson Stark for his benching (seriously??). But Maddox redeemed himself. And after a hit by Keith Moreland and a walk to Larry Bowa, Manny Trillo singled home Maddox with the winning run.

This was a vital win for the Phillies, one needed to keep pace with the Expos, who won that night. The Phillies would go on to edge out the Expos in the final weekend of the season to win the division title. It probably wouldn’t have been possible without this win.

If you want to hear Jayson Stark’s take on this game, listen to this interview he did a few weeks ago

Chris Chambliss had other big home runs too

Chris Chambliss is best known for his home run that won the Yankees a pennant in 1976. But it turns out that Chambliss had a great flair for the dramatic beyond that game.

Chambliss had three instances in which he hit a walk-off home run with his team trailing, including one earlier in the 1976 season against the Red Sox.

These Red Sox were not a threat to the eventual AL champion Yankees, but it’s fun to reminisce regardless. The game of note was on July 25, 1976. Don Zimmer had just taken over as Red Sox skipper and his team was in a bit of a funk. A disastrous 14-game road trip ended in New York.

The day started well for the Red Sox. They led 5-0, but frittered it away. Still, they had a 5-3 edge with two on and two outs in the ninth inning. Zimmer called on lefty Tom House (best known for catching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run) to pitch to the left-handed hitting Chambliss. House had the edge here – Chambliss was 0-for-8 in his career against House. Not for long.

House threw one pitch and Chambliss hit it over the wall for a game-winning three-run home run.

“I told (House) to pitch him tough,” Zimmer said. “If that’s pitching him tough, than I don’t know what tough is.”

The next of these walk-off home runs came the next season against the White Sox. The Yankees entered the day 4 ½ games out of first place with 46 to play, so wins were necessary to catch both the first-place Red Sox and second-place Orioles.

This was a bonkers baseball game. The Yankees led 9-4 in the ninth inning, but Ron Guidry, Sparky Lyle and Ken Clay combined to blow the lead, allowing six runs, with the go-ahead hit being Oscar Gamble’s two-run single.

Trailing 10-9, a leadoff walk to Thurman Munson proved costly for the White Sox. Two batters later, Chambliss hit a walk-off home run off rookie Randy Wiles. If you’ve never heard of Wiles, that’s not surprising. He pitched in five MLB games. This one was his last.

Speaking of last, the last of the three home runs in our story is a cool one. It came in an otherwise nondescript season for the Braves against the Padres on August 13, 1986.

The Braves trailed 7-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two men on and one out, Padres Hall-of-Fame closer Rich Gossage struck out the Braves best hitter, Dale Murphy. But Ken Griffey Sr. followed with an RBI single. The game came down to Gossage versus Chambliss. It ended in Chambliss’ favor with a walk-off home run against a high fastball.

“Isn’t that great?” said Braves manager Chuck Tanner afterwards.

It was great beyond just that moment.

It was the last home run of Chambliss’ career.

Not a bad way to go out.

Bill Buckner’s only walk-off HR started a heck of a streak

I just guested on a podcast in which I told many Bill Buckner stories. But one I didn’t tell was the story of his only walk-off home run.

It came on June 21, 1974 against the Giants and it started a positive barrage of victories of a similar nature. In this one, the Dodgers trailed 3-0 into the bottom of the eighth inning, but scored three runs to tie. The key hits that inning were three of the “barely” variety, by Buckner, Jimmy Wynn (a bunt) and Steve Garvey. Buckner then homered to right off Elias Sosa in the ninth inning to win it.

“I can’t believe it, nor can I say how that ball went out or what the pitch was or anything,” Buckner said afterwards, and this might be the first instance I can remember of a baseball player properly using the word “nor” in a sentence.

Buckner’s surprise also makes sense given that he finished the season with more than four times as many stolen bases (31) as home runs (7).

That was the first win in a 5-1 homestand and what’s crazy is that all five wins were walk-off wins.

The Dodgers won the next day 3-2. Wynn homered in the ninth inning off Jim Barr to tie it and Buckner’s fellow 1968 draft pick, Joe Ferguson, homered in the 10th inning off Sosa to win it.

