Sweetness And Light
3:33 am
Wed September 3, 2014

You'll Never Walk-Off Alone

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 8:22 am

Along with the U.S. Open in tennis, early September means baseball's pennant race is in full swing ... and no sports term has become a more maddening cliche than baseball's "walk-off."

At first it was applied only to a walk-off home run — that is, when the home team would win in the last inning with a homer — game's over, so it's a walk-off, because there's no need to run. Then there became walk-off triples, doubles, singles, sacrifice flies — even walk-off walks with the bases loaded. It's creeping walk-offism.

The expression apparently was created a quarter-century ago by Dennis Eckersley, the Hall of Fame pitcher, and the irony is that he was looking at it, negatively, from a pitcher's point of view. That is, if he gave up the homer that ended the game, the poor pitcher just lowered his head and walked off the mound.

Over time, though, a walk-off became a positive phrase, featuring the triumphant hitter, not the woebegone pitcher. And never mind that when somebody gets a "walk-off" now, there is no actual walking off. The batter who made the hit and his teammates all run and hop and jump and do everything in ambulatory celebration except walk.

Nonetheless, the expression has become horribly rampant in baseball, so I thought it was time to imagine what sportswriters would be saying about some historical moments.

Starting, of course, with the most famous duel, which was a walk-off by Aaron Burr. When Robert E. Lee left the McLean House at Appomattox: walk-off surrender. Brad leaving Jennifer for Angelina: walk-off breakup.

Pope Benedict XVI: walk-off papacy. There's a tie between Robin Hood splitting the other guy's arrow and William Tell splitting the apple for the all-time great walk-off bulls-eye. Adam and Eve getting tossed out of Paradise: walk-off sin.

And let's give credit where credit is due: Surely Blackbeard produced the most walk-offs the plank. Aye, Matey.

And now to the strains of that great inspirational ballad, "You'll Never Walk-Off Alone," let us never forget Neil Armstrong as he departed the LEM: "That's one small walk-off for man, one giant walk-off for mankind."

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's commentary.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DON GONYEA, HOST:

OK so we've got tennis covered. Now baseball - here's where David and I insert gratuitous Tigers-Pirates references. Actually, September means the pennant race is in full swing. That has commentator Frank Deford excited, but he would like to change one small thing.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: No sports term has become a more maddening cliche than baseball's walk-off. At first it was applied only to a walk-off home run - that is, when the home team would win in the last inning with a homer; game's over so it's a walk-off because there's no need to run. But then there became walk-off triples, doubles, singles, sacrifice flies - even walk-off walks, with the bases loaded. It's creeping walk-offism.

The expression apparently was created a quarter of a century ago by Dennis Eckersley, the Hall of Fame pitcher and the irony is that he was looking at it negatively, from a pitcher's point of view. That is, if he gave up the homer that ended the game, the poor pitcher just lowered his head and walked off the mound.

Over time though, a walk-off became a positive phrase, featuring in our minds the triumphant hitter, not the woebegone pitcher. And never mind that when somebody gets a walk-off whatever now, there is actually no walking off. The batter who made the hit and his teammates all run and hop and jump and do everything in ambulatory celebration except walk. Nonetheless, the expression has become horribly rampant in baseball so I thought it was time to imagine what sportswriters would be saying about some historical moments. Starting of course, with the most famous duel, which was a walk-off by Aaron Burr. Brutus and Cassius and their pals celebrated with the best walk-off assassination. When Robert E. Lee left the McLean House at Appomattox - walk-off surrender. Richard Nixon moving across the White House lawn - walk-off resignation. Hey Johnny, where going with that bag? Oh - walk-off apple-seeding. Brad leaving Jennifer for Angelina - walk-off breakup. Pope Benedict XVI - walk-off papacy. There's a tie between Robin Hood splitting the other guys arrow and William Tell splitting the apple for the all-time great - walk-off bull's-eye. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay leaving the Everest summit - walk-off mountaintop.

How many of you remember Jimmy Durante singing "Inka Dinka Doo," then leaving the stage waving his fedora, ambling through a succession of spotlights? Best walk-off showbiz exit. And good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Adam and Eve getting tossed out of Paradise - walk-off sin. And let's give credit where credit is due - surely Blackbeard produced the most walk-offs the plank.

Aye, Matey.

And now to the strains of that great inspirational ballad, "You'll Never Walk-Off Alone," leave us never forget Neil Armstrong as he departed the LEM. That's one small walk-off for a man, but one giant walk-off for mankind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE")

JERRY LEWIS: (Singing) When you walk through a storm...

GONYEA: Commentator Frank Deford joins us Wednesdays on the program.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And Don, I am glad that you're joining us in the host chair this week. I mean, if you look at this studio, it's a little more spacious than the White House booth that we shared when we were doing that beat together.

GONYEA: But we never complained.

GREENE: We never complained.

GONYEA: Yes, we did.

GREENE: (Laughter) A little bit. Well, everyone - feel free to tweet us this week.

GONYEA: I'm @DonGonyea.

GREENE: I'm @nprgreene.

GONYEA: The show is @MorningEdition.

GREENE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

GONYEA: And I'm Don Gonyea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.