Before the baseball season began, jokes were made, diagrams drawn, protests launched, all ridiculing the left field screen in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Self-righteous defenders of Babe Ruth's home-run record cried shame. With the start of the season, critics poised and waited. Then on April 24, a young man named Lee Walls hit three home runs over the screen and the critics had their fodder. They pointed out that Wells or Walls, or whatever his name was, had hit only six home runs all last year. Infamy, heresy, they cried. More protests were launched; more diagrams drawn.
Almost lost in the commotion was the news that during the next eight days, Walls (that is his name) hit five more home runs. He added a couple more two weeks later and, by last week, he had hit 12.
Lee Walls is 25 years old, stands several inches over 6 feet and is lean and hard. He wears black horn-rimmed glasses, which make him look more like a science major than a home-run hitter.
"I'm nearsighted," he explained. "Can't see a thing without my glasses, as they say. But with them on, my vision is 20-15. I wear another kind when I play. They fit more securely around my eyes. Nonbreakable lenses."
Although Walls was never a science major, he wasn't a bad student during his high school days at Pasadena, Calif. He had a chance to go to several colleges on a football scholarship but decided to play baseball instead. After one year in the minors he was sent to Pittsburgh as an infielder, but he was only 19 and he did poorly. There followed three years at Hollywood, where Bobby Bragan switched him to the outfield. It was there, or at least near there, he met his wife.
"After the 1955 season I got a job as ma√Ætre de in a Palm Springs restaurant. Every year they have a rodeo week down there. Town goes wild. One day when I was at the restaurant a group of girls came in selling rodeo buttons. One girl came up and tried to sell me a button. It turned out she was Miss Palm Springs. I bought a button and asked for a date. I married her a year later."
Lee and Joanne Walls live in a hotel apartment in Chicago. As yet they have no children.
"It's pretty lonely for Joanne when I go on the road. She really hates it. She says that the guy who makes up the schedule must be single."
Walls hit .274 with Pittsburgh in 1956. Traded to Chicago last year, he slumped to .240.
"I decided I had to do something. I remembered something Ted Williams said once before an exhibition game. He was talking to a group of us, not just to me. He said working with weights was good for a ballplayer's hands and wrists. So last winter I exercised with 30-pound bar bells twice a day, a half hour at a time. It added half an inch to my wrists and even more to my forearms. That's why I have good power this year. I'd like to point one thing out, by the way. Those three home runs in the Coliseum were all well-hit. They would have been home runs anywhere. I wouldn't kid you. Ask Walter Alston. He said so."
Incidentally, while he was in Hollywood, Lee made some Texas Ranger movies. So, if some night you're watching television and a tall, lanky cowpoke named Chet draws his gun, don't worry. It's only Lee Walls, and he's a nice guy.
WALLS (RIGHT) WITH COACH HORNSBY