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Monday
February 22, 2010

INTRODUCTION TO BUCKY

The career of Bucky Walters is one of baseballs greatest Cinderella Stories. Bucky started his professional career as a pitcher but failed miserably. He then detoured into a lengthy stint at third base. When a ball club desperate for pitching switched him back to the mound, they created a Most Valuable Player and provided the National League with its dominant pitcher during World War II.

Bucky Walters was on the active roster of professional baseball teams from 1931 through 1949, 19 major league seasons. His career began in Boston as a 3rd baseman, converted to pitcher in Philadelphia, became a principal player in Cincinnati, and concluded his playing career as a pitcher/manager. Recognized as a team leader, Bucky was one of the first to be inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame (July 19, 1958).

From 1949 through 1958, Bucky continued his baseball career as a major league manager, minor league manager, coach and representative of the great sport of baseball. He retired from baseball in 1958, but continued his involvement as a supervisor and scout of the Philadelphia Phillies Farm System during the 1960’s.

Bucky Walters pitched in 16 seasons, one primarily as a 3rd baseman (1934), and one as an active player/manager (1949). His pitching statistics are based on 14 active pitching seasons.

Bucky’s professional career began at High Point in 1929 as a Philadelphia sandlot player during the Depression. He failed as a pitcher, but was recognized as a strong utility player capable of playing any position. Accustomed to playing where his manager wanted him, Bucky didn’t know what position he would play when the Boston Braves purchased his contract in 1929.

Although Bucky would become one of the greatest clutch pitchers of his day, his success story started with a terrific hitting streak in 1933 while playing with the San Francisco Missions. Over the first 90 games of the 1933 season, Bucky batted .381 and drove in 91 runs. During a visit by a Tom Yawkey of the Boston Red Sox, Bucky went 5 for 5 with 5 doubles. He was immediately bought by the Red Sox.

Soon after his arrival at the Hub, however, Walters suffered a broken thumb and never regained his hitting stroke. While with the Red Sox, Bucky proved of little value and was regarded a disappointment. He was traded to Philadelphia in 1934 and he was happy to be back in his hometown.

It would be in Philadelphia where a bad team with a pitiful pitching staff forced management to pitch anyone on the team. The Phillies were not a prosperous club during normal circumstances, and things were worse during the depression. Recalled Walters, “The Phillies would make a western road-trip just praying we wouldn’t get rained out in Chicago on Saturday or Sunday so they’d have enough money to get home.

Late in the 1934 season Bucky contracted poison ivy and missed several weeks. Upon his return he lost his hitting knack completely, and found himself out of the line-up. Convinced that Walters had potential, Jimmy Wilson, manager of the Phillies, thought he could bolster his pitching staff by converting Bucky from 3rd to pitcher. The Philadelphia pitching staff was often shell shocked by playing in the Baker Bowl, a hitters field. So, during the last week of 1934 Walters hurled seven innings, neither winning nor losing, but showing highlights of future fame. The following spring, Walters was listed as a pitcher.

But Bucky didn’t want to pitch. Recalled Wilson “Walters had the strongest arm on the club… The way he fired the ball from third to first you could see he couldn’t miss as a pitcher. But selling him was something else.”

Walters was in his sixth year as a pro and was having his best season. A competent adroit fielder, he was hitting .260 and going for the long ball.” Recalled Wilson, “He hit four or five out of the park, and every time that happened he was more determined than ever he wanted no part of pitching.”

To make things worse, the Phillies had traded for 3rd baseman Johnny Vergez in 1935 placing Bucky in the potential back-up position. He didn’t really want to pitch, but Wilson convinced him that pitching was his ticket to fame.

Recalled Walters, “I became a pitcher in a chicken shack somewhere between Orlando and Winter Haven.” “I had to get him a little plastered to convince him he could be a great pitcher,” was the way Jimmy Wilson told the story. By feeding him a few drinks, and several subtle comments about “big figures” for pitchers, Bucky finally agreed to pitch when confronted with the choice of pitching or sitting the bench.

After retirement, Bucky commented, “My only regret was not playing every day.”

