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Walt Lerian

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Walter Irvin Lerian (Peck)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 170 lb.

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[edit] Bioraphical Information

Walt "Peck" Lerian was a product of the Baltimore, MD sandlots. The son of a German immigrant family, he had lost his father at an early age and had to leave school and work as a clerk in a bond company to help support his family. He still managed to play amateur baseball and basketball in his spare time, which is how he was noticed. He was known for his tremendous arm, and his ability to throw bullets to second base while in a crouching position; this is how he earned his nickname "Peck", supposedly from the resemblance of this arm motion to a chicken pecking corn. He played briefly for the Baltimore Orioles during Spring Training 1921. Baltimore owner/manager Jack Dunn farmed Lerian out to the Waynesboro Villagers of the Blue Ridge League for the 1921 season where he led the league's catchers in fielding percentage and was named to the post-season All-Star team with honorable mention.

Still under contract with Dunn's Orioles, Lerian was not satisfied with the terms offered for the 1922 season. Due to the reserve clause then in effect, he was unable to refuse Dunn's terms without leaving organized baseball for a full year. Lerian sat out the season, earning his independence. During his 1922 holdout he played for the newly-formed, then quickly-dissolved, Ephrata, PA semi-pro team. After Ephrata disbanded he moved to York, PA to play for the local Acco club, also a semi-pro outfit. In those year he developed a signature play, which he called the "Cigar-store Indian". He would stand with his arm to his sides, apparently unconcerned, while a runner was heading towards his base; at the last moment, he would snap his arm to catch the ball and tag the surprised runner. His catcher's glove was specially modified, with a deeper pocket, to allow him to make the quick grab required to make the play work.

While in the minor leagues Lerian also played professional basketball during the off-season. He starred on the highly regarded Hagerstown Elks club, at the time regarded as one of the top teams in the nation, and also played for the Baltimore city professional team.

In 1923 York joined the New York-Penn League with Lerian as their catcher. After two years as a fan favorite in York he was sold to the Birmingham Barons in the Southern Association, where he started the 1925 season. When the Barons acquired former Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Cliff Knox, Lerian's services were no longer required. In May, 1925 he was sold to George Weiss's New Haven Profs, where he starred through 1927.

In an effort to raise capital, Weiss sold off many of the players from his 1927 Profs squad during Spring Training 1928, including Lerian. New Philadelphia Phillies manager Burt Shotton acquired Lerian to back up star catcher Jimmy Wilson in Philadelphia. Shortly after the 1928 season began Wilson was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in return for Spud Davis and Homer Peel and Lerian became the Phillies' primary catcher after Davis failed to establish himself, a position he held for two years. His standout play earned him a place on the 1928 Sporting News All-Rookie Team. He was particularly noted for the excellence of his defensive play.

Just days after the conclusion of the 1929 season, he was hit by a runaway truck while standing on a Baltimore street corner after attending Mass at St. Martin's Parish. The force of the collision knocked him into a brick wall, where he was pinned for hours before he could be rescued. His popularity and standing in the community prompted 50 men from St. Martin's to volunteer to donate blood to be given to Lerian in a transfusion (a very risky procedure at the time). One man was chosen and the transfusion performed, but Lerian died hours later.

The driver of the truck that hit Lerian was convicted of manslaughter and the company he was working for was ordered to pay Lerian's widowed mother $22,500. At the time of his death John McGraw was negotiating to bring Lerian to the New York Giants for the 1930 season. Lerian was eulogized as the "perfect Catholic gentleman" by his peers.

[edit] Further Reading

  • T. Scott Brandon: "Walter 'Peck' Lerian, 1928-29 Philadelphia Phillies", in Bob Brown, ed.: Monumental Baseball: The National Pastime in the National Capital Region, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 39, 2009, pp. 46-56.

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