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July 31, 2007

Walkoff Articles

For decades sportswriters have conferred mythic status upon star athletes. And there is no greater image of American myth than the lone cowboy, riding off into the sunset. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that in the pages of Sports Illustrated, for want of a better ending, athlete profiles often conclude with their subjects slipping away into the great unknown, ready to face the challenges that await them on the horizon. Gelf chronicles some of the recent modern-day cowboys to slip off into the night, or into the great wide open.

Baseball writer Tom Verducci is a repeat offender in this category. In a May 8 piece on Indians centerfielder Grady Sizemore, Verducci signs off with this image:

With that, culminating what for him was a Churchillian address to a few reporters, Little Grady slipped out of sight behind the thick pillar that hides his locker, content with the reward of victory and the promise of tomorrow, another day to wear the baseball uniform and, better still, get it dirty.

Weeks later, in an article detailing the return of Roger Clemens, Verducci concludes, "With that, Clemens turned serious and went back to work, picking up where he left off last fall, making the twilight linger a little longer."

Verducci is in no way the only SI writer to employ this technique. Gary Smith ends his profile of Mets general manager Omar Minaya with, "He waves and drives away, into the great wide open."

Though the device is a staple of baseball writing, personalities of other sports are just as likely to leave or enter a scene in dramatic fashion at the end of an article. Here, Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Matt Leinart's posse comes in just as Michael Silver's article is fading out:

A few seconds later Leinart walked through the entrance of Tonic, a bustling club, and gave a soul shake to the doorman. "Just you?" the doorman asked. Leinart shrugged as his entourage came up behind him; the doorman smiled and waved them through.

When the cowboy rides off into the sunset, it is a moment of transition for him before the next chapter in his life. Though he may lack the cowboy's quiet dignity, Bobby Valentine participates in this tradition of transition in this April 25 article:

So Valentine slips off into the night, neither harassed nor feted in his home country. All of the major league managerial openings have been filled. As a result Valentine will spend the 2007 season, which began on March 24, as the Marines' manager, an increasingly invisible figure to baseball fans in America. Perhaps it is the price he must pay for his nearly perfect life in Japan. Since Japanese baseball is not considered world-class, his accomplishments there do not carry much weight at home, and since the best Japanese players keep leaving for the States, he cannot make Japanese baseball world-class, no matter how many bridges he builds or box lunches he sells.

Thus Bobby Valentine remains stranded somewhere in the middle of his own bridge, a man caught between two worlds, a hero in the wrong country.

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