Madison Grad, Sports Pundit Pitched for Davey Johnson
Mike Wallace, a Vienna Little League product, now covers Washington Nationals for local TV, radio
Mike Wallace, who grew up on Drake Street in Vienna and graduated from James Madison High School, was at the end of his professional baseball career in 1979 when he played for the Miami Amigos.
A left-handed pitcher who had seen action in the Major Leagues for the Phillies, Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers, Wallace had joined the independent league team in Florida after pitching in five games for Texas in 1977.
His player/manager with Miami was a former Baltimore second baseman who was just getting his start as a skipper: Davey Johnson. These days Johnson, who guided the Mets to the World Series title in 1986, is the manager of the playoff-bound Washington Nationals, while Wallace is in his second season as a TV/radio pundit for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and Nats Talk.
What was it like to play for Johnson, who played for World Series winner Baltimore in 1970? "He is a lot like he is now," said Wallace, 61, who lives in Fauquier County. "He is low key and not a yeller or screamer. What you see today is what his temperament was like."
"I told him earlier this year he was always a grinder," added Wallace, a product of the storied Vienna Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion programs. "He is even-keeled. It is one of the best coaching staffs I have ever seen put together. Other people want to hire them."
Sure enough, last week Washington's third-base coach Bo Porter was named as the Houston Astros manager for 2013.
The Nationals, who clinched the National League East title Monday night, end regular-season play at home Wednesday with a day game against the Phillies and begin the playoffs later this week.
"This team can win the World Series. It is very deep. There are not a whole lot of issues with it. It has not really cost them much, but sometimes they let guys run on them" for stolen bases, Wallace noted.
Wallace was born in Gastonia, N.C. on Feb. 3, 1951. His family later lived in South Carolina and moved to Vienna in the late 1950s, as his father, David, was a union carpenter. Wallace played baseball at powerhouse Madison and was drafted in the fourth round by the Phillies in 1969.
He made his way through the minor league ladder and was called up to the big leagues for his debut on June 27, 1973, with Philadelphia in a game against the Mets at Shea Stadium. He got the win in the second game of a doubleheader.
"I enjoyed my debut. I thought I pitched a pretty good game for a 22-year-old kid," said Wallace, who pitched nine innings and recalls getting picked off second base by Mets catcher Jerry Grote on a bunt attempt.
Wallace pitched in eight games with the Phillies in 1974 before he was traded on May 3 of that year to the Yankees for Ken Wright. The lefty from Vienna was 6-0 with a tidy ERA of 2.41 in 23 games, with one start, for the Yankees against the Orioles.
"I loved that summer," he said. "That was the first time the Yankees had been in contention since 1964. The only downside was it was not in Yankee Stadium. We played at Shea Stadium that year" as Yankee Stadium was undergoing repairs.
He pitched in three games for the Yankees in 1975 before he was traded to the Cardinals. Wallace pitched in nine games for St. Louis in 1975 and then in a career-high 49 games out of the bullpen for St. Louis the next season. Wallace ended his Major League career with Texas in 1977 and had a lifetime mark of 11-3, 3.91 in 117 games with four starts and three saves.
Wallace said he was teammates or played for several Hall of Famers during his career: Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry in Texas; Jim Hunter in New York; Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt in Philadelphia; and Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst in St. Louis. Whitey Ford served as his pitching coach when he played for the Yankees.
Other Madison High grads to make the Major Leagues include catcher Jim McNamara, a North Carolina State product who was with the Giants in 1992-93; outfielder Bob Brower, a Duke product who played for Texas from 1986-88 and with the Yankees in 1989; and Jay Franklin, who pitched for the San Diego Padres in 1971.
Wallace still has family in Northern Virginia. One of his brothers, Steve, lives in Dunn Loring while another, Doug, lives in Centreville. His sister, Lea Ann, lives in Ashburn and his father, who still owns the family home in Vienna, lives in Stanley, near Luray.
Wallace joined MASN in 2011 thanks in part to host Phil Wood, a veteran broadcaster who grew up in Annandale and has vivid stories about the old Washington Senators. The nation's capital was without a baseball team from after the 1971 season until the Nationals moved from Montreal in time for the 2005 season.
"He was the only voice in the darkness, doing baseball, for a long time" in this area, Wallace said of Wood.