Fred (1910-1982) and Harry Walker (1916-1999), who resided for most of their lives in and around Birmingham, Jefferson County, are the only brothers to have won Major League Baseball batting titles thus far. They both also appeared in the All-Star Game and World Series and played roles in the integration of baseball and in the development of the player pension plan and player representation.
Fred was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, on September 24, 1910, and Harry was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on October 22, 1916. Their parents were Flossie Vaughan and Ewart Gladstone (“Dixie”) Walker. The Walkers grew up in a baseball family. Their father pitched for the Washington Senators from 1909-1912 and roomed with famed pitcher Walter Johnson, and their uncle, Ernest Walker, was an outfielder with the St. Louis Browns from 1913-1915.
As a young teenager, Fred “Dixie” Walker, worked for the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and played on the company team in addition to playing in the Birmingham city Walker, Fred Dixie sandlots. He was initially signed to a minor league contract by the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association. He was acquired by the New York Yankees in 1930 after he hit .401 for the Greenville, South Carolina, Spinners in the Class B South Atlantic League. Fred debuted with the New York Yankees in 1931 and, after hitting 15 home runs in 1933 in only 328 at bats, was considered a potential heir to an aging Babe Ruth. A series of injuries to his shoulder, however, diminished his throwing ability and his power. As a consequence, he played in only 131 games with the Yankees between 1931 and 1936. With the arrival of Joe DiMaggio in New York in 1936, Fred was expendable and was traded to the Chicago White Sox, where he hit .302 in 1937. He again injured his shoulder and was traded to the Detroit Tigers, for whom he hit .308 in 1938 but lost virtually all of his power-hitting ability. In 1939, he tore cartilage in his knee and was placed on waivers in mid-season; he was then signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Nicknamed “the People’s Cherce” (“choice” in the Brooklyn dialect), Fred became a fan favorite soon after joining the Dodgers in 1940. In his eight seasons with the team (1940-1947), he failed to hit over .300 only once (.290 in 1942), won the National League batting title with a .357 average in 1944, was named to the National League All-Star team five times (1943-1947), and appeared in two World Series (1941 and 1947). An outfielder, Fred was so respected by his peers that he was selected as the National League’s first player representative and was sent along with American League representative Johnny Murphy of the New York Yankees to meet with the owners when the first players’ pension plan was devised in 1946. At his steadfast insistence, the owners were persuaded to keep television World Series revenues in the plan, insuring a constant revenue stream.
The breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson in 1947 proved to be the most controversial event of Fred’s career. He was at home in Alabama because of a family illness when he learned that some of his Dodger teammates had petitioned against bringing Robinson up. Fred then sent a letter to Dodgers’ executive Branch Rickey requesting that he be traded for the good of the team and himself. As the owner of a hardware and sporting goods store in then-segregated Alabama, Walker felt uncomfortable with Robinson on the team. Rickey attempted unsuccessfully to trade Fred during the 1947 season, but Robinson’s play that year gained Fred’s grudging respect, and eventually he requested that Rickey return his letter. At season’s end, Fred told the Sporting News that no other player had done more to put the Dodgers in the pennant race than Robinson and that he was everything Branch Rickey said he would be when he came up from the minor leagues.
At the end of 1947, Rickey allowed the Pittsburgh Pirates to claim Fred Walker off waivers for $1.00 as part of a larger deal. Fred ended his playing career with Pittsburgh in 1948. In 18 seasons, he finished with 105 home runs, 1,023 runs batted in, and a lifetime average of .306.
Harry Walker began playing independent league baseball in the coal mining leagues at Jenkins, Kentucky, in 1936. The following year he played for the Tiffin Mudhen’s a Class D minor league team in the Ohio State League, where he finished second in hitting with a .370 average. Unwilling Walker, Harry “Hat” to accept a $25 per month pay cut for the 1938 season, Harry was released. He bounced around the minors until he was drafted out of the Cleveland organization by the Philadelphia Phillies and was assigned to the Class B Pensacola Fliers, where he led his team in hitting and helped them win the Southeastern League championship. At a time when he was making $150 per month, the Phillies offered Harry a major league contract with a $25 per month cut. At the end of the season, Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis declared Harry a free agent. In 1940, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for $2,500. With the Cardinals’ minor league Columbus, Ohio, Red Birds, Harry hit 17 home runs, knocked in more than 70 runs, and hit over .300. At the end of the season, he made his major league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals. Because the Cardinals had a number of talented players, Harry was returned to the minors in 1941 and led the Red Birds to the Little World Series Championship, during which he hit three home runs and drove in nine runs in six games. His walk-off home run capped the series for the Red Birds. Immediately after his last game, Harry drove to Brooklyn to watch brother Fred play in the World Series against the New York Yankees. The rivalry between the Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1940s was so intense that the brothers dared not speak with one another on the field.
Unlike Fred, who had chronic knee and arm injuries, Harry was subject to the draft and was inducted into the U.S. Army following the 1943 World Series. Initially sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he played baseball with other major leaguers, he finally was assigned to the 65th Infantry Division, serving as a machine gunner in a mechanized reconnaissance unit. Walker’s unit landed in the European theater in January 1945 and between March 5 and May 9 as part of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, he saw constant combat as the force marched through the Saar region on the border between France and Germany, across the Rhine and Danube rivers on its way into Austria. Walker, who had several face-to-face encounters with the enemy, was awarded both a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. After the war ended, Walker supervised the building of a baseball field in Linz, Austria, and participated in several baseball tournaments held to entertain occupation troops.
The Cardinals won the National League pennant in 1946 and defeated the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Harry Walker redeemed a sub-par season by hitting .412 in the series and batting in Enos Slaughter with the winning run in the decisive seventh game. The high point of Walker’s career came the following season when, after a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, he won the National League batting title with a .363 average. Walker later played for the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Cardinals again, compiling 10 home runs, 214 runs batted in, and a .296 career lifetime batting average in a career that officially ended in 1955.
Both brothers continued in baseball after their playing days ended. During the 1950s, Fred managed the Atlanta Crackers (1950-1952), the Houston Buffaloes (1953-1954), the Rochester Red Wings (1955-1955), and the Toronto Maple Leafs (1957-1959), winning pennants in 1950 and 1957. From 1960 through 1982, he was a coach for the Cardinals and a scout and coach for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. Fred Walker married Estelle Shea Walker, and they had six children. He died in Birmingham, Jefferson County, on May 17, 1982, and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery there.
Harry Walker managed in the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals (1955), the Pittsburgh Pirates (1965-1967), and the Houston Astros (1968-1972). He worked as a scout with the St. Louis Cardinals and initiated the baseball program at the University of Alabama Birmingham, where he served as its coach from 1979-1986. Harry married Dorothy Fulmer, and they had four children. Harry died in Leeds, Jefferson County, on August 8, 1999, and was buried in the Cedar Grove Cemetery in Leeds.
Allen, Maury and Susan Walker. Dixie Walker of the Dodgers. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010.
Marshall, William. Baseball’s Pivotal Era. 1945-1951. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
Powell, Larry. Bottom of the Ninth: An Oral History on the Life of “Harry the Hat.” Lincoln, Neb.: iUniverse.com, Inc., 2000.
Walker, Harry. Oral History Interview with William Marshall, Leeds, Alabama, May 11, 1988, Chandler Oral History Project, University of Kentucky Libraries.