Asked why he shifted Walters to pitcher, Wilson replied, “It was Bucky’s spirit, not necessarily his ability to throw a fast ball… I figured that all anybody needed to be a pitcher was guts like Walters had. So I made him a pitcher. That’s one place in baseball where you have guts – or you don’t.

Upon his conversion, Bucky was immediately recognized as a talented pitcher. Pitching for the Phillies, who often finished last, Bucky never had a winning season. In 1936, Bucky led the league with 21 defeats. Wilson consoled Walters. “Don’t feel bad because if you weren’t a pretty good pitcher, you wouldn’t have gotten a chance to lose that many.” Bucky also led the league in complete game shut-outs that same season.

In 1937 he earned his first appearance on the All-Star team. His All-star nomination with a losing record is clear statement that his peers recognized his talent. Bucky would later finish his career with 5 appearances and 6 All Star nominations.

By 1938 Bucky was a valuable asset to the Philadelphia management. Financial distress would often force them to sell developing players. The decision was made by Powel Crosley, Jr., Warren Giles, and Bill McKechnie to buy Bucky’s contract. Although the trade was originally cancelled by Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the executed trade was finalized June 13, 1938, between the two no-hit games of John Vander Meer. In fact, Bucky was on the warm up mound during the 8th and 9th innings of the second no-hit game.

In 1939, his first complete season as a Cincinnati Red, Bucky was the most powerful pitcher in baseball, winning the Triple Crown for wins, strikeouts, and era. He also batted .325 and is on a short list of Triple Crown winners to hit above .300 in the same season. During the 1939 season, “Walters turned in the best National league record since Diz Dean’s heyday with the Cards. He won 27, while losing 10. He was more responsible than any other one player in Cincinnati’s winning the National league flag.“

Under the leadership of Walters and Derringer, Cincinnati played the New York Yankees for the 1939 title. The bombers were too much for the Redlegs and swept the series in four games. Walters pitched game two but lost. He entered game four in relief of Derringer “and was tagged with a 7-4 loss in the tenth inning when [Ernie] Schnozz Lombardi pulled his famous swooning act at home plate.” “…knocked out by the knee of New York Yankees base runner Charlie “King Kong Keller. The ball is held tightly in Lombardi’s glove as one, two, and then three Yanks score the winning runs with two outs in the final inning of the final game.”

Walters would have his redemption in the Fall Classic the following year against the Detroit Tigers. Having another outstanding year in 1940, (22-10; 2.48 ERA) Walters started game two, and pitched a three-hit complete game, and won 5 – 3. The victory was the first post-season win for the Reds since the tainted 1919 World Series.

Further, down three games to two, Walters pitched a five hit shut-out to win game six. According to Dan Daniel, sports writer, “The contest that deadlocked the classic was all William Henry Bucky Walters… Walters had the satisfaction – yes, the distinction of shackling the Detroit power for 12 consecutive frames.” Mr. Daniel continues, “A strange feature of the Walters performance on the mound was his lack of thrill over it. But in the eighth inning Bucky hit a home run over the left field wall and got a big kick out of it. ‘I tingled all the way around the bases,’ exulted Walters after the game.”

Bucky was now the most powerful pitcher in baseball. According to Total Baseball, 6th Edition, The 400 Greatest, “for two magnificent years, 1939-1940, Walters was the premier pitcher in baseball. With Paul Derringer, he led the Reds to their first flags since 1919 after two decades of frustration.” Further, according to Total Baseball, Bucky received three (3) hypothetical Cy Young Awards given to players for years which no official award existed. Bucky is recognized as the best pitcher for the 1939, 1940, and 1944 seasons. All retired pitchers with 3 or more official Cy Young Awards have been inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Throughout the 1940’s Bucky continued to be among the best and most popular of his time. His 6-year MVP vote (1939 – 1944) found him #1 among pitchers, and #3 behind Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. From 1939 through 1947 his ERA was below 2.83 in seven (7) of eight (8) seasons. Unique to Bucky’s career, he recorded the first televised win (August 26th, 1939), he stole home (April 20th, 1946), he umpired a major league game, (July 10th, 1947). Furthermore, he led the majors in victories over the 15-year span from 1935 to 1949.

