Ultimate Uncles vs. Nuclear Nephews: A Special 30th Anniversary Retrospective of the Famous Wiffleball Clash

The World Series. The Super Bowl. The Daytona 500.

Every major sport has its own seminal event(s).

On July 2, 1989, the Walker Wiffleball League, still in its infancy, featured its own monumental contest:

The Ultimate Uncles vs. The Nuclear Nephews.

It was an epic game that addressed challenges from both sides head-on and cemented bragging rights for decades to come. The scene was buzzing. An electric atmosphere on the grounds of what would become Hank Gathers Memorial Stadium was theretofore unheard of in wiffleball – highlighted by a live performance of our national anthem, two beer commercials, stunning video production, and shit-talking galore.

In this comprehensive, uncensored 30th Anniversary recap, we will take a close look at the game itself along with input and anecdotes directly from those who participated in the glory of that July day.

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 The History

A couple years back, we visited with Chris Walker, founder of the WWL (you can view that interview here), to talk about his highly organized 3 on 3 league that featured an authentic mini-stadium, full recordkeeping, night games, and bold player nicknames like ‘Doobie” and “Buttpick” among others.

Although the league was just getting started in 1989, many felt that it needed a special event to really commemorate and celebrate the simplistic joys of wiffleball and summertime.

And settle some scores.

Rumblings of such a game were rampant for over a year, before the gauntlet was officially thrown down and agreed upon. Details are little sketchy, but the actual deal may have been struck during a family Christmas gathering in 1988. (Whether or not the discussion about the game stemmed from a certain gag-gifted toilet plunger is debatable to this day.)

“It may have been brought about at a recent family engagement,” recalls Nuclear Nephews outfielder Shawn Trusty. “It was mutually agreed upon and the Fourth of July seemed the perfect fit.”

Teams were then chosen, and the stage was set for the game as part of the upcoming Fourth of July Weekend festivities.

Ultimate Uncles vs. Nuclear Nephews: The Game

The Ultimate Uncles consisted of a grizzly mix of veteran talent. Trickster twirler William “Rollie” Walker took the bump, flanked by fleetfooted outfielders Larry Walker and Shoeless Paul “Thor” Mackey.

The younger, piss and vinegar-filled Nuclear Nephews, never ones to miss an opportunity to make a statement, countered as an elite trio. The Trusty brothers – Brian and Shawn – along with league founder Chris Walker comprised a team chock full of speed, power, and attitude.

Ok let’s face it. They were being dicks.

A perfect summer day greeted the attendees at the David Avenue grounds. As the holiday festivities that included a cookout, swimming and beer drinking gave way to an afternoon haze, the game was set to start. Opening ceremonies commenced, as Rollie Walker thrilled the throng with a stirring, Hendrix-esque rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Rollin and Rose Walker each threw out ceremonial first pitches, and the teams were ready to square off – save for a preordained delay whilst the Nephews cockily dashed off to the clubhouse to don their faux-Boston Red Sox uniforms.

Umpire John Trusty and cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin, himself a legendary third baseman in his day, rounded out the gameday crew.

The ground rules were explained well ahead of time, but it didn’t take long for some tempers to flare over misunderstandings regarding the provided statutes.

Umpire Trusty wasn’t about to deal with any quibbling over the rules, though.

Prior to first pitch he loudly and proudly delivered his simple edict (which was also printed on the back of his shirt): “When the ump says you’re out, you’re fucking OUT!”

“I didn’t want any questions or bullshit. I would rather have sat around and drank beers all day but fuck it.” John Trusty said.

Starting pitcher for the Nuclear Nephews, Brian Trusty, was incensed from the jump.

“I hated the way the Uncles ignored the rules, even though we gave them copies hours before the game,” he said.

Rumors that the physical copies of the rules given to the Uncles were defiantly used as kindling for the grill went largely unsubstantiated, but it nonetheless seemed to fuel a different fire – that of the game.

As the game began, it was clear that any ignorance or breaking of the rules wouldn’t matter. The Nephews set the tone early and exploded for seven runs in the first inning. Rollie Walker struggled to get outs, as the three-pronged attack from the Nephews was just too heavy. His effort ended after four innings, surrendering 18 earned runs on 19 hits.

Facing a large 18-2 deficit, it seemed the Uncles were doomed. Defensive struggles added to their uphill battle, despite the perceived outfield prowess of the L. Walker-Mackey duo.

Like the hull in Red Beckman’s boat, there were just too many holes.

Yet somehow, the light turned on and the Ultimates began to stage a furious charge.

