1969 BASEBALL PLAYER OF THE DAY- LUKE WALKER- PITTSBURGH PIRATES

The first thought when I hear the name Luke Walker is Pirate announcer Bob Prince who seemed to have a nickname for most of the players would call him Luscious Luke Walker.  The left hander would pitch most of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates before finishing his career with a season in Detroit.

Luke Walker was 6’2″ 190. He would have a career record of 45-47 with a 3.64 ERA. He would split time between starting and the bullpen, he had 100 career starts in 243 games pitched.

Walker had brief cups of coffee with the Pirates in 1965 [ 2 games} and 1966 [10 games} he would spend 1967 in the minors before his rookie season in 1968. In 1968 he pitched mostly out of the bullpen- getting 2 starts in 39 appearances. He was 0-3 that year but pitched very well with a 2.02 ERA in 62.1 innings pitched. A sign of things to come though- in those 62.1 innings he had a fine strike out rate- over a strike out an inning-66 great but he walked 38 which wasn’t good. Control problems would be an issue throughout his career.

In 1969 Walker would get more chances to start games- in his 31 games he started 15, he really didn’t distinguish himself going 4-6 with a 3.64 ERA.

1970 would be Luke Walker’s most successful season. He was twenty-six that year. He went 15-6  and a 3.04 ERA as the Pirates made the post -season for the first time in ten years. Walker was a spot starter that year again- appearing in 42 games he started 19. His 15 wins led the Pirates in victories, he also picked up three saves. He even finished 10th in the NL Cy Young voting.

Walker was a contributor in 1971 to the Pirates World Series championship season. He started 24 games went 10-8 with a 3.55 ERA. I recall hearing I believe it was Steve Blass years later on a Pirates broadcast say that of the Pirate pitchers on that 1971 World Series championship team that Luke Walker had the best stuff.

A career highlight came on July 18th 1971- in the second game of a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Three River Stadium- Walker took a no-hitter into the 9th inning. Rookie Dodger catcher Joe Ferguson broke the no-hitter up with no outs in the 9th with his first major league hit- a home run. Walker gave up no more hits- a one-hitter.

Luke Walker is a great trivia question answer. Who was the first pitcher to throw a pitch in a World Series game played at night? Luke Walker- Game 3 1971 World Series. I am sure he would like to forget that game though. Against the Orioles he never made it out of the first inning. He got 2 outs in the first inning, gave up 3 runs a 40.50 World Series ERA. The good news though is Pirate rookie Bruce Kison entered the game and shut the Orioles down the rest of the way and another rookie Milt May had a pinch hit single winning the game for the Pirates. Walker didn’t appear in any more World Series games.

The Pirates would win their third straight NL East title in 1972 but Walker wasn’t much of a contributor- hampered by injuries he only started 12 games, appeared in 26 going 4-6 with a 3.40 ERA. 1973 was a terrible season for the Pirates- the Great Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash in the off- season and the pitching staff fell apart. Luke Walker had a very bad season going 7-12 4.65 ERA and was sold to the Detroit Tigers in the off-season.

1974 would be Luke Walker’ final major league season. With the Tigers he was 5-5 with a 4.99 ERA. He started 9 of the 28 games he appeared in. The Tigers released him in April 1975 and at the age of 31 Luke Walker’s baseball career had ended.

A couple notes on Luke Walker- I mentioned the other day in Gary Peters profile what a great hitting pitcher he was. Well Luke Walker was a notoriously bad hitting pitcher. In his career he was 11-188 a .089 average. 107 of the outs were strikeouts. All 11 hits were singles. Once when Henry Aaron was playing in Pittsburgh near the end of his career with the Braves, Walker got a rare single. Aaron was at first base and the ball at been thrown to first. There was a standing ovation and Aaron thought it was for him and took his cap off. Walker told him “Put your cap back on Hank, they are cheering for me.”

Luke Walker is now seventy-four years old.

 

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