Seventeenth and last in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.
Tom Walker pitched in 36 games for the 1975 Tigers, starting 9 of them and finishing 17 others. He had a 3-8 record, a 4.45 ERA, and didn’t record a single save despite closing out those 17 contests. He came to Detroit in the deal that sent Woodie Fryman to Montréal that also brought Terry Humphrey to the Tigers. To be honest, though I followed the Tigers pretty closely in the mid-seventies, I don’t have any memory of Tom Walker with the team at all.
While this is Tom’s 1976 Topps card, by the time the spring training started that year he was with the Cardinals, who purchased his contract that February. He spent most of the season in Tulsa as a starter, but ended up saving three games for the big league team in only 19 2/3 innings. He split 1977 with Montreal again, then the California Angels, before briefly playing for the Columbus Clippers (then the Pirates’ AAA farm team) in 1978.
Tom’s career was fairly uneventful, other than the uniqueness of the final batter he faced in the big leagues, as Lyman Bostock lined into a triple play. He had a 18-23 lifetime record with a 3.87 ERA and struck out 262 batters.
In 1972, Walker was one of several major leaguers who helped Roberto Clemente load an airplane full of food and other supplies destined for Nicaragua after the Christmas earthquake that winter. Tom offered to go along to assist with the distribution, but Clemente told him to stay home and enjoy his New Year’s Eve celebration. When he returned home, Walker found out that Clemente’s plane had crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Walker’s son, Neil, was a second baseman for the Pirates, Mets, Brewers, Yankees, Marlins, and Phillies over an eleven-year major league career.
Of more significance to Tigers’ fans is the fact that Tom’s daughter Carrie married former Tiger Don Kelly (currently the bench coach for the Pirates), making Tom his father-in-law and Neil his brother-in-law.
Glenn Wilson and Johnny Wockenfuss finish out our Cardboard Tigers series due to the fact that their last names put them at the bottom of the deck. Coincidentally, they share a connection beyond having names near the end of the alphabet: They were traded together at the end of spring training in 1984 to the Phillies for first baseman Dave Bergman and closer Willie Hernandez. Bergman, of course, was a key utility component for the Tigers’ World Series championship team, playing first base and the corner outfield spots while hitting .273 in 121 at-bats, while all Hernandez did was win both the Cy Young Award and American League MVP while saving 32 games and posting an ERA of 1.92.
So again, as we’ve seen several times in this series, the cards for the 1984 Tigers feature a lot of guys who weren’t even on that team, including Wilson and Wockenfuss.
Wilson was coming off a good season for Detroit in 1983 where he hit .268 with 11 homers, playing 144 games in mostly right field with a few appearances in left and center. He went on to have a decent year in Philly in ’84 as well, but his best year was 1985, when he hit .275, knocked in 104 runs, made the National League All-Star team, and finished 23rd in the NL MVP voting. He played through 1990 with the Phillies, Mariners, Pirates, and Astros, and made a brief comeback in 1994 with Pittsburgh. For his career, he batted .265 with 98 home runs, and 521 RBI. He also pitched once: in 1987 he threw a 1-2-3 inning including a strikeout, giving him a lifetime 0.00 ERA.
After retiring from baseball, Wilson owned a gas station in Texas, managed independent league baseball in the Frontier League, and became an ordained minister.
Wockenfuss was tougher for me to deal with when he was traded to Philadelphia. He was one of my favorite Tigers, having been with the team since 1974, mostly as Bill Freehan’s (and later Lance Parrish’s) backup at catcher, and platooning for a couple of years with Milt May. He was versatile, making appearances in the outfield and at first base and serving as a capable designated hitter when needed as well. While he only averaged around 200 plate appearances per season (the exception was 1980, when he had 444 plate appearances while playing mostly first base – also his best season as he hit .274 with 16 homers and 65 RBI), he was always fun to watch, with his curly hair and mustache making him stand out on the field. As a catcher myself, Wockenfuss was they guy whose receiving style I copied. He also had a rather unusual batting stance, which I also copied (not that it did me any good). I was pretty upset when the Tigers traded him, especially right before the team headed north from Florida.
In the end, I got over it, considering the great start the 1984 team got off to and the contributions from both Bergman and Hernandez. Wockenfuss had a good year in Philadelphia, hitting .289 in 180 at-bats, playing mostly first base with some catcher and a couple of brief appearances at third base. He finished his major league career in 1985 with the Phillies at the age of 35. For his career, he hit .262 with 86 home runs, and 310 RBI.
In 1986, however, Wockenfuss decided he wasn’t done quite yet and paid his own way to Lakeland, hoping the Tigers would give him a shot. When they weren’t interested, he headed down the road to Winter Haven to see if the Red Sox would be willing, but they also said no. So he caught on with the Single-A Miami Marlins of the Florida State League, who in those days had no major league affiliation. He spent the whole season in south Florida, hitting .269 with 10 home runs and 80 RBI and was considered the “anchor of the Marlins’ team,” according to Miami sportswriter Tom Archdeacon.
After finally ending his playing career, he managed the Lakeland Tigers (A) in 1986 and 1987; the Glens Falls Tigers (AA) in 1988; and the Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) in 1989. He was fired early in the 1990 season after the Mud Hens got off to a 10-14 start, but later managed in the Pirates’ minor league system and with the independent Albany-Colonies Diamond Dogs in 1996-97.
Today, Wockenfuss, 72, suffers from dementia, believed to be a product of years of head contact as a football and baseball player, especially at the catcher position. His former teammate, Bill Freehan, also suffered from dementia for several years before his death this summer at the age of 79. He does remember much about his baseball career, though, including the disappointment he felt when the Tigers traded him in 1984. When his former team went on to win the World Series, Wockenfuss was frustrated with how close he’d come to winning a championship.
“I knew I was (close to) getting a (World Series) ring, you know, and that hurt, because I had been with them for so many years,” Wockenfuss said. “We were getting better and better and better and Sparky (manager Sparky Anderson) and I were good friends. I couldn’t believe it what he did to me. Because I was in the minors for a long time.”From NNY360.com, November 18, 2019, article by Gregory Gay