Harry Walker

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Harry "The Hat" Walker's 1949 Bowman baseball card

Harry William "Harry the Hat" Walker (born October 22, 1918 in Pascagoula, Mississippi – died August 8, 1999 in Birmingham) was a professional baseball player, manager and coach.

Walker was a member of a distinguished baseball family. He was the son of former Washington Senators pitcher Ewart “Dixie” Walker and the brother of Fred “Dixie” Walker, like Harry an outfielder, left-handed hitter, and one-time National League batting champion.

World Series star, NL batting champ

"Harry the Hat" got his nickname from his habit during at-bats of continually adjusting his cap between pitches — there were no batting helmets in his day. His batting title came in 1947, when he hit .363 in a season during which he was traded from his original team, the St. Louis Cardinals, to the Philadelphia Phillies. The previous year he was one of the stars of the Cardinals’ 1946 World Series championship team; it was Harry’s double that scored Enos Slaughter from first base in Game 7, the decisive run that defeated the Boston Red Sox. He knocked in six runs during that Series, and batted .412. Harry lacked his brother Dixie’s power - he hit only 10 home runs in all or parts of 11 seasons in the National League - but he compiled a .296 lifetime batting average with the Cards, Phils, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds and was to be famed throughout his coaching and managing career as a batting tutor.

After prepping as a skipper in the Cardinals’ minor league system beginning in 1951, Walker was called up from Rochester in the AAA International League on May 28, 1955, to replace Eddie Stanky as Cardinals’ manager. However, the change backfired: the Cards plummeted two places in the standings under Walker, losing 67 of 118 games. Harry was replaced by Fred Hutchinson at the end of the 1955 season, and it would be another decade before he would again manage in the majors.

Manager in Pittsburgh, Houston

During that exile, he returned to the Cardinal farm system to manage, and served four years (1959-62) as a St Louis coach. Finally, after piloting the Jacksonville Suns to the 1964 International League pennant, Walker was hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates as manager, replacing Danny Murtaugh, who stepped down for health reasons. Although the Pirates did not win a pennant during Walker’s first two seasons, he made an immediate impact. His skills as a batting coach transformed the Pirates into the National League’s top offensive team, and the team battled for the pennant until the closing days of the 1965 and 1966 seasons – each season finishing third behind the champion Los Angeles Dodgers and the runner-up San Francisco Giants. But when the 1967 Pirates stumbled to a disappointing .500 mark in mid-season, Walker was let go on July 18 in favor of his predecessor, Murtaugh.

Eleven months later, on June 18, 1968, fortune reversed itself. The Houston Astros dismissed skipper Grady Hatton and hired Walker, still well-known from his stint as manager of the Texas League Houston Buffaloes during the late 1950s. Featuring players like Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, and Don Wilson, the Astros finished last in 1968, but their record under Walker was an encouraging 49-52. In 1969, they contended for the National League West Division title before fading to finish 12 games behind the Atlanta Braves. After back-to-back 79-83 marks in 1970 and 1971, Walker was sacked August 26, 1972, in favor of Leo Durocher; ironically, with the Astros at 67-54 and in third place at the time of the firing, it was Walker’s best season in Houston. Over his managing career, he won 630 games, losing 604 (.511). After his firing, Walker returned to the Cardinals, teaching hitting to their young minor league players.

College coaching

Walker was the first head coach of the UAB Blazers baseball team, founded in 1979. Over the next ten seasons he compiled a 211-171 record, including Sun Belt Conference championships in 1981 and 1982.

Practicing what he preached

Harry Walker was profiled quite flatteringly in Jim Bouton's memoir of the 1969 season, Ball Four. In the book, Walker is seen as a knowledgeable manager who has good advice for his charges. Although many of the players complain that Walker talks too much, Bouton is careful to point out that Walker always makes a good point and has good advice. This is notable because Bouton was unafraid to show his earlier manager, Joe Schultz, in a much less flattering light. Bouton even tells a humorous story of how Walker himself would follow the advice he always gave when he played in an old timer's game. The players jokingly would yell tips that Walker always said, such as "hit the ball to the opposite field and break up the double play." Walker would then proceed to single to the opposite field, then break up the double play.

Walker died in 1999 in Birmingham. He is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Leeds.

References

  • "Harry Walker (December 19, 2007) Wikipedia - accessed December 27, 2007,

External links