This article was written by Norm King
Between 1980 and 1990, Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies won more Gold Gloves, six, than any other National League third basemen. But do you know who won the second-most? The answer may surprise you.
If you had guessed Tim Wallach, you would have been correct. Wallach, who spent 17 years in the majors with the Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Dodgers, and California Angels, was, arguably, the heir to the great Phillies legend as the best third baseman in baseball during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In addition to winning three Gold Gloves (1985, 1988, 1990), he was a five-time All-Star, and won two Silver Slugger Awards.
Timothy Charles Wallach was born on September 17, 1957, in Huntington Beach, California. As a youngster, he played high school ball at University High School in Irvine, California. He was quite confident in his abilities, and expected to be drafted after graduating in 1975, but all he got was a hard lesson in the realities of the baseball business.
“I thought I was the greatest and I was going to get signed but I didn’t know how it all worked,” Wallach said. “That was probably the most disappointing time that I remember is when I didn’t get drafted out of high school because I wanted to sign and go. I knew that’s what I wanted to do but as it turned out, it was the best thing for me not to.”1
Once he got over the disappointment, Wallach decided to continue his education and development as a player. He went to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, for 1976 and 1977, and then moved on to Cal State Fullerton, where his numbers and career prospects both took off. In a harbinger of things to come, Wallach hit a home run in his first at-bat with Cal State, in 1978. He went on to lead the team in hitting (.394), home runs (16), RBIs (80), and slugging (.715), all school records while playing first base for the team. He was drafted as a free agent in the eighth round of the 1978 amateur draft by the California Angels, but the two sides couldn’t agree on a bonus, so Wallach returned to Cal State for his senior year.
That summer he displayed his capacity to play well in northern climes by playing with the Alaska Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League. This was no slouch of a team, Wallach’s teammates included future major leaguers Terry Francona – who later played alongside Wallach on the Expos – Ed VandeBerg and Tim Leary. Wallach was the team’s most valuable player, with a .328 average, 20 homers, and 66 RBIs in 70 games.
Wallach’s accomplishments in Alaska were pale in comparison to what he did when he returned to Cal State Fullerton in 1979. He hit .392, but bettered his school records in home runs with 20 and RBIs with 102. He led the team to a 60-14-1 record and the College World Series title in Omaha, Nebraska. He won both the Golden Spikes Award as USA Baseball’s top amateur player and The Sporting News’ College Player of the Year Award.
Despite these numbers, he was not the first overall pick in the 1979 amateur draft. That honor went to Al Chambers, who played in a total of 57 games over three years with the Seattle Mariners. 2 Luckily for the Expos, Wallach was still available when their turn came up at number 10. Wallach signed this time.
Wallach’s first stop as a professional was with the AA Memphis Chicks of the Southern League. The Chicks roster included talented players that became part of the strong Expos teams of the early 1980s, including Tim Raines, Bill Gullickson, and Charlie Lea. Wallach only played 75 games, but still managed to hit .327 with 18 homers and 51 RBIs. Those numbers were good enough to get him promoted to the AAA Denver Bears of the American Association for the 1980 season.
The 1980 Bears were a juggernaut, and with a 92-44 record, they steamrolled over their opposition. In fact, the team is listed at Number 37 on the milb.com list of the greatest minor league teams of all time (the team probably would have been rated higher but it lost in the league playoffs).3 Wallach hit .281 with 36 home runs and 124 RBIs, and led the league in total bases with 292. Not surprisingly, he was a September call-up and played left field in his first game on September 6, 1980, at San Francisco. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance, and then in a case of deja-vu all over again, he hit a home run in his first official major league at-bat off of the Giants’ Phil Nastu.4
Wallach made the regular roster in the strike-shortened 1981 season, and played in 71 games that year, in right field, left field, third base, and first base. He hit only .236 with four home runs and 13 RBIs, but nonetheless made the roster for the Expos’ 1981 post-season. In two playoff series he got one hit in five at-bats and scored one run.
The Expos obviously saw something beyond the numbers as they decided to trade incumbent third baseman Larry Parrish to the Texas Rangers and anoint Wallach as the team’s man at the hot corner. Wallach responded offensively with 28 home runs and 97 RBIs. His defense, unfortunately, was still a work-in-progress, as he committed 23 errors, third-highest total in the league.
His error total declined slightly in 1983 to 19, but he was still among the league leaders in errors and had to improve his defense to become a complete player. That process began the following season.
