By: Max Wolpoff
For the first time in my time in Boston as a student, a championship will be on the line. Sure, the Patriots have been to the last two Super Bowls, but those were held all the way in Atlanta and Minneapolis. The World Series, featuring the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, is happening maybe an unladen swallow’s flight away from my apartment.
Every baseball player competes for the World Series. Whether it is in the school yard with a hodge-podge team of buddies, on a travel league team, or as they make their way through the arduous minor-league journey, this seven-game series is the ultimate goal. In dream sequneces, hitters imagine the walk-off hit, fielders picture that highlight catch, and pitchers and catchers dream of the strikeout followed by the iconic embrace.
That final play is the start of a months-long celebration featuring a parade, interviews on late-night television, commercial apperances, and the brief glow of being a champion for your city, your home, and your family. Or it is the beginning of regretful musings of ifs and buts. Win or lose, the battle for icon status alters its participants in a way few imagine as they enter the arena to battle.
This will not be another glossing of poetry about pitch-tipping and bullpening. You can get that from any of the outlets tasked with finding a different way to say one team won and another lost at least four times. Instead, I wanted to examine the last play of every World Series prior to 2018. How does the celebration start?
Following a four-hour break (who am I kidding, I wanted to distract myself from a paper due Thursday that I have not started) from Midterm Month essay writing, I emerged from the annals of Baseball Reference boxscores to produce a brief assessment of some of the more interesting things I found.
In short, if you want to have the ball from the last out in your glove, start playing catcher or first base. Of the 113 World Series contested since 1903, 30 have ended 90 feet from home and 21 have ended in the catcher’s mitt, the most of any position.
For all of the grandeuer associated with winnning the Fall Classic with a walk-off hit, it has only happened 11 times. The first walk-off hit came in 1912 when Larry Gardner hit a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Steve Yerkes for the second title for the Boston Red Sox franchise, beating the New York Giants.
It took another 12 years for the Washington Senators to repeat the feat when Earl McNeely hit a double to score Muddy Ruel (old-timey baseball names are the best) for Washington’s first and only title against the New York Giants.
The first man to live out the sandlot dream of a walk-off home run to win the ultimate prize was Bill Mazeroski in 1960. He led off the bottom of the ninth inning and crushed a solo home run to left field off Ralph Terry to beat the Yankees in game seven. Joe Carter of the 1993 Blue Jays is the only other man to do so when he homered off Mitch Williams to beat the Philadelphia Phillies.
For all the flack Billy Martin took as manager of the New York Yankees decades later, he completed the fifth-straight title for the Yanks in 1953 with a single to score Hank Bauer. I am surprised that fact did not come up more often in the heavily-advertised and dramatized ESPN mini-series The Bronx is Bruning amid the endless squabling he and Mr. Steinbrenner had.
Of the 11 walk-offs, five came in game sevens, and three of those came in an 11-year stretch from 1991 to 2001, all of them bases-loaded singles. Gene Larkin’s knock led the Twins to victory over the Atlanta Braves, Edgar Renteria’s hit scored current Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell and gave the Florida Marlins their first title, then Luis Gonzalez hit a broken-bat bases-loaded single off Mariano Rivera for the Arizona Diamondbacks only world championship.
Two anomolies stand out in a survey of 113 boxscores as compiled by Baseball Reference: 1926 when the St. Louis Cardinals won game seven against the New York Yankees when Babe Ruth was caught stealing second base, and 1927 when the Yankees finished off Pittsburgh on a walk-off wild pitch allowing Earl Combs to score. Neither event has happened since to finish a World Series.
Most often, the baseball season ends with a ground out. 40 Series ended with a ball on the ground, most frequently thrown to first base. Twice (1921, 1947) it ended with a double play. Line drives account for four endings along with 27 fly outs, mostly to left and center field. The least common person to finish the game with the ball in his glove is the designated hitter. I am joking. It is the pitcher, having only happened four times.
There has never been an outfield assist to end a World Series finale, nor a bases-loaded walk or hit by pitch, nor has their been a dropped third strike strikeout for the last out. 19 K’s have ended the baseball season, only two (2012, 2015) are specified by Baseball Reference as looking strikeouts. If you are going down, may as well go down swinging, I guess.