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Original Issue

Walk-off! Crazy A simple turn of phrase by Dennis Eckersley in 1993 has become an overused appellation for a game-ending dinger

Like crabgrass invading someone's lawn, "walk-off!" has taken
root in sports lingo and gotten out of control. The term should
appear in quotes and be followed by an exclamation point because,
without TV's dime-a-dozen talking heads repeating it endlessly
and effusively, there would be no "Aaron Boone wins the game with
a walk-off!" Instead, we would simply (and gracefully) call a
game-ending home run what we've always called it: a game-ending
home run. But, really, where's the pizzazz in that?

At the All-Star break 43 "walk-off!" homers had been hit this
season, 12 more than were hit at the same point last season and
only 10 fewer than were hit all last year. The Royals, who rank
12th in the American League in home runs, nevertheless won three
straight games in April--against the Twins and the Orioles
(two)--with "walk-offs!" hit by the un-Ruthian trio of
leftfielder Johnny Damon, catcher Brian Johnson and shortstop
Rey Sanchez; the last hadn't hit a ball out in almost a year.

These days, everyone and his father seems to own a "walk-off!" On
May 14, Angels second baseman Scott Spiezio, with 37 career
dingers in four-plus big league seasons, came up in the bottom of
the ninth, swung at a 2-2 slider from Texas reliever Francisco
Cordero and deposited it over the rightfield wall, giving Anaheim
a 7-6 win. When he reached home plate, Spiezio was pounded on the
helmet by so many teammates, he says, that "my neck got a great

"When I was a kid in the backyard, my dad would make up
situations--5-2, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two
outs--and I'd be at the plate, pretending to be Don Mattingly or
Mike Schmidt," says Spiezio. "As soon as I hit this one, I
thought about that...about my dad."

Maybe that's because 31 years earlier, on Aug. 6, 1969, his dad,
Padres third baseman Ed Spiezio, ended a game at San Diego
Stadium with a leadoff solo blast off Cardinals lefthander Steve
Carlton. "I remember rounding the bases and Carlton yelling at
me, 'You son of a...," says Ed, who hit 39 home runs over nine
seasons. "That day was one of my bigger thrills."

That day was also back in the pre-SportsCenter highlight era, when
majestic feats weren't reduced to catchphrases. According to
Elias Sports Bureau, the active major leaguers with the most
"walk-off!" homers are Harold Baines (10), Sammy Sosa (eight) and
Will Clark (seven). Only four players have hit postseason,
series-ending homers: the Pirates' Bill Mazeroski in '60 and the
Blue Jays' Joe Carter in '93 (both in the World Series); the
Giants' Bobby Thomson in a three-game playoff against the Dodgers
for the '51 National League pennant; and Mets reserve catcher
Todd Pratt in last year's National League Division Series.

Although nobody is sure when "walk-off!" was first bellowed over
the airwaves, former Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley (above),
according to The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, is considered
the father of the term. In 1993, Eckersley supposedly used it to
describe that lonely stroll from the mound after giving up the
winning run. Two seasons later Yankees reliever Steve Howe
allowed a game-ending homer and said, "It was a walk-off pitch.
You throw the ball and walk off the mound."

Not all ballplayers have bought into the media hype. On May 11,
immediately after Cincinnati beat San Diego 11-9, Reds third
baseman Aaron Boone was asked about his "walk-off!" dinger. "I
refuse to call it a walk-off home run," said Boone. "It was a
game-winning home run."




Fade To Black

At the All-Star break the visiting team had already trudged off
the field as the victim of a walk-off home run 43 times, only 10
fewer than all of last season.

Walk-off Games per
Year Games HRs Walk-off HR

1990 2,105 45 47
1991 2,104 51 41
1992 2,106 43 49
1993 2,269 33 69
1994 1,600 34 47
1995 2,017 66 31
1996 2,267 64 35
1997 2,266 51 44
1998 2,432 58 42
1999 2,428 53 46
2000 1,295 43 30