Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#612 - Luke Walker

Luke Walker looks plenty happy showing his form in spring training while his memorial electrical tape patch dances in the wind. On good days that’s what his curve ball did as well. It could be nasty on hitters but also nasty on Luke and unfortunately for him in ’73 it was much more the latter than the former. Back then many writers thought that Luke’s pitching embodied his last name a bit too much. But it wasn’t all his fault. After his big coming out season in ’70 Luke’s career pretty much went in the wrong direction, much of it due to injury. If it wasn’t bone chips in the elbow in ’71 or the bad back that really compromised that curve in ’72 and ’73 then it was the shot to his temple off a Johnny Bench bat early in ’74 that messed up his balance the remainder of the year. So Luke was n full decline mode when this photo was shot but you couldn’t tell that by the big smile. Attitude can be a wonderful thing. The photo from his Traded card appears to be from pretty much the same location as his regular card.

Luke Walker grew up in Dekalb, Texas, a town very close to the borders with Oklahoma and Arkansas. There he played the big three sports in high school where in baseball he threw 12 no-hitters and averaged 16 strikeouts per game with his big heater and curve. After graduation he attended Paris Junior College – in Paris, Texas for you Sam Shepard fans – in ’61 and ’62 and then moved on to Texarkana College from where he was signed as a free agent by the Red Sox in ’63. That summer he pitched well in A ball but then not so hot in Double A. After that season he was taken by Pittsburgh in the first year draft and then in ’64 in Double A went 8-14 with a 3.72 ERA in the rotation. After a poor start in Triple A in ’65 he improved a ton at the lower level, going 12-7 with a 2.26 ERA and 197 K’s in 183 innings. Those numbers got him a short look up top where he remained to start off the ’66 season before returning to Triple A to go 11-11 with a 2.77 ERA. In ’67 he was off to a 3-5 start with a 2.96 ERA when the injuries began with an elbow banged up in a game that killed the rest of his season. But the Pirates had seen enough and in ‘68 he spent the season on the Pittsburgh roster where he took tentative steps back while working in the pen, posting a low ERA and adding three saves while exhibiting pretty good control. In ’69 he moved to what would become a more common role for him as a swing guy, starting 15 of his 31 games and working most of the rest as a set-up guy.

In 1970 Walker had a sort of bipolar season. He began the year in the rotation and was 3-2 by early May when he was moved to the pen. There he had a streaky run and didn’t get his first save until mid-June, though he kept getting wins in his decisions. When he won a rare start in mid-July he was 7-3 and he returned to the rotation full-time in August and threw a shutout. He won his next two, lost three straight, and then won his last five to become the team’s winningest pitcher. He followed that up with a quality start in the playoffs and was ready to win 25 in ’71. But that year the elbow issue returned with the chips and while Luke at least got to stay in the rotation the whole season the results weren’t as good and his post-season was pretty messy though he did get a ring. In ’72 the bad back led to some DL time and back to his swing role. After his messy ’73 Luke was pretty happy to get out of town in the sale to Detroit but it really wasn’t a panacea, especially injury-wise. In an early-season exhibition game against Cincinnati he got nailed in the head by a Johnny Bench line drive which sort of took the wind out of his sails the rest of the season in which he went 5-5 with a 4.99 ERA. He was released early the following season and signed with Houston for whom he went 7-7/4.33 as a starter in Triple A in his final year. Luke went a combined 45-47 with a 3.64 ERA, 16 complete games, seven shutouts, and nine saves for his MLB line and 47-52 with a 3.23 ERA in the minors. In the post-season he was 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his three games.

While playing Luke worked off-seasons on a family farm in New Boston, Texas, to which he presumably returned when done playing on a full-time basis.

1965 was probably Luke’s best season in the minors as ‘70 clearly was up top. Chuck Norris would make that surname popular in Texas a few years down the road.

Topps gets the word play going again in the headline. In ’74 Luke joined Mickey Lolich, John Hiller, and Woodie Fryman as lefties on the Detroit roster.

Since Luke doesn’t give us too much to work with post-baseball there is room for more Watergate catch-up stuff:

10/10/12  - The Washington Post released the results of FBI research into the break-in and other action associated with CREEP. The investigation revealed a few of what would become known as the “dirty tricks” enacted by both CREEP and The White House in connection with the ’72 election. Named among the tactics were the stalking of various family members of opposing candidates; the forging of documents purported to be written by opposing candidates on those candidates' letterheads; and the leaking of false information to the press. The best example of the last two was a letter released to a local paper in New Hampshire that claimed that Edmund Muskie had laughed at a derogatory term used in reference to French Canadian-Americans. It was a big deal because there were lots of them in New Hampshire and the letter was sent to the paper a week before that state’s primary. Muskie, who was actually ahead of Nixon in the polls about a month earlier, defended himself outside the newspaper office in what became known as “the crying speech” although the YouTube video doesn’t look that dramatic. The charge and his response contributed to the dismantling of his run. The Post found out that the author of the letter was a White House aide named Richard Clawson who bragged about it while trying to pick up a woman at a bar who happened to work for the paper. Though he later denied it officially the damage was done.

The Post also interviewed three attorneys from around the country who said they were contacted by a California attorney named Donald Segretti who asked them to disrupt various democratic campaigns in their home areas. Segretti was a consultant to CREEP who had also been a lawyer for the Treasury Department. He had served in Vietnam with the three attorneys, all who turned him down. He was financed by a slush fund that amounted to as much as $700,000 controlled by John Mitchell, first as Attorney General and then as the chairman of CREEP.  

That gets us back to where I got the first round.

The hook-up gets a bit tough since Rick Stelmaszek barely played. Let’s go the NL route:

1. Walker and Matty Alou ’66 and ’68 to ’70 Pirates;
2. Alou and Jose Cardenal ’71 Cardinals;
3. Cardenal and Rick Stelmaszek ’74 Cubs.

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