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Top 100: Mike Wallace, Madison, Baseball

Wallace carried Madison to Virginia's first official baseball championship before playing 117 games in the majors.

Mike Wallace won't give himself the credit he deserves. Like most professional baseball players, Wallace believes in a lot of luck and fortune. He believes that luck carried him and the Warhawks to the first Virginia High School League sponsored state championship in 1968 and luck helped Woodrow Wilson rip the title from him in 1969.

"I was lucky in 68 and unlucky in 69," said Wallace, who was on the mound for both games.

Wallace, Madison's left-handed pitching sensation, struck out 347 and recorded a 0.97 earned run average carrying the Warhawks to both of those state championship games in 1968 and 1969.

"Those were special times," said Wallace, who currently lives in Midland and is a pitching coach with Vienna's Clarke Griffith League affiliate, the Vienna Senators. "When I got to the big leagues in 1973, the minimum salary was 16-thousand dollars."

Wallace, a 1969 graduate of James Madison High School, made a name for himself on the Northern Region's local pitching mounds earning a 28-4 record in his high school career — a record that included a 17-game winning streak that spanned over two seasons. As a 6-foot-3 and 190-pound high school senior, Wallace was an intimidating force on the mound. "I've never seen anybody have the command that he had as a high school pitcher," said Wallace's teammate and 1968 Madison graduate Ronnie Slingerman. "His command of the strike-zone was something that nobody had ever seen. He could pick his spots instead of the normal high school pitcher, which pretty much throws the ball down the middle or away."

WALLACE WAS THE key piece to a Madison pitching staff that carried the Warhawks to four consecutive regional titles under then head coach Tom Christie, who posted a 219-52 career coaching record and led the Warhawks to two state titles (1968, 1971). Christie died in December of 1993.

"The one in '68, I was 'freakishly' lucky to win that," said Wallace, who pitched a complete game in the 4-3 victory over Highland Springs. "The guy hit a ball and it landed in my glove for the last out with the tying run on third base."

The following year Wallace was on the mound for the 2-1 loss to Woodrow Wilson in the state title game. "We played on Friday and we were winning 2-0," said Wallace. "In the top of fourth, the rains came, so we came back Saturday and they scored two runs in the top of seventh inning and beat us. I pitched 11 innings in two days. I was on Friday, if we had finished it."

Wallace still remembers the losses more than the victories. It still keeps him driven and motivated and it helped him become what he called "a classic journeyman" in professional baseball. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1969 amateur draft by Major League Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies.

At the time, he was just the third Madison player ever drafted out of high school (Dickie Dost and Sonny Custer). He negotiated a contract with the Phillies using American Legion baseball and his contract with George Washington University as leverage. At the age of 18, Wallace was dominating the minors the same way he had blazed through the Northern Region.

"I got called up in June or July of 1973 by the Phillies," said Wallace, who debuted on June 27, 1973. "My first appearance was to start in the second part of a double-header against the Mets."

Wallace threw a complete game with no walks and allowed just one run in the Phillies' 7-1 victory over the Mets.

"That's when I realized, you know, that all those innings pitched in the minor leagues, I was a seasoned pitcher at 22," said Wallace, who went on to play with the New York Yankees (1974-1975), St. Louis Cardinals (1975-1976) and Texas Rangers (1977).

Wallace's shining big league moment?

"I beat [Orioles legendary pitcher Jim] Palmer in Baltimore in September when I was with the Yankees in the middle of a pennant race and it was a big game," remembered Wallace. "It was a combined shutout."

BUT EVEN WITH ALL the success, Wallace was done after the 1977 season. He turned down a contract with the Orioles in 1979 because it was not a major league contract. When all was said and done, Wallace posted an 11-3 career record with a 3.91 earned run average in 181.7 innings pitched (105 K, 107 BB).

"He gave up on baseball before he should have. He will never admit that," said Slingerman, who added that major league baseball did not often provide enough financial security to support a family in those days. "He never says that. He never says that he should have done things differently. I know I say it all the time and most everybody would like things to do over again."

Wallace has no regrets about walking away from the game. Instead, he reflects on the days spent playing in Vienna and loving the local team — The Washington Senators. Wallace, who watched Ted Williams hit his last home game home-run when he was 9-years-old, claims that he was a product of Vienna's "system."

"Everybody came through the same system," said Wallace, who played Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion with Vienna Post 180 and at Madison when "that was a typical amateur career. I guess you would call it that when I was a kid. They didn't have AAU travel teams."

What else has changed about the game since Wallace was playing?

Ask him and he'll say that the game is the same, it's the players that have changed.

"People ask me 'are you jealous about the money [that major league players are paid now]?'" said Wallace. "I was such a fortunate person to be able to play on four different major league teams, the money be damned. There are guys that are millionaires that would give a whole lot of money to do what I was doing."

Wallace was a high school coach for some time and still keeps in touch with the Madison baseball program. "I owed the people that taught me, to pass that information on," said Wallace.

Mike Wallace is 57 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.