The dramatic nature of a walk-off win in the World Series can cause us to forget the time in between them. It is too pat, too Hollywood– it is one of the reasons why I became a nonfiction writer– I can always blame the cliches on real life.
Sixteen World Series games have ended with such a bang, two of which clinched the title. And if that can happen, how about the unwavering king of the playground dreams: Coming through in Game 7 of the World Series. That happened, too.
Given the almost-impossible odds of all the moving parts of a 7-game championship series narrowing down to the last possible out of the last possible game, it’s a surprise we actually saw it happen in 1960 to complete a storybook season for the Pirates.
Second baseman Bill Mazeroski was the man who fulfilled the prophecy of all third-grade boys who ever waved a bat. The 1960 footage is striking in its relative calmness. Although so swamped by teammates that it’s not entirely clear if he ever touched home, cops descend immediately into the pile and fans react by… walking around with a banner.
The Pending Walk-Off
Walk-offs don’t generate Hall of Famers, nor do they carry performance bonuses. But they remain the most cherished of outcomes. Even in the Reds’ worst days, with the playoffs light years away in the standings, they’d pile up and dump Gatorade when it happened. And you shut off the game or left the ball park quite at charity with the world.
Why is this? I suppose I could trot out studies about brain chemistry and dopamine and tension release, but walking off a winner leaves a sparkling imprint for a long, long time.
There’s more happening as we watch that little ball sail over that great big wall.
The Pie Chart
I suppose we love a walk-off– and, by extension, a buzzer-beater or a touchdown catch as time runs out– because it is such a very human experience. Walk-offs are a perfectly bifurcated experience of emotions– one side is very, very happy, and one side is very, very sad.
And yes, a loss is even more frustrating when we lost the lead at the last possible moment, or there are runners on first and third with the winning run batting and the out count at two. It is the ultimate in contest deflation: Well, what was all that for then?
In a zero-sum game like baseball, we’re seeing a bottled version of our existence. We’re always happier when we recognize that little of life is a pie chart– for example, when my sister presented me with a second and then a third nephew, I didn’t even consider that I might have to reallocate amounts of love per square inch.
I knew that not only would there be enough to go around, but that seeing the single son function as a big brother would provide additional opportunities to love him more. The best things in life are not quantifiable.
A Daily Solar Eclipse
But sometimes that’s difficult to wrap our heads around, especially if we seem to be on the thin end of receiving all that is good. It’s why we love sports and why the NASCAR points system was never embraced by the fan base: There are days when we just want to see who wins the thing, and never mind the long, slow walk the outfielders must face as his opponents deliriously fling sunflower seeds on one another.
When a game ends in a walk-off, we get finality. We get finality in the most thrilling possible fashion. And sometimes it’s not the outcome we want, but somebody winds up happy over it.
I’m glad walk-offs are few and far between. The excitement of a daily total eclipse would wear off pretty quickly.