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Mudville: August 17, 2022 5:45 am PDT
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Walker: Brush With Destiny

That Tom Walker has such a thoughtful approach to not only his baseball career but to life in general is a testament to who he is and the impact he has had on the people around him.

The former first-round pick spent the majority of his six-year career with the Montreal Expos before arthritis ultimately helped bring his playing days to a premature end. While his Major League career seems rather pedestrian when viewed in and of itself, Walker’s experiences – in the Majors, the minors and winter ball in Puerto Rico – helped mold him into a kind, reflective individual who genuinely appreciates the chances he’s been given as well as the people he has encountered along the way.

Walker, 73, authored one of the greatest pitching performances in Minor League history in 1971 when he tossed a 15-inning no-hitter in the Double-A Texas League. That night in Albuquerque proved to be the jumping off point for the rest of his life, impacting him in ways of which he could never have dreamed.

He also spent time with Roberto Clemente while playing Winter Ball in Puerto Rico and was one of the last people to see the legendary Hall-of-Famer alive before he perished in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972.

Walker not only helped Clemente load the plane with supplies that he was taking to aide Nicaraguan earthquake victims but tried to join him on the flight only to have Clemente instruct him to stay behind because there was no room on the plane.

“That 15-inning no-hitter led to me being picked in the Rule 5 Draft, which led me to Montreal and then led me to Puerto Rico, which led me to meeting Roberto,” said Walker, whose son Neil was Pittsburgh’s first-round draft pick in 2004.

“My life and my belief in God tell me there is a reason for everything.

“That game changed my life on and off the field.

Official team portrait of members of the Montreal Expos baseball team as they pose on the field at Jarry Park, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1973. Tom Walker is #20

“When I went to Montreal, I met a man who was younger than me by six years, [fellow former Expos pitcher] Chip Lang. He introduced me to his sister. We literally met in March and were married in November and have been married for 47 years. We have four kids with the youngest being Neil. That game literally changed my life.”

‘That game’ was also one of the highlights of an all-too-brief career that began as a prep star in Florida.

MAKING SOME HAY IN THE SUNSHINE STATE

The Walker family didn’t start off in Florida. Rather, Terry and Mary Walker were born and raised in southern Alabama during the 1920s and through The Great Depression. They worked in cotton and corn fields and had little education. Mary was also an orphan, adopted and raised by her aunt and uncle, Eda and Tom Snell [which eventually led to their son Tom being named after his great uncle].

What they did have was an incredible work ethic and desire to give their children as much as they could so after the couple was married, they moved to Florida, where Terry Walker first worked for a brewing company for 50 cents an hour and then later in the phone industry.

“I’d watch my dad and he’d come home and his clothes were drenched in sweat,” Walker said. “We didn’t have air conditioning so my dad would run a water hose on the roof and that cooled the roof down a little so we could exist in some comfort. I watched them growing up and the support they gave me for my career.

“We lived off lima beans and ham hocks and collard greens and that always gets me thinking about how far in this country we have come from where my parents were to where I ended up. I think of them often.”

Walker’s parents provided him with the opportunities that allowed him to be one of the many shining stars on the Chamberlain High School championship teams in the mid-60s, a squad that also included future All-Star Steve Garvey and future Major Leaguer Mike Eden. Garvey would also go in the first round in 1968 to the Dodgers before enjoying a superb 19-year career in L.A. and San Diego. Eden, meanwhile, would go on to get selected by the Indians in 1971 [27th round] and would later have short Major League stints with the Braves [1976] and White Sox [1978].

“My goal was to throw sinkers and sliders, turn them into outs and have quicker innings on double plays. I never thought of where I was in the pitch count, never.”

“That team was loaded,” said Walker, who also points to Jim Notaro, who was a running buddy of him and Garvey as kids, as someone who continues to play a significant role in his and his family’s life. “My teammate was Steve Garvey. He’s not too bad and he was constantly challenging himself to do better. He was an athlete in three sports and I played three sports. How can you watch a guy who was your best friend growing up and he’s challenging himself so how can you not challenge yourself? It [playing with Garvey] had an effect on me.

“And Mike Eden had about a year in the Majors. That whole Tampa Bay area was loaded with really good players.”

