walk-offs before "walk off"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 10 01:38:51 UTC 2013

On Sep 9, 2013, at 5:48 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:

> 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

Should that be a "walk-off *pitch*"?  If not, it seems like an unusual formation.  Presumably Ecklersley was either referencing, or anticipating, his famous walk-off pitch culminating in the gimpy Kirk Gibson's "I can't believe what I just saw" home run that won Game 1 for the L. A. Dodgers against Eckersley's favored Oakland A's in the 1988 World Series, and thereby (as legend has it) clinching the series, which the A's eventually won in 5 games.  As Eckersley put it in the aftermath of giving up the most famous walk-off since Ralph Branca gave up Bobby Thomson's 1951 "shot heard round the world" to win the pennant for the N. Y. Giants against the then Brooklyn Dodgers, "It was like an out-of-body experience. Nobody wanted to look at me. Hell, I wouldn’t look at me either."  The Eck certainly seems like someone capable of coinage.


>> --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.
> Geoff
>> 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
> http://benzimmer.com/
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