8/16/2004 email from Lynn Meeks
My wife Shiela and I were on an extended trip during most of the summer and did not find out of your Dad's passing until we got back into our home in Fredericksburg , Texas toward the end of July. I was very sorry to hear of Walter's passing. I have an enormous amount of respect and fondness for him. At the time of Walt's induction into the Houston Softball Hall of Fame a few short years ago (He and Tony Salvaggio of Stran Steel & Metallic building were inducted at the same time as I recall ), Nora told the assembly gathered for the occasion that you had created a web page honoring his exploits.
Off and on ever since I would access that page and reminisce about the period when we were all young and so eager to play all of the competitive softball that we could. (I met Dale Baker by chance in the Phoenix, Arizona airport about 5+/- years ago when we were both still working and traveling for our respective companies. We talked briefly about our jobs and families, then the conversation inevitably shifted to our softball playing days. We were both in agreement that despite all the time and energy playing took, we would do it all over again in a heartbeat if we just could). Whenever the subject of softball and good players would come up, I would direct the other parties to Walt's web page.
I was very fortunate to have played both with and against some of the great players of the past: Bebop Cotton, Buddy Russ, James Ward, Gil Froelich, Jimmy Adams, Marvin Pettway, Julian Kujawa, Gene Silver, Tommy Jones, Bobby Gene Smith, Gene Martin etc., etc., plus some very good ones from other parts of the country. None made the impression or impact on me that your dad did. Almost without exception, the rest of us were in awe of Walter Wolff.
When I first moved to Houston in the fall of '64 to work down at NASA, an engineer/ballplayer (Howard Starr) friend I had met in Fort Worth at General Dynamics told me about the softball leagues in Houston and told me to get in touch with Hank Schmidt who owned Fox and Gates Saw shop at the time. Turns out that Hank also played and managed for the softball team that his company sponsored. At the time I was totally ignorant of the various league levels then in place in Houston. Just by chance Hank's team played in the Houston Major City League. The first time I saw major city pitching in general -- and your dad in particular -- I could not believe how good they were.
Fox and Gates almost always played against Metallic when Tiny Touchet was pitching, and the first year plus Tiny would make a monkey out of most of us -- but especially me -- with that damn change-up of his. I spent most of that year in awe of the better players but especially Walt. I went to the Lake Charles tournament in '65 when Walt threw an absolutely dominant no-hitter against a good Yazoo team out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I don't think any of their generally good hitters got the ball out of the infield. Walter's rise ball looked like a flat rock skipping off of a pond. He had it really jumping and the Yazoo guys were so far off of it (under it, naturally) they couldn't get a good idea on how to adjust. My recollection is that every time I saw him pitch over the next several years, he just dominated. (His trademark toothpick and practiced arrogance contributing to his mystique among other ballplayers. He absolutely knew what he was doing in that regard).
After Stran Steel brought Bill Massey down from Dallas to work and play for Stran, some of my teammates and I heard that Walt just might be persuaded to move to our Bell Bonding team if we could convince him that we were serious about bringing in enough good ballplayers to make us serious contenders. We arranged a meeting with Walt at Otto's BBQ to talk about what we wanted to do. After an intense but fun evening we were elated when Walt committed to play with us that year. My recollection of that team is that of a very good, consistent defense that scratched out enough runs for us to always be close, and usually enough for us to win. Walter and Dale Baker were the main reasons why we became so competitive. Our main Houston competitor then was Charley Westbrook's Westbrook Sales team managed by Bill Cole. We met regularly in both league and tournament play. We respected all of them, but liked only a very few of them (too mouthy--loud and profane).
They seemed to win about 55% of the games we would play against them, but included in the 45% or so we would win were the vast majority of games, tournaments, and championships that really mattered to us ballplayers. Walter was the main reason we won when it really counted. I remember the TAAF finals in Houston in 1969 (tantamount to the city championship). The final round was 2 out of 3. My memory (admittedly now faulty at times) is that we had lost the first final game against Westbrook, and they were gloating. Walter told our manager Tony Cantella that he wanted the ball for both of the remaining games. Tony told Walt that we had to win the 2nd game first, and Walt told him not to worry about it. We routed Bill Massey in the 2nd game and beat whoever they threw at us in the 3rd game (Tooter Steffenauer or Gordon Miller -- or both -- didn't matter that night). We expected to win when Walt pitched.
After that game we were celebrating down at Otto's and I was relating the pre-game conversation between Walt and Tony to several other fans and players. I told them that Walt had told Tony "I'll stick it in their ear !!" Walter quickly corrected me. He said, "That's not what I said; What I said was, 'Give me the ball for both games and I'll stuff it up their ass'!!". And that's just what he did.
As well as his intense competitiveness, one of the things that impressed me tremendously about Walter was his extreme generosity. Both he and your mom were very gracious hosts on several occasions as well . After the failure of the Houston developer (who's name escapes me at the moment) caused Walt's construction company to go under, I never heard one word of complaint or bitterness from him about what had to be a most painful experience. He was a most rare and exceptional person -- your dad.
I have many old photos in old albums about our playing days. We haven't yet gone through them and 'organized them' as we had hoped, but we still plan on doing that during the coming year. If we do and I come across some good ones featuring your dad I'll send them your way.
You take care,