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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

"I wonder if I should try to steal home?" -- Charlie Brown, pondering the hero/goat possibilities at the pivotal moment in a baseball game.

July 24 marked the 35th anniversary of one of the most amazing and also most underappreciated walk-off wins in Mets history, a day when the Mets played 'Willieball' long before it became known by that name in 2005.

On that date in 1970, the Mets and Dodgers were knotted at one through nine innings after a pitchers duel between Mets southpaw Jerry Koosman and Dodgers hurler Bill Singer. Koosman allowed six hits and sidestepped his way around six walks to hold the Dodgers to a lone tally, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning when Bill Russell was barely thrown out at first, bidding for a two-out hit. Singer, coming off a no-hitter in his previous start, was a little sharper, allowing only five hits and walking three.

Gil Hodges was first to go to his bullpen, calling on Tug McGraw, who set the Dodgers down 1-2-3 in the 10th. Interestingly, Hodges didn't pull a double switch, and the odd strategy worked when McGraw led off with a single, then advanced to second base when Tommie Agee reached after bunting when Dodgers shortstop Billy Grabarkewitz dropped the throw to second. At that point, Hodges did pull McGraw, sending in Al Weis to pinch-run, but reliever Jim Brewer picked him off second.

The Mets decided they were going to win this game through aggressive play. The foundation for what players like Jose Reyes do nowadays was created by guys like Agee, who created a scoring opportunity for himself, stealing second and advancing to third base with one out on a wild pitch. Brewer recovered to strike out Bud Harrelson, but then walked Ken Singleton and pinch-hitter Donn Clendenon to load the bases.

Now, all of us have played the imaginary game in our minds- bases loaded, two outs, last inning, where the game hinges on one play. Most of us imagine being the hitter or the pitcher. Some of us might ponder being the fielder. I don't know anyone who pretended to be the runner on third base. Apparently Agee must have.

At some point during the time he stood on third base, the Charlie Brown notion entered Agee's mind. Did you ever see the episode of Brooklyn Bridge, when the main character, Allen Silver, has to make a free throw to win a game after being fouled at the buzzer? That was pretty nerve-wracking. Let's increase the pressure of that exponentially, since this game took place in real life. The good thing for Agee was that if he failed, it was basically a freebie. He had already been successful in one steal of home this season. The worst thing that would happen would be that the two teams would play in the 11th inning, and he would incur the wrath of Hodges, something that had happened previously in his Mets career. It seemed like a worthwhile gamble, since Jones was not having a good season to that point, batting only .240 after a 2-for-4 game.

Let us contemplate how rare it is to attempt a straight steal of home (or skip this paragraph if you want to know what happens, without dragging out the suspense). No one ever attempts it anymore- ever. Todays millionaires aren't going to have the guts to try it. Nor are their managers (or in the case of some teams, who rely heavily on the mathematics of the game, their general managers). If you want to talk numbers that represent unbreakable records, 54 should stand right alongside 56 (Dimmagio's hitting streak) and 511 (Cy Young's win total), because that's the all-time mark for steals of home, set by Ty Cobb.

The New York Times article doesn't say whether Brewer was pitching from the full windup, but I'd surmise that he was, given the circumstances. The count went to 1-1 and Gerald Eskenazi described it thusly.

"Then a loud 'oh' escaped from the fans as Agee broke for the plate. He
blasted into Tom Haller, the catcher, and Shag Crawford, the plate umpire. The
trio wound up in one pile- and Agee was safe."

"Oh, you blockhead!!!" -- Lucy Van Pelt berating Charlie Brown after his unsuccessful steal attempt cost his squad a potential win (he didn't even make it halfway to home plate if I recall.)

We can imagine that the 50,000-plus at Shea that day would have said far worse to Agee, had his fate been the same as Charlie Brown's.

True Metropoli know...We'll go 'off-the-board' on this one to let you know that the last walk-off straight steal of home, to our knowledge, was by Cardinals catcher Glenn Brummer, in the 12th inning of a 5-4 win over the Giants, on August 22, 1982. (Thanks to Retrosheet for the help)


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