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.

The Odds

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.


28 Responses

  1. LDS

    Well before your time, the Carlton Fisk 1975, 12th inning HR, and though not a series deciding walk-off, but I hated it all the same.

    • greenmtred

      I did, too, and living in Red Sox Nation, which includes Vermont and the rest of New England, it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Ah, but the revenge of the next game was sweet! To this day, Sox fans rarely acknowledge that there was a seventh game. For that matter, I remember the Mazerowski walk-off: I probably heard it on a transistor radio during last period study hall.

      • Jim Walker

        I was in 6th grade for the Maz walk off. Our teacher had cooked up some pretense for those wanting to listen to the game to sit in the back of the room and listen while others could do homework or read whatever they chose at their desk. We didn’t have official study hall until 7th grade; but, that was basically what that whole afternoon was.

      • greenmtred

        Jim: our study hall teacher let one guy listen–ear buds in–and keep us updated, but as the game got exciting, he was allowed to turn the radio up so we could all hear it. Are transistor radios even made anymore? That whole episode illustrates the different place baseball had in the national consciousness then: a whole study hall allowed to hear a WS game that didn’t even involve the Reds.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Oh that’s awesome! And yes you can still get a transistor. I have one for emergencies and because we can’t get Reds games on the radio any other way without a subscription. Once I handed it to my youngest nephew and asked him to turn it on and he was completely baffled 🙂

    • Jim Walker

      Yeah on game 6 of the 1975 series. Recall that the Red Sox had loaded the bases with the score tied and none out in the 9th only to have the Reds escape a walk off when George Foster threw a man out at the plate for DP on a flyout and followed by a ground out to close out the inning. After that 9th, I was convinced it was only when, not if, the Reds would win that game.

      • David

        Yeah, I remember that great throw from the left field line by George Foster. It kind of stunned the NBC broadcasting team. They thought the Red Sox had just won the game.

        I was in college in another city at the time, and most of the guys in the house were rooting for the Red Sox. My life was somewhat in danger. 😉

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        glad you survived it! That must have been a rough series, especially pre-Internet to feel more connected to home.

    • Melvin

      I’ve watched that game many times. Usually around this time of year when we’re watching other teams play besides the Reds. lol Didn’t bother me a bit. We won the Series. I remember reading where Rose told Sparky, “That was a great game”. Sparky said, “How can you say that?” Rose said, “We’ll win tomorrow but that was a great game”.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I remember reading that Rose said something similar to Fisk and that was the emotional ammo he needed to keep fighting. Nice work Pete lol.

      • greenmtred

        I’ve always liked that quote of Rose’s and the sentiment that inspired it.

      • David

        I think Pete said something to Rico Petrocelli (Red Sox Third baseman in 1975), because Rico was so nervous that this was a such a big game.
        Pete slid into third and was talking to Petrocelli…”Is this a great game? I’m having a great time, how about you?”
        For all of Pete’s faults, he loved to play under pressure. It just kills some guys (inside) to play with that much pressure.

  2. David

    As much as we might loathe the 6th game walk-off by Carlton Fiske, in reality, he was really a very nice, down to earth, guy.
    I remember seeing him on a baseball interview show, along with Johnny Bench, some years ago. Johnny is actually pretty smooth, funny and witty.
    Carlton came across as just a very sincere and down to earth guy.

    And apparently, he had a feud with the late Thurman Munson, who I always kind of thought of as a jerk. Turns out, he was.

  3. Old-school

    My earliest Reds memory was 1976 World Series and having to clean out the barn early in the day so we could watch the Yankees and Reds. In game 4, Johnny Bench hit his 2nd home run of the day and it was the equivalent of a walk off…that was when Sparky went off in the the dugout….”I got news for you folks, we’re gonna be World Champs again!”

  4. Laredo Slider

    WS completed, when will Reds start dumping the roster?

    • TR

      Most roster dumping happens after the annual GM’s get together.

  5. greenmtred

    I assume that you jest? A few key additions maybe.

    • Laredo Slider

      Not jesting, Reds have dead weight to shed.

      Thanks TR.

      • LDS

        Agree, but I’m guessing another 5-7 days before things really start percolating.

      • David

        Can they waive Phil Castellini? Well, probably not. He’s actually not on the roster. Still, kinda dead weight.

  6. Mark Moore

    I tapped out when the Snakes lost their mojo in Game 4. Watched a little bit last night, but the handwriting was clearly on the wall from what I was seeing. Still great fun to have the #5 and #6 seeds vying for the title. And, since we swept Tejas, then we’re the WS champs by proxy (in my book).

    The only walk-off I watched was on a night in 2006 when David Ross put one into the LF seats to beat the WLB Dirty Birds. I can look up on the window sill and see the Davey Concepcion bobble-head I was carrying around that night. $5 general admission, watched the game from multiple angles, and beat the Cards in the 9th. Not a WS Game 7, but still a great memory.

    Thanks for the reminder of why we love these last-ditch plays.