The best curve ball that Babe Ruth ever saw came not from Walter Johnson, Dazzy Vance, or Firpo Marberry. It was from Walter Beall, a DC sandlot baseball legend who was a teammate and hunting buddy of Ruth’s — the pair used a West Virginia cabin owned by Beall’s paternal grandfather.1 “His curve broke down, and I’ll swear he could break it three or four inches,” wrote the Sultan of Swat in Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball.2
Beall pitched one inning for the 1927 New York Yankees, regarded by many metrics — mathematical and anecdotal alike — as the greatest baseball team ever. But his Achilles heel was control. Or lack of it. The problem plagued him throughout his career.
Born in Washington, D.C., to Benjamin — a Navy Yard machinist — and Lillie Beall on July 29, 1899, the future pitcher was christened Walter Esau.3 At 14, Beall played for the Friends School — a 1914 box score has him playing left field4 — then ascended the following year to the pros. But the 15-year-old phenom got kicked off the Frederick Hustlers in the Blue Ridge League once the manager discovered his age. Beall also pitched in the amateur ranks in 1915 for the Rosedale club in the Washington-area Rosedale League postseason5 after playing for the Crescent team in Baltimore.6 On July 9, he set an amateur strikeout record — 21 in eight innings against Eastern Rotary.7
In 1916, Beall was with the Mohawk club, an independent amateur team.8 He played for the Mohawk and Rex clubs in 19179 and went professional the following year for the Martinsburg Mountaineers in the Class-D Blue Ridge League, where he compiled an 0-4 record and led the league in walks but struck out 27 in 39 innings. The BRL lasted three weeks.10
Beall registered for military service at the tail end of World War I, assigned as a supply clerk in the War Risk Insurance division,11 which had a team in the District Baseball Association along with other government nines.12 Naval Operations beat Beall and his cohorts, 8-1, in the third and deciding game for the DBA championship.13
In 1919, Beall pitched for the sandlot team Southern Railway14 and Zone Finance in the Government League.15 He also made two appearances for Portsmouth in the Virginia League, resulting in an 0-1 record.16 Beall stayed in the Old Dominion State in 1920 — he went 6-7 for the Norfolk Mary Janes in the Virginia League with a 3.20 ERA in 15 games and 118 innings pitched..
In 1921, Beall’s reputation grew in the DC-area amateur circuit as he played for the Quentin Athletic club,17 Bearcats,18 and Quincy.19 He racked up two no-hitters and a 23-strikeout game.20 His 1922 endeavors consisted of pitching for Mohawk21 and returning to Martinsburg, where he played in two games for an 0-1 record.22
Beall’s fortunes changed when he played for Greenville in the East Carolina Baseball League, an “outlaw” enterprise that was neither associated with nor recognized by Major League Baseball; Gene Stallings, the manager of the Double-A Rochester Tribe in the International League, spotted his talent and forked over $2,000 to Greenville for Beall’s “reinstatement” in professional ranks.23
Beall’s promise was tempered. Still maturing as a pitcher, he was described as “a youngster of marked natural ability, but he has turned in some erratic performances, chiefly because of lack of knowledge of the way to obtain results from his ‘stuff.’”25
An exemplary performance occurred on June 30 — a two-hitter in the first game of doubleheader against the Buffalo Bisons. Beall got more than enough run support in the 8-0 victory.26 Beall went 15-9 in 1923 — including a game where he pitched all 14 innings in a win against Newark27 — and ended the season with a 2.81 ERA,28 the second lowest in the International League.29
In June 1924, Beall struck out 16 batters in the first game of a doubleheader against the Bears; Rochester won 5-2 and lost the second game 3-1.30 The Yankees purchased Beall’s contract in August, reportedly for $50,000,31 though an article three weeks later in Binghamton’s Press and Sun-Bulletin claimed the cost was uncertain.32 Beall finished his 1924 tenure in Rochester with a 25-8 record.33
His maiden major-league voyage yielded four games, a 2-0 record, 18 innings pitched, 18 strikeouts, and a 3.52 ERA. “Yes. Beall has a fine curve ball and he is just wild enough to be effective,” said Yankees skipper Miller Huggins. “You don’t see many batters taking toe holds against his style of pitching.”34
Huggins used Beall primarily as a reliever in 1925 — eight appearances, 12.71 ERA, 111/3 innings pitched — before sending him to the St. Paul Saints in the American Association on July 3 while fellow hurler Elmer Duggan, who was also under option, got his walking papers to Hartford. Whitey Witt was “released unconditionally.”35 The highlight of Beall’s St. Paul tenure was a one-hitter against the Triple-A Milwaukee Brewers, missing the milestone of blanking 27 consecutive batters when pitcher Johnny Stuart knocked a single.36 Beall went 7-8 for the Saints, then returned to the Yankees in 1926 — started nine games; appeared in 20; compiled a 2-4 record; and brought his ERA down to 3.53.