Either their beer was getting warm, or they started to figure Brian Trusty’s pitches out, but the Uncles roared back with four runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth. Led by Mackey’s seven home run, eleven RBI barrage, (often one-handed, with a koozie’d Bud Light occupying the other), the score was now an interesting 23-11 heading to the seventh. In WWL games, even a 12-run lead was never safe.

The Uncles had officially boarded the comeback train.

“Uncle Paul was a great softball player in his day. He had a swing that generated a lot of power. His softball abilities transferred to the wiffleball field and he hit some bombs!” Shawn Trusty recounts.

Southpaw Larry Walker, on in relief for the Uncles since the fifth, had his struggles but kept the game from getting too far out of reach for the time being. The Nephews’ bats came back to life in the bottom of the seventh however, putting a five-spot on the board to once again establish comfort with a 28-11 lead.

Trusty’s day on the hill ended after 7.2 innings, having surrendered 21 hits and 12 runs. Chris Walker took the mound for the final 1.2 innings and completely shut down the Uncles; his unique submarine delivery an utter bafflement to the weary and buzzed veteran squad.

The late surge ended, and the miraculous comeback attempt was squeezed.

When the final out was recorded, the Nuclear Nephews were the 28-13 victors.

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Original box score from the game. Credit to Chris Walker.

 

Fast-forward thirty years, and with some effort, we were able to gather an esteemed panel comprised of those who made this game happen – the players and officials.

In this special no-holds-barred, tell-all segment, sparks fly.

Buckle up.

 

Alright, let’s cut the shit. How did the idea for this game really come about?

Chris Walker: My memory is fucked but we played 27 games of wiffleball in ’88 where we kept stats, so the league was operating by then. I really don’t know who is responsible for this, but I definitely would like to thank them because the fact that we did it and have video to document it is almost as cool as feeding squirrels.

Shawn Trusty: I don’t recall. It might’ve been brought about at a recent family engagement. Christmas probably.

Rollie Walker: We were challenged.

What was the process for team selection?

Shawn: Team representation was agreed upon quickly. 3 on 3 was the standard.

Chris: My guess is my dad and Uncle Larry were automatic because of the Walker name and they needed a third. Uncle Paul was the best player available. I suppose we could’ve let them bat four or five by adding Uncle John and Uncle Bruce and we could’ve had Angela and Kevin play on our team, but that was never discussed.

Rollie: We were challenged and just picked the team. You can’t have four against three, and it was at my house, so I was going to play!

Nephews – what was your strategy going into this game?

Shawn: We knew we were the better team and it was just a matter of us playing ball. The only chance the Uncles had is if one of us got injured.

Chris: Brian took it seriously and so the rest of us followed suit.

Shawn: I was and still am a very competitive person. When I’m in the midst of an athletic competition, I compete physically and verbally.

Why the Boston Red Sox-inspired uniforms?

Shawn: We had to pick an AL team as each of us were fans of the Cubs or Cardinals and all hated the Mets. We decided on the Red Sox because of players we liked. The Cleveland Indians were also considered.

Brian Trusty: Our Red Sox jersey numbers were based on their outfield of Mike Greenwell (39: me), Ellis Burks (12: Chris) and Dwight Evans (24: Shawn).

How were the umpire and cameraman chosen?

Chris: I’d like to know that as well. Like I said, I’m hazy on this being 30 years ago and really just being a 17-year old wiseass at the time.

Shawn: The roles had to be filled and there were two logical spots for the remaining uncles who weren’t playing.

John Trusty: (Shrugs). I had to do what I had to do. So fuck it.

The gameday atmosphere was extravagant, complete with an incredible rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and not one but two beer commercials.

Chris: My dad always had something planned. How else would he have had the guitar, wig, and attire?

Brian: Grandpa [Rollin Walker] doing the Bob Uecker Miller Lite commercial was awesome.

Bruce Darin: Anything involving Pop that day was great.

Shawn: That might’ve been the 20th anniversary homage to Hendrix at Woodstock. Guitar supplied by the umpire. Grandpa impersonating Bob Uecker’s commercial was an awesome part of the day where he did his own thing, going way out into the field.

Rollie: It’s baseball so you got to have the Star-Spangled Banner to start a game. I just thought the Jimi Hendrix recording would be what I’d play. I had a wig and a guitar, so I improvised. Just acting goofy.

Rick Zelko’s “Miller Man” ad put Budweiser’s iconic “Bud Man” to shame, with him slamming a cold High Life and simply instructing viewers to go buy it.

Shawn: I like Rick and always have, and that commercial was hilarious. He was having a good time that day.

Chris: It was legendary and spontaneous which is Rick in a nutshell. I can watch that again and again (laughs).

