Wally Gilbert with Brooklyn, c. 1930
December 19, 1900|
|Died: September 7, 1958
|August 17, 1928, for the Brooklyn Robins|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 24, 1932, for the Cincinnati Reds|
|Runs batted in||214|
Walter John Gilbert (December 19, 1900 – September 7, 1958) was an American athlete in professional baseball, football and basketball. He played Major League Baseball from 1928 to 1932 as a third baseman with the Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds. He also played in the National Football League from 1923 to 1926 for the Duluth Kelleys/Eskimos. He played professional basketball for the Buffalo Germans, Denver Tigers, and Two Harbors All-Stars.
Gilbert was born in 1900 in Oscoda, Michigan. He moved to Duluth, Minnesota, as a child. At the time of the 1910 U.S. Census, he was living with his parents, Walter and Minnie Gilbert, in Duluth's 7th Ward. At the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, Gilbert's father, Walter Gilbert, Sr., was employed as a laborer in a Duluth steel plant.
Gilbert graduated from Denfeld High School in Duluth where he starred in baseball, basketball and football. He led Denfeld's football team to a city championship before graduating in 1920.
After graduating from high school, Gilbert attended Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. He played for Valparaiso's 1920 football team that compiled a record of 5-3 and outscored opponents 215 to 60. Gilbert also played baseball and basketball at Valparaiso.
From 1923 to 1926, Gilbert played professional football as a halfback and punter for the Duluth Eskimos of the National Football League. Gilbert played in the backfield with Ernie Nevers and handled punting and forward passing for the Duluth team. He reportedly punted the football 98 yards in a game against Rock Island and set an unofficial football record by drop-kicking a football 61 yards.
Gilbert began his professional baseball career in 1922 playing in the Dakota League for the Valley City Hi-Liners in Valley City, North Dakota. He compiled a .362 batting average for Valley City in 1922.
"He is a well-built lad of some six feet and weighs round 180 pounds. Last reports received from the Saints' training camp at Clarksdale, Miss., are to the effect that Wally has located his batting eye and that he is now smacking the ball regularly and hard. He is a bachelor and good looking despite the way the photographer caught him, covered with four days' growth of stubby beard."
During the 1924 and 1925 baseball seasons, he remained with St. Joseph, appearing in 167 games in 1924 and 152 games in 1925.
In 1925, Gilbert's contract was purchased by the New York Yankees as a potential insurance for injury-prone third baseman, Joe Dugan. Gilbert did not make the Yankees' roster, and he was sold in the spring of 1926 to the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association. Gilbert played for the Crackers from 1926 to 1928 and proved to be a reliable hitter, batting .305 in 1926, .314 in 1927, and .319 in 1928.
Major League Baseball
In August 1928, Gilbert was traded by the Yankees to the Brooklyn Robins (later renamed the Dodgers) in exchange for Jay Partridge. Gilbert was the Robins/Dodgers' starting third baseman from the time he joined the club in August 1928 through the end of the 1931 season. While playing with Brooklyn, Gilbert became known as "The Old Reliable" and developed a reputation as a quiet, dependable fielder. His best years as a batter were 1929 and 1930 when he compiled batting averages of .304 and .294 with 353 hits, 65 doubles, and 125 RBIs. On May 30, 1931, Gilbert tied a Major League record with six hits in a single game against the New York Giants.
In March 1932, Gilbert was traded by the Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that sent Gilbert, Babe Herman, and Ernie Lombardi to the Reds in exchange for Joe Stripp, Tony Cuccinello and Clyde Sukeforth. Gilbert appeared in 114 games for the Reds in 1932, but his batting average dropped more than 50 points below his career average to .214.
At the end of the 1932 season, Gilbert was released by the Reds. The Sporting News reported: "Gilbert's departure via a straight release did not create much excitement here, as the fans hardly expected him to be retained. Wally tried hard at third base last year, but fell shy, so the bugs expected him to move on." Gilbert was acquired in 1933 by the St. Louis Cardinals, but he never made the Cardinals' roster and never played another game in the Major Leagues.
