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To The Mound By Way Of Third:

BUCKY WALTERS

         

    Johnny Vander Meer's first no-hitter grabbed all the newspaper headlines on June 12, 1938, but a small story elsewhere in the sports section that day reported of a trade that would have a significant impact on the Cincinnati Reds in future years.

 

Earlier that day - prior to Vander Meer's no-hitter at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn - Reds general manager Warren Giles had engineered a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

Had Vander Meer not made history with his second no-hit game, the story of the trade which brought Bucky Walters to the Reds might have gotten the big bold headlines.

 

Walters was a third-baseman­turned-pitcher, but he had accomplished little for the Phillies. He led the National League in losses in 1936 with 21 and had only a 4-8 won-and-lost record when the Reds acquired him. But Bill McKechnie, the foxy Cincinnati field manager, felt Walters was about to bloom into one of baseball's best pitchers.

 

 

 

 

    And that's exactly what the big right-hander did. Three times he became a 20-game winner for the Reds. He helped pitch them to a pair of National League pennants. In 1939 he was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player when he won 27 games and posted a league-leading earned run average of 2.27.

Had it not been for Jimmie Wilson, Walters' former manager in Philadelphia, however, Bucky never would have become a major league pitcher and would be remembered only by the most devout Phillies fans as a decent-fielding, light- hitting third baseman.

 

Wilson, impressed with Walters' strong throws from third to first, forced Walters to make the move to the mound during spring training in 1935.

 

Walters resisted the move. "But don't know anything about pitching," he told Wilson, who later related the incident to New York sportswriter Harold Parrott.

 

"You've got a month of this spring training season left to learn," Wilson said. "As a third baseman, you'll starve."

 

Bucky had been acquired by the Phillies from the Boston Red Sox and he was hitting only .216 when he went to Philadelphia during the 1934 season.

 

He batted .250 for Philadelphia the rest of the year, but when Johnny Vergez was brought in to play third base in a trade with the Giants, Walters' days as an infielder were doomed.

 

As an incentive, Wilson offered Walters a $25 bonus for every game he won. That was enough to convince Bucky to take the mound.

    Walters had a strong and supple arm. He threw a natural sinker. He possessed the perfect combination to make an outstanding pitcher. For a while, it looked like he never would be able to realize his potential. But when got to Cincinnati, his fortunes changed. Jimmie Wilson played a role there, too.

The Phillies fired Wilson after the 1938 season and he was hired by the Reds as a coach in 1939. His influence on Walters was never greater. Bucky even wound up pitching to Wilson when the latter was forced to become activated in 1940 because of an injury to regular catcher Ernie Lombardi.

 

Walters, a native Philadelphian, broke into professional baseball in 1929 with High Point, North Carolina, in the Piedmont League. During that rookie season, he played every position except catcher. At the end of the season his contract was purchased by the Boston Braves.

         
       

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