Walt Masterson, 87; Pitcher Spent 10
Years With Senators
Walt Masterson, 87, a hard-throwing right-hander and fierce competitor on a succession of mediocre Washington Senators teams, died of a stroke April 5 at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. He pitched in the major leagues for 14 years, 10 with the Senators.
He pitched the best game of his career on a June afternoon in 1947 in Chicago, when he held the White Sox scoreless for 16 innings. In the 17th inning, he gave way to reliever Early Wynn, who got credit for the victory when the Senators -- also known as the Nats or Nationals back then -- pushed across the game's only run in the 18th.
"Masterson was something out of this world," The Washington Post said the next day. In the 16 innings he was on the mound, he gave up only six hits -- all of them singles -- struck out seven batters and walked six, two on purpose.
Tall and rangy, with one of the better fastballs in the American League, Mr. Masterson was a better pitcher than his record indicated. He made the all-star team twice, in 1947 and 1948, and was the starting pitcher in the 1948 game.
He could be wild, Post sportswriter Shirley Povich noted in 1949. "There is no question, though, of his stomach for the battle," Povich said. "Too many times he has nursed slender leads all the way to get [the Senators] home, and rarely did he miss a turn against the tough clubs, New York, Boston and Cleveland."
Walter Edward Masterson III was born June 22, 1920, in Philadelphia, where he was a standout basketball player at Northeast Catholic High School. He tried out for baseball as a shortstop but didn't make the team. Later, when the baseball coach rounded up a scrub team to scrimmage with his varsity nine, he put Mr. Masterson on the mound, and the hard-throwing youngster tossed a no-hitter. He made the team, played one season and was signed by the Senators when he was 17.
He started the 1939 season with the club's farm team in Charlotte and won two games after being called up to the majors later that year. He struggled in 1940, in his first full season with the Senators, winning three games and losing 13. Hoping to improve his control, he started wearing glasses.
During spring training in Orlando the next year, Clark Griffith, the team's 71-year-old owner, had some advice for his young hurler, as recounted in The Post.
"The first thing I want you to do is junk that slow curve you were throwing last year," said Griffith, draping a paternal arm across the young man's shoulder. "It's no good. You can't get it across the plate and when you do, it's so slow that the batter can take a hitch in his swing and murder it."
Mr. Masterson won four games and lost three that year and then spent the next three seasons aboard Navy submarines in the Pacific. In his first game back, in September 1945, he out-dueled Cleveland Indians great Bob Feller in a 1-0 shutout.
He toiled for the struggling Senators for the next three seasons. He was always hoping, his son said, that maybe one day he would be traded to a team capable of giving him healthier offensive support. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were interested. They were impressed "with his ability to beat them both and envisioned him as a big winner on a better club," Povich wrote.
The Red Sox acquired him in June 1949, and he promptly learned to throw a slider from an unlikely teacher, slugger Ted Williams. The future Hall of Famer was Mr. Masterson's close friend and Boston neighbor.
Mr. Masterson stayed with the Red Sox until 1953, when he was traded back to the Senators. He retired at the end of the season, although he came back briefly with the Detroit Tigers in 1956. In his 14 seasons, he won 78 games and lost 100, with a 4.15 earned run average.
Like most major leaguers of his era, long before multimillion-dollar contracts, Mr. Masterson had a second job in the offseason. He was a national sales manager for a golf shoe manufacturer and later a national sales manager for a Kansas-based company that sold flour in bulk to bakeries.
In 1972, his friend Williams, then managing the Texas Rangers, hired him as the pitching coach; in 1980-81, he was the baseball coach at George Mason University. He was a longtime member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and was involved with developing baseball's pension plan.
In retirement, he lived on a farm in Rappahannock County until moving to North Carolina about 15 years ago.
Survivors include his wife of 66 years, Virginia Alice Masterson of Durham; two children, Walter E. "Skip" Masterson IV of Vienna and Patricia Masterson Elliott of Oriental, N.C.; five grandchildren; and five great-grandsons.
Edward Masterson III
Left to cherish his memory are his loving wife of 66 years, Virginia Alice Masterson of Durham, N.C., his children, Walter E. Masterson IV of Vienna, Va., and Patricia Masterson Elliott and husband, Craig, of Oriental, N.C.
Additionally, Walter is survived by his grandchildren, Tiffany Dixon, Brendan Masterson, Frances Masterson, Kelly Godwin, Virginia Godwin; great-grandsons, John Masterson Dixon, Trevor Dixon, Tyler Dixon, Logan Masterson, Liam Masterson; niece and nephews, Debbie Curtis, Mark Masterson, Ed Masterson, Andy Masterson; and sister-in-law, Betty Curtis, and husband, James Thomas.
Walter graduated in 1938 from Northeast Catholic High School, Philadelphia, Pa., and went on to a 14-year career as a pitcher in professional baseball. He played for the Washington Senators from 1938 to 1948, Boston Red Sox from 1949-1950, was traded back to the Senators in 1951 and finished his career with the Detroit Tigers in 1956. He fanned Mickey Mantle five times in a row in 1951. He was selected twice to the American League All Star Team, once in 1947, and was the starting pitcher in 1948. His career was interrupted during World War II while he served his country in the U.S. Navy Submarine Force-Pacific. In 1943, while stationed in Hawaii, he was awarded the "Athlete of the Year." Longtime friend Ted Williams hired Walter as the Texas Rangers pitching coach in 1972. From 1980 to 1981, he was the head coach for George Mason University's baseball team.
Upon retiring from baseball, he continued his success in the business world and was named East Coast regional vice president for ADM.
Walter was inducted into the Northeast Catholic High School Hall of Fame in 1997. He was a longtime member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
In retirement Walter continued his passion for the game by his involvement in youth baseball activities. He was a great storyteller, an avid golfer, sportsman, a voracious reader and classical jazz enthusiast. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and the baseball community.
Visitation will be held at Cotten Funeral Home, New Bern, N.C., on April 9, 2008, from 6 to 8 pm. Funeral Mass service will be held at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church, New Bern, N.C., on April 10, 2008, at 1 p.m. with Fr. Paul Mizener officiating. Military honors including a 21-gun salute will be provided by the Pamlico County Veterans Honor Guard. A reception will follow immediately at the St. Paul's Church Family Center.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Northeast Catholic High School Tuition Fund, 1842 E. Torresdale Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19124-4418, attn: Stan Witalec.
Arrangements by Cotton Funeral Home and Crematory.