On this day in 1989: Phillies comeback sends Pirates announcer walking

Heading into the June 9, 1989 game, the Phillies were 20-34 and facing off against the 21-33 Pittsburgh Pirates in front of 18,500 fans at Veterans Stadium. In the blink of an eye, the Barry Bonds-led Pirates lineup brought 16 batters to the plate in the first inning and went up 10-0. According to Baseball Reference, the Phillies had just a 1% win probability heading into the bottom of the first.

During the game, Pirates’ radio broadcaster and former pitcher Jim Rooker said something that fans will never forget. “Rook” had quite the personality and was never afraid to speak his mind. When the Pirates built their 10-run lead, Rooker sarcastically said that he would walk back to Pittsburgh if they did not win.

As you could have guessed, the Phillies mounted a determined comeback. In the bottom of the first inning, they answered with two runs of their own courtesy of a Von Hayes two-run home run. Two innings later, Hayes went deep for another two-run shot to make it 10-4. Steve Jeltz followed in the bottom of the fourth with his own two-run shot to trim the lead to 10-6.

The Pirates would tack on one in the top of the fifth before Jeltz went deep again. Prior to this game, Jeltz had just two career home runs. This time with a three-run bomb in the bottom of the sixth. That and Ricky Jordan’s RBI single made it an 11-10 ballgame. Philadelphia exploded for five runs in the eighth inning to take the lead and ultimately a 15-10 victory over Pittsburgh.

Now, it was time for Rooker to follow through on his comment from earlier in the game. He did not disappoint, scheduling his “Unintentional Walk” for after the conclusion of the 1989 season. On October 5, media gathered to watch him and friend Carl Dozzi begin their walk from Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Knowing that this would not be an easy task, Dozzi trained for ten weeks according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Rooker did not do the same since he believed being a former athlete would be his saving grace. This was no easy task though. While the event was based on Rooker’s sarcastic comment, it was certainly no joke. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review adds that they walked an average of 24 miles each day.

Both Rooker and Dozzi experienced plenty of soreness after they finished but Rooker’s status as a former athlete did not end up saving him. In his interview with Monday Night Sports Talk, he said that his left ankle still bothers him to this day as a result of the walk.

On October 17, Rooker and Dozzi returned to a crowd of waiting fans at Three Rivers Stadium. Through the walk, they were able to raise money for two charities: Bob Prince Charities and Children’s Hospitals. This was the primary reason that Rooker decided to follow through on his comment. Dozzi said that they raised around $100,000, including $10,000 for a a handicap accessible van for Rooker’s former minor league teammate who was battling multiple sclerosis.

Though fans undoubtedly remember Jim Rooker for his infamous comment during the broadcast, most tend to forget that he was a World Series champion with a career ERA of 3.46 in 319 career games.

While Rooker probably would have preferred that the Pirates won in the first place, his unintentional walk became one of the top stories in baseball that year.


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