James “Tuck” Walsh is a veteran of the “Golden Age” of 16-inch softball. The 83 year-old is not a member of the Hall of Fame (HOF), but he typifies the kind of player who enjoyed softball at the height of its popularity.
Walsh did make one legendary play though. He was playing in the Knights of Columbus (KOC) Tournament in 1956 when it happened. Back then, the KOC held a statewide tournament that was the biggest thing going.
“It was the first inning, the other team had men on 1st and 3rd, no out,” he recalled. “I was playing first base. There was a line drive to my left. I caught it falling down, dragged my foot across the bag and threw home for the third out.” There have probably been other triple plays in softball history, but Walsh will never forget his.
He started playing the game at Resurrection Parish on the West Side. In seventh and eighth grade, he played for the parish school. He continued to represent “Res” as an adult, winning the KOC State Championship in 1956 and 1961. They played many games at Garfield Park.
“It had 20 fields, all busy with games every weeknight,” he recalled.
He also played in the famous Industrial League at Grant Park.
“I worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and played for the Sante Fe team. Other companies had teams playing at Grant Park. These were good tournament teams and I saw some great games.”
Walsh continued playing softball in the 1960s and attended banquets at the HOF in the 1980s.
“I went to banquets at Sportsman’s Park and saw Wimpy O’Connor inducted into the HOF,” he remembered. Some of the old-time players, like Walsh, had colorful nicknames, like “Eggs” Bromley. During that era, he also began attending the No Gloves Tournament in Forest Park.
“I used to go every year, the last week of July. It was a reunion for old-time players and I’d congregate with my old buddies. The teams are really good. The players are just as good as in my day although they’re bigger than they were in my era.”
Walsh has seen only two changes to the game since he played.
“The pitcher is allowed to jump off the mound or backwards to be an extra fielder,” he noted, but even more significant is the high arc pitchers now use. “In the old days, pitchers threw heavy and fast, with very little arc.”
This type of pitching can also be difficult to hit, according to Walsh’s former teammate, Pete Rocco Jr.
Rocco and his brother, Chris, played with Walsh and are in the HOF. Although he slugged over 400 home runs, Rocco could be fooled on occasion.
“I struck out four times in my career,” he said with a sheepish smile. “The first time was on three pitches.” After the ump called strike three, his next order of business was tossing Rocco out of the game for his angry reaction. Rocco was proud, though, that he was only thrown out of a handful of games during his 30-year career. His final strikeout still stings, though.
“I struck out swinging, playing in a church league.”
Unlike Rocco, Walsh was not a power hitter. He specialized in singles and doubles and remains modest about his softball ability.
He also wouldn’t disclose why the players called him “Tuck.” He is just proud that he played the game and passed on his love of softball to his six sons — another generation of players keeping “Chicago’s sport” alive.