Rube Walker: Long Time Mets Pitching Coach: (1968-1981) & Inventor of the Five Man Rotation

Albert Bluford Walker was born on May 16, 1926, in Lenoir, North Carolina. He was the oldest son of three boys to Albert & Beulah Walker.

Growing up on a farm he learned farming & how to cure meats. Albert played football, baseball & was a wrestler.

The six-foot left hand hitting catcher, became known as Rube. In 1944 he signed as an amateur free agent with the Chicago Cubs.

Walker spent four years in the minor leagues batting .354 at AA Nashville in 1947, which was good enough for him to make the 1948 Cubs squad.

MLB Career: In the first two months of his 1948 season, he appeared mostly as pinch hitter, getting his first start behind the plate on May 31st. 

Multi- 5 RBI Game: On September 3rd, he had one the best offensive games of his career, where he collected three hits, with a HR & five RBIs in a 10-1 win over the Pirates at Forbes Field. The 4th inning three run HR came off Mel Queen. In the Cubs five run 5th inning, Walker added a two run double off Vic Lombardi.

Two days later Walker hit a two run HR off the Pirates Elmer Riddle & drove in four runs in an 11-3 win over the Pirates, in the second game of a doubleheader.

Overall in that rookie season, he hit a career best .275 with 5 HRs 26 RBIs & a .371 on base %. Behind the plate he caught 44 games throwing out 44% of would-be base stealers. 

Walker would spend parts of four seasons in Chicago, backing up Cubs catcher, Mickey Owen. In those four years the Cubs never finished better tan seventh.

Midway through the 1951 season, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers, along with Andy Pafko, & Wayne Terwilliger.

Brooklyn Dodger Career:
Walker would spend the next eight years with the Dodgers where he would finish his playing career. Seven of those years were in Brooklyn, as a backup to
Hall of Fame catcher, Roy Campanella. In those years the Dodgers won a Championship & four pennants although Rube only played in one of those World Series.

Walker with his strong arm, was tough to run on, he put up some impressive defensive numbers behind the plate. He threw out 60% or more of would-be base stealers twice & 50% or more of runners trying to steal, seven times in his eight seasons with the Dodgers. 

1951 Playoff Series: In 1951 Rube Walker was behind the plate, for the last two games of the
playoff series with the rival New York Giants. Main catcher Roy Campanella placed in the first game but got injured.

On October 2nd, in the second game of that series, Walker collected three hits, highlighted by an 8th inning two-run HR off the Giants Al Corwin in the Dodgers 10-0 win in the Polo Grounds

On October 3rd, in the historic third game, Walker went 1-4 at the plate striking out twice against Sal Maglie. In the bottom of the 9th, Brooklyn was ahead 4-1, then started out the inning with two singles off Don Newcombe. Ralph Branca was brought in relief to face Bobby Thomson. 

Years later, Walker said he called for an inside pitch to brush back Thomson, but the pitch didn't come inside enough. Thomson it over the left field wall winning the pennant for the Giants, with the most famous HR in MLB history, dubbed "the Shot Heard 'Round the World".

In the Dodgers 1952 pennant season, Walker saw action in 14 games in May & had four multi-RBI games. On May 21st, in a 15-run bottom of the 1st inning at Ebbett's Field, Walker collected two RBI singles & scored twice in the inning. In July with another chance to play steadily, he collected RBIs in five of six games. 
On the season he batted .259 with one HR & 19 RBIs. 

In 1953, Brooklyn won another pennant with Walker playing in 43 games batting .242. In 1954 he had his Dodger season high, five HRs in the season in just 155 at bats.

1955 Brooklyn Championship Season: In 1955 the Dodgers won their only championship in the rich history of a team forever known as The Boys of Summer. Although he did not play in the World Series, he played in 48 regular season games hitting .252 with two HRs five doubles & 13 RBIs.

In 1956 he played in 54 games, batting .212 with three HRs & 20 RBIs behind that seasons MVP Roy Campanella. 

