Tag Archives: Detroit Tigers

Remembering Ty Cobb’s only walk-off HR

Baseball legend Ty Cobb had a reputation for being a very angry man.

I’d hate to have seen him had his Tigers lost the game they played against the White Sox on June 2, 1925.

Cobb was then the Tigers player- manager, running a team that was presently an unsatisfactory 19-26. A baseball writer from New York, John Foster, wrote a column that ran in some papers that day saying that the Tigers should be better than their record and that their batters should be hitting up near .300. He picked a good time to write that story.

The Tigers got off to a good start in this one. Cobb’s double was part of a four-run first inning for the Tigers. By the sixth inning, the Tigers had a 15-5 lead. Frank O’Rourke had a home run and four RBIs. Fred Haney (a future manager) drove in three. Pitcher Hooks Dauss even chipped in a pair of RBIs.

But 15 runs would not be enough to win on this day. The White Sox scored seven runs in the seventh to cut the lead to 15-12, then tallied three runs in the ninth to tie the game, 15-15.

The Detroit Free Press noted that Cobb must have walked 20 miles in the game, most notably for the (gasp!) four pitching changes he made, a volume of moundsman usage that was not common at the time. The game stretched into a (double-gasp!) third hour.

Cobb took matters into his own hands. The 43rd hit of this game was Cobb’s only career walk-off home run. The Tigers more than hit .300 in that game. Their batters went a combined 22-for-42 (.524).

And though this game didn’t spark a turnaround, the Tigers did eventually get on to winning ways. They finished 81-73, a respectable fourth place in the American League.

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Lou Whitaker was master of the walk-off comeback hit

In the last 50 years, 2 players have 7 regular season walk-off hits that came when his team was trailing. Those are what we could call “walk-off comeback hits.”

I think it’s pretty cool that the players were teammates for a time – Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson.

I’m going to focus on Whitaker and save Gibson for another time, because of the pertinence with the recent Hall of Fame election. Whitaker is a highly-worthy candidate for induction. He’s not a perfect candidate, but he’s quite good and compares favorably to other second basemen both historically and within his era.

And he has the added bonus of being awesome at walk-offs.

Whitaker totaled 20 walk-off RBIs in a 19-year career that spanned nearly 10,000 plate appearances. And as noted, he had seven walk-off RBIs in situations in which his team trailed at the time of the plate appearance.

What’s amazing about Whitaker’s seven is how he clustered them. He had three as a rookie in 1978 and three in the final two seasons of his career.

I like his last walk-off hit because it was the last of the 2,369 hits recorded in his major league career.

It came on September 13 1995 in a game against the Brewers. The game itself was relatively meaningless. Neither the Tigers nor the Brewers were anywhere close to the division lead (the Brewers were on the outer edge of the Wild Card race). There were fewer than 9,000 fans in the stands on a Wednesday afternoon, a few weeks before the season was set to end. Whitaker and Trammell each got a rare start as it seemed to be known their time was coming to an end.

But this was a sentimental day of sorts, one in which Whitaker and Alan Trammell played in their 1,915th game as teammates, breaking an AL mark set by George Brett and Frank White. “We’ve been together longer than lots of husbands and wives,” Whitaker told reporters.

The Brewers took a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning when David Hulse hit a two-run home run. Phil Nevin got a run back in the home half when he homered, but the Tigers failed to tie after putting runners on first and second with nobody out.

The score remained 3-2 going into the home ninth. Nevin led off with a single against Mike Fetters. John Flaherty got down a successful bunt to push pinch-runner Todd Steverson to second base. Chad Curtis walked on a 3-2 pitch to bring Whitaker to the plate.

It didn’t take long for the game to be resolved. Whitaker hit a three-run home run into the second deck in right field.

“I was just hoping I remembered what to do out there,” Whitaker told reporters.

The front page headline of the Detroit Free Press sports section got it right.

“SWEET!”

Lou Whitaker Minutiae
– Whitaker hit eight walk-off home runs. Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index dates to 1925. Whitaker has the most of any Tigers player in that span.

Norm Cash somehow never had a walk-off

At first glance, this will appear to be a simple story about a couple of walk-off wins. But there’s more to it than that, so stick with me the whole way through.

White Sox youngster Norm Cash probably went home a little tired after a doubleheader between the White Sox and Tigers on May 30, 1959. It didn’t start great, but it ended well, with John Romano singling in the winning run after an intentional walk to Cash in the bottom of the ninth inning. The free pass made sense strategically in that it set up a double play, but Cash was hitting a meager .192 and was perhaps gettable with some good pitching.

