SABR

Walt Lynch

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

When both Roxy Walters and Ed Chaplin suffered injuries in early July 1922, the Boston Red Sox were left with just one catcher – Muddy Ruel. They needed a backup so they brought up Buffalo native Walt Lynch. He appeared in three games, batting .500, and then returned to the minors.

Both of Lynch's parents were immigrants from Ireland who settled in Buffalo, New York. Walter himself was born on April 15, 1893. He attended public school in the city and Niagara Prep, then spent five years getting a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Niagara University and Cortland State College.1 His father, Ambrose, was an immigrant from Cootehall, County Roscommon, Ireland who arrived in the United States in April 1880. Ambrose worked as a molder, and died while Walt was still young, in January 1897.

The head of family at the time of the 1900 census was Walter's mother, Ellen (Driscoll) Lynch. She had five children, all boys: Joseph, Edward, Ambrose, Walter, and Vincent. All her sons were born in New York State. When New York did its own 1905 census, Joseph had left the home, but Edward was working as a weaver, Ambrose a machinist, Walter a laborer, and Vincent a clerk in an office. Ellen was listed as doing housework. Walter later took up carpentry, in which he was engaged at the time of the 1920 census.

It is difficult to track Lynch’s career playing minor-league baseball, but he played semipro ball in the Buffalo area and then began a pro career in 1916, playing for Buffalo, Newark, Martinsburg, and Richmond.2 The Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican mentioned Walter Lynch, a catcher, “who caught a few games at the start of the season for the (Springfield Green) Sox.”3 In 1921 a Lynch pitched for Martinsburg (5-6 in 15 games); whether it is the same Lynch, we do not know.

Lynch had seen service during the First World War; he was inducted into the Army in April 1918, promoted to private first class in May, and made sergeant in April 1919. He served overseas from May 19, 1918, to May 31, 1919.

Walt Lynch – who attracted the nickname “Jabber” –signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox, who farmed him out to the Richmond Colts of the Virginia League. With the injuries to two of Boston’s three catchers, and because the Red Sox faced back-to-back doubleheaders on July 7 and 8, Lynch was recalled. Ruel played the first three of those games, but Lynch spelled Ruel in the second game of the July 8 doubleheader against the visiting first-place St. Louis Browns, working the last three innings. Ruel was 1-for-3 in the game when Lynch came in. Boston had won the first game, 2-1, breaking a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the ninth, but was down 9-2 in the second game. Manager Hugh Duffy asked Lynch to sub in.

Lynch got his first major-league at-bat in the bottom of the eighth, the score now St. Louis 10, Boston 4. He singled, Pinky Pittenger doubled, and then Benn Karr singled them both in. The game ended an inning later, 10-6. The Boston Herald said Lynch “smashed out a lusty single to right centre field.” Its subhead read “LYNCH DEBUTS WITH PROMISE.”4

Again, on July 12, Lynch came in late. The Indians had built up a 11-1 lead, and so Duffy decided to give Ruel a bit of a break near the end of the game. The Red Sox actually rallied to score six runs in the bottom of the ninth, but the 10-run lead was just too big a deficit to overcome. When Lynch’s turn came to bat, he was pulled for a pinch-hitter, who singled, but Boston still fell short to the visiting Indians, 11-7.

Ruel suffered a right thumb injury late in the July 13 game and it looked as if Lynch would have to come in, but Muddy shook it off and completed the game.

Walters was back on the job and caught most of a July 16 exhibition game in Bristol, Connecticut, against the New Departures semipro team. Lynch came in later in the game and was 1-for-1 with a single.

On July 17 Lynch played in his third regulation game. The Tigers were in Boston. Ruel started again for the Red Sox, who scored five runs in the bottom of the first inning. The fans at Fenway were no doubt a little giddy (the Red Sox had finished in last place in 1921 and were on their way to a last-place finish in 1922), but it was short-lived since Detroit scored six times in the top of the second, and kept adding on. They were up 14-5 after six innings (Ty Cobb was having a 5-for-5 day), so Duffy decided to give Ruel a rest in the late innings. Lynch got up once, but without a hit. His career batting average dropped in half, to .500.

With the regular catchers sufficiently healed, there was no need for Lynch any longer, though he’d acquitted himself well enough – no errors, and a.500 batting average thanks to the one single in his only two plate appearances. His major-league career had come to an end, though he couldn’t have known it at the time.

Lynch continued playing baseball, to 1925. In 1924 he was with the Outremont Canadiens in the Class B Quebec-Ontario-Vermont League, with a .260 batting average in 56 games. He was still living at home with his mother, Ellen, and two of his brothers at the time of that year’s state census.

Lynch quit baseball that year and became a high-school physical education teacher and coach in the Buffalo school system.

He married Bernadette Wheeler on July 1937, eventually retired from teaching, and ultimately died in Daytona Beach, Florida, on December 21, 1977.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Lynch’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Standard baseball databases have given Lynch’s year of birth as 1897, but the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) gives it as 1893 and this more or less matches the 1900 United States census, which listed him at 7 years of age. In the player questionnaire Lynch completed for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963, he provided the 1897 date. It was not uncommon for ballplayers to understate their age in hopes of appearing to have a longer career ahead of them.

2 See his obituary in The Sporting News, January 22, 1977.

3 Springfield Republican, July 11, 1917.

4 Boston Herald, July 9, 1922.

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