Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Meet the Brewers #5: Danny Walton

Before I move on to Brewer #5, I would be remiss if I didn't share one further card from Brewer #3, Tommy Harper.  Harper was voted to be the second baseman of the decade for the 1970s for the Milwaukee Brewers franchise. I guess the 30/30 season was better to the selectors (and, throwing in his 1969 season of stealing 75 bases) than Paul Molitor's first two years.  Pickings were pretty slim in that regard.  But, here's the card from 2000 to highlight the achievement:


Now, onto #5.  The fifth Brewer in the April 7, 1970, Opening Day to find himself on the scoresheet caught outs number 2 and 3 in the top of the first inning. Both shortstop Jim Fregosi and right fielder Bill Voss (who found himself in Brewtown in 1971) flied out to left fielder Danny Walton.  

Walton was born and raised in California. Growing up, he was a switch hitter and idolized Mickey Mantle. Walton related and idolized Mantle so much so that his nickname on Baseball Reference is "Mickey." He was drafted in the 10th round of the 1965 draft -- one pick before the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Tom Seaver (but didn't sign him).

Though he struggled as a teenager in the minor leagues initially, Walton emerged as a prospect in 1967. At the age of 19 in the Single-A Carolina League and for a team that hit .231/.325/.363, Walton hit 25 HR and hit .302/.407/.533 -- and he was about 3-1/2 years younger than the average player in the league. He moved up quickly to Double-A and Triple-A. By 1969, he  hit 25 HR (nearly a fourth of the team's 107 HR), drove in 119 runs, and hit .332/.405/.587 in Oklahoma City (to be fair, the league hit .284/.354/.414, but that was still pretty good).  

1994 Brewers 25th Anniversary Commemorative
All that was good for, though, was getting him sent to Seattle with Sandy Valdespino in exchange for former Los Angeles Dodger Tommy Davis.  

For Walton, it was a great move.  He enjoyed his time in Milwaukee. From the stories about Walton that you read from the early 1970s, the way I can describe Walton in terms that I understand as a fan from a decade later is that Danny Walton was Gorman Thomas before Gorman Thomas was. In fact, Walton compared himself to Gorman in a later interview.

By this, I mean that Walton was beloved by the fans in the bleachers behind him for his huge home runs and his big strikeouts: "They gave me a car to drive. I got invited to hunting trips and there was always a place for me to hunt or fish. I'd strike out and get a standing ovation. I'd hit a home run and they'd go crazy."

Indeed, the beginning of his career in Milwaukee -- the first half of the 1970 season, at the age of 22 -- he was very good to start with on the surface: 15 HR, 51 RBI, 40 walks in 344 plate appearances, and hitting .254/.349/.452 in 85 games.  But, those numbers hid a quick decline as pitchers figured "Mickey" out -- .321 AVG and 7 HR in April; .287 AVG and 3 HR in May, and .156 AVG and 5 HR (in a 12 for 77 month) in June.

1970 McDonald's Brewers
Just like his hero, though, Walton's knees failed him. In an interview with Mario Ziino for Brewers.com, Walton stated that he twisted his left knee during batting practice one day -- and shrugged it off as just an ache and pain that ballplayers had to deal with.  In his interview with Todd Newville of Baseballtoddsdugout.com, Walton stated that he was hitting and his right foot stayed put while he landed on his left foot.  Newville said Walton tore up his right knee.  

I think Newville misunderstood Walton, but in any case, Walton's knees bothered him greatly. He was never the same player as he was in 1970. Perhaps that's because the league figured him out as an aggressive free swinger, and perhaps it's because he never played regularly again in the major leagues. 

The Brewers got tired of waiting for his health and ability to return, so they traded him in June of 1971 to the Yankees for Bobby Mitchell and Frank Tepedino.  The Yankees parked him at Syracuse in 1971 and 1972. He hit very well and played most every game -- perhaps disproving that his problems were with his knee and lending credence to his problems being his plate approach. 

His play in the minor leagues -- and keep in mind, even in 1972, he was still just 24 years old -- led other teams to want him. The Minnesota Twins sent Rick Dempsey to the Yankees for him, but he only appeared in 37 games in 1973 before injuries caught up again. He crushed Triple-A in Tacoma in 1974 at the age of 26 to the tune of 35 HRs. But, the Twins gave up in 1975 and sent him to the Dodgers for Bob Randall. 

1971 Topps
Walton pulled out his "I can crush Triple-A" routine again in 1977 in Albuquerque -- 42 HRs -- but let's be honest about those numbers: the term "wind-aided" comes to mind. He was traded to Houston for Alex Taveras and Bob Detherage in September of 1977, but was then released by the Astros during spring training in 1978. That led him to sign on with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales in the Japanese Central League in 1978. It was disappointing -- .215/.311/.431 with 9 HR in 164 plate appearances.  

But, Walton got a shot with Seattle out of it. He spent 1979 back in Triple-A, and even Seattle said, "no thanks, Danny." Proving, though, that people didn't understand park effects in the 1970s, the Rangers signed him up for the 1980 season. He spent most of the year again in Triple-A at the age of 32 and picked up his last 13 plate appearances during May and in one game in June that year.  The Rangers then traded him in a minor deal in December of 1980, but Walton never appeared for the Reds.

I have three cards of Walton, I think, that are shown above.

3 comments:

  1. walton's entire dodger career consisted of 18 pinch-hit appearances in 1976 - not enough to garner a card from topps in 1977 (so i made one myself - http://garveyceyrusselllopes.blogspot.com/2012/06/catching-up-on-some-cards-that-should.html ). i think he's in the 1971 kellogg's set as a brewer...

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  2. From the sounds of it if Adam Dunn had played for the Brewers in the 1970's he would have been king of Milwaukee.

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    1. It's why the Pirates should send Pedro Alvarez to Milwaukee. He'd be the toast of the town -- long taters interspersed with crazy strikeout numbers!

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