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On the Decline of Western Civilization ...

Bob Costas doesn't like celebrations after a walk-off home run. Is this something worth complaining about?


Bob Costas was covering the U.S. Open this weekend, but he took a break to give the world a piece of his baseball mind. The video (thanks to Amazin' Avenue):

To be fair, this was almost certainly a little tongue-in-cheek. You can tell that Costas isn't a fan of walk-off celebrations, but the use of hyperbole was designed to make you chuckle, not think. Costas's Swiss Army knife almost certainly has a fold-out soapbox, and he'll use it when he sees fit. This wasn't the soapbox.

But it rankled Mets fans, which is always funny. And it does bring up an interesting question: How much celebrating over a regular-season game is too much celebrating?

Key components of the most recent Mets' celebration included ...

  • Punching the person who did a good thing
  • The home-run hitter discarding his helmet before he gets to the plate because people are going to punch him, which seems counterintuitive
  • Hopping up and down
  • Actin' the fool

It was quite innocuous, and it was certainly a funny thing to take umbrage with, even if in jest. It would be one thing if this sort of thing had just started. But here's the oldest regular-season walk-off celebration has in their archives:

There was less punching back then, but Carlos Beltran still whipped his helmet into the peanut gallery because he could. I'm not sure when the swarm-and-jump tradition started at home plate, but it's been going on for a while. And look at these old-timey guys acting like they won the seventh game of the World Series:

SMDH. Act like you've been there before, guys.

Before we ask how appropriate it is to walk off like the Mets, let's explore how rare it is to be in their situation. First, let's look at the number of walk-offs for each team since 1998. The only reason to make that the cutoff year is so we can include all 30 teams equally:

Team Walk-off hits, 1998-2012
1. Reds 113
2. Athletics 111
3. Dodgers 106
4. Indians 103
5. Giants 99
5. Rays 99
5. Twins 99
8. Cardinals 98
9. Marlins 97
9. Phillies 97
11. Padres 95
12. Cubs 92
13. Brewers 91
14. Braves 90
15. Mets 89
16. Nationals 88
17. Angels 86
18. Blue Jays 85
18. Red Sox 85
20. Diamondbacks 84
21. Orioles 83
21. Pirates 83
21. Rockies 83
21. White Sox 83
25. Rangers 81
25. Yankees 81
27. Tigers 79
28. Mariners 76
29. Astros 75
30. Royals 72

Each team has 81 chances every year, and some of them take advantage less than others. In the 15 seasons between 1998 and 2012, every team played 1,215 home games, give or take a couple of tiebreakers or rainouts that weren't made up. And the walk-offingest team in the land, the Reds, walked off in nine percent of their home games. The least likely team to walk off, the Royals, still walked off in just under six percent of their home games. That's not a ton, but probably more than you might have guessed. Between six and nine percent is more than I guessed, at least.

Still, there are walk-off droughts. The 1998 Angels enjoyed one walk-off all season, as did the 2001 Cardinals and 2002 Red Sox. The Royals had one each in 2006 and 2007. They aren't so frequent that players should take them for granted.

Walk-off home runs are even rarer, of course. Teams go entire seasons without hitting a walk-off home run. The 2012 Giants were one of those teams, which is one of the reasons Giants fans are so whiny and unfulfilled this year.

But if you're looking for something exceptionally rare, check out how infrequent it is for teams to hit a walk-off homer when they're behind. Again, this is since 1998:

Team Walk-off HR when trailing, 1998-2012
Reds 15
Indians 13
Rays 13
Nationals 11
Red Sox 11
Angels 9
Athletics 9
Yankees 9
Diamondbacks 8
Phillies 8
Braves 7
Cardinals 7
Marlins 7
Rockies 7
Astros 6
Blue Jays 6
Brewers 6
Dodgers 6
Tigers 6
Padres 5
Pirates 5
Rangers 5
White Sox 5
Giants 4
Mariners 4
Orioles 4
Twins 4
Mets 3
Royals 3
Cubs 2

They're one of the best events in baseball, of course. Some of them don't leave the infield before you know the game's over, and some of them drift back, slowly, slowly, until tens of thousands of fans explode. So rare.

And the home runs when teams are down two or more?

Team Walk-off HR when trailing by two or more, 1998-2012
Reds 4
Nationals 3
Red Sox 3
Angels 3
Athletics 3
Indians 2
Rays 2
Yankees 2
Diamondbacks 2
Braves 2
Cardinals 2
Rockies 2
Padres 2
Pirates 2
Phillies 1
Marlins 1
Astros 1
Blue Jays 1
Dodgers 1
White Sox 1
Giants 1
Twins 1
Royals 1
Cubs 1
Brewers 0
Tigers 0
Rangers 0
Mariners 0
Orioles 0
Mets 0

Paul Molitor hit the Brewers' last walk-off when down by two or more runs. Tony Phillips hit the last one for the Tigers in 1994, Fred Lynn hit the last one for the Orioles in 1985, and Oddibe McDowell hit the last one for the Rangers in 1987. The Mariners have had exactly one of these home runs in their history.

The last time the Mets had one before Kirk Nieuwenhuis, it was Bobby Bonilla vs. Rob Dibble. Here's the Mets' history of walk-offs down by two or three:

Date Batter Opp Pitcher Score Inn RoB Out
1962-08-21 (2) Marv Throneberry PIT Roy Face down 4-2 b9 12- 2
1963-06-07 Duke Snider STL Diomedes Olivo down 2-0 b9 -23 1
1963-06-26 Tim Harkness CHC Jim Brewer down 6-4 b14 123 2
1980-06-14 Steve Henderson SFG Allen Ripley down 6-4 b9 12- 2
1983-09-05 George Foster PHI Al Holland down 5-3 b9 1-3 1
1992-08-30 Bobby Bonilla CIN Rob Dibble down 3-1 b9 12- 2

That's it. Six in 51-plus seasons. Think about the excitement of a walk-off homer, regardless of context. That split-second from contact to realization. Some of them are obviously home runs before they even leave the infield. Some of them drift back slowly, slowly, slowly, messing with the crowd before the eventual release.

There isn't anything like it in sports. There aren't five seconds of anticipation to see if a puck drifts in the net during sudden-death overtime. Then add in the team going from defeat to victory in the time it takes the ball to go over the fence. It's a rare, beautiful cocktail of events that causes a frenzy in the stands and on the field. They don't come around too often.

There hadn't been a home run like this in over 20 years for the Mets.

Long post short: If soccer players get to pretend they're airplanes after a goal because there aren't that many goals scored in a soccer game, baseball players can subject each other to mirth and general grabassery after a walk-off win. And if it's a walk-off homer when the team is down by a couple runs? They can act like it's the seventh game of the World Series. It's rare enough. We'll allow it.