By 1949, the 40 year-old Walters had accumulated 198 wins. Despite 7 attempts in 1949, and one in 1950, Bucky could not record the necessary two wins to eclipse the recognized benchmark of 200 wins. Including the two World Series victories (1940), Bucky recorded 200 career wins.

Never wanting to be out of uniform, from 1950 through 1960, Bucky continued his involvement in baseball as a manager, coach, and scout.

Bucky, as the “Bell Cow” and one of the more popular players of the Cincinnati Reds, actively participated in promoting baseball. His on and off the field activity greatly influenced the growth of player representation. Prior to television (1939), players were routinely taken advantage of and discarded by ownership/ management without any pension or retirement benefits. The group of “Bell Cows” ultimately aided in the formation of the first pension plan for players, as well as the Major League Baseball Players Association.

A prophetic letter from Warren C. Giles, Member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and past President of the Cincinnati Reds:

As great as your record is and as outstanding as have been your accomplishments, they reveal only a part of the Bucky Walters I know.

Your contributions to the success of the Reds, the prestige of the National League and the integrity of professional baseball cannot be accurately nor adequately revealed in a printed record.

Your loyalty, your courage, your unselfish interest in the team as a whole, your thoughtfulness and genuine desire for the success of your teammates have combined to make you an inspiration of all.

I am very proud that my baseball experience have offered the opportunity to enjoy my happy association with you and I hope it will continue for many years.

I am sure, if all the fans who are honoring you on Bucky Walters Night could do so, they would shake you by the hand and say: Congratulations and Good Luck to a Great Player and a Great Guy.

Warren C. Giles, President
Cincinnati Reds
September 9, 1947.

PITCHING

Wins Bucky fell two games shy of 200. As player/manager, Bucky posted 7 game starts in 1949without a win. His final season as a pitcher also had him managing a poor performing team. Including his two (2) World Series wins (1940), Bucky posted200 career wins.

Loses Bucky began his pitching career for the Philadelphia Phillies in the Baker Bowl, a hitters field. The Phillies consistently finished last or near last. Bucky’s first invitation to the All-Star game (1937), Bucky lead the league in losses(21) and complete game shutouts. With the Phillies, his four-year pitching record was 49 Ws and 59 Ls.

PCT His .533winning percentage is below the average (.592) and median (.597) for Hall of Fame Pitchers.

ERA His 3.30earned run average is close to the average (2.92) and median (2.93) for Hall of Fame Pitchers.

G His games category (428) is well below the average (571) and median (561) Hall of Fame Pitcher. His five (5) years as a 3rd baseman impacted his chance of more games.

GS Again, his game starts (398) is well below average (458) and median (474) and attributed to 3rd base position.

CG Remarkably, Bucky’s complete game marks (242) place him near the middle of the pack with other Hall of Fame Pitchers. The average and median are 294 and 261,respectively. His work-horse character is also reflected in the I/G (innings per game).

CG% - Complete games percentage (61%) is above the median (55%) and slightly below the average(64%) Hall of Fame Pitcher

IP Innings pitched (3,104.2) is well below average (3,843.4) and median (3,798.1) and attributed to 3rd base position.

I/G Innings per game has Bucky at 7.25 innings per game, well above the average (6.73) and median (6.77). Bucky ranks 21st all time (among Hall of Fame Pitchers), and 2nd behind Bob Gibson, between 1915 to 1970.

H - Hits off Bucky is low, attributed to low games/game starts.

H/I - Hits per Inning (0.96) has Bucky right there with the average (0.93) and median (0.91)Hall of Fame Pitcher.

BB - Based on the stats, it appears Bucky gave up a lot of walks.

SO Based on the stats, Bucky didn’t strike out a lot of players.

ShO Based on the stats, Bucky didn’t give up a lot of runs when he was hot. Bucky posted more career shut-outs (42) than the median Hall of Fame Pitcher (41) and slightly less than the average (44). In the shut-out category, Bucky ranks 37thall time among all pitchers, and 8th between 1915 to 1970 among Hall of Fame pitchers.

ShO/Wins Bucky won more than 21% of his career wins by shut-out and ranks 13th all time among Hall of Fame Pitchers, and 4th between 1915 to 1970.  Sanford Koufax (24%); Don Drysdale (23%); and Bob Gibson (22%) are the only modern era baseball players to have higher shut-outs to total career win percentage.