“The turning point (in Wallach’s improved defensive skills) came in the spring of ’84 when former Pirate great Bill Mazeroski, an Expo instructor at the time, pointed out that Wallach was straightening up before he made his lateral move,” wrote Henry Hecht in Sports Illustrated. “Staying down improved his range dramatically. With work, his hands became softer, his arm more accurate.”5
He still committed 21 errors that season, fourth in the National League, but improved enough to earn his first All-Star berth. He followed that up in 1985 with his first Gold Glove by leading NL third basemen in putouts, chances, assists and double plays. His 22 home runs and 81 RBIs led to him winning his first Silver Slugger award. He also received his second All-Star Game invitation. Had the National League’s managers chosen the All-Star starters, he would have started, according to an Associated Press poll of National League pilots. Eight of the nine NL managers who participated in the poll felt that Wallach deserved the starting nod over the fans’ choice, Graig Nettles of the San Diego Padres.6 In fact, he came in fourth in the fan voting, behind Nettles, Schmidt, and Ron Cey of the Chicago Cubs. Wallach, never one for self-promotion, appreciated the managers’ support, yet was comfortable with the fans’ selections.
“It’s nice to have that kind of respect from managers,” said Wallach. “They (the players who received more votes than he did) are the ones the fans want to see and the fans are entitled to see them.”7
Wallach’s 1986 season was memorable only in that he led the league in being hit by pitches, with 10. His season got off to a bad start when he broke his toe near the end of spring training, which caused him to go 1-for-13 at the plate in his first four games.8 Things continued to go south from that point on. He was benched for an entire series against the Mets in September, when his batting average was down to .234, and his season came to an early end when he suffered a chip fracture in his lefty ankle. Overall, his .233 batting average was the lowest of his career up to that point, and after the season ended, his name was bandied about in trade talks. At one point, St. Louis General Manager Dal Maxvill reported that the Cardinals were close to a deal with the Expos for Wallach’s services, but the trade was never completed.9
As the saying goes, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. That was certainly the case with the Expos’ non-trade of Wallach in 1987. Prior to that season, the Expos were considered a shoo-in for sixth place in the NL East (Sports Illustrated ranked them 24th out of 26 teams that year – only the Atlanta Braves, who were in the NL West at the time, and the Seattle Mariners ranked lower).10 Superstars like Gary Carter and Andre Dawson were gone, and Tim Raines, a victim of the owners’ collusion efforts, did not re-sign with the Expos until May 1. They also lost five straight games to start the season.
Wallach chose 1987 to have a career year, and led the Expos to a 91-71 record, four games behind the division-winning Cardinals. He led the league in doubles (42) and set career highs for home runs (26), RBIs (123, still a franchise record) and batting average (.298). Never known as a speedster, he managed to hit the only two inside-the-park home runs of his career that season. If that wasn’t enough, he also pitched a shutout ninth inning to end a blowout 8-0 loss in San Francisco, giving up one hit and no walks. He was an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger award, and finished fourth in MVP voting.
Wallach’s production fell off significantly over the 1988 and 1989 seasons both in home runs (12 and 13 respectively) and RBIs (69 and 77). He did win his second gold glove in ’88; in ’89 he led the league in doubles and was an All-Star. Nonetheless, it appeared that he had reached his peak and was on the downside of his career.
Then came 1990, a year of ups and downs for Wallach. Just before the season started, Wallach’s agent Rod Wright reported that his stoic client was unhappy because first baseman Andres Galarraga was earning $1.2 million more than he was, and wanted his contract renegotiated. 11 Wallach made it clear that the assertion was untrue.
“There have been things written that are completely false,” Wallach said. “People have said I want to renegotiate, that I want to be traded, that I’m unhappy with the guy hitting behind me. That’s just not true. I’m signed here for two more years, and I’m going to play under the conditions of my contract.”12
In the same article, Wallach made it clear that anyone wanting information about him should speak to him and not his agent.13
The salary issue did not prevent Wallach from having another great season, both offensively and defensively. He hit .296, smacked 21 home runs and drove in 98, was an All-Star for the fifth and final time and won his third Gold Glove. He even garnered a few MVP votes. This performance earned him the honor of being named the first captain in Expos’ history.
“This is something I don`t do without a lot of thought,” Expos manager Buck Rodgers said. “This is an honor for a player, it`s not a fictitious title. Tim Wallach is the player for this ball club. He’s proven himself on and off the field. I didn`t want a co-captain or a tri-captain or a wrong captain. He`s not a rah-rah guy but he’s going to get the job done.”14
Despite being named team captain, the 1991 season was forgettable for both Wallach and the Expos. The team finished last in the NL East with a 71-91 record, and the only offensive statistic that was higher for Wallach than the previous year was the number of strikeouts (100, compared to 80 in 1990). He probably found his career-low .225 batting average pretty offensive as well.
