Sep 10, 2016

Former MLB Pitcher: Tom Walker (1972-1977) & How He Nearly Missed Being Aboard Roberto Clemente's Plane Crash

Robert Thomas Walker was born November 7th 1948 in Tampa, Florida. The six foot one right handed pitcher attended Eastern Florida State College getting drafted in the first round (9th overall) of the 1968 amateur draft by the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1971 Rule 5 draft, he was drafted away by the Montreal Expos. On August 4th, 1971 he pitched one of the best minor league games ever, throwing a 15 inning no hitter striking out 11, as his Dallas Fort Worth Spurs, beat the Albuquerque Dodgers. His manager that day was Cal Ripken Sr. There was only one longer minor league no hitter, it lasted 17 innings in 1909.

Walker debuted in April 1972 with Montreal Expos. He would spend three seasons with the Expos, mostly as a relief pitcher, making just 8 starts in 1974. His best season came in 1973 when he went 7-5 with four saves posting a 3.63 ERA, striking out 68 batters walking 42 in 91 innings.


After that season he was thought to possibly replace Mike Marshall in the closers role as he moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers. That didn't work out & he was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Woodie Fryman prior to the 1975 season.

In Detroit he had his worst season, going 3-8 with a 4.45 ERA. Over the next two years he pitched briefly for the St. Louis Cardinals, California Angels & once again for the Expos. After spending 1978 in the minor leagues in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, he officially retired. He & his wife settled in the Pittsburgh area where his son, future major leaguer Neil Walker was born.

In his six year career he was 18-23 with 11 games saved & 91 games finished. He struck out 262 batters with 142 walks in 414 innings pitched in 191 games, 17 starts.



Trivia: After the 1972 season he played winter ball in  Puerto Rico with team mate Balor Moore. There he became friendly with Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. As New Years Eve 1972 / 1973 approached, he helped Clemente load a plane full of supplies for relief efforts to victims of a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua.

Walker wanted to accompany Clemente on the flight, but the plane was full & Clemente encouraged Walker to stay back to have a good New Years. As it turned out Clemente's plane would crash off the shores of Puerto Rico killing him & three other passengers.

Family: Besides his son being a big league second baseman, his brother in law is Chip Lang & father in law of Don Kelly. Chip Lang spent two years pitching for the Expos going 1-3 in 30 games. Don Kelly is an eight year MLB veteran playing for the Pirates (2007) Detroit Tigers (2009-2014) & Miami Marlins (2015). The outfielder, first baseman & third baseman is a lifetime .232 hitter.
 

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