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The bad luck and unharnessed potential of Walter Beall

Beall was talented, but he couldn’t put things together, causing him to miss a dynastic era in Yankee history.

Texas Rangers v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In some ways, Walter Beall is the unluckiest Yankee ever. He was on the team right as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig started to turn the team into the most dominant force in the majors. Considering the natural talent he had, Beall easily could have been a regular on those late 20’s/early 30’s championship teams. Instead, his stint as a Yankee came right in between the glory years.

Born in Washington DC, Beall first appears in minor league stats pages in 1920 as a member of the Norfolk Mary Janes. A few years later, he ended up playing for the Rochester Tribe from 1923-24. It was in Rochester where he was noticed by the Yankees, who picked him up in June 1924.

Despite having won the World Series the prior season, the Yankees were locked in a right race with the Washington Senators for the AL crown. The two teams spent much of July and August trading the lead back and forth, but the Senators appeared to take control in early September.

Beall possessed incredible natural talent. He was said to have one of the best curveballs in baseball. Babe Ruth testified it was the best he had ever seen. He was still a rookie, however. In hindsight, that makes it a bit surprising that he was given the start on September 3rd with Washington up 1.5 games.

Yet Beall rewarded the Yankees with seven shutout innings. He came back out for the eighth, but allowed four runs. The Yankees still had a lead, and managed to add to it and close out a win over the Red Sox.

A couple days later, Herb Pennock was knocked out early against the Athletics, and Beall was charged with coming in as relief. Beall went the remaining seven innings, allowing just three runs, as the Yankees won 10-7.

Beall played in another two games, allowing four runs in nine combined innings. He had a strong start in the first of those games, as the Yankees beat the Red Sox again. He gave up the go ahead run against the Tigers in his final appearance of the season on September 21st.

The Yankees finished two games back of the Senators in the end, but on the whole Beall acquitted himself pretty well. He played for the team again in 1925, but struggled, and spent a lot of the year going up and down from the minors.

Beall played his first game in 1926 in early May. After a couple early struggles, he had a very solid season, finishing with an 3.53 ERA in 80.2 innings, which was fairly decent that season. Still, like he had for his whole career up to that point, he struggled with control. Beall walked 68 batters and hit six with pitches in 1926, compared to just 56 strikeouts. That was actually an improvement on his 15.1 walks per nine innings in 1925.

The 1927 season of course went down in baseball history for the Yankees. Beall was a member of that team...for one inning. On May 30th, Beall allowed one run on one hit as he threw the eighth inning in a loss to the Athletics. It was one of just 44 losses for the Yankees that season, and the only game Beall appeared in.

Like he had for a lot of his career in New York, Beall was sent back into the minors. He spent the rest of 1927 and all of 1928 there, and he continued struggling with control. He managed to walk 49 hitters in 41 innings with the Montreal Royals in 1928.

He would never play for the Yankees again. His major-league career wasn’t over, as the Senators gave him a shot in 1929. His fortunes didn’t change there, as he allowed eight hits and seven walks in just seven innings, and never played in the major leagues again.

Had Beall managed to figure out a way to harness his skill, he very well might have been a well-known piece in a very successful period in Yankee history. He was only 27 when his Yankee career ended. Instead, he played exactly in between the first two championships in team history.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/beallwa01.shtml

Russo, Frank, and Gene Racz. Bury My Heart at Cooperstown: Salacious, Sad, and Surreal Deaths in the History of Baseball. Triumph Books, 2006.

Ruth, George Herman. Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball. University of Nebraska Press, 1992.