Cash was 31 games into his career at that point and it’s unlikely he gave the walk much thought, since his team won the game. But that walk was a part of something remarkable.

Flash forward to May 10 1974, with Cash in the final season of a highly productive career that included 377 home runs. This time, in a game against the Red Sox, he came to the plate with a runner on second and nobody out in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth. He was given another intentional walk. This time it was Ben Oglivie playing the role of hero, hitting a walk-off double to give the Tigers a victory.

Such was the baseball life for Norm Cash, whose teams combined for well more than 100 walk-offs in his presence. And yet he had NO WALK-OFF RBIs in his career!!!

Let’s run through how ridiculous that is.

– He played in 1,050 regular season home games in his career and hit .276/.383/.515 in them. You’d figure he’d run into a walk-off by accident.

– He played in 103 regular season games in which his team won by walk-off. And he wasn’t the walker-offer in any of them!

– He had 111 plate appearances at home, in the ninth inning or later with the score tied. He hit .171 with one extra-base hit (a double), including 0-for-his-last-17. We should point out that teams were clearly scared of his walk-off potential. He was walked 27 times (12 intentional) and hit by a pitch twice.

– He had 31 plate appearances in the ninth inning or later at home WITH A RUNNER IN SCORING POSITION and the score tied. He was walked 15 times. In the other 16, he had one hit, an infield single in which the baserunner on second had no chance to score.

That hit came in a doubleheader in which Cash hit three home runs and newspaper accounts note that one was the first fair ball hit out of Tiger Stadium.

(also noteworthy, the newspapers describe a defensive shift in which Senators manager Mickey Vernon moved his center fielder to the left of his pitcher to try to cut off a run, but perhaps that’s for another time).

Cssh was described as having a good sense of humor about most things. After all, he was the guy who wanted to bat against Nolan Ryan using a piano leg for a bat (Ryan pitched a no-hitter that day). So I’d like to think he’d have a good appreciation of how he has the most home runs of any player without a walk-off. It’s really quite remarkable.

Let’s salute a Hank Greenberg walk-off

Just having a little fun this offseason documenting walk-off moments that I find interesting and unusual. If you have one you’d like to see, let me know.

Hanukkah is upon us, so this seems like an apt time to salute the greatest Jewish hitter of our time, former Tigers legend Hank Greenberg.

Greenberg came close to challenging Babe Ruth’s home run record when he hit 58 in 1938. Over a four-year period from 1937 to 1940, Greenberg averaged 43 home runs, 148 RBIs and a 1.094 OPS. But Greenberg’s career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the military from 1941 to 1945, returning to the Tigers at age 34. He homered in his first game back on July 1.

Four days later, Greenberg was on the bench with a sore elbow for a game against the Red Sox. It was quite the wild affair. The Tigers blew a lead of 5-1. The Red Sox took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth. It didn’t hold.

The Tigers scored a run in the eighth to cut the lead to 8-7 and that score stayed through a rain delay until the bottom of the ninth. The fun-named Jimmy Outlaw led off with a bunt hit. Bob Maier bunted as well and was safe at first when Outlaw beat the throw to second. Hack Miller didn’t hack (he was no hack?). He bunted too, advancing the runners to second and third with one out.

Something odd happened next. Tigers pitcher Zeb Eaton batted for himself and struck out. With Joe Hoover due up next, Tigers manager Steve O’Neill called on Greenberg to pinch-hit. Why Greenberg didn’t bat for Eaton, I have no idea (the Free Press says he was a good-hitting pitcher. He hit .250 with two home runs in 32 at-bats that season. Still, the Tigers appeared to have subs available. They hadn’t used a non-pitcher off the bench the whole game.

Anyway, Greenberg came up, and the Red Sox elected to pitch to him rather than walk him, knowing that Greenberg was aching and was 2-for-11 since his military return.

After Greenberg hit a foul ball that was almost caught (which would have ended the game), Frank Barrett hung a slider on a 2-2 pitch and Greenberg took it to left center for a base hit. It plated both the tying and winning runs. As Lyall Smith wrote in the Free Press “It was one of the nicest, cleanest, most opportune singles the Tigers have seen for years.”

It took Greenberg a while to fully heal up, but when he did, he was something close to his old self. In his last 49 games of the season, he hit .362/.448/.603 with 47 RBIs. He hit a pennant-clinching home run in the ninth inning of the Tigers’ final game of the season.

He was similarly successful in the World Series driving in seven runs in seven games as the Tigers topped the Cubs. Greenberg played two more seasons, one with the Tigers and one with the Pirates. He finished with a 1.017 OPS and 331 home runs in an abbreviated 13-year career. He certainly was able to walk off with his head held high.