Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#418 - Walt Williams

Just two posts after the big ChiSox team one we get this guy, who played the bulk of his career in Chicago. Plus he is photographed at Yankee Stadium which – were it not for renovations – would have been his new home by the time this card came out. Walt “No Neck” Williams sports some shades and a rarely-seen unhappy demeanor close to the on deck circle. Walt was normally a gung-ho positive guy but playing for the Indians back then put lots of people in a funky mood. ’73 was his only season in Cleveland, though, and it wasn’t a bad one as his average rebounded a bunch and he recorded his personal best in RBI’s. He also broke up former teammate’s Stan Bahnsen’s potential no-hitter with a shot in the ninth inning which must have made Stan real happy about the trade that made Walt an Indian late the prior year. If Walt’s sunglasses are prescription ones they contributed to his not having a card in the ’75 set. More on that below.

Walt Williams was born in Brownwood,Texas, and while growing up would relocate to San Francisco where he was a big three sports star at Galileo High, home a couple decades earlier to the Dimaggio brothers. Always knocked for being small, he would go to City College of San Francisco where he majored in criminology – he wanted to be a cop – and played baseball. After a year there he was signed by Houston and did a number that summer on A ball pitching, hitting .341. Walt was a speedster and batted at the top of the order and he would debut up top the beginning of the ’64 season when he went o-fer in a few at bats and was then plucked off waivers in May by the Cards. For St. Louis he returned to the minors and hit .318 the rest of the way. In ’65 he moved up to Double A Tulsa and hit .330 with 106 runs, 36 stolen bases, and a .375 OBA. When Tulsa moved up to Triple A the next season so did Walt as he produced identical numbers, save for runs (107) and steals (25). After the season he was traded to the White Sox with Don Dennis for catcher Johnny Romano.

The White Sox were a bit more perceptive than the Cards and decided Williams’ numbers the past few seasons warranted a serious look up top and they gave Walt a regular gig in the outfield. He responded with enough hustle – he ran to first base on walks and on one play in the field got an assist on a throw to second from backing up first base after throwing the ball in from the right field corner – to make that year’s Topps rookie team. Though he hit only .240 he had to do so with a recovering broken hand and finished third on the team in average to Ken Berry and Don Buford who both hit .241. But the Sox were good that year and battled for the pennant until the final weekend. In ’68 the team collapsed big, Walt played almost exclusively in right, and after a sophomore jinx start got replaced there by Buddy Bradford and returned to the minors. There he hit .319 with 12 steals in Triple A Hawaii which couldn’t have been all bad. In ’69 he returned to The Show for good, hit .304, and then asked to have his salary doubled, pissing off management. The deal was that he got his wish but was told his playing time would be vastly reduced, which makes no sense to me. The stress of the issues with management and the reduced time contributed to a big drop in his average, but in ’71 under new management he put up probably his best numbers in Chicago. But then in ’72 Walt was the odd man out after Chicago traded for Dick Allen and returned Carlos May to the outfield. Just like in ’70 his numbers came in hard and after that season the Sox, still looking for infield help after trading Luis Aparicio a couple years earlier, sent Walt to the Indians for Eddie Leon.

After his bounce in Cleveland, Williams was traded to the Yankees in a three-team deal in spring training of ’74. He and Rick Sawyer went to NY; Gerry Moses went to Detroit from NY; Ed Farmer went to NY from Detroit; and Jim Perry went to Cleveland from Detroit. But the Yankees had also acquired Lou Piniella from KC and Elliott Maddox from Texas so Walt got precious little time. And when he did play he didn’t hit as his average crumbled to .112 in only 53 at bats. It turned out that his new eyeglass subscription was a tad off and he repaired that by getting new contacts in the off-season. Topps must have figured those numbers were his death knell and din’t give Walt a card for ’75. But Walt came back, hit .281 as primarily a DH, and made even The Boss happy with his hustle. It was a short-lived comeback, though, as another off-season stockpiling of outfielders led to his release early in ’76. That would end his playing time in the States and he finished with a .270 average.

In ’76 Williams hooked up with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan for whom he hit .288 his first season but then soured on what he considered a lack of aggressive play and came back west after the ’77 season. He then played for three years in Mexico, for Monterrey, Chihuahua, and Juarez, hanging his spikes up after the ’80 season. While playing in the US he had returned to Brownwood and from ’81 to ’87 worked at the city’s community center as a mentor for troubled kids. In ’88 he returned to baseball as a White Sox hitting and outfield instructor. In ’89 he played in the Senior League before returning as a coach, first in the Houston system, and then for the Texas one. From ’92 to ’94 he was a manager in the latter chain and went a combined 187-228. He then returned to Brownwood where since ’95 he has been the city’s director of recreation. He also plays a mean game of golf and a couple times has shot under his age which is pretty impressive given that he’s only 68.

Both of the seasons mentioned in the star bullets Walt was his league’s MVP. If his signature is any indication he was probably a pretty good artist.

Folkers and Williams sounds like another law firm but let’s hook them up through baseball:

1. Williams and Dick Allen ’72 White Sox;
2. Allen and Lou Brock ’70 Cards;
3. Brock and Rich Folkers ’72 to ’74 Cards.

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