That poor team performance and Wallach’s reduced production prompted Expos’ management to make some changes that affected Wallach and weren’t, in his opinion, handled very well. They traded Galarraga to the St. Louis Cardinals and wanted Wallach to replace him at first base.
“The first I heard of it was during the Expos’ caravan in January of ’92,” said Wallach. [Manager] Tom Runnells came up to me and asked me if I was willing to play first. I said I’d rather not…But I didn’t hear anymore about it until the third week of spring training when Runnells and [General Manager Dan] Duquette called me into the office.
“They said they were going to make the move. I told them I didn’t want to play first. I was pretty upset. I told them to trade me.”15
Wallach blamed Duquette for the move, but there’s little doubt that Runnells had the idea and influenced the way it was handled. Runnells was fired May 22, and his replacement, Felipe Alou immediately moved Wallach back to third. The atmosphere on the club improved so much when Alou took over that the team, which was 17-20 when Runnells was fired, finished 87-75. Nonetheless, the damage had been done, and Wallach’s play suffered as a result. He hit only nine home runs and drove in only 59 runners. The Expos traded their captain at season’s end to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor-leaguer Tim Barker. Wallach was gracious toward the Expos after his his departure.
“I know they (the Expos) want to win,” Wallach said. “They want to win at a lower price and I can’t see anything wrong with that.”16
Wallach posted a .280 season with 23 HRs and 78 RBIs in 1994, but fell to .266, nine home runs, and 38 RBIs the following year. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on December 5, 1995. He was batting .237 with 8 home runs and 20 RBIs when the Angels released him on July 19. The Dodgers re-acquired him on July 25, and he batted .228 with four homers and 22 RBIs in the stretch drive.
Wallach’s post-Expos playing career did have a few highlights. He had a good year in the strike-shortened 1994 season (23 home runs, 78 RBIs) and played in the 1995 and 1996 National League Division Series (NLDS) (one hit in 12 at-bats in 1995 and zero hits in 11 at-bats in 1996). Age and the effects of injuries that diminished his production prompted Wallach to retire after the 1996 season.
Wallach has had a very successful life since his playing days ended, both personally and professionally. He has had successful managing stints at various levels in in the minors, at Level A with the California League in 1998 and 2001, and with the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate, the Alberquerque Isotopes of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 2009-10. Wallach led them to a playoff appearance in his first year (the Isotopes had an 80-64 record but lost in the first round of the playoffs), and was named 2009 PCL Manager of the Year. He became the Dodgers’ third base coach in 2011, and as of this writing, has been interviewed for a number of managerial jobs at the major league level. He was elected into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.
Wallach’s family life has not only been satisfying, but award-winning. He met his wife Lori, a softball player, at a party in 1979 and they married the next year. They have three sons: Matt (b. 1986), Brett (b. 1988) and Chad (b. 1991). All three boys play baseball and were drafted by the Dodgers, but none have made it to the majors.
The Wallach’s family life was such that in 2012, Tim, Lori and their three sons were awarded the “Ray Boone Family” award by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.17 The award has been handed out annually since 2005 to families where multiple generations have been involved in baseball.
Overall, Wallach is pleased with his career. “It was a good career,” he said. “I was pleased with my overall play.”18
So were a lot of Expos fans.
Gallagher, Danny and Bill Young. Remembering the Montreal Expos (Toronto: Scoop Press, 2005).
Orange County Register, October 18, 2012.
Montreal Gazette, July 12, 1985.
1 Tim Burt, “Dodger coach Tim Wallach returns to University,” Orange County Register, October 18, 2012
5 Henry Hecht, “An Expo In Need of Exposure,” Sports Illustrated, April 28, 1986
6 Associated Press, “Managers Choose Wallach as All-Star,” Montreal Gazette, July 12, 1985
8 Brian Kappler, “Expos walk to win in home opener,” Montreal Gazette, April 16, 1986
9 The Sporting News, January 5, 1987
10 Sports Illustrated, April 6, 1987
11 The Sporting News, April 2, 1990
12 Ian MacDonald, “Wallach is Expos’ ‘Grind It Out’ Star,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1990
14 Sharon Robb, “Small Town, Big Dreams Expos’ Barnes is Big News Back Home,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 16, 1991
15 Danny Gallagher and Bill Young, Remembering the Montreal Expos (Toronto, Scoop Press, 2005), p. 179
16 Jeff Blair, The Sporting News, January 4, 1993
17 Randy Youngman, “Wallachs honored with family award,” Orange County Register, January 11, 2012
18 Gallagher and Young.