In the series finale, the Giants led 3-1 in the seventh inning, but the Dodgers scored twice to tie. They won it in the ninth on Ken McMullen’s RBI single.

The Dodgers had a chance at a walk-off win against the Braves in the first game of their next series, but left the tying run on first base and lost by a run.

They took the next one, scoring twice in the ninth to win 2-1. Steve Garvey got the tying hit and Ron Cey got the winner off fellow Washington State baseball alum Danny Frisella.

The last of the wins was a 5-4 victory in the series finale. Ferguson homered to tie it and Manny Mota singled to win it. Mota replaced Buckner mid at-bat with a 1-1 count and a man on second base, an interesting maneuver, though understandable given that pitcher Tom House was a lefty and Alston wanted the platoon advantage.

Amazingly, all five games were won by relief pitcher Mike Marshall. Marshall won 10 games via walk-off that season, the most in a season by a pitcher in the years for which Baseball-Reference has data (dating to 1908).

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.

Rodney Scott an unlikely king of the walk-offs

Forget the MVP. Here, we’re concerned with the MVW — the Most Valuable Walk-Off’er.

Because there are no rules here, we’ll give it to the player with the most times recording a walk-off RBI in a season. That means for 2018, your MVW is Mets infielder Wilmer Flores, who had 4 walk-off RBIs.

The great thing about the MVW is the total randomness of it. One year it could be Mickey Mantle, Another, it could be George Mitterwald. The last 3 players to lead the majors in walk-off RBI (in reverse order) are Flores, Mark Trumbo and Carlos Correa with 4.

Four walk-offs in a season typically leads the majors. That did it in five of the last six seasons, with 2014 the holdout (Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Howard and Josh Donaldson had 3). Five is unusual. Six is the holy grail.

Baseball-Reference.com has walk-off data dating to 1925. In the 94 seasons, there have been four instances of a player recording six walk-off RBIs in a season – Rodney Scott in 1979, Cory Snyder in 1987, Wally Joyner in 1989 and Andre Ethier in 2009 (note the common bond of the ‘9’s).

I’m familiar with the work of Msrs. Joyner and Ethier, but not so much with Rodney Scott, so I decided to take a quick look (Here’s a great bio). Scott was a very fast infielder who played in the majors for four teams in eight seasons from 1975 to 1982. His career got jump-started with the 1977 Athletics, who liked to run, and for whom Scott stole 33 bases but was caught 17 times. He got better with experience, stealing as many as 63 bases in a season for the Expos. His nickname was “Cool Breeze.”

Scott had seasons in which he hit .261 and .282, but he sputtered after that, dropping to .238 in 1979, .224 in 1980 and .205 in 1981. In 1979 and 1980, he was an everyday player, despite an OPS that barely cracked .600. And yes, Scott had six walk-off RBIs in 1979. They were the only ones of his career.

Scott had three walk-off singles, a walk, a hit by pitch, and a home run. The latter was cool. It was the third and last of his career and it came against the team for whom he played the previous season (he was traded by the Cubs to the Expos in December 1978). It came in the 12th inning against Willie Hernandez on Aug. 1. The quote from the Ottawa Citizen is cool too.

“I guess they’ll be dancin’ in Chicago tonight,” he said. “Seriously though, I just got good wood on a pitch and out it went. I’m no slugger. I was only trying to hit the ball and bring (Warren Cromartie) around. It was a good win. Sure I guess it was dramatic, but I like to believe the most dramatic times haven’t come yet. That’s when we win the 1979 World Series.”

Alas the 1979 Expos came up a little short, finishing 2 games out in the NL East. But Scott didn’t. His prolific mark has been matched, but yet to be surpassed since. Scott doesn’t get much recognition for this (in the words of Rodney Dangerfield “I don’t get no respect”), but we’re here to salute him.

Rodney Scott Minutiae
– Rodney Scott had only one fewer walk-off RBI than Ted Williams. Makes sense, given that everyone probably wanted to pitch to Scott, but no one wanted to pitch to Williams.

– Scott’s six walk-off RBI were twice as many as any other player had that season and one short of the total by the rest of his teammates combined.