RIP to Tim Talton, who was a catcher for two seasons in the majors in the 1960s. He died on July 22 at Kitty Askins Hospice Center in Goldsboro, N.C. He was 82 years old. Talton played for the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 and ’67.
Marion Lee Talton was born in Pikeville, N.C., on January 14, 1939, the son of a tobacco farmer. He was called by his given first name all throughout his time at Nahunta High School in Pikeville and Eastern Carolina College in Greenville. The nickname “Tim” wouldn’t be used until he entered into professional baseball. By any name, Talton was a pretty good athlete. He was a top scorer on his high school basketball team, averaging 25 points a game, and a regular state All-Star as a catcher. He hit for the cycle in 1958 as a member of the Goldsboro team in the summer Tobacco State League. The San Francisco Giants signed the power-hitting left-handed hitter, and he made his professional debut in 1959.
Playing for the Class-C St. Cloud Rox of the Northern League, Talton got off to a pretty respectable start in ’59. He batted .262 with 43 RBIs. Once he got past his rookie season, his offense really took off. He hit .329 for Class-A Springfield in 1960, which would have led the Eastern League had he not ended the season about 70 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title. As a catcher, he just didn’t get the same amount of playing time as other position players, which left him with a great season but without his name at the top of the batting leaderboard.
Talton kept up his hot hitting with the Victoria Giants of the AA Texas League in 1961. He hit .292 with 8 home runs and 60 RBIs, and he was named not only to the Texas League All-Star Team but also the all-around AA All-Star Team. He, Phil Linz and Doug Clemens were the only Texas Leaguers to make the starting lineup, which was otherwise dominated by the Southern Association. The Giants kept Talton in the Texas League again in 1962, and he set career highs with home runs (15) and RBIs (101) for El Paso while batting .310.
Talton moved up to the AAA Pacific Coast League and spent the next two seasons with Tacoma. His development kind of stalled there. San Francisco’s catching corps was full with the likes of Ed Bailey, Tom Haller and Del Crandall. The Tacoma Giants had a wealth of future major-league talent, so Talton was stuck platooning with Bob Barton for 1963 and ’64. The catching position in Tacoma got even more crowded in 1964 with the addition of a 20-year-old kid named Randy Hundley. Talton batted in the .270s each of those two seasons, with little power. His ’64 season was hampered by a broken finger that required surgery. In January of 1965, Talton was traded to the Kansas City A’s for outfielder George Alusik. His new team assigned him to Vancouver of the PCL, and he batted .273 as a backup catcher. It was almost his last season in professional ball.
“I was getting to the age that if I couldn’t make the majors I felt I owed it to my family to get established in some other job,” said Talton, who was married with two children at the time.
Talton didn’t report to spring training at all in 1966. Then in May, the Athletics contacted him, said that they liked his bat and invited him to report to the AA Mobile A’s. He agreed, even knowing that he wouldn’t get many chances to catch with prospect Rene Lachemann on the roster. Instead, Talton played outfield and first base, batting .278 with 6 homers in 32 games. On July 7, he was called up to the majors.
A’s manager Al Dark told the rookie up front that he wouldn’t see much time as a catcher with Kansas City either. “Dark told me when I reported that he was going to use me as a pinch-hitter against right-handed pitchers,” Talton said. “That’s fine. I know that pinch-hitting is an art and I’d like to stay up here and do just that, and maybe get a few games behind the plate.”
That’s pretty much what happened. Talton went hitless in his first at-bat as a pinch-hitter on July 8, 1955, but he pinch-hit again the very next day and doubled off Cleveland’s Gary Bell. He stayed in the game as a catcher and hit an RBI triple off Bell, too. Talton stayed hot the rest of the season, even though he was primarily a pinch-hitter against pitchers he’d never seen. Fortunately, he had done his homework.
“I always look for a pitcher to give me his best pitch. I’ve been studying the pitchers since I came up here, and so far it’s worked out,” he said in an August interview with The Kansas City Star. “I feel like I’m a better hitter now than I was in the minors all those years.”
A case in point: Talton pinch-hit in a game against the Yankees on August 20. He grounded into a force play but stayed in the game. In his next at-bat, he stepped up against Mel Stottlemyre and belted his first major-league home run into the New York bullpen in right field. “Mel threw the first pitch away from me. His second pitch was a curve on the outside and then he came in with one over the plate. I figured he was trying to pitch me tight,” Talton explained.
For the 1966 season, Talton appeared in a total of 37 games, and he had 18 hits in 53 at-bats for a .340 batting average. He homered twice and drove in 6 runs. He was also a .400 hitter as a pinch-hitter, leading the AL. He then spent all of 1967 with Kansas City, performing the same role as a pinch-hitter and occasional catcher. In spring training, he was designated as the A’s first-ever dual pinch-hitter. It was a short-lived experiment that would have allowed a team to pick one player to pinch-hit twice in the same game. Dark and A’s owner Charlie Finley quickly embraced the rule and even pushed for a player to be used an indefinite number of times as a pinch-hitter, but no more than once per inning. This particular rule never made it out of spring training, but the idea of a designated pinch-hitter would get tweaked into the current DH a few years down the road.
Talton was unable to match his lofty numbers from his rookie season, though he still had a pretty fair 1967. He batted .254 in 46 games, going 15-for-59 with 3 doubles and a triple. The A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, but there was no room for Talton on the roster, with rookies Lachemann and Dave Duncan coming into their own and Gene Tenace waiting in the wings. Talton spent the next two seasons in the A’s minor leagues as a player-coach, filling in as a pinch-hitter, outfielder and first baseman when necessary. By the end of his playing time, his right arm was too damaged after a career as a catcher to allow him to continue.
In two seasons in the majors, Talton appeared in 83 games and had a .295/.344/.438 slash line. He had 6 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs among his 33 hits, and he scored 15 runs while driving in 11. He was a career .293 hitter over 10 minor-league seasons.
After his playing career ended, Talton returned to North Carolina and worked for 30 years for Keebler Cookie Co. He also umpired local baseball and softball games and worked at a nearby golf course. He was married for 55 years before the death of his wife, Annette. He is survived by his two children.
For more information: Howell Funeral Home