Tuesday, November 16, 2010

#438 Harry Walker

#438 Harry Walker
My best guess is that the uniform that Harry "the Hat" Walker has been artfully airbrushed out of is that of the St. Louis Cardinals. He coached for the club from 1959-1962, and spent the following two seasons managing in their farm system. I couldn't fit it into the Fun Facts, but he got his nickname due to a habit of compulsively adjusting his cap in between pitches during his at-bats. He is also the subject of the oldest card that I currently own, a 1949 Bowman that I picked up at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore this past August.

Fun facts about Harry Walker:

-Born in Pascagoula, MS, Harry signed with the Phillies in 1937.

-Baseball was the family business: father Ewart "Dixie" Walker pitched for the Senators (1909-1912), uncle Ernie was an outfielder for the Browns (1913-1915), and brother Fred "Dixie" Walker was an outfielder for the Dodgers and four other teams (1931-1949).

-Harry had the misfortune of entering his prime during World War II. He hit .294 with 28 doubles in 1943 to earn an All-Star selection in his first full season at age 26. He then served in the U.S. Army from that November through January 1946.

-He struggled in his first year back, but delivered the game-winning hit in the ninth inning of Game Seven of that year's World Series. Overall, he batted .412 (7-for-17) with four walks and six RBI in the Fall Classic.

-The Cards traded him to the Phillies in May of 1947, and he responded by batting .363 for the year to capture the National League batting title. He also paced the senior circuit with a .436 on-base percentage and 16 triples, and made a return trip to the All-Star Game.

-He played full-time in only one other season after 1947, spending time with the Phillies, Cubs, Reds, and Cardinals. In parts of 11 seasons he hit .296 with 10 home runs and 214 RBI.

-Walker became a manager in the St. Louis farm system in 1951, and led the Rochester Red Wings to postseason appearances in 1952 (league champs), 1953, and 1954. Early in the 1955 season, he was promoted to the majors to replace Eddie Stanky as the Cards' skipper. He was even active for 11 games (hitting 5-for-14, a .357 average), but his minor league success did not translate. The team went 51-67, and he was not retained at the end of the year.

-Accepting a reassignment to the minors, Harry won two more league championships with the Texas League's Houston Buffaloes, and returned to St. Louis as a coach from 1959-1962. He bookended the coaching stint with another couple of years in the minors, at which point he accepted the Pirates' managerial position.

-Pittsburgh had a 10-game improvement to 90-72 in Walker's first season at the helm, and in 1966 they went 92-70 and finished in third place, just three games out of first. However, the Bucs fired him the following year with a 42-42 record in mid-July. He was hired by the Astros the following June, and piloted the team for five seasons. Incidentally, his only winning season in that span was 1972; he was canned on August 25 that year with a 67-54 record. He totaled 630 wins and 604 losses in the majors, a .511 win percentage.

-In the years after his managerial career ended, Harry became the first baseball coach at the University of Alabama and served as a batting tutor for the Cardinals and other major league clubs. He died at age 82 in Birmingham, AL in 1999.
#438 Harry Walker (back)

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