From SABR member Tom Shieber at Baseball Researcher on August 26, 2019:
Today, most historians agree that pitcher Dennis Eckersley coined the now-popular term “walk-off,” referring to game-ending home runs as “walk-off pieces.” The idea was that once the home run was hit, there was nothing left for the pitcher to do, so he would simply walk off the mound.
It’s only appropriate that term be associated with “Eck,” because he surrendered one of the most famous “walk-off pieces” in baseball history: Kirk Gibson’s game-ending, two-run homer in Game One of the 1988 World Series.
But in the early days of baseball, there was no such thing as a “walk-off” hit. And by “no such thing,” I don’t mean that game-ending hits weren’t called “walk-offs.” I mean that there were no game-ending hits, regardless of what you called them. That’s because the rules of baseball simply did not allow for the possibility. Here’s the relevant rule from 1879:
The game shall consist of nine innings to each side, but should the score then be a tie, play shall be continued until a majority of runs for one side, upon an equal number of innings, shall be declared, when the game shall end. All innings shall be concluded when the third hand is put out.
In other words, no matter which club was ahead in the bottom of the ninth (or the bottom of an extra inning), the inning was not over until all three outs were made. For example, if the team batting second was ahead going into the bottom of the ninth, that half inning would be played, even though the outcome was already determined. Furthermore, if the team batting second was behind going into the bottom of the ninth, and then scored enough runs to gain the lead, that half inning still continued until the third out was made … again, even though the outcome was already determined.
Read the full article here: https://baseballresearcher.blogspot.com/2019/08/walk-off-firsts.html
Originally published: August 27, 2019. Last Updated: August 27, 2019.