July 30, 2021

Childhood and Wally Bunker

June 17, 2011 by · 9 Comments 

The year 1964 when I was 7 years old, was a landmark for me.  In February of that year, I saw the Beatles for the first time on my grandmother’s 13″ black and white television; a set so full of vacuum tubes and other hardware that it weighed as much as our big screen TV does now.  In September, I became smitten for the very first time, over twins, actually.  I always kind of liked Joanne Pokorny more than Vicki Pokorny and on one morning in December before class started, I knew what it was like to have someone like me, too. Joanne walked up to my desk and, without a word, placed a “Gino Marchetti Day” button in front of me, turned, and left without saying a word.  She knew that the one-day Hall of Famer was my favorite Colt.

In between the two winters of 1964, there was Wally Bunker.

Bunker was one year out of high school and all of 19 when he recorded a victory for every year of his life against only 5 losses that season, and he led the Baltimore Orioles to within 2 games of their first pennant.  Bunker was to Baltimore baseball that year what Stephen Strasburg was to Washington baseball last year, only without the advanced hype.  So taken were Oriole fans with their young phenom that prior to the June 17th game, that is to say 47 years ago tonight, the pitching mound was renamed “Baltimore’s Bunker Hill” and christened with dirt from the actual Bunker Hill in Boston.

The 1964 Rookie Pitcher of the Year hurt his arm towards the end of that season.  He would win only 41 more games over the next 6 1/2 years before calling it quits at age 26.

Bunker had one more moment of glory in him and I was there to witness it.  In game three of the 1966 World Series, he threw a 6-hit shutout against the Dodgers.  Bunker was 21.  The Oriole hurler who had shutout Los Angeles the previous game was all of 20.  That was Jim Palmer.  Dave McNally, who would throw a third consecutive shutout for the four game sweep was the old man of the group at 24.

Those three guys looked as young as they actually were on their baseball cards, unlike some players of the day who were 30 and looked to be about the same age as my great uncle.  I just figured that I would become 19 or 20 soon enough and I would join Wally Bunker, who would still be 19, and the rest of the Orioles and we would have fun and win pennants forever. . . .Wally Bunker, a grandfather now at age 66 is indeed happy, an artist living in South Carolina according to Mike Klingaman’s report in a Sunpaper‘s article from 2009.

I suppose that the moment when adulthood truly begins is not when we comprehend our own mortality, but that moment of sudden awareness when we realize that nothing stays the same.  I became aware of the world in 1964, but it would take a few more years before I would learn that Wally Bunker was not going to pitch forever.

Sometime after that, however, I learned that while yesterday is over, it is never gone.  Somewhere inside me, (for who knows where the heart stores its memories?) the Beatles are new, first love is fresh, and Wally Bunker is still throwing sinkers under the bats of American League hitters.


9 Responses to “Childhood and Wally Bunker”
  1. Norm Coleman says:

    I was dating a women in 1964 who had a 16 year old son who attended San Mateo (CA) Hi School.
    Wally Bunker attended Capuchino Hi (San Bruno, Ca) My friend’s son dreamed of being a Major Leaguer. He was on the baseball team at San Mateo.
    He told me he faced a kid named Bunker that afternoon, he struck out 3 times and never saw the ball. In 7 innings, Bunker struck out 15 batters and easiy won.
    My friend’s son cried when he told me he faced the fact he would never be a Big Leaguer. He quit
    after the season ended and never played baseball again. Bunker was a Phenom!

  2. Austin says:

    Fascinating story, Norm! I remember the day I realized that I would never be a big leaguer. Of course, I still sit on my porch at night and shout into the darkness that my name is Joe Hardy, but you have to be old enough to remember Damn Yankees to understand. I know that Wally Bunker certainly had all of us in Baltimore excited in 1964.

  3. Lisa Bunker says:

    What a great article! Wally Bunker is my father-in-law, and we named our first son after him. Just read this article to Wally’s 3 grandsons (13, 11, 8). Two of whom LOVE baseball. Their eyes lit up, and I don’t think they knew that the Orioles named Bunker Hill after him, until now. Very fun. Thanks so much, Lisa Bunker

  4. Austin says:

    Lisa, thank you so much for your kind words. It pleases me greatly to think that my childhood that was touched by Wally Bunker, has touched, if only for a few moments, the childhood of his grandchildren.

  5. Joanne Pokorny says:


  6. Austin says:

    @Joanne Pokorny – Joanne! Please know that you and Vicki have resided all these years in that place where the fondest memories are kept. And I still have the Gino Marchetti button.

  7. Mike Smalley says:

    About six years ago I was visiting friends who had just moved to Ridgeland SC, and who were having a house built there. While the new home construction was in progress, they took up temporary housing nearby, at a lakeside community, Palm Key Nature Getaway, that had 20 or so lakeside bungalows that were available for rent. The community also had a main Lodge, where one would come to see the week’s events posted, or simply to say hello to their neighbors. It was a large gathering place, with ample wall space for folks to hang notices of items for sale, etc. As luck would have it, on the wall for sale that day was a whimsical painting of a storybook character named Wal-De-Mar Wiggins by its creator. I was immediately taken by the whimsical nature of the piece, and knew I had to have it; not sure why…It just “spoke to me”! Upon further discussion with the owners of the lodge, I learned that Wally Bunker was the artist who created the painting, and he was a resident! We took a walk to Mr Bunker’s “house” and he answered the door, and graciously signed the work of art that he had created. I have that painting hanging prominently in my Family Room now, in Woodbury NJ, and enjoy re-telling visitors the story of Wally’s baseball career, and how he reinvented himself, with the help of his Lovely Wife, into a Children’s storybook writer, after his career was ended by a bum arm injury. It is a story that inspires hope to those who are going through an unexpected career change, which makes it that much more gratifying to tell. I am truly awed that Wally sold me that painting, and I will treasure it always, as a work of Inspiration. Thank you, Wally!

  8. That’s a great story, Mike, and I appreciate your sharing it. Wally has certainly led a fascinating life.

  9. Here in the waning days of 2020, I just found this Classic Radio Broadcast of Wally Bunker’s debut at Memorial Stadium on September 29, 1963 at Memorial Stadium.

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