Walker went to Brevard Junior College [now called Eastern Florida State College] and was selected in the first-round [ninth overall] by the Orioles in 1968. He is one of 93 players in school history to be drafted and one of only four who reached the Major Leagues [Doug Jennings, Mandy Romero and Carlos Reyes]. Bill Stein also played with Walker and went on to have a 14-year Major League career, the bulk of which was spent with Texas and Seattle, but because he was drafted out of Southern Illinois he is not listed on EFSC’s list of players drafted.

While Walker wound up with Miami of the Class-A Florida State League following the draft that was not Baltimore’s intention.

“Once school was over they sent me to Miami but I had no intention of staying there,” Walker said. “They said let’s see how the kid pitches and as it turned out, I pitched pretty well. They were going to send me to Bluefield, West Virginia [of the Rookie Level Appalachian League]. I was out at the airport getting ready to go and someone from the club came to the airport and they were chasing me down telling me you’re not going anywhere, that another pitch got hurt so you’re going to stay right here. So, I went back and stayed in that league for two years.”

Walker appeared in 18 games [15 starts] for Miami in 1968, going 7-4 with a 2.97 ERA. He followed that up by posting a 9-5 mark with a 2.82 ERA in 16 games [14 starts] in 1969 following the end of his semester at The University of Tampa.

He graduated in May 1970 but was drafted into the Army shortly thereafter and, after completing boot camp, was sent to a reserve unit in Clearwater. The Orioles had Walker in Stockton of the Class-A California League when he was able to get back on the field and he once again proved he could handle the competition, going 8-8 with a 2.81 ERA in 21 games [16 starts]. It set the stage for what would be a life-altering 1971 season in the Double-A Texas League, which was part of the Dixie Association.

EVERYTHING IS BIGGER IN TEXAS

Despite his success in his first three seasons – Walker had a 2.78 ERA in 343 career innings – the Orioles still weren’t sure what they had in their former first-rounder. Walker bounced between the pen and the rotation at the start of the season but the jumbled approach didn’t seem to bother him. He won three games in a five-game set against Shreveport in early May, one of which came as a starter, and had won seven consecutive decisions before dropping a 1-0 affair to San Antonio in early June.

“I started some games, moved in and out of the pen some but I don’t know if I was ever in the closer’s role,” Walker said. “I probably closed some games as well but back in that era everyone was supposed to finish a game. A lot of games were complete games and I had my share of them.

“The biggest thing that helped me from moving from A-ball to Double-A was playing in the instructional league in the winter. I had a little shutdown period, but nothing huge. Living in Florida you could pretty well stay in shape all year round. It was the same thing going from Double-A to the Majors. You played winter ball and that took you almost up to Spring Training.”

Walker noted that the competition on his own team impacted him in the same manner as the back-and-forth he had with Garvey a few years earlier. Only this time, his foil was fellow pitcher Wayne Garland, who would ultimately lead the league in victories [19] and ERA [1.71]. Garland’s work ethic impressed Walker and pushed him to do better.

“Did the competition in high school help drive me? Yes, obviously,” Walker said. “But there was a pitcher on the team that helped drive me in Double-A as well. Not to discredit [DFW manager] Cal [Ripken], Sr., because he was a major driving force. But Wayne Garland had an incredible work ethic and he could throw. He was a really good pitcher and here I was trying to keep up with him not knowing that he was trying to keep up with me.”

Not even Garland could keep up with Walker, though, when he took the mound on Aug. 4 at The Sports Stadium in Albuquerque.

THE NIGHT THE ZEROES WENT UP

Walker’s big night almost didn’t take place. It was raining in Albuquerque that day and Walker, figuring he wouldn’t be taking the mound, was reading Pyscho-Cybernetics, a personal development book written by Maxwell Maltz in 1960. Walker was comfortable and eventually fell asleep in the clubhouse only to be awakened by Garland.

“I was reading a chapter called ‘In the Zone’ and I had read that chapter several times,” Walker said. “He actually coined that phrase. Then Garland comes in and says aren’t you going to pitch tonight? I said yea and he told me there were two outs in the top of the first. So, I threw on my pants, tied my shoes and went out.

“I threw a few pitches and the game was on. Fifteen innings later, the game was over. There were some amazing events that night for sure.”