1956 World Series: In the 1956 Fall Classic he saw action in two games. In the Game #4 loss, Walker came in as a pinch hitter in the 5th inning grounding into a double play. He hot another at bat in the final Game #7 loss grounding out as well.

In 1957 he played with the Dodgers in their final season in Brooklyn, then made the move with them to Los Angeles. Walker was devastated when his friend Roy Campanella became paralyzed in a car accident on Long Island. The Dodgers went with Johnny Roseboro as their main catcher & after batting just .114 into July Walker was placed on waivers.

Quotes- Don Drysdale: "Why does it have to be Rube? I love to pitch to him. When it comes to setting up the hitter, there were none better".

Career Stats: In his eleven-year playing career he caught 466 games behind the plate. Rube threw out 46% of would-be base stealers (95 of 242).  He made 39 errors in 2219 chances with a .982 fielding%. He turned 32 double plays making 204 assists. In his career he would have 19 or more assists in six different seasons.

At the plate, he batted .227 with 35 HRs 69 doubles 3 triples 192 RBIs & 114 runs scored in 608 games. He struck out 213 times with 150 walks posting a .294 on base % & .635 OPS.

Retirement & Coaching Career: After retiring as a player, Walker would manage in the minor leagues from 1959 through 1964. He was then hired as a pitching coach under his former Dodger teammate & good friend, Gil Hodges who was now managing the Washington Senators.

Walker would become one of the first successful pitching coaches in baseball who was not a pitcher in his playing career. Walker was a great instructor for his young pitchers, as he was patient, soft spoken and low key.

Mets Pitching Coach: In 1968 he went with Gil Hodges to the New York Mets in his same role as pitching coach. Walker would remain with the Mets for 14 years, (he & Joe Pignatano) were the longest tenured of any Mets coaches in team history.

Trivia: Rube Walker would serve as pitching coach for five different Mets managers (Gil Hodges (1968-1971) Yogi Berra (192-1975) Roy McMillan (1975) Joe Frazier (1976-1977) & Joe Torre) (1977-181).

Along the way Walker helped developed many young Mets pitching talent, most notably Hall of Famers Tom Seaver & Nolan Ryan. Other notable pitchers were Jerry Koosman (222 career wins) Jon Matlack (1972 NL ROY) Tug McGraw (coined the term Ya Gotta Believe & posted 25 saves in the 1973 Pennant Season) Gary Gentry (13 game winner in 1969 & threw two career one hitters) Craig Swan (1978 NL ERA leader) Jesse Orosco (144 career saves- all time leader in appearances 1252) Buzz Capra (1974 NL ERA leader) Jeff Reardon (367 career saves) as well as Pat Zachry, Neil Allen & Mike Scott.

Five Man Pitching Rotation: Walker would revolutionize the modern-day pitching rotation along with Gil Hodges, as they were one of the first to develop the five-man pitching rotation. 

Walker's Law:
Walker believed there were only so many pitches a pitcher could throw before having trouble with his arm. He enforced "Walkers Law" making sure none of his pitchers threw without his knowing about it. On off days pitchers would alternate throwing & running to build up their leg strength & conditioning. 

He looked over his young pitchers like father to the sons he never had. Walker didn't stress the mechanics of pitching as much as he did conditioning & mental approach to the game. He always had his pitchers ready physically & mentally.

Quotes- Jerry Koosman: " He didn't want to be the reason for somebody hurting an arm. It was said that he babied our arms. He probably did & he was probably also the reason we lasted as long as we did. We learned a lot from Rube Walker, we didn't give him all the credit he deserved because he had another shining star above him in Gil Hodges".

Amazing Mets: In 1969 it was Rube Walkers young pitching staff that became the best in baseball shocking the world by winning the World Series.

Walker's pitching staff was first in the league in wins (100) & shutouts (16) second in ERA (2.99) third in saves (35) & fourth in strike outs (1012). The staff was led by Cy Young winner Tom Seaver, he would win three Cy Young Awards with Walker as his pitching coach.

The Mets staff wasn't as strong in the NLCS, but their offense helped them sweep the Braves, three straight. In the 1969 World Series Mets pitchers were outstanding. They held the mighty Orioles down to just nine runs in 44 innings & a .146 batting average.