In September 1954, Roscoe McGowen in The Sporting News selected Gilbert over Billy Cox and Joe Stripp as the third baseman on his All-Time Dodgers team. McGowen wrote that, even though Gilbert only hit .300 in one of his years as a Dodger, "[h]e was an aggressive player, what the boys call today one of the 'old pros.'"
Return to the minor leagues
Gilbert continued to play in the minor leagues for several years with the Duluth Dukes and Knoxville Smokies in 1935 and the Duluth Dukes in 1936. In May 1938, Bruno Haas, owner of the Winnipeg Maroons of the Northern League hired Gilbert to play at third base and manage the team. and Superior Blues in 1938.
Gilbert also played several seasons of professional basketball. He played for a professional touring basketball team known as the Two Harbors All-Stars from Two Harbors, Minnesota. He also played for a basketball team sponsored by the Duluth Tank Corp., as well as professional teams in Buffalo, New York (Buffalo Germans) and Denver, Colorado (Denver Tigers).
Family and later years
Gilbert was married to Mary McKay in 1937. They had two children, Pat and John. In 1942, he took a job with U.S. Steel in Duluth and lived at 5217 London Road in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood. While working for U.S. Steel, he managed the Duluth Marine Iron baseball team in the Twin Ports League. He developed a serious lung infection in 1943 and had surgery to remove one of his lungs. Gilbert was unable to work after the loss of his lung. He died in September 1958 in Duluth.
- Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Census Place: Duluth Ward 7, Saint Louis, Minnesota; Roll: T624_725; Page: 19B; Enumeration District: 0189; Image: 961; FHL microfilm: 1374738.
- Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Census Place: Duluth, St Louis, Minnesota; Roll: T625_859; Page: 20A; Enumeration District: 132; Image: 586.
- "Wally Gilbert profile". Hunter Hall of Fame, Denfield Alumni Association. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
- "Fans Meet the Saints: Walter J. (Wally) Gilbert, third baseman". St. Joseph Gazette. April 6, 1923.
- Jay Vessels (May 17, 1929). "Rivals Even Now; Each Has Major Leaguer". Sarasota Herald.
- John Gilbert (August 23, 2002). "Greatest athlete is a personal choice". NewCarPicks.com.
- Ray Luurs. "Wally Gilbert". SABR BioProject.
- "Valparaiso Yearly Results". College Football Data Warehouse.
- "Walter John "Wally" Gilbert". Zenith City Online. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
- "Grid Tour Took Dodger Recruit to Many Parks: Wally Gilbert Was Backfield Man With Duluth Eskimos Under Nevers". St. Petersburt Times. Associated Press. August 10, 1928.
- "Wally Gilbert Made Wausau Manager". The Milwaukee Journal. December 19, 1938.
- "Wally Gilbert Minor League Statistics & History". Baseball-Reference.com.
- "Walter Gilbert (obituary)". The Sporting News. September 17, 1958. p. 44.
- "Little Flash In Defensive Play of Wally Gilbert: But Steady Work With Dodgers Has Earned Him 'Reliable' Title". The Hartford Courant. February 15, 1931.
- "Wally Gilbert Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com.
- "Brooklyn and Cincinnati in Big Deal". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 15, 1932.
- "11 Reds Have MOved in Cincy-Card Deals". The Sporting News. January 26, 1933. p. 3.
- Roscoe McGowen (September 1, 1954). "All-Time Dodgers? McGowen Names 5 From Present Club: Vet Scribe Picks Reese, Jackie, Gil, Duke and Campy; Tabs Dixie Walker in Right Field, Zack Wheat in Left". The Sporting News. p. 4.
- "Gilbert Signs Bird Contract: Infielder Acquired From Rochester Glad To Escape "Chain Gang"". The Sun. Baltimore, Maryland. December 7, 1933.
- "Wally Gilbert Pilots Baltimore Orioles". The Pittsburgh Press. May 21, 1934.
- "Winnipeg Team Gets Gilbert". The Montreal Gazette. May 1, 1938.
- Preston, J.G. "The only Class E player to make it to the majors; or, An excuse to obsess". prestonjg.wordpress.com. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- Brian McKenzie (2007). Early Exits: The Premature Endings of Baseball Careers. Scarecrow Press. p. 127. ISBN 0810858584.