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Walter Emmons Alston was born on December 1, 1911 at a farm in Butler County, Ohio. As a boy, Alston was a pitcher and his fastball earned him the nickname 'Smokey.' His fastball may have disappeared before it could really help Alston in the game but his nickname stuck with him. Alston grew up playing baseball and basketball in grade school, high school, and later at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. While in college, Alston was a better than average student who paid his own way to attend. He was also the captain of the baseball and basketball teams. Alston earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1932 and took a job as a science, physical education, and industrial arts teacher.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed Alston to a professional contract in 1935 and assigned him to their farm club, Greenwood. By late in the season he was moved up to St. Louis but then was returned to the minor league. After 5 more years of playing, Alston realized he was not going to make it to the major league as a player. In 1940, the Portsmouth, Ohio team he was then playing for made him its new player-manager. Alston spent the next four seasons as a player-manager for different minor league teams before advancing.

Branch Rickey, then president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, hired Alston in 1946 to manage the Dodgers' farm club at Nashua, New Hampshire. That year, Nashua won the New England playoffs and earned Alston the respect and admiration of his players including Roy Campanella and Roy Newcombe.

Alston was promoted the following year to Pueblo, Colorado of the Western League and decided to end his playing career as well at the age of 36. After leading Pueblo to the league championship, Alston was moved to manage the Dodger's class AA team in St. Paul, Minnesota. That team won the American Association pennant in 1949. Next, Alston spent 3 years with the Dodgers' number one farm club in Montreal, Canada. That team won the International League pennant twice and finished second the other year.

Unexpectedly in 1954, Alston was promoted to manage the Dodgers. His predecessor, Charlie Dressen had managed the Dodgers to two straight pennants but failed to win the World Series with either opportunity and was fired over a contract dispute. The Dodgers made history in 1955 by winning the National League pennant and their first ever World Series. In 1956 they repeated their league pennant victory but lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958 and in 1959 they won the league pennant and another World Series.

Success was Alston's trademark. He was voted Manager of the Year in 1955, 1959 and 1963. His team also won 6 pennant races and 4 World Series during Alston's 20 years with the Dodgers. Alston was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Alston died on October 1, 1984 in Oxford, Ohio and is buried at Darrtown Cemetery in Darrtown, Ohio.