Cool Hand Curt Walker

Curt Walker, OF
.304 Career BA
1919-1930

We had not planned to spend the weekend with Curt Walker, but sometimes an everyday writer’s mind works that way. Once it attaches to a subject, the substantive matter simply comes spewing forth, in drips or droves. In Curt’s case, our use of the great Beeville, Texas native outfielder, who was also one of the really good contact hitters of the 1920s MLB scene, came easily to a point I have been wanting to touch upon since our mighty SABR work, “Houston Baseball, The Early Years, 1861-1961” came out in 2014.

In our major history book on Houston’s long and full baseball history, there wasn’t room to cover everything in great detail and Curt Walker’s 1919 time and field accomplishment-limited first professional season with the Houston Buffs was fairly shortened to an appropriately brief caption to a generously large photo of him on page 129.

The caption read as follows: “Curt Walker, who was born and died in Beeville, TX, had lackluster numbers during his year in Houston.”

True. In 1919, Walker batted only .215 (29 for 135) with only six of his hits going for doubles. The other 23 were all singles for the first year man in his 41 games for the Houston Buffs of the Class B Texas League.

The 22-year old Walker (BL/TR) began his first 1919 pro season as an outfielder for the Augusta Dollies of the Class C Sally League, where he batted .278 in 53 games (54 for 194) and a distribution of 39 singles, 11 doubles, 3 triples, and 1 home run. The Cardinals pretty much controlled things at both of Walker’s first year minor league stops so we are fairly safely assuming that they are responsible for the move from Augusta to Houston.

Unfortunately for me, I was beginning my senior year in high school here in Houston when Curt Walker died in Beeville on September 9, 1955. By the time I was old enough to care, my also now late dad had none of the details we now seek on how these changes happened in detail – and how the really big move in the rookie’s first season occurred at all.

My dad and Curt Walker played some town ball together down in Beeville during Curt’s early 1930s retirement years. Dad and Curt were great friends – like much older Curt to my much younger father – brothers close. Dad would have known the details we are about to next share with you about what was so special in the matter of Curt Walker’s rookie pro season. So far, I haven’t been able to find all the answers in Retrosheet, Baseball Almanac, or Baseball Reference. Have not tried The Sporting News, nor have I used them for any other query. Not sure how user friendly they are to folks like us. We shall see.

Here’s the deal. – If you check out Curt Walker’s stats online, you will see that his 1919 rookie season does not go to rot on a South Texas open window for open bottles of “flat Coke.” Curt Walker concludes his first season by going zero for 1 as a member of the New York Yankees on September 17, 1919.

Let me repeat that destination for you relative to the kinds of stats that Curt Walker had been putting up in 1919, especially at Houston. It was not a record that was designed to get anybody up to the roster of the New York “freakin” Yankees, even in 1919 – or maybe even especially in 1919, with this growing devotion to earning one’s way up through gradient levels of farm team experience.

Post-Original Publication Contribution, 2/26/18

Respected contributor Cliff Blau added the following earlier today by comment: “The 9/18/1919 Houston Post reported that Walker was released by Houston when he stopped hitting, then Augusta signed him, eventually selling him to the Yankees.”

Retrosheet was no help with individual game reports for 1919, but Baseballs Almanac and Reference were both helpful in pinning down the fact that Curt Walker went 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th of the second game in a twin bill loss by the Yankees to the forthcoming 1919 AL Champion Chicago White Sox at the Polo Grounds. The fated date was September 17, 1919.

The blossoming Black Sox took the first game, 2-0. Then they put the crusher on the Yankees in the second game. By the time young Walker was called to pinch hit for pitcher Ernie Shore in the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees were down 11-2 and simply looking for a way to end the day. – But what did Walker do?

Given his later MLB establishment of himself as an excellent contact hitter for average, we had to wonder? Did he avoid the “K” from his very first day?