Walker was going up against a team that featured future Major Leaguers Lee Lacy and Steve Yeager and was pitching against another former first-round pick in Jim Haller. The Dodgers had selected Haller with the 9th overall pick out of Creighton Prep High School in Nebraska in 1970. The two pitchers traded zeroes for 14 innings but Walker had the edge – he struck out 11 and walked only four while Haller scattered nine hits and walked three in 14 innings. Unlike Walker, though, he would never reach the Major Leagues. He pitched six seasons in the minors before retiring.

“It had to be the ninth inning when games are normally over that I realized I had a no-hitter,” said Walker, who was ultimately inducted into the Texas League Hall of Fame because of his effort. “I knew there was something good going on but then I realized the game wasn’t over. The next time you go to the ballpark, look at the scoreboard. It goes to 10 innings and then it starts over again. Everything is erased and you’re back in the first inning again.

“It was crazy. You’re thinking oh boy, when is this game going to get over. I was at the end of the dugout and no one came over to visit me but the trainer. Finally, Ripken came down in the top of the 15th and told me this is it; you’re going to go in the bottom of the inning, win or lose. The attitude I had was that I was going to finish the game. I was never taught to quit on anything by my family. I was raised that way and it carried over to my baseball career. I had no intention of quitting. My one intention was of finishing and that was finishing with a no-hitter.”

As it turned out, Walker wouldn’t have to go past 15. Haller was lifted in the top of the 15th for David Allen, a former 24th-round pick [1969], who was finishing up the second of what would be a five-year minor league career. Allen walked Mike Reinbach with two outs before Enos Cabell, who would go on to have a 15-year career that included two seasons with the Dodgers, rocked an RBI double off the centerfield wall on a 3-2 pitch that provided Walker with the lead.

Walker quickly worked his way through the bottom of the 15th, completing one of the most historic performances in minor league history. United Press International, which described Walker as the sandy-haired, 22-year-old youngster, reported that he had thrown 176 pitches.

The game marked the second-longest single-pitcher no-hitter in Minor League history, according to Lloyd Johnson, who authored The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. The longest such effort, according to Johnson, took place on May 10, 1909, when Winchester’s Fred Toney threw a 17-inning no-hitter against Lexington in the Class-D Blue Grass League. He fanned 19 and walked only one.

“I think I threw 193 pitches but some said it was 186,” Walker said. “Not that they really kept track that much back then. Ripken would tell you that he went by the bat. If they were getting hits, it was time for you to come out. But they weren’t getting hits so he left me alone. Not many guys were throwing that many pitches I don’t think.

“I never went out there thinking that I was running up a bunch of pitches. I actually prided myself on getting outs quickly on ground balls. My goal was to throw sinkers and sliders, turn them into outs and have quicker innings on double plays. I never thought of where I was in the pitch count, never.”

Walker said that when the game was over, as he and his teammates were preparing to get on the bus for the return trip to Dallas, Albuquerque manager Monty Basgall put three cases of beer on the bus.

“I thought that was very nice,” he said. “But it didn’t last very long with those thirsty animals on the bus.

“The next day we were playing in Arlington [Texas] and Ripken did come up to me when I was shagging fly balls during BP and asked me how do you feel? I said I was a little tired and he said good because you’re pitching in four days. I think I went four or five innings in that one and was done.”

Walker has a framed scorecard from that game hanging in his home and it continues to be a source of conversation.

“One of my sons, Sean, looked at it one day and said this terrible, you went 0-for-6,” said Walker, who added that Sean pitched for George Mason University before injury caused a premature end to his career. “I guess that was terrible. Obviously, though, when you throw a 15-inning no-hitter, people take notice and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Walker finished that season at 13-9 with a 2.25 ERA and what would be a career-high 168 innings pitched. And yes, people noticed. He was selected by Montreal in the Major League Phase of the Rule V Draft on November 29.

“I thought being unprotected by Baltimore was a break,” Walker said. “That year, they had four 20-game winners and had guys stacked up behind them to fill out the 40-man roster,” Walker said. “Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally were all pretty good guys and would be around for a while and [Baltimore manager] Earl Weaver only cared about one thing and that was winning. And, he had a winning group of pitchers, that’s for sure so, they put me on the Triple-A roster.

“I was playing in the Instructional League in Clearwater with the Orioles and Ripken was managing the team. He came up to me and said you just pitched yourself off the club. How’s that, I said. The Expos picked you in the Rule V Draft. I got a call from Jim Fanning, the Expos general manager, that day. He told me I was going to Puerto Rico to play [winter ball]. And the next thing you know, I’m playing winter ball. I was coming off a 15-inning no-hitter and Montreal saw that and said here is your chance. It was a great opportunity and it launched my Major League baseball career.”

