Neil Walker retires after 12 MLB seasons

Former infielder eyeing time with friends, family -- and, perhaps, the broadcast booth

April 22nd, 2021

After 12 seasons in the big leagues, is hanging up his cleats. The veteran infielder, who had stints with six teams after making his MLB debut in 2009, announced his retirement Tuesday afternoon on Twitter.

“Officially retired, thank you to everyone that helped me in my journey to live out my childhood dream of being a Major Leaguer, I loved & cherished every day,” Walker said in his tweet. “From Pittsburgh, NY Mets & Yankees, Milwaukee, Miami, and Philly, nothing but love to those Organizations, Cities & Fans!”

Walker, 35, was drafted in the first round of the 2004 MLB Draft as a catcher by his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up in the North Hills suburbs of Pittsburgh and graduated from Pine-Richland High School in 2004 before being drafted that June.

Walker spent most of the next five years in the Minors before receiving his first Major League callup on Sept. 1, 2009, and he made his debut as a pinch-hitter against the Reds that night. Despite being drafted as a catcher, Walker played all but seven games as a second baseman while with the Pirates, though he’d go on to be more of a utility player with the Brewers, Yankees, Marlins and Phillies over his final five seasons.

So who taught him how to play second base so comfortably? None other than Pirates legend and Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, who helped Walker with the transition during Spring Training in 2010.

“[He] could very easily have just sat on the sidelines and enjoyed his retirement, but he didn't do that,” Walker said of Mazeroski. “He talked about what he thought made himself so successful, not just as an infielder but as a teammate and as a hitter and everything combined. You soak all that up as a player.”

Walker played with the Pirates through the 2015 season before being traded to the Mets on Dec. 9 of that year. After his journey with four more organizations, he played his final game as a member of the Phillies on Sept. 8, 2020, before being designated for assignment by the club three days later.

Naturally, as a hometown hero in Pittsburgh, his time with the other clubs -- while special -- was quite different.

“I don’t think maybe there were more than five to 10 people in my three years in New York that recognized me as a baseball player -- and probably half of them were the doormen at my apartment complex -- but, to be honest with you, that was kind of nice.”

“My role in Pittsburgh -- and I relished the role -- was to be the guy that understood, that became involved with not just Pirates baseball, but Pittsburgh sports media and Pittsburgh sports, in general.”

Walker found his best success those first seven seasons in Pittsburgh. In 2010, he finished tied for fifth in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. In 2014, Walker won his only NL Silver Slugger Award. In odd history, he began what turned out to be the first 4-5-4 triple play in Major League history against St. Louis on May 9, 2015.

Walker hit his 100th home run with the Mets on April 23, 2016. He finished his career slashing .267/.338/.426 with 149 home runs over 1,306 big league games.

His connections to the Pirates run deeper than just games played. He once said he owed his life to former Pirates legend Roberto Clemente. In 1972, Walker’s father, Tom, who pitched in six Major League seasons, assisted Clemente with relief efforts after an earthquake struck Nicaragua, even offering to fly with Clemente on New Year’s Eve to deliver the supplies. Clemente told Tom there was no room on the plane and to enjoy his holiday instead. Clemente died when the plane crashed just after takeoff that night.

For the time being, Walker said he will plans to be fully retired. He’s going to spend time he missed out during his career with friends and family, including Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, who is Walker’s brother-in-law through his sister, Carrie. Walker is spending time giving back to the baseball community in Pittsburgh through the “No Offseason Exposure” program, which is currently building a sports complex in the North Hills area. 

Walker will also spend more time at Pirates games as a fan, though he said it’s been hard to keep himself from analyzing the game. He sat with former teammate Joel Hanrahan in a suite during a game and talked at length about how the sport has changed -- which is part of the reason many can imagine Walker as a future baseball broadcaster.

“It's something that I think could be somewhat of a natural next step for me, if we were to go down that road,” Walker said. “And maybe there's a scenario where I jump in the booth a couple times at the end of this year, or something along those lines. I don't know. Those are conversations that we're going to have going forward to see how I like it.”

And of all the special memories Walker has made in baseball, conversations and relationships are at the top of the list.

“You don't forget those memories. You don't really forget those people,” Walker said. “Sometimes, you forget moments, especially over a 162-game season. Sometimes, you forget certain things, but you very rarely forget people and especially significant people who have played a role. 

“There are so many of those people I've come across. I feel very fortunate.”