Beall’s one inning for the lauded Yankees of 1927 took place in the first game of a doubleheader against Philadelphia on May 30. He relieved Joe Giard, in the bottom of the eighth and got the legendary Ty Cobb out on an F-7 fly. Then, Al Simmons doubled, stole third, and scored on Jimmy Dykes’s sacrifice fly. Mickey Cochrane grounded out.
Two weeks later, Beall got released back to St. Paul “under an optional agreement.”37 In his return, Beall walked 10 and struck out 10 in a complete-game, 2-2 tie.38 The second St. Paul tenure lasted seven weeks, ending with a 2-2 record, nine appearances, and 4.68 ERA. On July 29, a hint of his exodus appeared in the Star;39 he was gone a little more than a week later to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Joe Maley, a minor-league pitcher from 1924-1931 who was 5-14 before the trade.40 The Toronto press described Beall as “brilliant but erratic”41 and “[having] a world of stuff but on his record he does not know what to do with it.”42
You didn’t need to be Nostradamus to predict what happened next.
Beall’s pitching against the Reading Keystones resulted in the headline “Beall At Old Tricks Wilder’N Two Hawks.” The 6-5 loss was Beall’s only start for Toronto,43 which, too, had “an optional agreement”44 that was exercised. He went to the Hartford Senators in mid-August with great expectations.45 Beall’s record in Hartford was 3-6 in 12 games.
Returning to Canada for part of 1928, Beall pitched himself to a 1-5 record and 3.73 ERA in 10 games for the Montreal Royals, which released Beall to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association in early July.46 It was classified as a loan from the Yankees, who “refused time and again to sell him.”47 Beall’s reputation preceded him, inducing the Chattanooga Daily Times to report on the wildness.48 It manifested twice in a complete-game, 8-3 victory against the Mobile Bears.49 Wildness caused a loss against the Memphis Chicks in his next opportunity.50
Beall’s last appearance for Chattanooga appears to be on August 17, when he was replaced after the Birmingham Barons knocked him for four runs; the Lookouts lost 9-5.51 He began 1929 with the semipro St. Mary’s Celtics from Alexandria, Virginia and struck out 11 in a 4-3 victory against Wilkes-Barre in the New York-Pennsylvania League.52 But he went back to the pros for his hometown Washington Nationals at the end of May.53 Once again, the imbalance between Beall’s talent and control was described by local press.54
The Nationals released Beall at the end of June for space reasons.55 He went back to semipro ball and played with the Bloomingdale Club.56 In late April, 1930, he joined the Bugle Club57 and returned to professional ranks with the 1931 Norfolk Tars in the Eastern League. It was a brief stint — three games, 0-1 record. Beall was reported as being “far overweight and far from being in condition” with the Tars.58 Norfolk released him in late May.59
Less than a week later, Beall journeyed to the Keystone State to take a job with the semipro Penn Central Light and Power Company Lightmen in Altoona and made his first appearance on May 26. Beall pitched in 15 games; his record was 7-7 and summarized as “wildness in streaks.”60
In 1932, Beall went to the Shreveport Sports, managed by George Sisler, in the Texas League. Wildness reared in his first official game for Shreveport. Though he allowed five hits, his control issues let three runs score in an exhibition game against the bearded House of David squad. The Sports won 8-4; Beall lasted seven innings and had “a nice curve ball.”61
He pitched at least one game for the Knoxville Smokies in May, giving up four hits and a walk in the first inning against the Nashville Volunteers, which won 15-6.62 Beall went to the Youngstown Buckeyes in the Central League in mid-May63 and pitched in a handful of games.64 A 5-4 loss against the Erie Sailors was apparently his last professional game;65 Youngstown released Beall along with Eddie Boland in mid-July.66
His passion for baseball continued in the semiprofessional rosters, where he played for different teams, sometimes in the same years. In 1933, Beall pitched for the Bloomingdale Club based in Baltimore’s West End in the city’s Semi-Pro League.67 In 1934, Beall not only hurled for Bloomingdale68 again, but for Culpeper in the Valley League69 and the semipro champion Cloverland Farms Dairy Team,70 showing his old form where he struck out 10 in one game.71
He headed to Virginia to play for Culpeper again in 1935,72 where he notched a 7-1 record.73 Beall also pitched for the Resettlement Greenbelts in the Industrial League74 in 1936, as well as the Green Belt of Berwyn.75
Post-professional days included playing in a charity exhibition game in 1939 for Clark Griffith, joining Walter Johnson, Joe Judge, and Sammy Rice.76 He coached baseball at Washington’s Eastern High School for several years and worked in the Sanitation Department.
