- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

Walt Masterson, the former Washington Senators right-hander, was coaching at George Mason University in the early 1980s and giving the plate umpire more than a few profane pieces of his mind during a game at Liberty Baptist.

The ump called Masterson out and threatened ejection if the cussing didn’t stop. Replied Walt, properly chastened, “No [bleep]!”

This story, passed along by former George Mason sports information director Carl Sell, illustrates nicely the contradictory nature of Masterson, who died of a heart attack April 5 at age 87 in Durham, N.C.

He wasn’t a very good pitcher, at least statistically (78-100), during a 14-year major league career spent mostly with the abysmal Senators and interrupted by military service in World War II. But by all accounts, he was a very good person — one who spent much of his retirement years working with kids through various charitable enterprises and retired ballplayers through the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

Masterson succeeded program founder Hap Spuhler as George Mason’s coach in 1980 and compiled a 33-43-1 record over the next two seasons. Then he quit abruptly and moved on to other things.

“He stood up to leave the office one day, and I said, ‘See you tomorrow,’ ” recalled Bill Brown, Masterson’s assistant and now his long-tenured successor. “He said, ‘Nope, you won’t see me tomorrow — this is it, I’m going home.’ He just got mad at somebody or something and left.”

Brown chuckled. “It’s funny,” he said. “Walt used to tell his players, ‘When emotion walks in the door, logic walks out,’ and he meant it. But he was an impulsive guy himself.”

A native of Philadelphia, Masterson reached the majors at age 19 with the Senators in 1939, His best season was 1947, when he went 12-16 and shut out the Chicago White Sox for 16 innings one day. He was selected for the American League All-Star team and pitched 12/3 scoreless innings during what then was called the Midsummer Classic.

The following year, AL manager Bucky Harris — Walt’s first skipper with the Senators — tabbed him to start the game at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. But Masterson allowed two runs and five hits in his three innings and finished the season 8-15 for Washington. With the Senators, things were never positive for long.

“Yet he was always cheerful, always had a big smile and was fun to be around,” said Bob Wolff, the Senators’ longtime broadcaster. “I remember Walt wore dark glasses on the mound, so he could see a runner edging off first but the runner couldn’t see him watching. He had a great pickoff move — he called it his jitterbug step. No, he wasn’t a big winner, but there weren’t any big winners in Washington in those days. But Walt was an established major league pitcher for a long time.”

After being released by the Detroit Tigers in 1956, Masterson was a businessman for many years. Later, he became one of the founders of the players’ alumni association and was “a very important part,” said Jim Hannan, another founder of the group and a pitcher for the expansion Senators in the 1960s.

“Walt had a very good sense of humor, but sometimes he came on a little strong,” Hannan added. “He would speak out on something he felt deeply about, and some people thought he was angry. He wasn’t — just very intense. Late in life he became almost obsessed with kinesiology and trying to teach the ways youngsters could become better athletes.”

Of course, Masterson himself was a fine athlete if not often enough a winner on the mound. When he was in town a couple of decades ago for the premiere of a documentary on baseball in Washington, a man walked up, shook hands and told him, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Walter. I saw you pitch for the Senators many times.”

Masterson frowned, then glared. “Oh [bleep]!” he said, stalking away in pretended anger.

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