Walt Terrell walked into the clubhouse Thursday and there was no applause, no gathering mob, no ribbons around his locker. He was Mr. Almost. Almost pitched a no-hitter the night before. Almost made history. Almost did what no Tiger had done at Tiger Stadium in 34 years. Almost.
“Did you at least get to celebrate with your wife and kids?” someone asked him.
“No, they’re down in Kentucky,” he said. “They left yesterday morning. “
How close had Terrell come? Two outs in the ninth. That close. The Tiger Stadium crowd was on its feet, cheering for history — “One more! One more!”
— and then he threw a pitch that Wally Joyner slapped for a double, and the crowd fell silent. It was almost an historic night. Almost.
“Doesn’t your wife usually come to the games?” someone asked.
“Yep,” he said, lacing his shoes. “Except last night. Like I said, she was down in Kentucky.”
Terrell did get the 3-0 victory, a one-hit shutout. NBC aired the final inning, so millions of people saw him. Millions of people. Except his wife, Karen. Who was down in Kentucky.
“What was she doing while you were pitching?” someone asked Terrell.
“Playing bingo,” he said, fixing his socks. ‘I didn’t reach her until this morning.” Well-worn shoes He was not broken-hearted, if you expected broken-hearted. He was not angry, if you expected anger. He did not wax philosophic. What he did was put on his belt.
“Do you want the no-hitter more today than you did last night?” he was asked.
“About the same,” he said. “Remember, I’ve been on the other end of these things a few times. You know, first inning and goodby. So I’m thankful for the win and the shutout.”
He picked up his glove and slid it on. No cameras, no high- fives, no “Good Morning America.” He was Mr. Almost today. But he didn’t mind. How many in this room had worn those same shoes?
Across the way, Darrell Evans was pulling on his cap. Evans once hit three home runs in a game for San Francisco, and came to bat a fourth time. Only a handful of men have ever hit four home runs in one game. But Evans lined a 3-0 pitch into the first baseman’s glove.
A few lockers down was Dave Collins. On the last day of the 1979 season, Collins was one stolen base away from the Cincinnati Reds record. He reached first three times that day — and was thrown out twice trying to steal.
And then there was Johnny Grubb. In 1979, had a 21-game hit streak to his credit. The Aqua Velva company was offering $1,000 per game for the longest streak of the season, and Grubb was looking at $21,000 — until Pete Rose got hot the last weeks of September, and hit in 23 straight.
The game is full of them. Why, on the same night as Terrell’s performance, Phillies pitcher Don Carman came within one inning of a perfect game. Can you imagine throwing a no-hitter and getting second billing in the morning papers?
“Do you wonder if that was your one chance?” someone asked. “That you may never get that close again?”
“Well yeah,” Terrell said, “maybe God was teasing me with it. Then again, if I win the rest of my games this season I won’t even think about it.”
A clubhouse man handed him a yellow envelope. A telegram. “For you,” he said.
Terrell opened it. “CONGRATULATIONS WALT. HELL OF A GAME (signed) CW TIGERS.”
“From my softball team,” Terrell said.
No ribbons. No “Good Morning America.”
The softball team.
Almosts. Sorry, wrong number
When Walt Terrell finally called Karen Thursday morning, he could have talked about the game, his feelings, his disappointments. He could have talked about having that pitch back. About how he knew he could get Joyner out. He could have talked about anything he wanted.
He talked about bingo.
“How’d you do last night?” he asked his wife.
“Oh, you wouldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was one number away from winning $4,000. One number away! I needed B-14, and they called B-4. Can you believe it?”
Terrell could believe it. And he had to laugh.
So yes, the fans may have wanted history, and yes, the media would have loved it, and yes, Terrell would be tickled to see “no-hitter” next to his name, instead of just “winning pitcher.” But it happens all the time. It will happen again.
“Almost,” Terrell admitted, “can be a painful word sometimes.”
“When?” he was asked.
“When you don’t get another chance,” he said, quite correctly, and realizing he had plenty more, headed out for the field. And there was nothing almost in his step.