The Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasting team in 1994 included the familiar voices of former broadcaster Lanny Frattare, Greg Brown, Steve Blass and Bob Walk. Just a few months prior to opening that 1994 season, Walk still had that burning passion that all professional athletes have inside them. Believing he could still be a useful starting pitcher to some Major League team, he had turned down an offer from the Pirates to come back as a relief pitcher after the 1993 season in which he went 13-14 as starter with a 5.68 ERA.
“It’s tough to take the uniform off because you know one phase of your life is gone forever and you can never do it again and that gives you pause a little bit,” said Walk, reflecting back on his time back prior to retirement. “But everybody I think knows I’m not even close to what I was say two years ago and its going to be over with soon and I had that feeling.”
Walk had always believed in his arm and was confident in his abilities to earn that Major League roster spot, but was also realistic about his chances based on his age and past performances. No teams came calling for Walk to be a starter, but he received a phone call that was about as unexpected as he could imagine.
“I got a phone call asking if I was interested in retiring and becoming a broadcaster,” said Walk. I had never given this any thought in my mind before, in my life. I never talked to anybody about this kind of thing. In my mind it was a practical joke.”
Mark Driscoll, the then vice president of broadcasting for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was responsible for that “practical joke” and wanted to get a sense of where Walk was at in his own right about carrying on his pitching career. It was no secret that Walk was nearing the end of his shelf life as a starter, but that was the opportunity he was looking for. At the age of 37, Walk knew his chances of being a starting pitching were nearing a close, and what Driscoll was offering was something Walk could not find at the time; a chance to be part of a Major League club.
“I’m 37 and was only going to play another year or two anyways so this might be an opportunity to stay in the game which is very hard to find,” Walk said,” I just basically said yea I would be interested and we talked some more and came in for an interview and they liked me and gave me a one year tryout.”
Twenty two years later, Walk’s voice has become just as familiar to Pirate fans as his once regular playing day look of long flowing hair and thick to pencil thin mustaches (a look captured in a Pirates bobble head give-away back in 2007). Walk’s pitching career ended with a lifetime record 105-81, which included an 82-61 mark with the Pirates.
Walk has been through a lot of emotions in both facets of his career from being a World Series winner in 1980 with the Philadelphia Phillies and pitching in division championships in 1990, ’91 and ’92 with Pirates to the twenty consecutive losing seasons Pittsburgh endured from 1993 to 2012 as both a player and broadcaster.
“I can remember early on when I first started doing this for the first couple of years, being upset at things in between innings , taking my headset off and just sitting there and stewing, and then I didn’t do that for awhile.” said Walk.
Losing so much and so frequently really took a lot out of Walk as a broadcaster and he admitted to losing his emotion while calling meaningless games during such times of frustration.
“The games kind of really didn’t mean a whole a lot other than you found yourself looking at guys and thinking are they going to be able to get better,” said Walk. “You were like analyzing talent. It was like a six month long spring training… who’s going to be part of the answer, who’s not?”
With recent success back in Pittsburgh, Walk finds himself getting emotional again and the excitement has returned to the booth.
“The expectations add a degree of stress on the wins and losses that weren’t there before.” said Walk
A lot feelings Walk has for this team are deeply rooted in just how long he has been with this organization. He has been a mainstay with the Pirates organization for 31 years, joining them as a free agent in 1984 when he was 28 years old. Now at the age of 58, Walk is still calling games, but his agenda is not what it once was. He’s been to countless cities and seen more than most, but Walk has certainly thought about his life after baseball, even if it is not close.
“I’ve always thought if the Pirates agree that I would like to do it at least somewhere into my early, maybe mid 60s. I don’t want to be somebody that is 80 years old. You go around baseball and see that in a lot different places, I don’t really understand it. At some point, you know, don’t you just want to enjoy your life?” said Walk about his idea retirement situation.
Walk has a point. Baseball is 162 games often played over 180 plus days. That does not leave a lot of free time for those who play the game. Since Walk jumped right into the booth after his playing days were over, he has not had the luxury of being able to just sit down and enjoy family life during the summer.
“Being a Major League baseball player and then immediately being teams broadcaster has been a great life, but there are some things that happen during the summertime that everybody else, really takes for granted, summer picnics and just silly things like going to Yellow Stone or just whatever. I’ve never in my life been able to do those sort of things, I would like to someday and I would like to while I can still get around pretty well” says Walk.
While Walk in his own words has had “two equal careers”, there is no denying his accomplishment as a broadcaster. He joins a distinguished list as being one of only five men with at least 20 years of service behind the microphone for Pirates. He joins Greg Brown (22 years), Bob Prince (28 years), Steve Blass (30 years) and Lanny Frattare (33 years).
Walk has left his mark on the city of Pittsburgh and when the day finally does come for him to retire, he can finally go on that summer family picnic he has been waiting for.