In what will be the final installment of our “Reds By the Numbers” series, we get the pleasure of honoring the best pitcher in Cincinnati Reds franchise history.
Earlier in the countdown, we honored Jose Rijo at #27 as our first pitcher, but it is certainly fitting that for the #31, we honor Bucky Walters for his outstanding achievements as a member of the Reds.
The career of Bucky Walters came about in roundabout fashion. Initially, Walters was a third baseman with the Boston Braves/Red Sox from 1931-1934, until he was shipped to Philadelphia, where he made the transition to the mound.
Philadelphia must not have thought much of young Bucky, as he was not particularly adept at proving his worth on the hill. At age 27, he lost 21 games, leading the National League in that category. His following season saw his ERA hovering around five, and a below .500 record. Time was certainly not on Walters’ side.
After 12 starts in the 1938 campaign, Walters sat at 4-8 with a 5.23 ERA, and the Phillies had seen enough. They were shipping him off to Cincinnati, making him a problem that was no longer theirs. In actuality, he was now about to become a problem for everybody else in the league. Walters’ numbers in the second half of his 1938 campaign were not stellar, but they showed signs of the greatness to come. Switching to primarily sinkers (and who knows what others way to doctor the ball back in those days), Walters’ stuff took off.
His 1939 season is still regarded as the single best season of pitching in the Reds illustrious history. He won pitching’s Triple Crown, which is when a pitcher leads the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. With 27 wins, a 2.29 ERA and 137 strikeouts (in 319 innings! Astounding to think he led the league with that), Walters had seemingly found his niche. The race for the MVP was not even close, as Walters received 18 of the 24 first-place votes, and ran award with the award, as there was no Cy Young trophy yet.
The following season provided more of the same. Walters again led the league in countless numbers of categories, but this time, fell short of the strikeout lead; his quest for back-to-back Triple Crowns would not be realized. Although the personal disappointment of his individual quest may have come up short, Walters would be a key component (if not, THE key component) to the Reds winning their second World Championship, and first where the team they were playing was not trying to lose.
Gradually, Walters’ numbers returned back to earth, and that was due to the offensive lack of production more than anything. Similarly, to how the Big Red Machine came unhinged, the same can be said for the 1939-40 Reds teams that made back-to-back World Series appearances. Walters’ arm eventually began to feel the wear and tear of age, and the innings he had been putting on it, but not without one last surge of his greatness.
Nineteen forty-four saw him make his sixth and final All-Star game appearance, as he went 23-8 with a 2.40 ERA over 285 innings, and completed 27 of the 32 games that he started. He only finished fifth in the MVP balloting, but once again, ranked highest for any pitcher in the league.
As mentioned earlier, the Cy Young Award was not yet enacted, and would not come into play until 1956. Walters finished as the highest pitcher in MVP ballots three times, and assuming those same voters would follow their methods over to the Cy Young balloting, Walters would presumably own three Cy Young trophies. Would that have changed his candidacy for the Hall of Fame? More than likely not, unfortunately. His body of work as a whole was not awe-inspiring with only 198 wins and a career 3.30 ERA, but to say that he was not one of the most dominant pitchers of his time would be criminal.
Walters played under the immortal Bill McKechnie, and he himself even tried his hand at managing towards the end of his playing days. He finished the 1948 season with a record of 20-33 before starting 1949 with a clean slate and went on to finish 61-90 the following year, effectively ending his days of wearing spikes solely in the dugout. He made one last appearance for the team he had debuted with two decades before as he trotted out to the hill for only final four-inning appearance for the 1950 Boston Braves.
It is fitting that the final number on the countdown went to the best pitcher that the Reds have had in franchise history. Both John Franco and Jim O’Toole performed admirably in the same number, but it was Walters that took the cake without question. Surprisingly enough, the Reds have not retired his number. I suppose that if they retired everyone’s number, eventually, they would run out. Alfredo Simon is currently carrying on the legacy.
Destined for a career of mediocrity and forgottenness, Bucky Walters reinvented himself as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Without his contributions, the team would have been waiting a real long time (1975, to be specific) to clear its name and win its first “true” World Championship, amidst no controversy. As the final member of our countdown for Reds number history, we salute Bucky Walters as not only the best to wear the #31, but the best to ever step on the hill for this storied franchise.
This concludes our series on counting down Reds legends through “Reds By the Numbers.” I would like to thank everyone who tuned in and read, no matter if it was for just one, or all, as it you all that makes this possible.
For February, we do not have any crazy countdowns or series planned, there will just be a whole lot more rankings, speculation, prospect talk, more speculation, interviews, and yes, even more speculation.
The Reds are 14 days out from pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona, and we will be here every day covering action, up to the minute.