It's a joyful moment burdened by a terrible name. It's a cascade of emotions for the winning players and their fans, yet it's described in the most negative way. Johnny Damon, after a home run giving the Yankees their third straight come-from-behind win over the Twins, gets a pie in the face and here's how it's portrayed.
A "walk-off home run."
Is there any more of a buzz kill? Should a face full of whipped cream and gleeful celebration be defined in terms of the losers?
|Joe Carter, Toronto's '93 World Series hero, isn't walking anywhere; maybe it should be called a carry-off? (Getty Images)|
The term is now ubiquitous -- a "walk-off hit", a "walk-off walk". What's next, a walk-off balk?
Imagine if the glorious moments in baseball had been treated this way. "Branca throws," Russ Hodges said of Bobby Thomson's at-bat on Oct. 3, 1951, when the Giants met the Dodgers in the NL playoff. Imagine if Hodges had added, "There's long drive -- it's gonna be, I believe -- a walk-off home run!"
Instead, we remember his exuberant description, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
Imagine if Jack Buck, on Kirk Gibson's home run against Eckersley and the A's in the 1988 World Series (off Eckersley, by the way) had said, "Gibson swings ... This is gonna be a walk-off home run. I don't believe what I just saw!"
So many moments would have been ruined. Imagine if Dick Stockton had said of Carlton Fisk's storied home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, "If it stays fair -- walk-off home run!" Or if Bill Mazeroski's Game 7 classic hit off Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry in the 1960 Pittsburgh championship had been expressed in such a mundane way.
My good friend, Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau, disagrees with me.
"It's brief and it's descriptive," he said. "It captures the image of the players walking off the field."
But who cares what they're doing? I might be alone in this, but it drives me crazy.
I want the greatness of the moment -- in print, on radio, over the Internet and on TV. I want clever twittering and merry voice mails. I don't want a cliché. Think how we tune out clichés. When a boss goes into "push the needle", "get our ducks in a row" or the ever-annoying "it's not rocket science", don't you glaze over? When someone wants to run an idea "up the flagpole" or needs the "big ask", isn't that debilitating?
I even prefer over-the-top to hackneyed. Remember Joe Starkey's call of The Play, when California's last-second, five-lateral, game-winning kickoff return beat Stanford? On KGO in San Francisco, Starkey lost it, screaming, "The Bears have won! Oh, my God, the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!" That's a commanding description.
The English language is often tortured, used in ways that detract from the moment. Baseball is supposed to be the glory of the times, the shot heard round the world and the boys of summer. I don't want a festive moment reduced to a sorry stroll from the mound.
In his final major league at-bat on Sept. 28, 1960, Ted Williams dramatically cleared the fences at Fenway Park. Now that's a walk-off home run.