Monday, January 4, 2010
#17 Bucky Walters
William "Bucky" Walters was born in 1909 in Philadelphia. His father, an avid baseball player for his company team, had his then six-year old son become the batboy and mascot, and it was there that his love for the game was born. He played through adolescence, but after his sophomore year of high school, he dropped out to become an electrician. A scout from Montgomery (AL) spotted him playing in a sandlot game, and quickly offered him a contract. Walters jumped at the chance, and said goodbye to electrical work.
Working his way through the minor leagues as a shortstop and third baseman, Walters was an excellent hitter and a great fielder. He was signed by the Boston Braves in 1929, and joined the club in 1931. He played sparingly with Boston over the next few years, and spent most of his time in the Braves system. He was sold to San Francisco in the PCL and hit .376 in the last 91 games of the 1933 season. At this time, he also played professional basketball in the Eastern League. He was then to return to Boston, but this time the Boston Red Sox. A broken thumb kept him from being effective, and he was dealt to the Phillies part-way into the 1934 season.
Walters was constantly being pressured to convert to pitching. He had an incredibly strong and accurate arm, but Walters loved the game so much that he wanted to play every day, not every fourth day. He began the 1935 season at third base, platooning with Johnny Vergez, but finally, after more pressure from manager Jimmy Wilson and coach Hans Lobert, he finally agreed to the switch. He started 22 games in the second half of the season, and won 9 games.
The next two years were rough for Walters, as the Phillies home park, the Baker Bowl, was a notoriously small stadium that catered to hitters aroung the league. As Walters once described the Baker Bowl, "Visiting pitchers used to get sore arms the minute the train pulled into Philly, and all the crippled hitters got better and ran over each other to get into the lineup."
Walters lost 21 games in 1936, but did throw four shutouts and was easily the best pitcher the Phillies had. After another rough season in Philly, he was dealt to Cincinnati, and that is where he came into his own.
His first full season in Cincy, 1939, saw him win the pitching triple crown, topping the NL with 27 wins, 137 strikeouts and a 2.29 ERA. The Reds won the pennant, and Walters won the league's MVP award. He followed that year up with a 22-win season, and once again helped the Reds to World Series, this time victoriously. He threw two complete games in the 1940 fall classic, leading the Reds over the Detroit Tigers. He followed those years with 19, 15 and 15 win seasons. In 1944, at age 35, he regained his old form and won 23 games. His career dwindled down after that, and he threw his last major league pitch in 1950. His final major league win was a 2-0 shutout on Bucky Walters day in Cincinnati. He was also the manager of the Reds in 1948 and 1949.
He bounced around coaching and scouting gigs in the 50's, and in 1960 he took a sales job at Ferco Machine Screw Company in Philadelphia. He loved working there, and also took up golf and became quite good at that sport, too. In the late 70's, he lost a leg to arteriosclerosis. His kidneys failed, and his health declined throughout the 80's. He finally died in April of 1991, one day after his 82nd birthday.
Walters was one of the best pitchers of his era. He won 198 games despite a late move to the mound. His 1939 season is one of the best a pitcher has ever had, and he is easily the greatest pitcher the Reds have ever had. He was a very popular and likable among teammates, opponents and fans. A true gentleman and epitome of class and athleticism, Walters name is mentioned a lot for Hall of Fame consideration, but chances are it will not happen. Had he starting pitching earlier, perhaps he would already be there.
The Autograph: Bucky Walters loved his fans, and his fans loved him. He always had time for them, young or old. I got this card signed through the mail along with a few others.