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Luck, longevity result in Walker's historic no-hitter
11/29/2006 10:26 AM ET
Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our new feature, "Cracked Bats." Know of any stories to be considered for this feature in the future? Send an email and let us know.

Tom Walker secured a place for himself in baseball history in Albuquerque. He threw inning after inning of no-hit ball, putting 15 zeroes on the scoreboard in The Sports Stadium. And after 35 years, it still seems inconceivable that Walker completed what he started on that steamy night in New Mexico.

Walker, a former first-round pick by the Orioles, put forth one of the finest efforts ever produced by a professional pitcher on Aug. 4, 1971. That evening, the right-hander tossed a 15-inning no-hitter for Dallas-Fort Worth, besting Albuquerque in a matchup that still stands as one of the Texas League's most memorable games.

"The only problem was that it was in the Minor Leagues," Walker said. "It's probably something I don't expect to ever be broken in a game that's played today, certainly not with the pitch counts and the way they protect players today. This year was the 35th anniversary of that game and I've had quite a few people call me about it. I don't think it's going to be duplicated."

Pitching a nine-inning no-hitter is difficult enough. So the fact that Walker threw 15 hitless innings in one game -- his manager Cal Ripken Sr. would be vilified if he allowed such an outing to take place today -- puts him in a virtually unmatched category. Only Fred Toney, who tossed a 17-inning no-hitter in a 1907 Bluegrass League game, can claim to have bettered Walker's feat.

The game had the usual twists and turns associated with no-hitters. There were big plays and big hits but none bigger than Enos Cabell's two-out double to left field that brought home Mike Reinbach with the game's only run in the top of the 15th.

Albuquerque starter Jim Haller went the first 14 innings, scattering nine hits and walking three. But Dave Allen came on in the 15th and issued a two-out walk to Mike Reinbach. And if it wasn't for Cabell's RBI double, Walker probably wouldn't have gone out for his history-making 15th inning.

Ripken decided to remove Walker in the 15th, but had a change of heart after seeing the Spurs take the lead. So he sent Walker back out, and the pitcher proceeded to retire the side with Lee Lacy's lazy grounder to second base ending the evening. Walker threw an amazing 176 pitches, struck out 11 and walked only four.

"There were a lot of innings with no runs and no hits on our side too," said Walker, whose son Neil is a former first-round pick of the Pirates and one of the best catching prospects in baseball. "Cal Ripken Sr. was very superstitious and wouldn't get near me the whole game. And he told everyone else to stay away from me too. So I stayed at the end of the bench most of the game.

"But when they got two outs in the top of the 15th, I saw him coming over out of the corner of my eye with two outs and no one on. He said the 15th was going to be my last inning, but I told him I wanted to finish the game, that I had gone that far. Well, as fate would have it, Reinbach got on via a walk and Cabell hit a 3-2 pitch for a double off the wall. I went out in the bottom of the 15th, got three more outs and finished the game."

That Walker was around at the end seemed even more unbelievable considering where he was when the game began. It was a drizzly, humid night and Walker wasn't even sure the game was going to start on time. So before the game, he went into the trainer's room with a book and fell asleep on the table in his underwear. A little while later, his roommate came charging in from the dugout to tell him that there were already two outs in the top of the first inning and he had better get dressed.

"I ran out there and took seven warmup pitches and that was it," said Walker, who remembers throwing four no-hit innings to finish his start against the Dodgers the game before and then pitched three more to start the game after. "I think the rest helped. But by the end, I was just running on adrenaline. I get mentally fatigued just thinking about it. I was just making good pitches. I was in the zone that night, throwing the ball where I wanted to throw it. And I had a little luck on my side."

Every no-hitter usually has at least one memorable play on the field, and Walker's effort was no different. Reinbach, in addition to scoring the winning run, made such a play. While it would seem Reinbach was lucky, he also could have easily been the game's goat.

Albuquerque's Bob Cummings lofted a fly ball down the left-field line, near the home bullpen in the 14th. Reinbach was in left field and for some inexplicable reason, decided to bend over and tie his shoe without calling time. He was facing away from the play when the ball came off Cummings' bat.

"There were a couple of outstanding plays, but Reinbach made one of the biggest," Walker said. "As I was getting ready to deliver a pitch, he decided to tie his shoe. As fate would have it, the ball was hit right at him. He jumped up and made a diving catch that definitely saved the no-hitter. That play was the biggest of the night."

That night proved to be special for Walker in more ways than one. Other teams took notice of his accomplishment. The Expos grabbed him in the Rule 5 Draft that winter -- the Orioles had four 20-game winners in 1971 so losing Walker didn't seem like a big deal -- and Walker believes the no-no was part of the reason why. Whatever Montreal's logic, it certainly paid off for Walker, who reached the big leagues the following season.

Walker would spend parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues, posting an 18-23 mark in 191 games with the Expos, Tigers, Cardinals and Angels. The numbers aren't spectacular, but he still has his place in the Hall of Fame. The shrine came calling in the late 90s asking for the glove Walker used in the game to be part of an exhibit. Walker went to go see the glove when it was first displayed, and says he would go back if the Hall ever decides to exhibit it again.

History also touched Walker some 16 months after his no-hitter but in a much more tragic way. He was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico the following December and his manager, Roberto Clemente, died in a plane crash that New Year's Eve as he was bringing humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

"We helped him load the trucks, and the plane that he got on that went down," Walker said. "Myself, [Montreal pitcher] Balor Moore and [Pittsburgh catcher] Manny Sanguillen asked to go with him to Nicaragua. He told us no, go home for New Year's and have fun. That was the last time we saw Roberto. It was a very sad day. We wanted to help so we were lucky to be alive."

Luck, it would seem, has touched Walker in more ways than one.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.