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You'll Never Walk-Off Alone

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.

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