October 27, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Former Montreal Expos pitcher Tom Walker died on Monday at the age of 74.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, the final major league organization Walker played with, shared the news of his passing.
Canadian Baseball Network writer and Montreal Expos book author, Danny Gallagher, reported that Walker was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Tom Walker . . . A long-time resident of Pittsburgh, Tom was a part of our local alumni group and was always looking to make an impact on others in the Pittsburgh community,” read part of the Pirates statement.
Walker enjoyed two tenures with the Expos, from 1972 to 1974 and in 1977, posting a 3.57 ERA in 144 appearances.
Raised in Florida
Born in Tampa, Fla., in 1948, Walker showcased a strong right arm at an early age. After attending Chamberlain High School and Eastern Florida State College, he was selected ninth overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1968 MLB January Draft.
In his four seasons as a starter in the O’s system, the young right-hander never finished with an ERA higher than 2.82. On August 4, 1971, he pitched a 15-inning, 176-pitch no-hitter for the Double-A Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs against the Albuquerque Dukes. He completed that season with a 13-9 record and a 2.25 ERA in 31 games, but it wasn’t enough to earn him a call up from the Orioles.
Fortunately for him, he caught the eye of the Expos and they selected him in the Rule 5 draft that November. Walker was elated for the new opportunity with the Expos.
“I nearly jumped through the ceiling when I heard the news,” Walker told the Montreal Gazette. “A sportswriter friend of mine told me first and then a few moments later Mr. Fanning (Expos GM) phoned.
“It was very difficult for a minor league pitcher to catch on with the Orioles. This year it will be even worse. They have the four 20-game winners (Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson) as starters. They have two great new ones for relief in Doyle Alexander and Grant Jackson.”
Great first impression with Expos
Walker impressed Expos manager Gene Mauch early in spring training in 1972.
“He’s got quality stuff. Major League quality,” Mauch told John Robertson of The Montreal Star in late February. “I had a raft of good reports on Walker, not only on his stuff, but on his personality. He’s a tough competitor. Any time a guy can pitch a 15-inning no-hitter and retire the last 22 men in order, you know he isn’t the kind of pitcher who spits up the bit on you.”
Walker felt good early in Expos camp.
“It was pretty demoralizing last year, looking up at the Oriole pitching staff, with those four 20-game winners, and wondering if Earl Weaver even knows you’re alive,” Walker told Robertson.
“I felt I should have had a shot at the majors last year, but what was the point in their inviting me to camp when there’s just no room at the top. I don’t care what kind of pitcher the Expos want me to be – a starter or reliever. My goal is to just make the staff and be ready whenever Gene needs me.”
Walker was employed by the Expos as a reliever and kept putting up zeroes that spring, and his effectiveness led to the release of Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.), a veteran righty who was also vying for a spot in the pen.
Heads north with Expos
The Tampa native made the Expos’ Opening Day roster and saw snow for the first time that April in Montreal. A Montreal Gazette story by Ian MacDonald on April 14, 1972 shares that Expos teammates convinced Walker to throw his first snowball outside the Windsor Hotel.
“I’ll stick to baseballs, thank you,” Walker joked to MacDonald after the snowball toss. “I know what I can do with a baseball.”
On April 23, Walker pitched a scoreless inning in relief against the St. Louis Cardinals in his major league debut. From there, he developed into a reliable reliever for the Expos , posting a 2.89 ERA in 46 appearances in his rookie campaign.
Following the season, he played winter ball in Puerto Rico where his manager was Roberto Clemente. Walker helped load the plane with relief supplies that Clemente had intended to take to Nicaragua on December 31, 1972 following an earthquake. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff and Clemente was killed. Walker was one of the last people to see Clemente alive.
Walker would toe the rubber for two more seasons with the Expos, registering a 3.63 ERA in 54 relief outings in 1973 and a 3.83 ERA as a long reliever/spot starter in 33 games in 1974.
Traded to Tigers
Following that campaign, he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers, along with catcher Terry Humphrey, for left-hander Woodie Fryman. With the Tigers, he recorded a 4.45 ERA in 36 games (eight starts) before the rights to his contract were sold to the Cardinals on February 3, 1976.
He pitched in 10 games for the Cards in 1976 but was released during spring training the following year. Just 28 at the time, he thought his pro pitching career might be over.
“When I was released by the Cardinals, I went home to Pittsburgh thinking that I might try something other than baseball,” Walker told the Montreal Gazette in early June 1977. “Jim Fanning [in charge of player development] called me twice and urged me to take the triple-A position [in Denver in the Expos’ organization]. I decided to take the offer after my wife and I talked it over thoroughly.”
Return to Expos
So, Walker began the 1977 season with the Expos’ Triple-A Denver Bears and posted a 7-0 record with seven saves and a 1.97 ERA in 20 appearances before he was called up in early June.
“We’ll use Walker any way we can,” Expos manager Dick Williams told The Montreal Star. “Short, middle, long relief . . . We’ll see what our needs are.”
Unfortunately, Walker’s second stint with the Expos lasted just 11 relief outings. On July 13, Walker was claimed on waivers by the California Angels.
Walker started the ensuing campaign with the Pirates’ Triple-A Columbus Clippers but he appeared in just six games before opting to retire.
In total, in parts of six big league seasons, Walker went 18-23 with a 3.87 ERA in 414 innings in 191 games.
He settled in Pittsburgh with his wife, Carolyn, and four children. His son, Neil, was selected in the first round by the Pirates in the 2004 MLB draft and played parts of seven sevens with them. Throughout that time and in recent years, Walker remained a regular at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
“What a wonderful man who helped raise a wonderful family,” wrote Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown in a tribute on Monday. “Well done, Tom Walker. Rest in peace, my friend.”