He didn’t quite make the big leagues, but Wally Fiala must have been able to tell some great stories about his professional baseball career.
The gritty infielder, whose road to the big leagues was blocked by Brooklyn Dodgers superstars like Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges, roomed with the spirited and loquacious Tommy Lasorda for parts of four seasons with the Montreal Royals.
In his biography, The Artful Dodger, Lasorda writes that when he was promoted to the Royals in 1950, his salary was a meager $500 a month, which had to be enough for him and his wife, Jo, to live on.
“To save money, we shared an apartment with my teammate Wally Fiala and his wife, Ruth,” wrote Lasorda. “Besides being truly wonderful people, and good friends, they were the kind of people that had a car. And we needed that car to drive back and forth from the ballpark.”
Aside from sharing a car, Fiala and Lasorda undoubtedly shared some memorable experiences as teammates. For example, Lasorda writes about one unforgettable incident that occurred in 1955. That August, a dejected Lasorda, who had lost his first five starts with the Royals after being demoted by the Dodgers, was walking down the street in Buffalo alongside Fiala, a young Don Drysdale and Johnny Bucha, when a pigeon defecated on his head.
“I looked up at that pigeon and screamed, ‘Why? Why me? Why not one of these guys?”’ wrote Lasorda. “Drysdale started to laugh. ‘I’ll show you, you’ll see!’ I won nine straight games. I couldn’t lose. And when I wasn’t pitching, I used to walk down the street looking for pigeons.”
There’s no word on Fiala’s feelings about pigeons, but that incident was likely one of the tamer tales he could share about Lasorda. Born in West Springfield, Mass., in 1924, Fiala was a 5-foot-9, 170-pound infielder who was a fine all-around athlete during his youth.
He served three years in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school, prior to inking his first pro contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. That same year, he was assigned to Dodgers’ Class-D North Carolina State League affiliate in Thomasville and he topped the league with a .352 batting average.
That performance earned him a promotion to the Dodgers’ Double-A Fort Worth Cats the following campaign, and he’d play three seasons in the Texas city before he was promoted to the Triple-A Montreal Royals in 1950. In 148 games as the Royals’ everyday second baseman that season, Fiala hit .287, registered 75 walks and struck out just 34 times – good for a .373 on-base percentage (OBP).
Fiala returned to Montreal the following season and split his time defensively between first base and second base. The scrappy Massachusetts native hit .285 and a registered a .377 OBP in 106 games to help the Royals to a league championship and a Junior World Series berth, where his club would lose to the Milwaukee Brewers in six games.
Back in Montreal the ensuing campaign, Fiala saw more more time at first base (49 games) than second base (40 games), but he was still his reliable self with the bat – hitting .281 and posting a .373 OBP. Unfortunately, rather than receiving a promotion, the-then 28-year-old infielder was dispatched to the Double-A Mobile Bears in 1953.
After beginning 1954 in Double-A, he was called up to Montreal, where he’d hit .292 in 65 games. He suited up for his final professional season with the Royals in 1955, toiling in 43 games – 18 of them at shortstop – before opting to retire.
Following his playing career, Fiala returned to West Springfield, Mass., and became a police officer. He was a captain with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department for 27 years until he retired in 1988. On November 4, that same year, he passed away at his home at the age of 64.
Nice to get these glimpses of days gone by and the trials (and successes) the long-ago ballplayers faced during their careers. What set is the card of Walt Fiala from?
I love the Fort Worth Cats reference! Another great piece Kevin. Thank you for sharing.
seems like a great career. Too bad no call to the show.
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