Tom and Neil Walker.

OH, CANADA AND A BRUSH WITH DESTINY

Walker spent the winter in Puerto Rico, where he met Clemente, who was one of his childhood heroes. Clemente was managing Santurce while Walker split his season between San Juan and Caguas. That winter in the Caribbean proved to be a positive experience that led Walker into his rookie season of 1972.

A solid spring training put Walker in position to land a spot in Montreal’s bullpen. He made his Major League debut on April 23 at Parc Jarry [Jarry Park] in Montreal against the Cardinals. Walker pitched the ninth inning, walking Joe Torre, the first batter he faced. Ted Simmons and Jose Cruz followed with infield popups before he got Lou Brock to ground out to second.

Walker picked up his first career win on June 16 in the first game of a doubleheader at Atlanta. He went 1 1/3 innings while striking out three. Walker had a fine rookie season, going 2-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 46 games. He also picked up a pair of saves for a team that finished in fifth place in the National League East. He then headed back to Puerto Rico that winter where he would experience yet another life-altering event.

“I got to know Roberto briefly,” Walker said of his first winter in Puerto Rico. “I wasn’t a close friend with him but you couldn’t help but say hello and introduce yourself. That [first winter] season was over and when the next season started I went back to play and that’s when the earthquake in Nicaragua happened.

“It was between Christmas and New Year’s so there was no baseball being played. Roberto had asked for supplies [to be donated] and reached out to his countrymen so that supplies could be sent to Hiram Bithorn Stadium. I asked if he minded if I would help. I had no commitments and I wasn’t going back to the States and he said he was glad to have me.”

Walker helped Clemente and his people load the plane, which had already made several trips to Nicaragua, that New Year’s Eve. Because he had helped load the plane, Walker wanted to join them on the flight to help unload it. Clemente, however, wouldn’t let him.

“He said there was no room for me,” Walker said. “There was a pilot and the co-pilot and they were brothers. There was a third seat that Clemente was in and two other seats were taken by two young men so I got in a car and stopped to grab something to eat around six or so.

“I got back to my apartment and a neighbor came over and said did you hear what happened to Roberto. The car had a radio but everything was in Spanish and I didn’t understand it well enough so that was the first time I heard that he had perished. It was quite a shock to me, to be honest. Things could have gone very differently for me that evening.”

The world, not just the baseball community, mourned Clemente, who had demonstrated how much of a humanitarian he was. Walker was impacted in a very personal way.

“I took it with me to the [1973] season in a very private way,” Walker said. “The team I was playing for in Puerto Rico had three Expos on it but the majority of players were Pittsburgh Pirates. [Pirates pitcher] Steve Blass didn’t need to play winter ball but he was there. One of the impact moments after the crash happened when I was going to a Catholic mass to memorialize Roberto. Steve Blass actually conducted the comments from the Pirates organization; I remember that distinctly.

“My wife and I weren’t married at the time so I didn’t have anyone there to share all those things with. I was a pretty private person and didn’t talk about it much. I had a lot of thoughts like things I could have changed but overall, I didn’t bring it up or talk about it.”

AU REVOIR MONTREAL

Walker, like much of baseball, started the 1973 season with a heavy heart. However, he proved his worth in an Expos pen as one of closer Mike Marshall’s primary setup men. He went 7-5 with a 3.63 ERA and four saves in 54 appearances out of the pen. It should have been enough to earn him a prominent spot in Montreal’s bullpen in 1974 after Marshall was traded to the Dodgers. It was not.

Manager Gene Mauch didn’t just hand the closer’s role to Walker. In fact, he didn’t seem to have much interest in Walker at all. He had made only nine appearances through the end of May and though he was pitching to a 3.00 ERA Mauch didn’t feel inclined to add to Walker’s workload. He appeared in 13 more games [22 innings] through July 5, after which he was shipped to Triple-A Memphis of the International League.

Walker started five games in Triple-A, went 5-0 in five starts and pitched to a 1.35 ERA before getting called back to Montreal in early August. He made 11 appearances upon his return, eight of which were starts. He went 2-4 in the starts and pitched to a 4.35 ERA overall in 49 2/3 innings upon his return. His best effort was a complete-game victory at Wrigley Field on Sept. 25, during which he allowed one run and scattered six hits.

