William Henry "Bucky" Walters Jr was born on April 19, 1909, in Philadelphia. William Henry Walters Sr, also nicknamed Bucky, worked for the Bell Telephone Company and played for the company baseball team. William Henry Jr. was the team mascot and started swinging a bat at the age of 6. Bucky left Germantown High School in his sophomore year to become an electrician.
He began his baseball career in 1929 as a pitcher and infielder, playing for High Point (North Carolina) in the Piedmont League. In 1930, Bucky played in the infield for three teams in three leagues: Providence in the Eastern League, Portland in the New England League, and, when that league folded, Williamsport in the New York-Pennsylvania League. He stayed with Williamsport for most of the following year, batting .326 and leading all third basemen in putouts, assists, and errors. This brought promotions to Nashville in the Southern League and acquisition by the Boston Braves.
Bucky made his major-league debut with the Braves in September 1931. He spent most of 1932 at Montreal, leading International League third basemen with a .961 fielding average, and was called up to the Braves again, but hit only .187 in 22 games. As a result, he was sold to the San Francisco Missions. He hit .376 in 91 games with the Missions in 1933 and made only 8 errors at third base and was purchased by the other Boston team, the Red Sox, finishing the season and starting 1934 with them. He broke his thumb that season, did not hit well and was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies.
During spring training in 1935, Bucky had to battle for the third-base position. After he had a bad game, his manager and coaches pushed him to try pitching, predicting a great future for him on the mound. Bucky reluctantly agreed and began mostly with a sinking fastball and later learned a curve and what is now known as a slider. In 1936, with a Phillies team that lost 100 games, he had 11 wins, 21 losses, and a 4.29 ERA. Bucky was chosen for the NL All Star team in the middle of the following year, when his ERA was even higher.
The Phillies were so cash-starved that they were forced to sell players to avoid bankruptcy. So in June 1938, they traded Bucky to the Cincinnati Reds. From 4 wins, 8 losses, and a 5.23 ERA with the Phils, he immediately went to 11-6 with a 3.69 ERA with the Reds. In 1939, he won 27 and lost 11, leading the majors in wins, innings pitched, complete games, and ERA 2.29.
For an eight-year period before, during, and after World War II, Bucky was the premier pitcher in the National League and one of the best in the major leagues. He was voted the Most Valuable Player in the National League, receiving three-quarters of the first-place votes in 1939.
In the following year, 1940, he again led the majors in ERA (2.48) and the National League in Wins (22), innings pitched, complete games, and opponents’ batting average at .220, and played a key role in leading the Reds to their first World Series victory since 1919. In 1941, the last prewar year, Bucky slipped to 19-15, still tied for third in the NL in wins and shutouts, third in strikeouts, and fifth in ERA.
Over the years from 1939 to 1946, he led the majors in wins with 141. He was not only the top NL pitcher of his era, he was one of the best hitting, fielding, and base-running pitchers as well. Among NL pitchers with 600 or more plate appearances between 1939 and 1946, he ranked first in batting average, hits, doubles, total bases, slugging average, runs scored, runs batted in, and runs created.
Bucky was 31 when World War II began. Though classified 1-A by his draft board, he was not called to military service. His performance fell off somewhat during the war years of 1942 and 1943. He won 15 games each year despite injuring his leg during spring training in 1943 and dealing with a troubled appendix.
He returned in 1944 and enjoyed a golden year leading the league in wins with 23, losing only 8. In addition, he batted .280, fielded 1.000, and was the starting pitcher in the All-Star game.
During the following winter, Bucky traveled to the front lines in Europe on a USO trip and was almost caught in the Battle of the Bulge.
In July 1945, he hurt his arm while beating the Cardinals and pitched in only two more games that season. His days as a dominant pitcher were over. He won only 10 games in 1945 and 10 in the postwar season of 1946. In 1947 his ERA soared to 5.75 and he won 8 and lost 8. Though he pitched in seven games in 1948 and one in 1950, trying to pick up his 199th and 200th wins, he was unable to add to his total of 198. Fittingly, his last win came on "Bucky Walters Night" at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, in September 1947.
Bucky finished his career with 198 wins, 160 losses, a 3.30 ERA, and five All-Star selections. His career batting average was .243. But his career in baseball was not over. In August 1948, with the Reds in seventh place, he was tapped to replace Johnny Neun as manager. Though offered a job in the Reds organization, he took up an offer from the Braves, for whom he was the pitching coach from 1950 to 1955. After he had left to be the New York Giants pitching coach (1956-57), the Braves won the NL pennant in 1957 and the World Series in 1958.
In 1958-59, he was a supervisor for the Phillies’ farm system, evaluating young pitchers and position players on all their east coast farm teams. After 1960, he returned to the Philadelphia area, working in sales and public relations for the Ferco Machine Screw Company.
In 1977 he lost a leg due to arteriosclerosis. He never fully recovered, suffering kidney failure as his father had and was on dialysis for many years.
Bucky Walters passed away in a Abington, Pennsylvania, on April 20, 1991 at the age of 82.