Beall’s personal life was fraught with tragedy. His wife Alma (née Mitchell) died at the age of 38 in 1939 from an ectopic pregnancy.77 She had two additional miscarriages and delivered three children — Alma Lorraine, Deanna Joan, and Walter, Jr., who died at nearly 18 months old on August 31, 1933 after his tricycle overturned and the handlebar “pierced his mouth.” Although the wound was treated and not believed to be a serious injury, it got infected.78
Given Beall’s gregarious nature, it’s logical that he paired with Babe Ruth but conflicted somewhat with his travel roommate, the rather taciturn Lou Gehrig.79 Walter and Alma would often go dancing with the Babe and his wife in Washington and Baltimore. One of Beall’s hidden talents was playing the piano by ear.80
Walter Beall died on January 28, 1959 from congestive heart failure. He was 59.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and David Lippman and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.
Beall’s last surviving child, Deanna McClure, grandchildren — Walter Anthony McClure, James Ronald McClure, Kelli Rachael McClure Sweeney — and granddaughter Judy Smith were invaluable for their family research, encouragement, and support regarding this biography.
1 Walter Anthony McClure, telephone interview with David Krell, December 3, 2019.
2 George Herman Ruth, Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1928), 86.
3 1900 U.S. Federal Census, 1920 U.S. Federal Census, accessed December 2, 2019, Ancestry.com.
4 “G.U. Preps Winners,” Washington Post, April 4, 1914: 9.
5 “Baltimore Is Anxious to Get in the Intercity Baseball Series, But Local Authorities Are Not Sure Requirements Can Be Met,” Washington Post, July 18, 1915: SP4.
6 Ibid. See also “Amateur Baseball Results,” Washington Post, June 30, 1915: 5.
7 “Strikes Out 21 Men In Amateur Contest: Beall, of Crescents, Also Makes a Home Run That Beats Rotary, 9 to 8,” Washington Post, July 10, 1915: 9.
8 “Marine Team of 1915 Is Pretty Well Scattered; Many of Players Have Left Uncle Sam’s Ranks,” Washington Post, May 21, 1916: S2.
10 Mark Zeigler, “Walter Esau Bell: Pitcher, 1918 Martinsburg, Class D, Blue Ridge League,” Boys of the Blue Ridge: The Early Years, 1915-1918 (Frederick, Maryland: self-published, 2005), 88.
11 Walter Esau Bell, Registration Card, Serial Number 4081, Order Number 4663, Local Board For Division Number 5, District of Columbia, September 12, 1918.
12 Bryan Morse, “Fans Favor Operators To Land Title Series,” Washington Times, September 26, 1918: 14. The other teams in the DBA were along with Naval Operations, Navy Yard, Quantico Marines, Cappub, Clarendon, Rex A.C., and Army Medicos. The Times article described, “Walter Beall is a strong youngster who is a clouter as well as a pitcher.”
13 “Operations Lands Baseball Honors,” Washington Post, September 30, 1918: 8.
14 “Southern Railway Surprises Sandlot Fans By Gaining 3 To 1 Victory Over Cloffeps,” Washington Post, August 28, 1919: 12.
15 “Hits Off Amateurs’ Bats,” Washington Post, June 22, 1919: 18. Southern Railway lost to War Risk in the semi-finals stage of the Sandlot Championship Playoffs.
16 Zeigler, 88.
17 “Quincy Star Hurls No-Hit, No-Run Game,” Washington Herald, April 4, 1921: 9.
