Every baseball team has its share of unsung heroes, guys who work to fill in the gaps when the stars are sick or injured or just not as starry as everyone thinks … or when they’re human.
You know … guys like Dan Driessen with the Big Red Machine and Grant Jackson for the “We Are Family” Pirates in 1979.
What, you were expecting Bert Pena?
Nah, Walker was the man here.
In fact, Walker was the man at center field for the ‘Stros on Opening Day in 1986, not only breaking camp with the team that would eventually take the National League West by ten games before stumbling against the eventual World Series champion New York Mets in the National League Championship series, but taking the starter’s job in center.
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Truth is, though, it was about as surprising to see Walker in that role back then as it is to stumble across the history now.
See, Walker originally signed with the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1981 and spent a couple of so-so seasons in their minor league system — lots of speed but not a ton else.
Then, Cincy traded Walker along with Billy Dawley to the Astros in March of 1983 in exchange for catcher Alan Knicely, who became one of the symbols of a woeful Reds offense in the next couple of seasons.
Meanwhile, Walker gained a bit of traction in the Houston system and even showed a little pop (12 home runs) with the Double-A Columbus Astros in 1985.
Still, who could have expected him to make the jump to the Majors the next spring. Probably only the man himself.
But there he was, starting in center field for the Houston Astros against the Giants on Opening Day in the Astrodome … his first Big League game … and just a couple months shy of his 27th birthday.
Walker went 1-for-3 with a double in the Astros’ 8-3 loss, but he wasn’t done. Though he spent some time in Triple-A, he mostly stuck in the Bigs all season and ended up playing in 84 games, 18 of them starts. He also got plenty of looks as a pinch runner.
In all, Walker hit .222 with two homers and 11 steals, and played all the way through Houson’s second-to-last regular season game on October 4.
Alas, the “young” speedster never made it into an NLCS game that fall … and he never made it back to the Majors. After a 1987 season split between the Astros and Pirates minor league systems, Walker took his talents to Mexico in 1988, and then was done in pro ball.
But his long run with the 1986 Astros landed Walker a card in the 1986 Fleer Update set, and then another in their 1987 base set.
And, while the Astros didn’t fancy a return engagement with Walker, Fleer apparently wanted to see more of the same. Like almost exactly the same, judging by the photos on their two Walker cards.
Hey, when you find a good thing, you stick with it. Or at least try to.