The Miller Man commercial in all its glory can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvFgbx9jXVI

 Uncles – how did you plan to defend against the Nephews’ powerful bats, especially with a shoeless Paul Mackey roaming the outfield? Was that a hindrance at all?

Larry Walker: I tried to cover as much ground as possible. I was probably the speediest defender.

Paul Mackey: (Shrugs) I was faster than Larry because I was shoeless.

The Nephews started the game with a blistering seven-run first frame and never looked back. Talk about that initial assault.

Chris: We dominated. Those guys are fags (laughs.)

Shawn: Hard hit balls and aggressive baserunning were the keys.

Larry: Our outfield was speedy, but I didn’t expect the Nephews to come out with so much passion. Shit, I was just drinking beer at a picnic.

The Nephews plated runs in every inning but the eighth when Mackey came on in relief. Did you call off the dogs by then or was he legitimately fooling you?

Shawn: By that point he was feeling pretty good. We weren’t trying to slam more runs on the board. I’ll give Uncle Paul credit for that scoreless inning, but had he started the game, the final score wouldn’t have been any different.

Chris: No clue. He may have been mad because I was bragging about trying to buy Red’s boat.

Shoeless Paul did some serious swatting for the Uncles, with 7 of his 9 hits being home runs – many while holding a beer. What made him so tough to get out?

Brian: I could not get Uncle Paul out no matter what I threw him (laughs).

Paul: I was a tough out with my patented one beer/one-handed swing.

Chris: He had great shoeless footwork and the power became prodigious as the liquid gold continued to flow. He was a dominant softball player in those days too.

Paul: I was putting on a show for Bob Uecker in the front row (laughs).

Chris, you ended the game in relief with 1.2 innings pitched of no-hit, shutout ball, a rare feat in the WWL.

Chris: Basically, Uncle Paul was hammered by that time and my dad and Uncle Larry were probably tired and had just kind of given up. Everyone was ready to go eat potato salad.

Cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin had some salty takes throughout the game about both teams and the umpiring. What did that add to the narrative of this epic game?

Bruce: I mean, you have to have commentary to keep things interesting.

John: He did his job and I did mine. Fuck it.

Chris: It adds more than I think anyone realizes. It baffles me when I think of how it all happened but being unable to recall why it all happened that way, know what I mean? The commentator certainly wasn’t biased. Everyone was open game to his criticisms.

Shawn: The commentary was…weak. It reeked of a guy projecting his odd humor that was dripping with irony. But it was still great (laughs).

The comparison of Darin’s cinematography and gameday production to that of the legendary Arnie Harris was high praise.

Chris: Complete and utter bullshit, but it sounded good and funny at the time though (laughs). But he completed the job and I am extremely grateful that he was able to do it.

Bruce: I learned a lot from watching Cubs games on WGN in those days.

The commentator was also a big proponent of the squeeze play, which was an interesting idea given the short basepaths. Was that even allowed per league rules? Could strategy get as granular as regular baseball?

Bruce: I learned a lot from listening to Bob Uecker, too.

Shawn: Impossible for a squeeze play when all runners had to keep their foot on the base.

Chris: It would have to be a safety squeeze since you couldn’t run until contact was made. I think Doobie tried to squeeze in Buttpick from third once, but it was disallowed.

Why the hell wasn’t there ever a rematch?

Chris: I’ve always wondered why we didn’t do it (shrugs).

Shawn: Considering the shape we are in we’d probably lose a rematch.

Author’s note: I’d play this time.

 

Well, there it is folks. One tremendous ballgame many moons ago, and for three decades some of the goofy jabs have stuck around like a fart in a space suit. You may recall that Apollo Creed once told Rocky Balboa there wasn’t going to be a rematch.

But we all know how that turned out…

 

Special thanks to all who participated, and to Chris Walker for providing the official box score, and recent special edition interview content with William “Rollie” Walker, which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHFX4yFOBjc

 

 

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Walk(er)ing In a Wiffleball Wonderland

Baseball, as we know, can be played in many variations. Arguably the most popular of those, is Wiffleball. Through the decades, countless backyard get-togethers, sandlot pickup games, or even entire, official leagues have been created to enjoy this simplistic, joyous take on America’s pastime. One such legendary league, was the Walker Wiffleball League (1986-1994.)

While not as grandiose as Major League Baseball, nor as obscure as the Iowa Baseball Confederacy, the WWL more than held it’s own for many years on the dusty outskirts of Joliet, IL. Today we’re thrilled to have a visit with fellow baseball junkie and the founder, commissioner, and namesake of the WWL, Chris Walker. Join us on a hilarious and fascinating little journey back to the days of the WWL, and the grassy thrill of Hank Gathers Memorial Stadium.

