Red Sox-Dodgers World Series Brings Back Memories of Tri-Cities Baseball Legend Tillie Walker
References to the 1916 World Series, when these two franchises last met in the Fall Classic, are plentiful. Here’s how the Tri-Cities, TN area is tied in to it.
With the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers playing in the World Series, many are referencing the 1916 Series between the Red Sox and Brooklyn Robins, as the Dodgers were officially called then (after manager Wilbert Robinson). It’s the only other time these two teams met in the Fall Classic.
And as spoken of on Tri-Cities Sports NOW when I predicted the Dodgers and Red Sox would meet in the Series, the memorable highlight of that Series was the Red Sox Game Two 14 inning victory behind the pitching of Babe Ruth.
The Bambino, in his second full season in the majors, pitched a complete game, 2–1 victory. This game is one of only two games in World Series history to last 14 innings, the other being the Chicago White Sox 7–5 victory at Houston in Game Three of the 2005 Fall Classic.
But what you likely won’t hear is how the game was heavily influenced by a local player, Limestone’s Tillie Walker.
Walker, a Washington College Academy graduate and Tennessee Volunteer, was the Red Sox starting centerfielder in the game. He was known to have one of the strongest throwing arms in baseball and was Boston’s third place hitter.
Branch Rickey once compared his talent to Ty Cobb’s. The Red Sox had acquired Walker that year to replace Tris Speaker.
But in the first inning Walker misplayed a fly ball at Braves Field, chosen as the site of the Series to take advantage of its larger seating capacity than Fenway Park, hit by Hy Myers. All fences at Braves Field were, at the time, more than 400 feet from home plate, including a 440-foot centerfield. There was enough room for Meyers to circle the bases.
From then on, Ruth shut out Brooklyn. He drove in the tying run in the third on a groundout off Sherry Smith, who also threw a complete game, and set Brooklyn down in order in the top of the 14th before the Red Sox scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning.
The Red Sox took the World Series in five games, then won the pennant again two years later. This time Ruth shut out the Chicago Cubs in the first game and pitched seven shutout innings in his next outing for a grand total of 29 2/3 scoreless consecutive innings pitched, which is said to have been Ruth’s most cherished record. It was broken in 1961 by Whitey Ford.
And just think, if Walker hadn’t misplayed that fly ball, Ruth wouldn’t have had the opportunity to extend his shutout streak for another four innings.
This isn’t the only time Walker and Ruth were linked together. In 1918 the two players tied for the American League lead with 11 home runs, a decent total for the dead ball era. Ruth would go on to rewrite the single season home run record himself in the subsequent three seasons, but Walker didn’t fare too badly either. After being traded to Philadelphia he became the first player in the history of the Athletics franchise to hit 100 home runs. His top single season mark was 37 in 1922, then the most ever hit by a right-handed American League hitter.
Unfortunately Walker was also an alcoholic. Connie Mack told reporters in 1923 he was benching Walker because he felt the home run was “going out of style.”
Seems like a quaint relic to the past, but since two years later Mack signed Jimmie Foxx one has to wonder if the Tall Tactician was actually trying to hide Walker’s alcoholism.
Cecil “Pappy” Correll, a local moonshiner, recalls the time during Walker’s second career as a highway patrolman how he was stopped at a then-undeveloped Roan Street and Brown’s Mill Road in Johnson City hauling liquor. Instead of running him in, Walker and Correll shared a jug!
Walker also stayed in baseball to an extent, umpiring Appalachian League games in 1939, famously winning a bet with Clyde Klutts that he could throw a ball from home plate over the left field fence at Cardinal Park, and managing the Appy League’s Erwin franchise for part of an ill-fated 1940 season.
Walker passed away in 1959 in Unicoi visiting his brother Winni at the age of 72. He’s buried in the Urbana Cemetery with a headstone that inaccurately has him playing in the American League through 1924.
But remember when announcers reference the 1916 World Series as the only two times these great franchises have ever met to decide baseball’s World Championship before (debatable as a franchise’s history should stay in the city of departure following relocation) that there’s a local tie to that Fall Classic of 102 years ago.
It’s Tillie Walker. He’s probably still the top baseball player ever to come from the Tri-Cities. And if it weren’t for him making a mistake that turned out forgivable, Babe Ruth’s pitching prowess probably wouldn’t be as well remembered as it is today.
Marky Billson wants everyone to know that Meyers, his cousin three generations removed, still holds the Dodgers record for triples in a season with 22 and sent Game Two of the ’16 World Series into extra innings by throwing out Dick Hoblitzell at the plate in the ninth. Marky, who wrote the original biographical sketch of Walker 19 years ago for the Society of American Baseball Research, can also be heard 12–2 p.m. ET on Tri-Cities Sports NOW on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities. Watch him live or archived here and here.