Notes: Walker looks back
Former replacement player has overcome hurdles in career
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Jamie Walker owns every decision he's ever made, even if he doesn't agree with them in retrospect. That became clear Friday, when the southpaw spoke at length about one of the key moments in his life.
Walker can still remember the chain of events that led him to serve as a replacement player in baseball's last work stoppage, a decision that has effectively blackballed him from inclusion in the Major League Baseball Players Association. And while "regret" may be too strong a word, Walker wishes things had unfolded some other way.
"Looking back on it, I wished I wouldn't have," he said Friday. "My son was born three days before they called me in there and they told me to play or go home. So I played. I don't hide behind it. I never have and never will."
Back in the spring of 1995, Walker was a former 10th-round draft pick and low-level prospect in Houston's organization who knew little about the inner workings of the game. And while he was generally ambivalent about serving as a replacement, he allowed himself to be swayed by what seemed to be a generous offer at the time.
Walker said that the Astros offered him health insurance for two years -- which wasn't a given with a work stoppage going on -- and a one-time payment of $10,000 or more. It was an uncomfortable situation for the first-time father, and one he felt he couldn't really afford to ignore. So he agreed to play, and he's been paying for it ever since.
"I'm not in the union," he said of the repercussions. "It bothers me, because I wish they would've educated us 13 years ago. A lot of guys didn't know what they were doing. I didn't know, obviously, but I can't go back and change time. I'm a man and I accept what I did. I chose to do it. If anybody ever has a problem with it, they can face me."
The left-hander subsequently educated himself about baseball's union, which was created in 1965 and endured through a series of long and bitter battles to increase the earning power of the average player. He called it perhaps "the strongest union" in the country, and lamented the fact that he'll never be a part of it.
"The union's great. Marvin Miller, Curt Flood and everybody did a great job," he said. "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing today, and I firmly believe that. That's what really stinks about it, because I did a lot of research on my own after the fact. I wish I'd have had that information before."
Several former replacement players have thrived in the big leagues -- such as Walker's teammate Kevin Millar -- but very few remain active. There are perhaps 25 such players left playing, a fact that isn't lost on Walker. He knows that he's beaten the odds to have his career, which didn't really begin in earnest until his 30th birthday.
"I surprise myself every day I wake up," said Walker, who signed a lucrative three-year deal with Baltimore in November. "If somebody would've told me I'd be 35 and playing in the big leagues, I'd have told them they're [crazy] back in the day. But I've always been a guy who can persevere and I've always been a competitive guy."
"We can still see what happens. I hate to shut anything down for anybody at this particular point," Perlozzo said Thursday. "If he pitches well, he could be the long guy if we had to. We just want to see Hayden pitch well, and then we can talk about it afterwards."
Speaking generally, Perlozzo said he doesn't think it's a good practice for a young starting pitcher to throw out of the bullpen in the big leagues. In his opinion, it may be instructive in the short term and detrimental in the long run. The bottom line, as far as Perlozzo's concerned, is that Penn needs to be ready before he joins the team.
"He's 22, and I've said this to you guys before ... he'd be a first-round draft pick out of college now," he said. "Hayden has had so many expectations put on him at a young age, and he was rushed to the Major Leagues. If Hayden doesn't make it to the big leagues for the next three years, he's 25 years old.
"And if he's a stud then, God bless us -- we've got a starting pitcher for 10 years. I have confidence that Hayden can get better than he's been here lately."
Quotable: "It's been a wild ride, and I hope to continue it. I've enjoyed every minute of it. I'm definitely not a guy who will be looking back, going, 'What if?' I leave it all out on the field, and that's it." -- Walker on his career
Coming up: The Orioles will play a pair of split-sqaud games Saturday -- one at home in Fort Lauderdale against the Dodgers at 1:05 p.m. ET and one in Port St. Lucie against the Mets at 1:10 p.m. Daniel Cabrera will get the ball in home game, and Penn will start against the Mets. Cabrera has 12 strikeouts in 14 innings this spring.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.