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THE VOICE OF THE PIRATES
Jack Mann
September 05, 1966
Loquacious Manager Harry Walker exhausts his Pittsburgh players with continuing lectures on how to play the game, but his ear-weary team could win the pennant
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September 05, 1966

The Voice Of The Pirates

Loquacious Manager Harry Walker exhausts his Pittsburgh players with continuing lectures on how to play the game, but his ear-weary team could win the pennant

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When an imperfect Pittsburgh Pirate stands before the desk of Manager Harry Walker (see cover), listening to a filibuster of constructive criticism, he has a choice of three objects on which to fix his gaze. He can look into those brown, Doberman pinscher eyes that seem to beseech reason, earnestly and a little sadly, as the lips persuade and persuade and persuade: "If I punch this wall three or four times and it don't move for me, don't you figure I ought to open the door? You got to see what's happening to you, and study, and adjust. Like I said to Musial...."

Or, like a man in a dentist's office reading magazines he wouldn't have at home, the player can scrutinize the group picture of the Tiffin team of the Ohio State League in '37 ("I hit .370 but they released me"). More likely, his eye will focus on the large manila poster lettered in Walker's fine Alabaman hand. Propounded by the executive-hunters of U.S. Steel, "a pretty good outfit," the poster is headed: The Personal Qualities of Successful People, and it lists a dozen attributes that separate the chiefs from the Indians. Attitude is on top, Knowledge on the bottom. Some of the Pirates call the compendium "that goddam thing," but others call it "Harry's 12 commandments." The irreverence is apt, for these are the tablets a disillusioned Harry will have to shatter if his word-weary team does not win the National League pennant.

A perceptive player might note that Adaptability ranks eighth, one notch ahead of Leadership, a quality of which Harry the Hat is intensely, almost outrageously, proud. The extrasensory osmosis by which he feels he transmits the fervor of Garibaldi to his troops simply does not work, and he probably wouldn't be reelected in a closed ballot. But he has given his men purpose, discipline and, most important, that least important quality, knowledge. Walker does not in any Churchillian sense lead the Pirates and, in fact, his attempts to do so bore them. But because he is fundamentally a teacher, he has made half of them better baseball players than they were, and that may be good enough. If he does not lead the Pirates he does direct them—which is all any but the very best of managers can do—because he believes his handwriting on the wall, and he has adapted.

Walker's first significant adaptation took place in 1938, the day he discarded what might have been his 1,002nd theory on baseball, if it had worked. As a 20-year-old rookie outfielder with Montgomery in the Southeastern League, he was on first base when a lock-cinch double-play ball went to the second baseman. "I didn't have a chance to take the shortstop out with a slide," Harry recalls, "but I figured he couldn't throw if I went in standing up. His name was Chosen, and he had a few words for me: 'Get the—out of the way.' "

The throw hit Walker in the Adam's apple, and he couldn't talk for three months. He has been making up for it ever since. It is said of some men that if you ask them what time it is they will tell you how to make a watch. Ask Harry and you may get Einstein's space-time-continuum theory, with diagrams. On ships or shoes or sealing wax he can expound for a nonstop hour, but it is the subject of hitting a baseball that really turns him on. Let a middle-aged baseball writer idly pick up a bat and hold it without the knuckles precisely lined up and the lecture is on.

"Now, where are my hands? And where is the fat part of the bat going to be? Ain't no way you can hit that pitch. But now, suppose I'm here, you see? If it's a slider and it moves in on me, I can give it this, because my hands are here and I'm waiting on the pitch. But the slider to a right-handed batter is something else. You know why a slider has to be low to a right-hander? Here, let me see that bat a minute. This towel here is home plate...."

On and on. Matty Alou, .260 lifetime, strokes along at .341, leading the league, using a heavier bat and certain "little things" Walker taught him about hitting to left field, little things too occult for Matty to reveal. "He is one of the best," says Jos� Pagan, a .242 hitter hitting .269. "I see what he do for Mateo, and I try it." So do others: Gene Alley, the nonpareil shortstop, up from .238 to .287: Manny Mota, .267 to .349. Jesse Gonder, the "bad" catcher nobody wanted, making seven hits in two days and drawing unanimous praise from a pitching staff that knows it needs all the help it can get. Willie Stargell, with a .322 average and 28 home runs, benched against left-handed pitching and accepting it with equanimity because "you can't knock success—we're winning." Alvin O'Neal McBean, the Fireman of the Year in 1964, taking supporting roles in relief and being happy, in a sad sort of way, "because the other guys in the bullpen are going good—and we're winning."

It is not really, for all their levity, a happy ship the Buccaneers sail. The captain stalks the deck of the dugout like a corn-pone Queeg, his klaxon voice pointing out each violation of Thoroughness (quality No. 3), Concentration (No. 4) or Decision (No. 7). Harry Walker is a big, homely sheep dog of a man, pawing desperately in his dedicated effort to be helpful on the field and friendly off it, and often making himself a pain in the neck in his overdone attempts at both. But even in his inadvertent abrasiveness there is a value that may yet raise the flag in Pittsburgh.

"We conducted a little experiment in the spring," said First Baseman Donn Clendenon. "He tried to get me to shorten my stroke. I can't hit that way. I look silly that way. It takes away my value. He wants everybody to hit like him."

Harry Walker was a left-handed Punch and Judy hitter who made 786 hits in big-league games, only 173 of them for extra bases. The zenith of his career was the double (to left center, of course) that spurred Enos Slaughter home with the winning run in the 1946 World Series. He managed the rather remarkable feat of batting in only 41 runs while leading the NL with a .363 average in 1947. So he couldn't be much help to a big swinger like Clendenon.

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