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.

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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.

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.

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.

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