He also picked up the first of his five career hits on Aug. 18, a double against Houston in Montreal. Walker added hits on Aug. 23 and 28 to extend his hitting streak to three games.

“In 1973 I felt like my contribution to the club was an established Major League pitcher,” Walker said. “I never thought of myself as a star because I wasn’t. I thought of myself as a good Major League pitcher. When I was there we never got to the playoffs but we got close one year and I thought I contributed pretty well.”

Montreal, however, traded Walker, along with Terry Humphrey, to Detroit for Woodie Fryman on Dec. 4. While he would pitch a full season in 1975, appearing in 36 games [nine starts], it was clear that his health was becoming an issue. Walker was dealing with arthritis and the discomfort and pain was getting worse each season.

The Cardinals purchased his contract on Feb. 3, 1976, and Walker spent the bulk of the season at Tulsa of the Triple-A American Association where he went 9-5 with a 3.76 ERA in 21 games [16 starts]. He also threw 19 2/3 innings for St. Louis.

Walker resigned with the Expos for the 1977 season but was plucked off waivers by the Angels late in the year. It was a year in which he had his last gasp as pro and it came in Denver of the American Association. Montreal had sent him to Denver, where he went 7-0 with a 1.97 ERA in 20 games, before recalling him in mid-June. It was apparent by July that he was no longer the same pitcher he had been in his first go-round with Montreal so he was placed on waivers and grabbed by the Angels on July 13, who assigned him to Salt Lake City of the American Association.

The last Major League appearance on his career came on July 23 in Minnesota during his lone appearance for the Angels. The last pitch of his Major League career produced a Lyman Bostock 6-4-3 triple play.

“I was lights out in Denver and couldn’t do anything wrong,” Walker said. “They couldn’t help but bring me up. Gene [Mauch] was gone and Dick Williams was the manager. I pitched okay and thought I was throwing pretty good. Someone got knocked out early in one game and I came in and go the win and then lo and behold I got a phone call the next morning telling me that I had been put on waivers and that the Angels had picked me up.

“My last game was against Minnesota and who is managing the Twins but Gene Mauch, the guy I played for in Montreal. They had the bases loaded and no one out and Mauch puts on a steal, everyone was running. He lit a line drive and it turned out to be a triple play.”

Walker signed with the Pirates for the 1978 season and despite a solid spring, he was sent to Columbus of the Triple-A International League. He tossed eight innings over six games before calling it a career.

“I was competing for one of the last spots on the roster and they sent me to Columbus,” he said. “I was dealing with arthritis and I tried to pitch through it. They just came in one day and gave me a pink slip and said we don’t need you anymore. We were in Columbus and my wife and son Matthew got in a car and went home.

“My velocity went down, there was no doubt about it, and my hit rate went up. I couldn’t overcome it. The arthritis had just become a part of life and I couldn’t recover from pitching a game. I had lost two or three miles an hour on my sinker so I had to go out and start working for a living.”

Walker remains active in helping raise money for the Arthritis Foundation in the Pittsburgh area down through West Virginia. He is hopeful that someday a cure for osteoarthritis, from which he suffers, will be found even if it is not in his lifetime. He also focuses on raising funds for research into a cure for pediatric rheumatoid arthritis as well as doing work with the Pirates alumni Association and raising money for equipment that can be used at a local youth center.

A SECOND CAREER AND DAD OF A FIRST-ROUND PICK

While Walker was faced with the idea of beginning a new career at the age of 29, he didn’t blink. He moved from his baseball career to his corporate career as easily as he threw a sinker in his prime.

“A month later I had a job selling something,” he said. “It was reality man. You go from not making a ton of money as an average Major League player to leaving the game to a man who is thinking ‘I gotta get a job’. We didn’t have much money and that drove me to try and find a good job. I had to go through two or three steps to get where I wanted. The drive I had in baseball to work hard and compete I was able to take into my working life. Not that baseball wasn’t work.”

The Pirates offered Walker the opportunity to be a roving pitching instructor but he had no desire to lead the wandering life of a minor league coach. He said he had already spent enough time on long road trips and that it was time to be with his wife and four kids.

