Baldwin, James

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Pinehurst

First Name: James Jr.
Date of Birth:  July 15, 1971
Current Residence: Pinehurst

High School: Pinecrest High School, Southern Pines, NC
College: Did not attend

Bats: R                         Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 210
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 2005          Years Played: 11

Teams and Years: Chicago White Sox, 1995-2001; Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001; Seattle Mariners, 2002; Minnesota Twins, 2003; New York Mets, 2004, Baltimore Orioles, 2005; Texas Rangers, 2005

Awards: All-Star, 2000

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
266   79       74       2          5.01     1322.2 844      9.3

James Baldwin was a much-heralded prospect as he pitched his way through the Chicago White Sox’s minor leagues. If not for a kid named Derek Jeter, he would have been recognized as the best rookie in the American League in 1996. He would spend 10 more years in the majors and be an All-Star in one of them, but most of those other seasons were marred by puzzling inconsistency. He was never able to string together winning seasons, or even successful halves. Baldwin ended up as a journeyman and finished his career with just a few more wins than losses.

Born in Pinehurst in 1971, Baldwin played baseball, basketball and football at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He was an all-conference pitcher during his senior year in 1990 when the White Sox picked him in the fourth round of the amateur draft.

The joy that came with signing his first pro contract was overwhelmed a few days later by the death of his father, James Sr. “Coming out of high school, coming into the world on your own for the first time… it was tough for me,” Baldwin said of those first days at rookie camp in Sarasota, Florida. “I didn’t know how to deal with the outside world at the time.”[I]

He got the hang of it, though, and steadily pitched his way up the White Sox minor-league system. At Birmingham, Alabama, in 1993, he led the Class AA Southern League in earned-run average (2.25), or ERA, before being promoted to Class AAA Nashville, Tennessee, where he won 12 games and cemented his standing as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization.

Baldwin was favored to open the 1994 season as Chicago’s fifth starter. He trained with the club in Sarasota that spring and was the first professional to pitch to His Airness, Michael Jordan, during an intrasquad game.[1] Baldwin’s general wildness, however, persuaded team coaches that he needed more time in Nashville, where he won 10 games that season while striking out about a batter an inning.

He earned a spot In the White Sox rotation to start the new season and debuted on April 30. It didn’t go well. He got tagged for four runs by the Boston Red Sox, though his team managed to win 17-11. Baldwin lasted for only two outs in his second start after giving up five runs and was pounded by the Detroit Tigers for four home runs in his next turn. The White Sox shipped him back to Nashville the next day. He wasn’t much better there, however, losing his last six games along with his confidence. “There was one night in Indianapolis,” Baldwin remembered. “I was on the mound, getting knocked around again, and I looked into the dugout. I almost walked off for good right there and then. So frustrated. So lost.”[II]

He returned to Pinehurst after the season. “I got down on myself, but my mother, Lucille, and my little boy (James III was four at the time) got me through it,” he said “I knew I still had my family. No one could take that away from me.”[iii]

The road back to the majors started in Venezuela where Baldwin played that winter. “I went there to sort things out,” he remembered. “I had a lot of support in America, from a lot of friends I made with the Sox, but I didn’t need any more advice, as much as I appreciated it. I needed to get up on my own two feet, relax and start over. I needed to be a man about things.”[IV]

Though he began the 1996 season in Nashville, Baldwin was summoned to Chicago in late April to replace an injured starter. He won eight games before the All-Star break but faltered afterwards. His 11-6 record, however, was good enough for second place behind the New York Yankees’ Jeter in the balloting for Rookie of the Year.

Baldwin became a reliable, but erratic, starter for the White Sox over the next five seasons, acquiring a reputation as a second-half pitcher. He had, for instance, a combined 7-12 before the All-Star break in 1998 and ’99 with an ERA approaching 7.00 and was 18-7 after the break with a 3.61 ERA. “I wish we could figure him out,” moaned Ron Schueler, the team’s general manager.[V]

The 2000 season was the exception. He was 11-4 at the midway point and was chosen to the American League All-Star team He pitched almost as well in the second half, but injuries sidelined him for almost two months. He finished 14-6. He had surgery after the season to remove a bone spur in his right shoulder and to repair his rotator cuff.

He was never the same pitcher. The White Sox traded him the Los Angeles Dodger midway through the 2001 season. Baldwin signed with eight different clubs over the next five years, appearing in games for five of them, mostly out of the bullpen. He retired after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays in April 2006.