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Q: Chris, thanks for joining us today!

A: My pleasure.

Q: Let’s jump right in: When and how did the WWL begin and end? What made you decide to start an official league?

A : It began in 1986 and ended in the fall of 1994. In the beginning we were always outside playing baseball, but sometimes we just didn’t have enough people to play so I wanted to create a way to play some form of baseball even if we only had a few kids. It was trial and error for the first two years and in 1988 we established rules and kept stats, but we still were ironing out kinks, trying to figure things out, etc. I think the final product ended up being rather impressive.

Q: You wrote a very thorough rule book, kept stats for each game and player, and compiled them into season and career-long variations. What effect did that level of depth have on the league?

A: I think it’s something that was truly original, especially when you add in that we even videotaped some games with the old huge VHS recorders and a couple times we broadcast game via CB even though we really had no one listening except someone else who was out there sitting in his car in the cul-de-sac. I can’t even imagine what the league would be like if I was a kid today with advanced technology, social media, youtube, and shit like that. I can’t imagine if I was born in 2002 rather than 1972 and was just getting started in doing such a thing. As amazing as I think my product was, and it truly was a product, we would’ve done some ridiculous things.

Q: Were the seasons made up of just one-off games or did you orchestrate a playoff structure of any kind?

A: It was pretty much guys showing up, picking teams and playing a bunch of games. We did schedule some tournaments where people picked their own teams, which was also a lot of fun. Some nights we’d have good matchups and play a best-of-3 series, which also was pretty cool to do.

Q: Did the WWL ever host any special events? All-Star games? Tournaments? Etc.

A: We’d have home run derbies, tournaments and some special events. We had Kautz Fest (after player Dan Kautz who was leaving to go into the military) where we decorated the park and it looked more like a used car dealership for a few days. I think one of the cooler things we did was play music during night games, and in the early 90s there were some great releases. I’m pretty sure that some people first heard of Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden while playing wiffleball with their buddies. You’re welcome.

Q: This was all long before the days of the internet and social media so where did the players come from? Was it just among local family and friends or did any players travel from further away?

A: It was primarily word of mouth. Obviously I had my friends in high school from ‘88-90 and then I went to Joliet Junior College so I met some guys there in ‘90-92 who got involved before I went away to Southern Illinois at Carbondale. I was also umpiring a lot of youth baseball so some fellow umpires also got into the action and I was playing rec softball a few nights a week so there were guys I met there as well.

Q: You built a custom field, complete with lights for night games. Tell us about the layout, dimensions, special features, and how the building process came about.

A: Our yard had a weird shape to it and the majority of the backyard was fenced in, but outside of it, we also had property, plus there was an open lot adjacent to it. Technically, part of the field, the home plate area, wasn’t even on our land. Dimensions were 110 down the lines and 100 to center, which is opposite of a traditional baseball field, but played into the game we created. With a pitcher and two fielders, a hitter might be inclined to try to hit it to center with the short fence, but you also had two fielders converging to deal with, as well as the pitcher. The first two years were a bit different, but we worked on adjusting the field to have it set up this way with the same distances, etc.., and then we did the wall like a MLB park and installed permanent lights, a backstop, wooden benches. Part of the fence is hanging in my garage now.

Q: How much, if any, documentation still exists from the WWL days? (video, statistics, photos, articles, etc.)

A: It’s a mix. Sadly, no one really ever took photos. I fortunately have a dozen or so photos that I took of the field itself, mostly toward the end in 1994. If we played today, can you imagine the number of photos we’d have with cell phones? It also would’ve made it easier to set up games. I’m guessing there are about 25-30 games that I have on video as that was sporadic, but it’s better to have some rather than none. I still need to take the time and total up career stats, which is something if I ever get some free time, I’d love to do. I wouldn’t mind putting up a website documenting the league and its history. Of course, there’s no better way to relive the history than the Game Summaries. I kept one for every game played from 1988 through 1994. I have several enormous binders from every season with the box scores and details of what happened that night. It’s diary-like. Luckily, I like to write and Jason Switzer, who was heavily involved in the league in the 90s also did, so there’s great stuff there and it’s hard not to smile and laugh when you pop one of those binders open and read for awhile.

Q: Tons of Wiffleball leagues exist now, yet you seemed to do it on an official scale before everyone else did. Do you feel you helped pioneer a beloved variation of baseball in any way?