Walker’s life remains rooted in baseball in many ways, though. Neil Walker had a 12-year career, the majority of which was spent in Pittsburgh. Neil Walker has spent time since his retirement doing broadcasting work for the Pirates. His oldest son, Matthew, was drafted out of George Washington University in the 37th round [2000] as an outfielder and spent five seasons in the Detroit and Baltimore organizations, going as high as Triple-A before an injury ended his career.

Additionally, Carrie Walker, Tom’s daughter, is married to Pirates bench coach Don Kelly. She played collegiate basketball for Division I Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, earning Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year honors before moving on to play professionally for a year in Ireland. She had a health scare on Jan. 6, 2021 when she suffered a stroke in her home. Fortunately, Kelly was home at the time and able to get her to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“I’m here to report she is doing well,” Tom Walker said. “She and my wife walk five miles at least once a week and it’s amazing to see how far she has come back.”

Walker has had his share of health issues as well. He has a condition called optic neuropathy. It caused him to have a stroke in his left eye, which he said “left him no intelligent vision in that eye”.

“I have some peripheral vision in my right eye but my ophthalmologist said it could never happen in my right eye,” Walker said. “But, several years after my left eye went bad, my right eye had a stroke. I was in Chicago when it happened. They put me on a drug called Prednisone and they saved enough sight in my right eye where I can use it to read and drive.”

Walker went to New York in 2018 to watch Neil play at Yankee Stadium when he met Michael Schain, who is legally blind, and his mother, Bobbi. The meeting affirmed Walker’s belief that everything happens for a reason.

“He asks me to sign a ball but I didn’t have a baseball,” said Walker, who added that his ophthalmologist Dr. Lindsay McCauley has been an important part of dealing with and helping him through the challenges of his condition. “He tells his mom he’s going to go get a baseball and goes to the team store and gets a ball, comes back and has me sign it. Then he says he’s going to help me with my vision. I’m thinking holy cow, a guy who is blind is going to help me with my vision.

“He put me in touch with some high names in the ophthalmology world. There is no cure for the problem I have but it’s people like Michael that make you realize there is a purpose for me in my baseball life to be able to relate to others. Seeing the greater good in Michael, he’s not the only one I have crossed paths with several people along the way, has made incredible marks in my life.”

One of the many people who has left an indelible mark on Walker is his wife, Carolyn, to whom he has been married for 47 years.

“I have had no one who comes close to how she backs me up and helps me with anything I have to deal with, whether it’s arthritis or my vision problems,” Walker said. “She’s a very strong person who I can depend on and she’s always had my back for sure. She is a guiding force for our children and grandchildren and is someone I can always count on as a friend and family member. She is someone I love dearly.

“I have to reiterate how God has blessed me and wife beyond words. You can’t even imagine how blessed I am; it’s been incredible life.”

Walker also points to his mother’s cousin, Edsel McGowan, as an inspiration for what he did on the field and continues to try and do in his everyday life. McGowan, who lives in Georgia, is 97 and still works three days a week in his local government job.

“I look back at the work ethic and drive and desire he has and I see it in someone who is still with us at 95, 96 years old,” Walker said. “It’s something about that that carries on throughout our family. He is an amazing man for me to chat with.”

Finally, Walker credits the spirit of Clemente and the work of Dr. Francis Redican with saving his life during the 2019 World Series. Walker, whose son-in-law was the first base for the Astros at the time, was in town to watch the Series when he began to feel pressure in his chest. He called his doctor in Pittsburgh who immediately put him in touch with Redican.

“My doctor checked me out and said there was something going on with my heart,” Walker said. “He called the cardiologist and by 10 a.m. the next day I was having a stent put in what is called the widow maker artery. I had two blocked arteries. I’m lucky, though, I am still on top of the dirt. People like Francis Redican quite possibly saved my life. That’s Roberto’s hand in saving my life.”

Walker took part in an interview at The Roberto Clemente Museum last month with curator Duane Reiter to discuss his recollection of Clemente and the night he died for an upcoming Netflix documentary. Former Pirates Blass and Manny Sanguillen as well as two of Clemente’s children were also interviewed.

“Several of the Latin players are talking to Pope Francis about making him a saint,” Walker said. “Maybe God worked through Roberto to not allow me to get on that aircraft. That’s my own story. There has to be more. I’m sure other people can document other things that Roberto did in his life that can be looked at for sainthood.”

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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