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 …”

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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

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).

Harold Baines is the latest walk-off Hall-of-Famer

Congratulations to Harold Baines. That’s not for his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but rather his election to the Walk-Off Hall of Fame. Voting was done by a committee of one (me). To quote former NBA commissioner David Stern “It was a unanimous vote. One-zero.”

I know this was a controversial choice. There were certainly many worthy potential inductees, some of whom will likely be boosted by this selection in the future. I do feel that Baines is Walk-Off Hall-worthy.

The keynote to Baines’ election is the 25th-inning walk-off home run he hit for the White Sox against the Brewers on May 9, 1984. Baines’ current memory of that game, which was played over two days (it was suspended in the 18th inning) is foggy, per news reports from a few years ago, but to clear it up The game was tied 1-1 after 8. The Brewers scored two in the top of the ninth and the White Sox responded with two to tie it.

Neither team scored again until the Brewers tallied three runs in the top of the 21st. But the White Sox scored three of their own. Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk drove in the first one and Tom Paciorek drove in the other two.

After Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver pitched a scoreless top of the 25th (not a misprint), Baines crushed a Chuck Porter pitch to straightaway centerfield, well over the fence for a game-winning home run. It concluded a game that lasted eight hours and six minutes, the longest by time in MLB history. The Baines home run was emblematic of his season. He hit a career-high 29 home runs that year and led the AL with a .541 slugging percentage.

If you want to see video highlights of the game, click here.

What else is noteworthy about Baines from a walk-off perspective?

– Baines had eight walk-off home runs for the White Sox, the most by anyone on the team in the time for which Baseball-Reference has complete data (dating to 1925) and presumably the most in franchise history. Joe Crede and Robin Ventura rank second with five. Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas is well behind with three.

– He is the most recent player to hit two walk-off home runs in a season against the Yankees. He did it in 1996, both of John Wetteland, a year the Yankees won the World Series.

– His last of 18 walk-off RBI was a grand slam for the Orioles against his former team, the White Sox, as a 40-year-old in 1999. He tripled in a run as part of a rally to tie in the ninth (his first triple since the 1995 season), than hit the home run to win in the 10th.

– His first of 10 career walk-off home runs came as a rookie against a Hall-of-Famer, Ferguson Jenkins of the Rangers in 1980. It was described as a front-row shot by the Chicago Tribune. Said Baines afterwards: “I didn’t feel any excitement. I’m just not an emotional person.”

Here’s hoping he had a better reaction to Sunday’s news.

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