RELIEF

Bucky rarely played in relief. He was clearly a starter and often finished what he started. In relief, Bucky posted only 3 wins, 7 loses and 4 saves. However, Bucky did make a relief appearance in the forth anddeciding game of the 1939 World Series vs. the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, Bucky lost game two as a starter, and game 4 as reliever placing him in the dubious position as having lost two World Series games of a four game series.

HITTING

AB Bucky’s career as an infielder is highlighted in his hitting statistics. His at bats(1966 AB), ranks him 10th All Time (among Hall of Fame Pitchers),and 2nd  behind Warren Spahn, between 1915 to 1970.

H Again, Bucky’s career as an infielder is highlighted in his hitting statistics. His at Hits(594), ranks him 7th All Time (among Hall of Fame Pitchers), and 2nd  behind Red Ruffing, between 1915 to 1970.

HR As pitchers are not used for their power hitting, this category doesn’t mean much. However, Bucky ranks 8th all time (among Hall of Fame Pitchers), and5th between 1915 to 1970.

BA Bucky's All Around qualities are highlighted by his batting average. A life-time .243hitter, Bucky ranks 4th all time (among Hall of Fame Pitchers), and 3rd between 1915 to 1970.Pitchers with superior batting average to Bucky include: Red Ruffing (.269);Burligh Grimes (.248); and Amos Rusie (.247.)

FIELDING

PO Often cited as the fifth infielder, Bucky recorded 364 put outs, well above the average(207) and median (197) among all Hall of Fame Pitchers. Bucky ranks 5thall time (among Hall of Fame Pitchers), and 1st between 1915 to1970.  Pitchers with more put outs than Bucky include: Pud Galvin (1879 1892); Kid Nichols (1890-1906); Hoss Radburn(1880-1891); and Vic Willis (1898-1910). All pre-date modern baseball.

One could argue that his position as a fielder during his first five years artificially inflates this statistic. There is truth to this judgment. However, his pitching stats are handcuffed by restricted exposure. Therefore, those who criticize his pitching statistics including W, G, and GS must accept his defensive prowess as a reasonable trade-off.

A - Attempts, again Bucky recorded (1,135) significantly more than the average (813) and median (777) Hall of Fame Pitcher. A utility player during his first five seasons, Bucky made a professional appearance at every position but catcher.  His life-time attempts place him 10th all-time among all Hall of Fame pitchers, and 3rd between 1915 to 1970, behind Eppa Rixey, and Burligh Grimes.

E – Bucky’s error category (63) places him on the wrong side of this statistic. He made more errors in comparison to the average (56) and median (39) Hall of Fame Pitcher.  This statistic is off-set by his total attempts. Overall, his FA (fielding average) of .960 is similar to the average and median Hall of Fame Pitcher of.951 and 960, respectively.

DP - Double plays by pitchers are rally killers. Bucky recorded 76 double plays, and ranks 3rd all-time among all Hall of Fame pitchers, and 3rd between 1915 to1970, behind Warren Spahn (82), and Bob Lemon (80).

TC/G – Total chances per game indicate the pitchers total defensive involvement within games. Bucky’s 2.5 TC/G ranks 10th all-time among all Hall of Fame pitchers, and 1st between 1915 to 1970.

Overall, the career of Bucky Walters is marked by longevity, statistical dominance, versatility, and a uniquely colorful career. His 30-year career is highlighted by 1939 NL-MVP, and 1939 All-Around Player awards.

Although I am a grandson with a clearly biased perception of the man I grew up calling “Grandpop”, upon review of the above factual account of his career, I have to ask.

What does it really take to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

No one made a deeper and more lasting impression than Bucky Walters, your grandfather.  His personality, character and ability made me a life-long follower of his career.

Joe Brown

He was an outstanding fielder with a great arm, a fine hitter with power, and a good base runner. In addition, he had an inner firethat was displayed in his competitiveness and tenacity.

Joe Brown

It was my early experience with Bucky that directed meinto baseball as a career.

Joe Brown

Your grandfather had a wonderful career and a reputation tomatch. He was highly respected as a pitcher and as a man.

Joe Brown