Luck was with us. I found a copy of the game coverage in the next day’s New York Times, September 18, 1919 sports section. Curt Walker was retired by Bill James of the White Sox on a harmless fly ball to left fielder Nemo Leibold in the 9th inning of Game Two the previous afternoon.

Curt Walker did not strike out. If it were a tryout, however, it was a one-at-bat short one. Walker was back playing at Augusta in 1920. Baseball Reference indicates that Augusta then sold Walker’s contract on July 27, 1920 to the New York Giants for $7,000.

Walker would hit .304 lifetime for his work with the Yankees, Giants, Phillies, and Reds. His .337 mark and 196 hits for the 1923 Phillies would be his best season. In 1926, Curt hit 20 triples – with 2 of them struck in the same inning of a single game for the Reds against the Braves. What are the odds of any batter ever hitting 3 triples in the same inning? – – Right. And I agree.

And thanks for your patience. This article has been overdue from my heart for way too long.

So, how does young Curt Walker get a call to pinch hit for the Yankees near the end of his first less than stellar minor league season?
Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Two For The Road

Curt Walker was sometimes known as “The Undertaker” because of his regular off-season, then forever job. He owned a funeral home in Beeville. He was an undertaker.

One time, Curt walks into the American Cafe in downtown Beeville with Dad and me. He stops inside. Starts listening to a table of ranchers talking about a coyote problem they are all having with their small livestock disappearing. Finally, when they reach a point in which they get stuck on the date of their worst previous coyote issue, Curt, who was standing up, coffee in hand by this time, leans in over the shoulders of a few just long enough to ask, “Wasn’t that the year that the owls were so bad?”

Silence. Followed by chatter resumption. Now the group is debating. What was the year the owls were so bad?

Curt says nothing else. He looks over at my dad and me and smiles. Then he urges us to find a table of our own. I’m in high school now. And I’m feeling like big stuff.

Second story: If at all, this next one is only going to be funny if you can accept my word that Curt Walker was not as uncaring as it may make him sound, but he wasn’t either as thoughtless as it may make him seem. Curt was just one of those kinds of people who would say anything deadpan-faced, if he thought it would generate a distractive stir, or, maybe relieve him from taking serious responsibility for his actions.

Dad and Curt went deer hunting at our Bee County ranch one time. They split up down there to hunt from separate sites. Dad says he heard a lot of shots going off. At the end of the day, Dad had one small buck, but Curt had five!

“Good Lord, Curt,” Dad said. “You are going to be in big trouble if the game warden stops us. Couldn’t you leave some deer for your grandchildren?”

“Why should I?” Curt answered. “My granddaddy didn’t leave me any buffalo!”

Forget humor. It is the bemusement of pathos this second story evokes.

Although Dad and Curt remained friends to the end, it was their last joint hunting trip.

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “Cool Hand Curt Walker”

  1. DAVIS O. BARKER Says:

    Walker was one in a string of good hitting outfielders that came out of Texas during the era … they were not flashy, just very steady … as a result, they were never given much attention by the HOF voters despite relatively extensive careers hitting at or near the .300 level.

    CARL REYNOLDS (LaRue, Tx) jumped straight from Class D Palestine to the majors posting a .302 average over 13 major league seasons

    JOE MOORE (Gause, Tx) hit .298 during his twelve year big league experience

    CURT WALKER (Beeville, Tx) hit .304 in his dozen years in the bigs

    ROSS YOUNGS (Shiner, Tx) hit .322 in his decade of service, despite being plagued by Bright’s Disease much of his career…

    Thankfully, Youngs was eventually selected to the HOF by the Vet Committee some 45 years after his early death at age 30

  2. Cliff Blau Says:

    The 9/18/1919 Houston Post reported that Walker was released by Houston when he stopped hitting, then Augusta signed him, eventually selling him to the Yankees.

  3. DAVIS O. BARKER Says:

    $7,000 dollars worth …

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