A: I don’t think there’s anything like what we did. Since most of us were still playing regular baseball we couldn’t play traditional wiffleball. Throwing that plastic ball as hard as you could would’ve destroyed our arms and if our coaches found out they would’ve kicked our asses for being so stupid. That’s why I tailored the league to be more defense-oriented, except when the wind was howling out! We also used a special ball made by Cosom which was softball-size and had circle holes on it. I think the people who played the most would even argue that they enjoyed playing defense as much, if not more than, hitting. I don’t know if anyone who would tailor a league in that way.

Q: Who, in your opinion, were the Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Walter Johnson of the WWL?

A: I don’t think anyone was really. I always had the biggest offensive numbers, but I also played all the time. I think I’ve been more impressed with the long list of people who have played the game and who they’ve become. I tend to forget that we were just teens and then guys in their early 20s and we were just hanging out and having a good time. I often reminisce and wish I could back to those simpler times, especially when I reflect and realize some of those guys are now gone, like Mark Russ and John Simpson. We had another kid, a Providence alum a few years younger than me who became Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro. He was nearly killed by an IED explosion in Afghanistan and became the first 100 percent disabled veteran to reenlist in the Air Force. He was severely burned more on more than 80 percent of his body, is now one of the most inspiring people in the world, but back when he was a just a teen he came out and had fun with us playing an innocent game. I guess I find myself reflecting more on who these guys were and what they’ve become then who they played or performed like.

Q: Your funniest, weirdest, or most interesting story about the league, or any individual game/player…

A: There are so many. Just from the top of my head….my Uncle Rick once drove his truck onto the field in the middle of the game scaring the pitcher (John Simpson) shitless while blaring “Burning Down The House” by the Talking Heads. My senior year in high school we played in the middle of a thunderstorm and we added a rule where everyone had to play barefoot. Real smart. There was a night where we played games all night until the sun started to rise. There was another where my friend Dave Stolarek’s car blew up. I’m serious. His car blew up while sitting parked. While hundreds of miles away in college, I had a player bring his girlfriend and they hung out, drinking beer and making out on the bench, or so I was told. And the cast of characters who either played once or twice or became regulars, and even the nicknames we came up with. We had Billy “Buttpick” Davis who got the nickname because he often picked his ass in the middle of games. He also enjoyed eating raw hot dogs. He’d just walk over with them and sit there nibbling on them. And even Jimmy “Shoeless” Chaplin who usually played barefoot, hence the perfect nickname. When the league first started we had a 4th of July family game with me and two of my cousins playing against three of our uncles. The entire game was filmed with my dad impersonating Jimi Hendrix doing the national anthem on guitar, one of my uncles serving as a boisterous umpire and my late grandfather recreating the infamous Bob Uecker “front row Miller Lite” commercials. The fact that we have video of this entire day makes it one of my most prized possessions and favorite memories and the funny thing is that this was in 1989, back before I really made the stadium awesome. I could go on and on.

That’s fantastic. As a former part-time player in the WWL, although I was admittedly too young to do much offensive damage, it was a romp to the say the least. Many great memories with friends and family and another example of how the game of baseball and it’s variants, even indirectly, can connect us in ways we often take for granted.

Thank you Chris for that fantastic retrospective on a hell of a fun era!

 

Photo Credit: http://road2gameday.com/baseball/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Wiffle_xuicm8b8_g6pwn1s6.jpg

 

 

 

WWL: The Story of the Best Midwest Wiffleball League of All Time

Baseball is one of the few sports that can be enjoyed in almost countless versions. Whether it be with broomsticks and racquet balls in a neighborhood street or alley, foam-cushioned indoor balls in a gym or basement, spitballs and your bare hands in any convenient room (or classrooms as many of us got detentions for in our youth), numerous tabletop board games, video games, card games, or variations on a cell phone, there are multiple ways to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.

Arguably the most common however, is Wiffleball. The old backyard version of baseball has long been enjoyed among friends and families for decades, but some take it to a much higher, more competitive level. If you do a Google, or YouTube search, you’ll find many Wiffleball leagues nationwide, from officially sponsored leagues to private, backyard club-type organizations among friends. But one man had the foresight to start a trend, at least regionally, which later took off on a grand scale.

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In this special edition post, we will visit with Illinois resident Chris Walker, a longtime baseball umpire in the Midwest and founder of the former WWL, (Walker Wiffleball League,) which allowed family, friends, and then-current, up-and-coming, and former ballplayers a chance to shine on the diamond in Chris’s custom-built Wiffleball stadium, in a league complete with an official rulebook, compiled individual and season statistics, awards, and well, lots of amazing stories along the way, long before anyone else was doing it.

Stay tuned for the full interview and story!