For nearly 10 years the answer to the question, "Who is the best third baseman in the National League?" was Mike Schmidt. But last year there was a new answer, Tim Wallach, which in turn leads to some other questions. Like, "Who is Tim Wallach?"
In 1985 the Montreal third baseman won his first Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger awards as the best fielder and hitter at his position. In the field he led NL third sackers in putouts, assists, chances and double plays, and at the plate he had 22 homers, 81 RBIs and a .260 batting average. He is what used to be called a ball-player's ballplayer, largely unrecognized south of the border but thoroughly appreciated throughout the league. In the All-Star voting last year, Wallach finished fourth among third basemen, behind Schmidt, Graig Nettles and Ron Cey. Pitcher Ron Darling of the Mets speaks for the players when he says, "He's a good man to play against. There's no bull. He plays hard and doesn't show you up."
Now that Schmidt is back at third full-time for the Phillies, Wallach has heavy competition for best in the league. "Tim won't tell you," says his wife, Lori, "but he loves to be compared with Mike Schmidt. I'm sure he'd like to have the kind of year where there was no doubt that he was the best third baseman."
Wallach's quiet nature is one of the reasons he has never generated much publicity. "I've always been low-key," he says. "Fans sometimes think I'm lackadaisical because if I strike out three times, I just walk back to the dugout and don't throw anything." Despite his apparent composure, Wallach is an intense competitor. He broke his left toe 10 days before the start of the season, but by Opening Day he was playing—in pain.
Because of the injury, Wallach got off to a shaky start. He made four errors in his first seven games, as many as he did in his first 79 last year, and he had only one hit in his first 13 at bats. Manager Buck Rodgers sat him down for one game—against his vehement objections—and in the Expos' home opener last Tuesday the rested Wallach hit a three-run homer and a single and drew two intentional walks. He also had a three-hit game against the Cardinals on Friday and a game-winning double on Sunday.
Wallach's hitting prowess is much less surprising than his ability in the field. He was a first baseman at Cal State-Fullerton, which he led to the NCAA title in 1979. A first-round draft choice of the Expos, he spent only two years in the minors before reaching Montreal as an outfielder. When Larry Parrish was traded to the Rangers before the '82 season, Wallach was converted to third base, and although he hit 28 homers and drove in 97 runs, he also made 23 errors. The turning point came in the spring of '84 when former Pirate great Bill Mazeroski, an Expo instructor at the time, pointed out that Wallach was straightening up before he made his lateral move. Staying down improved his range dramatically. With work, his hands became softer, his arm more accurate. He also developed an uncanny ability to track down a foul pop. In a game against the Braves on April 10, Wallach chased a pop-up along the leftfield line, overran it, leaned back and caught the ball, falling flat on his back. He lay there for a few moments, then got up smiling. A few more crowd-pleasers like that and Wallach might get the recognition he deserves.