walk-offs before "walk off"

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Sep 9 21:48:41 UTC 2013

Thanks, Ben. I guess "game-ending" comes close either for an offensive or defensive play in the bottom of the last inning (e.g. "game-ending error, balk etc."). Though the last out in the top of the ninth is also game-ending, but not a walk-off, when the home team is ahead. That is, walk-off implies that there' s no need to finish the inning.

It's interesting that you see "walk-off error" and even "walk-off balk" as well, though they don't make a lot of sense, unless the defensive player is doing the walking…

I also queried my friend John Thorn, the official historian of MLB, on this one and he answered on the etymology of "walk-off":

> Nope. Walk-off homer, e.g., is a back formation from its coinage by Dennis Eckersley as a "walk-off piece" in a final inning--referencing a lousy pitch after which the pitcher had no need to see the outcome but only to walk to the dugout. originally a disparaging tag for a pitcher's event, it now refers to everything but: walk-off error, walk-off single, etc.

But you probably knew this already.

> Subject:
> Re: walk-offs before "walk off"
> From: Ben Zimmer <[log in to unmask]>
> On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 4:39 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
> >
> > Was there a term for walk-offs before "walk off"? If not, it mystifies
> > me that baseball took a century and a half to come up with this.
> I believe a walk-off (hit/single/HR/etc.) would most often have been
> called a "game-winning" (hit/single/HR/etc.). MLB confused matters in
> the '80s by creating the statistical category of "game-winning RBI,"
> which, as Wikipedia advises, "was credited to the batter whose at-bat
> was responsible for bringing his team ahead for the final time in the
> game." But in common parlance I'm pretty sure a "game winner"
> typically occurred at the end of a game. In the official rulebook,
> they talk about "game-ending hits."
> --bgz
> --
> Ben Zimmer

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