Baldwin returned to Pinehurst to become the pitching coach at his high school where he helped his son, James, develop into a centerfielder who was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010. The youngster played six years in the minors.

Baldwin was also a coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

He and his wife, Sharon, live in Pinehurst.

Footnote
[1] Michael Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, retired from basketball in 1993. He surprised the sports world early the following year by signing a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox. He spent two years in the club’s minor leagues, advancing as far as Class AA Birmingham, Alabama, where he hit .202 and struck out 114 times. He quit in March 1995 because he feared Chicago would promote him to the majors as a replacement player during the player’ strike that season.

References
[I] Sullivan, Paul. “2nd Time up, Baldwin a Cut Above.” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1996.
[II] Verdi, Bob. “Baldwin’s Gains Far Outweigh Friday’s Pain.” Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1996.
[III] Sullivan
[IV] Verdi
[V] Sullivan, Paul. “Baldwin Again Tries to Put It All Together.” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2000.

 

Rich, Woody

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Morganton

First, Middle Names: Woodrow Earl
Date of Birth: March 9, 1916    Date and Place of Death: April 18, 1983, Valdese, NC
Burial: South Mountain Baptist Church Cemetery, Morganton

High School: Morganton High School
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 185
Debut Year: 1939       Final Year: 1944          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1939-41; Boston Braves, 1944

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
33      6          6          0         5.06     117.1  42        0.5

Woody Rich had all the makings of a great Depression-era newspaper hero. He was a shy farm boy from the hills of North Carolina – the kind of kid sportswriters ended up calling “Rube.” He had come out of nowhere with lightning in his right arm. Before he had even thrown a ball in a regulation, big-league game, the sports scribes primed the pump by comparing him to the legendary pitchers of yore. The lanky string bean, it seems, was being groomed to take his place among the pantheon of star athletes who had been born and had lived on the sports pages – Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Seabiscuit. Times were tough, and readers thirsted for heroes.

Woodrow Earl Rich came along at the right time. He had indeed been born on a farm outside Morganton in Burke County in 1916. He was fifth in the batting order of David and Callie’s eight children.

His high-school years are murky. Some newspapers reported at the time he debuted in the majors that he had pitched for the two years he attended Morganton High School. Others note that he lasted only a semester before dropping out to work for a hosiery mill and play for a semipro team. Paying jobs during the Depression were paying jobs, after all. That would seem to agree with Rich’s military discharge records that list the eighth grade as his highest level of education. To confuse matters even more, a profile of Rich compiled by the Society of American Baseball Research notes that he graduated from high school in 1936, though no source is cited.

Of this there is no doubt: he married Lucy Durline Walker, a minister’s daughter, a year earlier when he was playing for a semipro team in Valdese, North Carolina. In was there that the myth begins to take form with the tale of his discovery by the Boston Red Sox. It has it all: the kindly club executive, the touching act of charity, and the  sense of wonder at first seeing the rising, unknown star. The details varied with the telling, but it went something like this: Billy Evans, a former umpire, directed the Red Sox farm system. He ran into another former umpire or maybe it was a former player on one of his scouting trips. Anyway, the guy was down on his luck and Evans, known as a soft touch in an industry famous for its hard dealings with players, gave him $5. A year later, the grateful ex-ump — or was it ex-player? – wrote Evans about this kid pitching for Valdese who was, according to one newspaper account, “quite a propeller of the pellet.”[I]

Evans went south to look for himself. “You can knock me over with a five-dollar bill if this kid hasn’t got the motion of a Grover Cleveland Alexander or a Dizzy Dean,” he recalled. “He’s as loose as a goose.”[1][II]

And so it started.

Evans signed Rich on the spot, of course. The kid had no formal training as a pitcher. His father, who knew nothing about baseball, said his son learned the game by playing with “the Negro folk” at home.[III] All that considered, Rich’s first season as a professional with Boston’s lowest-level farm club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1937 wasn’t so bad – 12-15 with a 4.42 earned-run average.

Evans thought he was ready to move up to Class A Little Rock, Arkansas, but Travelers’ Manager Doc Prothro wasn’t so sure. He kept Rich on the bench for the first three weeks of the 1938 season. Evans, though, kept pestering him. Prothro finally relented and sent Rich into a game after his starter had been rocked for five runs. The bases were loaded with no out when Rich took over. He retired the side with no further damage and didn’t allow a run the rest of the way, allowing the Travelers to come back and win. He won 19 games that year, including a no-hitter against the powerful Atlanta Crackers, who featured two of the league’s leading hitters.