18 “Hunt’s Bearcats Play Linworth A.C.,” Washington Times, May 17, 1921: 13.
19 “Grace Easily Defeats Quincy Nine, 17 to 4,” Washington Herald, August 28, 1921: 10.
20 R. D. Thomas, “Sandlotters’ Salt and Pepper,” Washington Times, April 29, 1922: 17.
21 “Mohawks Down Dominic Nine,” Washington Post, September 8, 1922: 12.
22 “Vic Gauzza, ‘Judge Landis’ of D.C. Sandlots, Dies After 47 Years on Local Sports Scene: Funeral to Be Held Monday,” Washington Post, January 2, 1953: 16.
23 “Royals Played To Nearly 90,000 In 20 Home Contests: Rain During Rochester and Toronto Series Represented Loss of 50,000 More, Newark Drew Well, Attracted 16,000, Largest Sunday Crowd of Season, and Also Topped All Marks for Single Series,” The Gazette (Montreal), June 6, 1928: 16; see also Walter Haight. The East Carolina Baseball League lasted from 1920 to 1922 and consisted of six teams in North Carolina’s eastern region: Washington, New Bern, Kinston, Greenville, Tarboro, and Farmville.
24 “Rochester Buys Highly-Touted Pitcher From Norfolk,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), January 14, 1923: 42.
25 “Trouping With Stallings,” Democrat and Chronicle, April 15, 1923: 48.
26 “Rochester Splits Double Bill With Bisons,” Democrat and Chronicle, July 1, 1923: 39.
27 “Walter Beall Hurls Tribe To 14-Inning Win,” Democrat and Chronicle, August 24, 1923: 24.
28 “International League Pitching Fell Off Last Season,” Democrat and Chronicle, January 20, 1924: 35.
29 “International League Pitching Fell Off Last Season.”
30 “Tribesmen Divide Double-Header With Newark Bears: Season Record For Beall In Winning First,” Democrat and Chronicle, June 10, 1924: 28.
31 “Yankees Purchase Rochester Player,” Buffalo Times, August 28, 1924: 13.
32 “Draft Revival By ‘Int’ Again Hinted,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), September 19, 1924: 33. “But whether that price is $25,000 or $50,000, nobody but officials of both clubs knows. Some feel that the local club was given the smaller sum and a promise of new players.”
33 “Beall Says Adieu With Twenty-Fifth Win For Tribe,” Democrat and Chronicle, August 31, 1924: 32. Beall’s 25th victory came after he agreed to go to the Yankees. He won his 25th game against the Bears in the first half of a doubleheader.
34 “Hard Row For Yanks To Hoe, Says Huggins,” Washington Post, September 11, 1924: S1..
35 “Yankees Release Ol’ Whitey Witt,” Daily News (New York), July 4, 1925: 52.
36 Charles Johnson, “Kelley To Gamble On Draft, Refuses To ‘Cover Up:’ Any One of Half Dozen Millers May Be Lost in ‘Lottery’ — George Fisher Becomes Leading Hitter of Club as Others Fall Into Slumps,” Minneapolis Star, September 15, 1925: 8.
37 “Yanks Return Walter Beall to St. Paul,” Associated Press, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, June 15, 1927: 14..
38 “Brewers and Saints Play 2-2 Tie,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 2, 1927: 21.
39 Charles Johnson, “Kelley Plans Shakeup For Inner Works: Earl Smith Lost Indefinitely — Brewers Near Season Records,” Minneapolis Daily Star, July 29, 1927: 18.
40 Charlie Good, “Leafs Get New Boxman And Take Two Tussles,” Toronto Daily Star, August 8, 1927: 23. For reasons passing understanding, the newspaper initially referred to him as Carl Beall.
41 Charlie Good, “Faulkner May Get Trial With Giants,” Toronto Daily Star, August 5, 1927: 7.
42 Charlie Good, “New Toronto Twirler Three Years In Majors: Don Songer Spent Most of That Time With the Pirates of Pittsburg, Joins Club Today, Leafs Outbat Birds But Lose Fourth Game of Series — Idle This Afternoon,” Toronto Daily Star, August 9, 1927: 9.
43 Charlie Good, “Beall At Old Tricks Wilder’N Two Hawks,” Toronto Daily Star, August 12, 1927: 12.
44 “Reds to Send Christensen to Columbus: Saints Send Beall to Toronto — Acquire Two Hurlers,” Minneapolis Daily Star, August 6, 1927: 19.
