If you go deep only once, make it count

Caleb Gindl‘s heroics for Milwaukee in Sunday’s 13-inning 1-0 win over Miami inspired this post. For those who may not be aware, Gindl’s homer was the deciding run in the hometown Brewers walk-off win. It was also the first home run of Gindl’s career.

Gindl is a rookie this season and I have no idea how many home runs he may hit in his career. But, if he never hits another one he will join the group of players featured in this post. They are all retired players with two things in common: they hit exactly one home run in their careers; and it was a walk-off shot.

After the jump, a look at those players who had just one long fly, but made it count big time.

Here are the games. These are the only times among the games in P-I’s event database (going back to 1945) that a player who is now retired would hit his only career home run in walk-off fashion.

# Tm Date Batter Opp Pitcher Score Inn RoB Out WPA Play Description
1 NYM 2004-09-25 Craig Brazell CHC Kent Mercker tied 3-3 b11 0 0.36 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
2 NYM 2002-09-21 Esix Snead MON Dan Smith tied 3-3 b11 12- 2 0.39 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
3 HOU 1996-07-24 Ray Montgomery SDP Ron Villone tied 4-4 b10 1– 1 0.37 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
4 TOR 1993-07-18 Willie Canate KCR Hipolito Pichardo tied 3-3 b9 0 0.36 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
5 SDP 1986-04-25 Craig Lefferts SFG Greg Minton tied 8-8 b12 1 0.43 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
6 BAL 1977-07-25 Dave Criscione MIL Sam Hinds tied 3-3 b11 1 0.42 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
7 HOU 1969-09-19 Keith Lampard CIN Wayne Granger down 2-1 b9 1– 1 0.81 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
8 CHC 1968-07-07 (1) Jose Arcia PIT Bob Veale tied 4-4 b9 0 0.38 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
9 CLE 1967-06-19 (1) Steve Hargan KCA Chuck Dobson tied 2-2 b9 1– 2 0.44 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
10 CLE 1966-09-09 Bill Davis CAL Jack Sanford down 7-6 b10 1– 2 0.91 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
11 NYG 1948-07-11 Jack Conway BRO Willie Ramsdell tied 2-2 b9 0 0.36 *WALK-OFF*:Home Run
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

The first two games on the list both featured heroics by Mets, each with greatly abbreviated careers. Craig Brazell, who would have just 40 major-league PAs, did the damage against the Cubs in the final days of the 2004 season. Going into the game, the Cubs were sitting in the NL wild-card spot, a game-and-a-half up on the Giants and two-and-a-half up on the Astros. And, they were hot, winners of 4 straight, and 11 of their last 13. After Brazell stopped the Cub win streak, Al Leiter beat Kerry Wood the next day, further shrinking the Cubs’ wildcard lead. A season-ending homestand looked to be the tonic Chicago needed to right the ship, but it wasn’t to be – the Cubs dropped 3 of 4 to the Reds, and 2 of 3 to the Braves, and were passed by both the Giants and Astros.

Esix Snead (pronounced Essex) had an even shorter career of just 14 PAs. Like Brazell, his WOHR came in the thick of the pennant race, except that neither his Mets nor the opposition Expos were part of the playoff hunt. Optimistically, it might be said that the Mets, Expos, Phils and Marlins, all within 4 games of each other, were fighting it out for 2nd spot in the NL East … but, probably not. As he had done in most of his earlier games, Snead entered this one as a pinch-runner and stuck around to lead off the 10th inning with a single, and then deliver his walk-off shot with two out in the 11th. His 0.451 WPA (it would have been higher had he not been caught stealing) was the 8th highest among all Mets in that 2002 season, and 2nd highest among those who entered a game as a substitute. In what would be his only big league start, Snead went 2 for 4 with a run scored and a stolen base in the season-ending series against the Braves.

Game #3 is Ray Montgomery. He had a 96 career PA as an outfielder with the 1996-98 Astros, with his WOHR coming as a pinch-hitter in his 5th career game. This season was the 3rd straight 2nd place finish for the Astros under current Mets manager Terry Collins. Larry Dierker would take over as skip the next season as Houston took the first of 3 straight division titles, led by the Killer Bees (originally Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Derek Bell, with Bell’s spot in the troika later passing to a young Lance Berkman).

