Now “walk-off” appears in Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries.
More than a decade ago, some were already sick of the term. In 2000, Sports Illustrated wrote, “Like crab grass invading someone’s lawn, walk-off has taken root in sports lingo and gotten out of control.”
Seventeen years later, it has spread even farther.
While once walk-off was applied pretty much strictly to home runs, it soon came to be applied to game-ending singles and doubles as well. The first time The New York Times used the term appears to be in 1999, and it did not start regularly appearing in a non-home-run capacity until 2007 or so.
In 1951, Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard Round the World to beat the Dodgers. In 10 Times articles about the game, the famed clout was described as “the unbelievable finish of the most fantastic pennant race in major league baseball history,” “as insane and as improbable an ending as any ballgame could have” and “the wildest scenes ever witnessed in the historic arena under Coogan’s Bluff.” But not as a “walk-off.”
The career record for walk-off homers? Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial all had 12. But Jim Thome had 13.
Nowadays there are “walk-off hit by pitches” and “walk-off balks,” as virtually any sudden ending to a game seems to qualify for the term. The Blue Jays-Rangers division series in 2016 ended on a walk-off error.
The term has even spread to other sports, like football, where you might hear about a walk-off field goal or touchdown.
Less common, but not unheard-of, is the walk-off basket or the walk-off goal.
In Japan, the term for such a hit is the even more expressive “sayonara home run.”
Though “sayonara” is ordinarily translated as “goodbye,” it has much more finality to it; you would not say “sayonara” if you expected to see a person tomorrow, for example. That makes “sayonara home run” an even more decisive and dramatic term.
Despite the evocative charm of “sayonara home run,” “walk-off” seems to be solidly ingrained as the English name.
The walk-off, which can only be accomplished by a home team, can electrify a stadium. But for the visiting team that gives it up, it is an especially horrible moment, even when its coiner was on the mound. “For a pitcher, that’s the worst thing that can be,” Eckersley said.
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