45 “Calling ’Em Right,” Hartford Courant, August 19, 1927: 17. The article praised Beall but also warned of the control issue. “In fact, Beall is said to throw up a ball which does not curve — just explodes as it reaches the batter.”
46 “Royals Snatched Double Win From Buffalo Bisons,” The Gazette (Montreal), July 2, 1928: 12.
47 E. T. Bales, “Yankees Send $25,000 Pitcher to Lookouts Is Expected to Work Today,” Chattanooga News, July 25, 1928: 13.
48 “Lowly Locals Return Today For 20 Games,” Chattanooga Daily Times, July 6, 1928: 10.
49 “Lookouts Win Fourth Straight, Beating Bears, 8 to 3 — Staff Settled, Morale High,” Chattanooga Daily Times, July 13, 1928: 8.
50 “Lookouts Stopped By Chick Hitters,” Chattanooga News, July 17, 1928: 10.
51 “Bottles Tossed As Barons Win, 9 To 5,” Chattanooga News, August 18, 1928: 6.
52 “Beall Stars As Celtics Score,” Washington Post, April 15, 1929: 15.
53 Frank II. Young, “Huggmen Here For 4-Game Series,” Washington Post, May 28, 1929: 17.
54 Frank II. Young, “Huggmen Here For 4-Game Series.”
55 Frank II. Young, “McCullough To Be Added To List,” Washington Post, July 1, 1929: 14.
56 “New Talent In Sox Line-Up For Opening Games Sunday,” Evening Sun (Baltimore), April 9, 1930: 28.
57 “Walter Beall Ready To Hurl For Bugles,” Evening Sun, April 25, 1930: 41.
58 “‘Buck’ Greene Hurls First Full Game As Hartford Wins, 6-3,” Hartford Courant, April 16, 1931: 17.
59 Ed Kelly, “Kel-e-Graphs,” Scranton Republican, May 30, 1931: 13.
60 Muzz, “Static,” Altoona Tribune, October 6, 1931: 8.
61 “House of David Team Defeated by Sisler’s Men,” Shreveport Times, April 6, 1932: 7.
62 Blinkey Horn, “Vols Battle Knoxville To Leave Cellar — Milstead Goes,” Nashville Tenneseean, May 10, 1932: 8.
63 “Walter Beall Signs Up With Youngstown,” Associated Press, Cumberland Sunday Times, May 22, 1932: 5.
64 The Youngstown Vindicator and other Ohio newspapers consulted by the author do not have box scores, so it’s difficult to discern the credits for wins and losses.
65 “Failure to Hit in Pinch Gives Sailors Another Game,” Youngstown Vindicator, July 11, 1932: 8.
66 “Beall Cast Adrift By Buckeye Outfit,” Akron Beacon Journal, July 13, 1932: 17.
67 “Hurlers Show Class In Semi-Pro Wheel,” Evening Sun (Baltimore), May 10, 1933: 23.
68 “Homestead Set For Bloomingdale Nine,” Evening Sun, May 31, 1934: 32.
69 “Walter L. Beall Too Much for Warrenites,” Staunton News-Leader (Norfolk, VA), August 2, 1934: 6.
70 “Beall And Carroll Hurl Twin Victory,” Evening Sun (Baltimore), April 25, 1934: 23.
71 “Dairymen Win Twin Decision,” The Sun, April 30, 1934: 11..
72 “Hustler-Maroon Fray Scheduled,” The News (Frederick, Maryland), June 22, 1935: 6.
73 “Beall, Hash Lead Valley Pitchers,” Washington Post, September 14, 1935: 13. Beall played half the season.
74 “Greenbelts Win On Clapper’s Home Run,” Washington Post, July 22, 1936: X21.
75 “Ex-Major Leaguers Meet Bloomingdale,” Evening Sun, September 11, 1936: 40.
76 “Johnson, Joe Judge, Rice In Benefit Game Tonight,” Washington Post, September 7, 1939: 20.
77 Deanna McClure, telephone interview with David Krell, December 2, 2019.
78 “Toy Brings Death to Child,” Washington Post, September 1, 1933: 1.
79 Deanna McClure, telephone interview with David Krell.
80 Deanna McClure, telephone interview with David Krell.