Walter Anton Berger was an outfielder who played for four National League teams, primarily the Boston Braves (1930 – 1937). Berger was the National League’s starting center fielder in baseball’s first All-Star Game.
One of the league’s top sluggers of the early 1930s, in his initial 1930 season he hit 38 home runs, a record for rookies which stood until 1987; he still holds a share of the NL record. He also led the league in home runs and runs batted in in 1935 despite the Braves having the fourth-most losses in MLB history, and went on to become the seventh NL player to hit 200 career home runs.
Born in Chicago on October 10, 1905 but raised in San Francisco, Berger played third base for Mission High School, sharing the infield with future Hall of Fame shortstop and American League president Joe Cronin, who manned second base.
Through 2019, he was one of four players to hit 20 or more home runs in their rookie year before July, along with Albert Pujols (2001), Joc Pederson (2015) and Cody Bellinger (2017). Berger’s 38 home runs as a 1930 rookie established a major league record that would stand for 57 years until eclipsed by Mark McGwire’s 49 in 1987; his NL record was tied by Frank Robinson in 1956, but has not been broken. Berger still shares the major league record for home runs by a first-year player (no prior major league games) and for being the fastest player to hit 20 home runs (51 games), shared with Gary Sánchez (who accomplished the feat on September 27, 2016) and Cody Bellinger (June 19, 2017). Berger batted .310 that season, and his 119 runs batted in were also an NL rookie record, since topped by Albert Pujols in 2001.
Berger made the NL All-Star team in the first four years the game was held (1933–36), starting in the first two. In 1933 he finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting, behind Carl Hubbell and Chuck Klein, after hitting 27 home runs (half the Braves team total), second in the league behind Klein’s 28. That same year, when Babe Ruth was asked once again to make his annual selection of the game’s best, he named Berger as his center fielder. Of the eighteen players who started the 1934 All-Star Game, Berger is the only player not elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1935, he led NL outfielders in putouts with 458. Eddie Mathews broke his Braves franchise record of 38 home runs in 1953, the team’s first year in Milwaukee, and surpassed his mark of 199 career home runs in 1957.
After a 1936 shoulder injury, Berger was traded to the New York Giants in June 1937; his first home run for the team was the 200th of his career.
Wally passed away on November 30, 1988 from a stroke.