In the national spotlight everyone knew how good the Mets pitching was & the team is forever remembered as The Amazing Mets. Walker humbly enjoyed the success & praise he received.

After the Championship:
Over the next two seasons, his staff had the N.L.’s best overall ERA both years. In 1970 a 3.45 ERA & in 1971 a 2.99 ERA. From 1970-1972 the Mets pitching staff would be first in the NL in strike outs each year.

Tragedies: Late during Spring Training 1972 in West Palm Beach Florida, Walker was golfing with Gil Hodges, along with Mets coaches Joe Pignatano & Eddie Yost. After finishing up & planning for dinner, Hodges suffered a fatal heart attack, he was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead by 5:45 PM. Hodges untimely death was devastating to his family, his friends especially Rube Walker & the Mets organization.

In a three-year period, Rube lost both parents, his brother, Vernlon & his best friend Gil Hodges.

For the 1972 season, the Mets named Yogi Berra manager, the team finished third. Walker's latest young pitcher star Jon Matlack went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

In 1973 Walker coached another great Mets staff, as Tom Seaver won his second Cy Young Award. Regulars Koosman & Matlack continued their greatness giving the Mets the best starting staff in the league. Tug McGraw became one of baseball's best relievers & newcomer George Stone won 12 games going 12-3.

The Mets forged a great comeback going from last place in August to winning the NL East in on the last day of the season. In the NLCS they beat the mighty Big Red Machine, holding the Reds to a .186 batting average & just eight runs over five games.  

In the World Series the Mets came within one game of a Worlds Championship, losing Game 37 to the Oakland A's who would win three straight World Championships (1972-1974).

Walkers pitching staffs would remain at the top of the league the next few seasons. The Mets topped the NL in strike outs in both 1975 & 1976, as Tom Seaver won his third Cy Young in 1975. In 1976 the Mets staff topped the league in ERA.

Walker stayed with the Mets through the bad years of the late seventies, highlights included, seeing Craig Swan lead the league in ERA in 1978 & see Jerry Koosman finally win 20 games in 1976.

 Post Mets Career: After the 1980 season, the Mets fired manager Joe Torre. After 14 years, Walker left the Mets organization as well. He followed Torre to Atlanta where Torre was now manager & became the Braves pitching coach. Joe Pignatano also went along. 

Pignatano had been a teammate of Gil Hodges & Walker in Brooklyn. He was on the coaching staff with Walker under Hodges from Washington to New York, He too spent 14 years as a Mets coach along with Walker. 

There he helped guide the Atlanta staff to a 1982 NL Western division title. Walker remained with the Braves through the 1984 season. 

He then served as a scout with the St. Louis Cardinals, until his passing in 1992.

Family: In 1950 Rube met his future wife Mildred in a soda shop. They were married in February 1951 & remained together until his death 42 years later. Together they had three daughters, Debbie, Barbara & Janet. They also have six grandchildren.

Passing: In 1992 Walker passed away from complications of lung cancer at the age of 66 in Morganton, North Carolina. He had been involved with baseball for just under 50 years.

Verlon & Rube Walker
Verlon "Rube" Walker: Rube's younger brother Verlon, also nicknamed Rube in his older brother's honor, played minor league ball & was a Chicago Cubs coach (1961 1971). 

In 1971 he passed away to leukemia at the age of 42. Upon his death, the Cubs established the Verlon "Rube" Walker Leukemia Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital which still exists today as the Rube Walker Blood Center.

Verlon's daughter & Rube's niece, Leigh Ann lost her father when she was three years old. She had few memories & never remembered her father's voice. She began a quest to find a recording of her father's voice. 

Leigh Ann & her Father Verlon Walker
Many former Cub greats like Fergie Jenkins & Bill Williams had fond memories of Verlon but no recordings of his voice either.

Eventually her story was picked by ESPN. Eventually a Pastor in North Carolina gave the family a cassette recording of Vernlon  introducing MLB player Bobby Richardson at a local church function in 1966.


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