Willy Cañate, an outfielder from Venezuela, played just this 1993 season, getting into 38 games for the defending champs, mostly as a defensive replacement. He also made the post-season roster (and made one WS appearance) so got to experience another walk-off thrill as  the Jays took their second championship on Joe Carter‘s famous shot off the Wild Thing, Toronto’s only other WOHR that year. In this game, Canate got the start and made the most of it even before his WOHR, with a lead-off single and run scored in the 3rd and a game-tying RBI single in the 4th, the last run scored by either team until Canate’s 9th inning heroics. His .514 WPA was the 5th best by a Blue Jay that season. Pat Hengten and Hippolito Pichardo both went the distance in a game completed in a tidy 2:10.

Next is journeyman pitcher Craig Lefferts. Unlike the ’93 Jays, Lefferts’ 1986 Padres had no trouble cranking WOHRs with eight of them. Lefferts earned his paycheck, leading the NL this season with 83 relief appearances. In his 1980s prime with the Padres and Giants, Lefferts would post 3 seasons of 100+ IP and two more over 90 IP, each with over 60 appearances. This game fairly oozes with notable players from the 1970s and 1980s – appearing were Will Clark, Chili Davis, Jeffrey Leonard, Dan Gladden, Kevin McReynolds, Gary TempletonJohn Kruk, a young Tony Gwynn and oldies Steve Garvey, Graig Nettles, Rich Gossage and Dan Driessen. Lefferts’ WOHR, incidentally, is the last by any pitcher.

Catcher Dave Criscione‘s career was just 7 games and 10 PA, all in a two-week period at the end of July 1977 (regular Orioles’ catcher Rick Dempsey was injured most of July and August that season, and Criscione was apparently brought up as a backup to backup catcher Dave Skaggs). The Orioles won 97 games that season, including a 17-7 finish, but it wasn’t enough, as they finished two games back of the eventual WS champion Yankees, led by erstwhile Oriole Reggie Jackson. Also appearing in this game was Brooks Robinson, playing in his final season and who had himself hit a WOHR earlier that year. This Oriole team also featured rookie Eddie Murray who played in 160 games, 110 as the starting DH (it would be 17 seasons later before Murray next played regularly as a DH).

Game #7 is Keith Lampard, from jolly olde England by way of Portland, Oregon. Lampard and Rick Wise have the distinction of being the only players to represent the Rose City in the Little League World Series and then go on to make the majors. Lampard played briefly with the Astros in 1969 and 1970, getting his WOHR in his fourth game, all as a pinch-hitter. It was Lampard’s 3rd pinch-hit in those first four games (one of just 15 players to do that, and the only one of the 15 to include a HR) and garnered him a hefty.808 WPA, the best by an Astro that season (second was Jim Wynn, well back at just .562). Lampard would collect a double and triple in his 13th career game, taking just 33 PA for the career cycle (fastest to do that is Glenn Adams of the 1975 Giants, collecting his cycle hits by going 4 for 5 as a pinch-hitter in his first 8 PA).

José Arcia was an infielder from Havana, who hit his WOHR in his debut season as a Cub. Arcia was quite the mystery man, landing in Chicago via the Rule V draft after passing from Houston to Detroit to Cleveland to St. Louis, all by way of the “unknown transaction”. Ironically, Arcia hit his lone homer in 662 career PA off of palm-baller Bob Veale, the majors’ toughest pitcher to homer against for the 1964-69 period, allowing less than 1 round-tripper per 23 IP. In the 1968 expansion draft, Arcia was selected by San Diego where he played semi-regularly at 2B in 1969 and at SS in 1970, but slugged only .279 in almost 600 PA (in 1971, San Diego replaced Arcia at short with Enzo Hernandez, who would slug just .267 in over 2600 PA for the Friars).

