Friday, March 20, 2015

Going Out With A Bang! How Some Hall of Famers Fared in Their Final At-Bats

Few players have provided the kind of high drama that took place at Yankee Stadium last September. Playing in his final home game, fourteen-time All-Star and beloved Yankee captain Derek Jeter came to bat in the bottom of the ninth against Baltimore with the score tied at 5. The Yankees had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and the original plan was to remove Jeter from the game. He had already delivered a clutch double in the first inning and circled the bases with the tying run. A sellout crowd had saluted him during the middle innings with the thunderous chant of "Thank You, Captain!" Their words had brought Jeter to tears. After Yankee closer David Robertson blew a 3-run lead in the top of the ninth and Brett Gardner sacrificed pinch-runner Antoan Richardson to second in the bottom of the frame, manager Joe Girardi figured no better script could be written. He allowed Jeter to bat one last time in the Bronx cathedral that had been the site of so many of his iconic career moments. Jeter rose to the occasion yet again, delivering a single to center field that scored the winning run. It was his first walk-off hit in seven years. "It was sort of an out of body experience for me," Jeter said after the game. "I was just trying not to cry." Three days later, in his final career at-bat in Boston, Jeter rapped another one of his trademark singles, scoring Ichiro Suzuki and ending his career with a lofty total of 3,465 hits.

Though it's difficult to top Jeter's grand finale, he was not the first Hall of Fame caliber player to bid a fond farewell to the sport. Here are how some other Cooperstown legends fared in their last licks.

 Jimmie Foxx- Sept. 23, 1945- At thirty-seven years of age, Foxx was finishing up his career with the Phillies. In the third inning of this game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, he doubled off of Tom Seats, scoring teammates Dick Barrett and Jake Powell. The clutch hit gave Philly a 3-1 lead. Foxx struck out in the fifth inning and was later lifted for a pinch-hitter, but his clutch hit was pivotal as the Phillies hung on for a 4-3 win.

 Joe DiMaggio- Oct. 10, 1951- There could have been no grander stage for DiMaggio's farewell. The Yankees held a 3 games to 2 advantage over the Giants in the World Series. It was the year of Bobby Thomson's famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, Joe D. doubled off of Larry Jansen. It was his 54th postseason hit. The Yankees clinched the Series that day, giving DiMaggio a total of nine World Series rings (a record broken by teammate Yogi Berra).

Ted Williams- Sept. 28, 1960- The greatest natural hitter in baseball history proved he was still dangerous at the age of 42. In his final plate appearance, Williams lifted a pitch from Orioles' reliever Jack Fisher into the deepest recesses of Fenway Park. It was his 29th home run of the season and the 521st of his career. When he retired, only Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx had more lifetime homers.

Stan Musial- Sept. 29, 1963- Musial's Cardinals beat the Reds in 14 innings behind a stellar pitching performance by Bob Gibson. In the bottom of the 4th, Musial singled. In the sixth, he singled again, bringing Curt Flood across the plate with the first run of the game. Musial was lifted for a pinch-runner. The hit was #3,630 (4th all time). The RBI was # 1,951 (7th all time)

Roberto Clemente- Sept. 30, 1972-  In his final career at-bat, Clemente doubled off of Jon Matlack of the Mets and later scored on a Manny Sanguillen single. The hit gave Clemente exactly 3,000 for his career. The Pirates won handily, 5-0. After Clemente died in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, the Baseball Hall of Fame waived the standard 5-year waiting period and inducted Clemente.

Frank Robinson- Sept. 18, 1976- The first black manager in the majors, the 41 year-old Robinson inserted himself as a pinch hitter for shortstop Frank Duffy in the bottom of the eighth inning at Cleveland. He singled off of Rudy May of the Orioles, scoring Joe Lis. It was RBI # 1,812 for Robinson (currently among the top 20 totals of all time).  

Hank Aaron- Oct. 3, 1976- In the sixth inning of a game at Milwaukee, Aaron bid a fond farewell to the sport with an RBI single. The Brewers lost, 5-2, but Aaron's RBI was # 2,297--an all time record. 

Willie McCovey- July 6, 1980- McCovey's last at-bat occurred at a critical time. He appeared as a pinch-hitter with one out and the game tied at 3 in the eighth inning at Dodger Stadium. The 42 year-old slugger lifted a sacrifice fly to center field off of Rick Sutcliffe, putting the Giants ahead. Reliever Greg Minton replaced McCovey in the ninth, but failed to hold the lead. The Giants rallied in the tenth for a win.

Reggie Jackson- Oct. 4, 1987- It seems fitting that "Mr. October's" last hurrah took place in the month that made him famous. Finishing up his career with the A's, Jackson doubled in the first inning of this regular season game against the White Sox, scoring Jose Canseco. In his farewell at-bat, he singled to center field off of closer Bobby Thigpen. 

George Brett- Sept. 30, 1993- Brett spent his entire career with the Royals and played his final game at Texas. In his last at-bat, he singled off of Rangers' ace reliever Tom Henke. He later scored on a homer by Gary Gaetti, giving Kansas City a comfortable lead. Brett's hit was # 3,154 (currently placing him at #16 on the all time list).

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