What’s in a Called Shot?

1280432817.jpg.0 - What’s in a Called Shot?Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Let’s investigate one of baseball’s most alluring legends

Carlos Correa’s walk-off home run to end Game 5 of the 2020 ALCS was impressive. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, he turned a 96 mph Nick Anderson fastball on the outer corner into a shot over the RCF field in Petco Park, breaking a 3-3 tie and ensuring that the Houston Astros would fight another day. Reliever stats have been skewed by a Covid-shortened season, but it’s worth pointing out that Anderson had been essentially unhittable for the Rays this year, spinning a 0.55 ERA and striking out 45 percent(!?) of opposing batters. Even making contact with him requires a Herculean effort.

But Correa is an old hand at Herculean efforts. He’s even done the ALCS walk-off before. How can we make this particular walk-off more impressive? Make it a Called Shot. After the game, Houston manager Dusty Baker claimed that his star shortstop let him know was was coming:

Carlos told me before he went up there, he goes: ‘Walk-off’. I said, ‘Go ahead on, man.

And here’s Correa also claiming pre-emptive dinger knowledge:

I knew I was going to end it. I could feel my swing was in sync. I could feel my rhythm was good, and I felt like I was going to drive the ball. I believed I could do it.

Thanks to Babe Ruth, the Called Shot has a special place in baseball history. According to legend, during the 1932 World Series, Ruth was getting sick of the Chicago Cubs’ heckling and decided to shut them up once and for all. Facing Charlie Root in the fifth inning, The Babe pointed his bat at the center field bleachers, took a strike, pointed again, and then sent a curveball into said bleachers. This is the sort of sports moment which causes A Stir.

Let’s ignore the fact that there’s some doubt over who or what Ruth was pointing at, doubts which have never really been resolved by grainy footage of the incident. Root denies the whole story, but who cares. History is written by the dinger-hitters, not the dinger-tossers, and anyway I’m a firm believer of taking the coolest reasonable interpretation of an event. Babe Ruth Calls His Shot is both plausible and very cool, and therefore the world is better for it happening.

Of course, calling one’s shot Bambino-style in a game where the hitters’ default mode is failure is a recipe for self-inflicted humiliation and possibly a self-inflicted fastball to the ass. Not too many hitters have the ability and the gumption to pull off what Ruth is alleged to have done to Root and the Cubs. In fact, the only other time I’m aware it’s been pulled off is by noted asshole Gregg Zaun, who did it as what must have been a goof* during an exhibition game.

*Zaun, a backup catcher, hit 88 home runs over the course of his 16-year MLB career.

Calling someone else’s shot is another thing entirely. Announcers talk their way through a lot of baseball, and sometimes they make predictions, and sometimes — through sheer luck, more or less — those predictions come good. For my money the best (and certainly funniest) of these came on September 27th, 2009, when Mike Blowers did this:

(I guess Matt Tuiasosopo helped a little bit.)

But if we’re going to let home runs called by other people count as Called Shots, things get out of hand fast. Personally, I once called a Ryan Langerhans walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics, and while I think Langerhans was a decent baseball player, the notion of him going down in history as a Called Shot man is a little bit alarming. So to count it properly, the hitter has to call their own dinger.

The last piece of the puzzle is that they have to do it in public, and expose themselves to the embarrassment of being wrong. Otherwise we’re going to get a bunch of called shots through survivorship bias alone. ‘I told my manager I’d hit it out’ is a fun story, but for every time that might happens there are a dozen ‘… and then I struck out’ or ‘… and then I rolled over a fastball on the outside corner and grounded out weakly to second base.’ To avoid over-prediction, we need to know about the call in advance (I will, grudgingly, accept a signed and sealed affidavit).

Correa’s walk-off, alas, falls afoul of our last rule, and is therefore not a Called Shot, no matter what MLB.com might claim. Sorry, Carlos. Tough break, harsh grader, etc etc. You’ll just have to settle for it being a regular old boring ALCS walk-off home run.

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