Area ties for three on Hall ballot
Vernon, Walters and Magee are Veterans Committee nominees.
In the parade of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Philadelphia has been more than amply represented. Now, the area might be favored once again.
Three former players with ties to the Philadelphia area are being considered for induction into the baseball shrine.
First baseman Mickey Vernon and two former Phillies, pitcher Bucky Walters and outfielder Sherry Magee, are among 10 former major-league players on the Veterans Committee ballot.
The ballot includes only players who began their big-league careers before 1943 and who played in the majors for at least 10 years. Votes will be cast by a 12-member panel, with the results to be announced Monday. To be elected and subsequently inducted in 2009, a candidate needs to earn the votes of nine panelists.
For Vernon, Walters or Magee, election would mean joining 54 Hall of Famers who were members of either the Phillies or Athletics, or who were natives of the Philadelphia area (but never played here). The list includes 37 inductees who had some connection with the Phillies.
A local geographic link can be made with all three candidates. Vernon came from Marcus Hook; Walters grew up in Mount Airy; and Magee, although a native of Clarendon, Pa., is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.
There was no shortage of talent among this trio. Vernon was a two-time American League batting champion and a record-setting defensive player. Walters was a three-time 20-game winner and a National League Most Valuable Player. Magee won an NL batting crown while also leading the league in RBIs four times.
On their way to big-league stardom, the threesome had vastly different approaches. Vernon never played in high school, and signed his first professional contract after one year at Villanova University. Walters was an infielder during his early years in pro ball. And Magee went straight from the sandlots to the big leagues at the age of 19.
Among the three, Vernon, who died recently at the age of 90, had the longest career. After turning pro in 1937, he first appeared in the big leagues in 1939. He played until 1960, making him one of the few athletes who have performed in the major leagues during four decades.
The gentlemanly Vernon played mostly with the Washington Senators, winning batting titles in 1946 (.353) and 1953 (.337). While earning a place on seven all-star teams and twice finishing in the top five in the MVP voting, Vernon had a career batting average of .286, collecting 2,495 hits over 20 seasons (two years were spent in the Navy during World War II).
Once described by Who's Who in the Major Leagues as "a high-voltage swatter," Vernon took special delight in his hitting. "I'd rather make a big hit than a big fielding play," he said.
A graduate of Eddystone High School, which had no baseball team, Vernon was such an accomplished hitter that pitcher Satchel Paige once said: "If I was pitching and it was the ninth inning and we had a two-run lead with the bases loaded and Mickey Vernon was up, I'd walk him and pitch to the next man."
Vernon was also a brilliant fielder. He still holds the major-league career record for first basemen for most double plays (2,044) and American League career marks at his position for most games played (2,227), most chances (21,198), most putouts (19,754), most assists (1,444), and most double plays (2,041).
Vernon played first base smoothly, gracefully and elegantly. "He is the only man in baseball," claimed Jack Dunn, a former Baltimore Orioles executive, "who could play first base in a tuxedo, appear perfectly comfortable, and never wrinkle his suit."
After his playing days ended, Vernon managed the expansion Washington Senators, and later was a coach, minor-league manager, and scout. Altogether, the long-time resident of Wallingford spent 52 years in professional baseball.
Like Vernon's, Walters' records are impressive. While pitching with the Cincinnati Reds, he won 27 games in 1939, 22 in 1940, and 23 in 1944, and led the National League in complete games and innings pitched each three times and in earned run average twice. Walters won the NL MVP award in 1939 while hurling the Reds to the pennant and leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average. He also pitched in five All-Star Games.
Walters attended Germantown High School before dropping out after his sophomore year. Ultimately, he became a top player, earning as much as $150 a week while playing in the Eastern Basketball League. He signed his first pro baseball contract in 1929, and two years later played for a team in Williamsport, PA, Pa., that was managed by Glenn Killinger, later the legendary football coach at West Chester State College.
In his early years in the minors, Walters was mostly a third baseman.
"I only pitched to help out," he said. "I didn't give it [pitching] any serious thought."
Indeed, after arriving in the majors in 1931 with the Boston Braves, and later after joining the Boston Red Sox, he continued to play third. He was still stationed at the hot corner when the Phillies bought his contract in 1934.
As a hitter in the big leagues, Walters never tore the cover off the ball. And when Phils manager Jimmie Wilson saw how hard Walters could throw, he persuaded him to try pitching. "Before I'm through with you, you'll be one of the best in the game," the Kensington-born skipper said.
Walters proved Wilson right. By the time the Phillies traded him to the Reds in 1938, Walters had become one of the premier hurlers in the league. When his career ended in 1950, Walters had won 198 games, winning in double figures in 11 straight years and posting a lifetime ERA of 3.30.
During a career that spanned nearly 30 years in the professional ranks, Walters, an extremely amiable man, managed the Reds, and served as a pitching coach with several teams. Through most of his adult life, Walters, who once said that the old-time uniforms "were like a horse blanket," lived in Glenside before passing away at 82 in 1991.
Nearly nine decades earlier, Magee had broken into the big leagues with the Phillies. Despite having no minor-league experience, Magee grabbed a spot in the starting lineup, and played either right or left field for the Phils for 11 years.
One of the best and most colorful players in the dead-ball era, Magee led the league in hitting in 1910 with a .331 average. He was regarded as one of the most feared batters in the league, and even today ranks in the top 10 in most of the Phillies' all-time hitting categories.
During his career, Magee stole home 23 times. He hit above .300 five times. He was also noted for his sensational catches. In 1914, he was called "the best all-around player in the league," by a Philadelphia writer.??."
Early in 1915, Magee was traded to the Braves after he raised a ruckus because the Phillies didn't appoint him as their manager. Later, he joined the Reds before ending his playing career in 1919. In 16 years, Magee compiled a .291 batting average with 2,169 hits.
Magee was noted for his hot temper, his constant complaining, and for being difficult to get along with.
In July 1911, he knocked out umpire Bill Finneran with one punch after being called out on strikes. Magee was fined $200 and suspended for the rest of the season, although his removal was appealed and he reentered the starting lineup after five weeks on the sidelines.
Some years later, Magee, who was 44 when he died in 1929 from the effects of pneumonia, became an umpire.
Magee's disposition notwithstanding, he, Vernon and Walters stand on the brink of bringing further distinction to the Philadelphia area's rich baseball history.
Rich Westcott is a baseball writer, historian and author of 19 books.