Friday, December 28, 2012

Gee Walker: The Running Man

Outfielder Gee Walker began his career with the Tigers in 1931. He would remain in the Motor City through the '37 campaign, topping the .300 mark five times in that span. This included a career-best average of .353 in 1936. The Mississippi-native had good speed, swiping 223 bags in fifteen seasons, but developed a reputation for being impulsive and inattentive on the base paths. In fact, there were times when Walker seemed unable to control himself.

Not only was he thrown out trying to steal during an intentional walk one afternoon, but on June 30, 1934, he got picked off twice in the same inning. After Hank Greenberg singled, Walker reached base on an error. Edging too far off the bag, he got hung up when the opposing catcher made a snap throw to first. Greenberg attempted to bail him out by bolting for third, but ended up being thrown out. Walker moved to second on the play and, less than a minute later, got caught off base again. Detroit Manager Mickey Cochrane was furious, suspending Walker for ten days and fining him $20. This failed to curb Walker's impetuous ways.

Hall of Famer Luke Appling remembered Walker’s exploits that season vividly, sharing the following incident with a Chicago Daily News reporter: “We were in Detroit one day. It seemed that (player/Manager) Mickey Cochrane had just informed the erratic base running Walker that the next time he got caught it would cost him $50. Halfway through the game, Gee was footloose again. There was a peg to second base and Walker knew he was a goner. ‘Drop it!’ he yelled at the Sox infielder. ‘Drop it and I’ll give you twenty five bucks!’”

Despite hitting at an even-.300 clip in '34, Walker was limited to just 98 games during the regular season. When the Tigers claimed the AL pennant and moved on to the World Series against the Cardinals, Cochrane used the reckless outfielder exclusively a pinch-hitter. Even in a diminished role, Walker managed to get himself into trouble. After delivering a game-tying single in the ninth inning of Game 2, he was picked off by pitcher Bill Walker (no relation) while engaged in a shouting match with St. Louis bench jockeys. He would make just one more appearance in the remaining five games.

Traded to the White Sox in 1938, Walker finished his career with the Reds in 1945. According to a 1976 Baseball Digest article, he suffered from severe arthritis during the latter part of his career.

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