Bob Walk was the apple of 5th-round drafters’ eyes in the mid-1970s. In 1975 and 1976, the California Angels and Philadelphia Phillies respectively selected Walk in the 5th round of the amateur draft. Walk, however, neglected to sign with either team, probably because his arm was desperately needed on the College of the Canyons Cougars! It’s too bad Walk didn’t choose to sign with the Angels. In a pre-interleague era, the Cubs may have never had to face him. Unfortunately, Walk finally signed with the Phillies on September 7, 1976.
Walk pitched well at the single-A level for the Phillies, posting a 2.82 ERA and 1.276 WHIP in 49 starts. By the start of the 1980 season, Walk had pitched his way to the AAA Oklahoma City 89ers. Not long into their championship season, Phillies manager Dallas Green had decided that Larry Christenson’s collarbone was still messed up from Tug McGraw’s charity bike-a-thon, and that Scott Munninghoff blew. So, on May 26, 1980, Walk was called upon to make his MLB debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Veterans Stadium. Walk lasted only 2 2/3 innings, giving up two hits (though one was a home run), but walking five Pirates and surrendering five earned runs. Oh, he also balked. It seems as though he was a bit nervous.
Walk hadn’t settled down much for his second start, which came against the Cubs. In his first start at Wrigley Field, Walk pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on five hits, five walks, five strikeouts, and home runs by Larry Biittner and Dave Kingman. Though Walk didn’t get the decision, his Phillies took a 5-4 loss.
Just five days later, Walk faced the Cubs in Philadelphia. He threw another 5 2/3 innings, and gave up 10 hits and five earned runs. However, he didn’t walk anyone and still struck out five Cubs. The Phillies scored six for him and gave him his first MLB win, a 6-5 glorious triumph over a team he would torment for the next 14 years.
Walk finished the 1980 season with an 11-7 record and 4.57 ERA, good enough to get a vote for National League Rookie of the Year, presumably from the 1980 version of Steve Rosenbloom. Walk’s Phillies made the 1980 World Series against the Kansas City Royals, and Dallas Green made him the first rookie to start the first game of a World Series since the Dodgers trotted out Joe Black in 1952. And they won, despite Walk’s six earned runs in seven innings of work. USA! USA! USA!
Prior to the 1981 season, the Phillies traded Walk to the Atlanta Braves for beloved Cub Gary Matthews. After an underwhelming three seasons in Atlanta, during which he went 12-13 with a 4.85 ERA and spent a great deal of time in the minors, the Braves released Walk. Just before the start of the 1984 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates scooped up Walk for…free, basically. They dumped him into their minor-league system, presumably planning only on calling him up to face the Cubs and use him as a spot starter and reliever.
Walk pitched reasonably well for the Pirates, and by 1988, he was a permanent member of the Pirate rotation. He rewarded manager Jim Leyland (then only 75 years old) with 212 2/3 innings pitched, a 2.71 ERA, a 1.166 WHIP, and an All-Star appearance. He also balked nine times and threw 13 wild pitches (most in the NL). Holy shit, Bob Walk. Your name is PERFECT.
In 1993, Walk was 36 years old and done with Major League Baseball, though no one had the heart to tell him yet. He gave up more earned runs (118) than anyone else in the National League. He walked nearly as many batters (70) as he struck out (80) in 187 innings pitched, which helped him to a 5.68 ERA and 1.519 WHIP. At the end of the 1993 season, to the relief of the Cubs, he was granted his free agency, and rode off into the sunset. The rest of the teams in baseball (those who could actually hit Walk) were so depressed by his departure from the game, they STOPPED PLAYING BASEBALL ENTIRELY.
Despite his rocky debut against the Cubs, Walk finished his career 15-4 against the Cubs. His .789 winning percentage against the Cubs is higher than it is against any other opponent. His 15 wins against the Cubs are more than he had against any team except the Padres (16). He put up a 3.68 ERA and completed more games (3) against the Cubs than any other team. He struck out more Cubs per nine innings (5) than he did against any team other than the Phillies (5.7) and the Reds (5.6). And for a guy named Walk, he did so to only 59 Cubs while striking out 104 of them. Ugh.
Why You Should Hate Him: June 22, 1993. Whether or not you want to make the argument that Walk was actually a pretty good pitcher (and why WOULD you?), by 1993 he was terrible. Yet it surprised absolutely no one when he pitched a three-hitter against the Cubs at Three Rivers Stadium. Walk gave up only two earned runs on a Candy Maldonado pinch-hit, 8th-inning home run. Walk struck out four Cubs and walked not a one of them in the course of nine innings. It took Walk only 90 pitches to record a 7-2 Pirates win, and he only had to throw FIFTY-EIGHT of those for strikes. Probably fewer, if you consider how many times Sammy Sosa swung at a pitch a foot above his head. Oh, and for those of you who think the Cubs’ second-base curse is just as real as their third-base curse, take note. Eric Yelding started at second base for the Cubs that afternoon.
Did You Know? You might recall that in 2007, a band of Pirates fans planned a walkout of a Saturday night game in Pittsburgh. They wanted to visually show their displeasure with the state of the Pirates franchise, and what better way than for 100 people to walk out of a stadium filled with 7,000 people? None other than Desipio message board scourge Ray Ratto pointed out that the protest was scheduled on Bob Walk BOBBLEHEAD NIGHT. The next time you feel bad about being a Cubs fan, bear in mind that the Pirates were once so bad, that now we live in a world in which Bob Walk has a bobblehead.