It is the bottom of the ninth inning and a player steps up to the plate with a runner in scoring position and hits a line drive into center field, scoring the runner from second or third base. This is what is considered a game-winning hit, not a walk-off. Somehow, somewhere along the way people have confused the momentous occasion when a MLB baseball player drills an incoming pitch, drives the ball deep toward the outfield bleachers, and sends the outfielder back, back, way back until he finally looks up and the ball clears the fence. Pandemonium ensues, benches empty and the hitter makes his way around the bases, pumping his fist, strutting and smiling as he approaches the mob of players that wait to greet him at home plate. A walk-off is when a player hits a home run to end the game, and is without a doubt one of the most exciting plays in all of sports.
The term walk-off has been hijacked by those who look to describe the end of a game, but it needs to be reserved for a home run, not a game-winning hit. Yes, it is exciting when a player hits a game winner. Fans celebrate, the team is victorious and it is an exciting time for everyone involved but it is not the same as when someone blasts a ball into the right field stands to end the game. Calling a game-winning hit a walk-off feels like a term falsely coined by the sports media world to hyper-inflate a moment. The term has become overused, and lately it seems as though it has been used too often, as well as used incorrectly.
Just in the last week, the term walk-off has been used to describe game winning hits by at least four MLB teams: the Marlins, Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Marlins had two so-called walk-offs, the first coming in the form of a double off the bat of Jeff Baker, and the second coming two days later in the form of a single from third baseman, Casey McGehee. The San Diego Padres also posted a walk-off, after Will Venable drove a pitch deep into right center, scoring the winning base runner from third base. The only legitimate walk-offs came from Charlie Culberson of the Colorado Rockies and Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Culberson hit a a long blast to center field in the bottom of the ninth inning. Culberson, who most likely has hit a number of game-winning hits in his lifetime of playing baseball said that hitting a walk-off was definitely the best feeling he has ever had playing baseball. A home run is something special, and something that should be cherished and not watered down by the overuse of the term. Montero hit his first ever walk-off home run with a monster blast to deep right field, saying that even as a minor league player he never hit a walk-off.
Often times it is reported that a MLB game ended on a walk-off, and then fans turn on the television and learn that it was actually a little blooper over the head of the second baseman. Yes, it is an exciting time for the winning team’s fans and it was a great moment for the team, but MLB baseball fans who do not watch that team play 100 times per year are not impressed by a looping hit that travels 115 feet over a pulled-in defense to win a game. A walk-off home run is something entirely different. It is a special moment, and one that should have its own term. Somewhere along the way, people have forgotten the term, “game-winning hit,” and have instead began to use the term, “walk-off hit” as its replacement.
Commentary by Johnny Caito