The next two singleton WOHRs were turned in by Cleveland Indians. Pitcher Steve Hargan did the honors in 1967, the year he led the AL with 6 shutouts. Hargan and Chuck Dobson dueled one another in a game tied 2-2 from the 4th inning until Hargan’s 9th inning heroics. Hargan could have helped himself earlier, but struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the 7th (don’t think we’d see the pitcher batting in that situation today). When Hargan connected off Dobson with two outs in the 9th, be became the last starting pitcher with a WOHR. Here’s the complete list of ALL pitcher WOHRs from P-I’s event database. Starters are bolded.

# Date Batter Tm Opp Pitcher Score Inn RoB Out WPA
1 1946-06-07 Claude Passeau CHC BRO Joe Hatten tied 0-0 b9 1– 2 0.44
2 1947-09-11 (1) Kirby Higbe PIT BSN Johnny Sain tied 3-3 b13 1 0.42
3 1957-05-30 (1) Lou Sleater DET KCA Wally Burnette tied 5-5 b10 0 0.37
4 1957-09-05 Bob Grim NYY BOS Willard Nixon tied 2-2 b9 12- 2 0.39
5 1957-09-06 Dixie Howell CHW KCA Wally Burnette tied 3-3 b9 1 0.42
6 1958-05-26 Murry Dickson KCA BAL Arnie Portocarrero tied 4-4 b10 0 0.37
7 1960-08-25 Glen Hobbie CHC PIT Vinegar Bend Mizell tied 1-1 b9 2 0.47
8 1963-06-06 Lindy McDaniel CHC SFG Billy Pierce tied 2-2 b10 0 0.37
9 1966-09-21 Juan Marichal SFG PIT Roy Face tied 5-5 b9 1 0.42
10 1967-06-19 (1) Steve Hargan CLE KCA Chuck Dobson tied 2-2 b9 1– 2 0.44
11 1969-05-10 Jim Hardin BAL KCR Moe Drabowsky tied 5-5 b9 1 0.43
12 1986-04-25 Craig Lefferts SDP SFG Greg Minton tied 8-8 b12 1 0.43
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Steve Hargan also appeared for the Indians when Bill Davis connected off the Angels’ Jack Sanford in 1966. Davis was a first baseman with 55 PA for the Indians in 1965 and 1966, He finished his time in the majors as a teammate of Jose Arcia on the 1969 Padres (where he fit right in with his .238 career SLG mark). Davis’s 3 career runs are just one more than the record low career total for non-pitchers with 100+ PA, a mark shared by wartime catchers Hank Riebe of the Tigers and Fred (Whale) Walters of the Red Sox (Cito Gaston‘s RBI double for the Padres on 4-13-69 deprived Davis of a share of the record).

The last game on our list is for infielder Jack Conway. His WOHR for the Giants on the eve of the 1948 All-Star game salvaged the finale of a 3-game set with the Dodgers that attracted over 130,000 to the Polo Grounds. After winning 7 of 9 to start the season and staying near the top of the pack until mid-June, the Giants went to the break on a 9-17 slide and were never a factor in the second half. Conway’s major league career was over by the end of July, but he continued to toil for 7 more minor league seasons for farm teams of the Giants, Pirates, Tigers, Yankees, Athletics and White Sox.

I’ll be off for a couple of weeks on vacation. Will catch up with y’all when I’m back.

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Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago

This was not a walk-off but Jack Reed of the Yankees only HR came in the top of the 22nd inning on 6-24-62 to give them a 9-7 victory over the Tigers.

John Autin
10 years ago

Doug, I loved your narrative. I nominate you for program director of radio station WOHR. Have a great vacation!

I’m “voting” for Esix Snead — not that there’s any sort of competition involved here — on these grounds:

1) “Esix Snead.”
2) He brought victory to a Mets lineup with Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn and Jeromy Burnitz, as disappointing a collection of offseason acquisitions as any I’ve rooted for.
3) Like a true Met, Snead didn’t do what he was supposed to do (CS as a PR), but he did something interesting, anyway.
4) “Esix Snead.”

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Smoky Burgess came close. His first 25 games were as a PH but in his 23rd game he stayed in to catch a couple of innings. His PH didn’t help much, the Cubs lost 23 of those games.