The stage was set.

Rich grabbed the spotlight in the spring of 1939 at the Red Sox’s training camp in Sarasota, Florida. He didn’t allow a run in his first two appearances, and his smooth, sidearm motion reminded Coach Tom Daly of the guy he used to catch with the Chicago Cubs a decade earlier. “When Woody started to loosen up and put a little something on the ball with that sidearm delivery of his, I saw ol’ Alex all over again,” Daly said, referring to Alexander. “Their styles are almost identical.”[IV]

The scribes needed no further invitations. They started writing stories about this sensational rookie in Sarasota – strike that, make it the best pitching prospect since the Big Train himself, Walter Johnson.

Rich roomed that spring with another Red Sox rookie with a future, a bean pole of an outfielder named Ted Williams. While Williams was a brash, loud-talking city kid from San Diego, Rich was the quiet farm boy. “He’s a man of one word,” a reporter noted. “His favorite monosyllables are ‘Yeah’ and ‘nope.’”[v]

But when he let loose, there were gems like this: “When I wasn’t plowing, chopping wood or hoeing corn, I used to throw a lot of stones at snakes and birds,” Rich told one of the writers that spring. “Maybe that’s how I developed my arm. But if, as you say, I’ve got big, powerful-looking wrists I reckon I got them from hoeing that corn and chopping that wood. We used to make bats out of hickory logs, but maybe we didn’t have enough bats. But we had plenty of birds and snakes.”[VI]

Or this reaction when seeing Yankee Stadium for the first time: “Garsh!”[VII] 

The rube from Palookaville who becomes a star has a long and treasured history in baseball. Writers reminded their readers that no one had ever heard of Elba, Nebraska, before Alexander came along or Humboldt, Kansas, before Johnson. Their successor Lefty Grove, then dominating the American League, came from Lonaconing, Maryland, which was down the road from Nikep somewhere up in the mountains. “Morgantown,” as it was often misspelled, could be next.

Rich did his part when the season opened, winning four of his first six games. He was among the leading pitchers in the league when he took the mound on May 27, but he had to leave the game after hurting his arm while making a throw to first base. The injury wasn’t thought to be serious, but he couldn’t raise his arm within a few days. He didn’t get another start until July 4 but couldn’t survive the first inning. He lasted only three innings two weeks later. After a few more rough outings, the Red Sox in early August sent Rich to their farm club in Louisville, Kentucky, where he remained for the rest of the season.

The Red Sox gave him second and third chances in 1940 and ’41 but he never regained the form that reminded people of Ol’ Alex. The city’s National League entry, the Braves, called him up in 1944, hoping he’d shine during the talent-depleted war years. He didn’t. He was shipped out after seven games.

Rich’s major-league days were over but his baseball career was just beginning. His arm was strong enough to allow him to pitch 14 more years in the minor leagues, often quite effectively. After a one-year stint with the Marine Corps at the end of World War II, Rich spent the late 1940s with the Class D Anniston, Alabama, Rams. He won 19 games in 1947 on a last-place team and led the league in strikeouts. He made the All-Star team the following season and won two games in the league playoffs. The appreciative Rams held a Woody Rich Night in his honor at their home ballyard in 1949. Not much later, Rich abruptly left the team to pitch for a semipro club in Iowa.

His arm obviously wasn’t the problem. His weight, however, may have been. Rich’s waistline expanded as his career lengthened. The 155-pound kid who reported to Clarksdale in 1937 routinely tipped the scales at 230 a decade later when he became “Big” Woody Rich. “Portly” and “bulky” were also common adjectives. He was prominently featured in a 1947 article in Baseball Magazine about players with weight problems. “One of the most tragic cases in the memory of the writer is that of Woody Rich,” Hub Miller wrote. “But Rich’s fame was short-lived. He did stay with the club long enough to win a few games and, at times, showed flashes of greatness. But the boy had such an uncontrollable appetite that he soon was fat and well beyond big-league hurling condition. It was not long before he even had trouble winning in the higher minors.”[VIII]

Approaching 40, it was the “venerable” Rich who led the Hi-Toms of High Point and Thomasville, North Carolina, to back-to-back Carolina League championships in 1955 and ’56. He won 49 games in his three years with the Hi-Toms, but they would be his last productive seasons. Rich retired in 1958 at age 42.

He lived with his wife and their daughter, Martha, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was an auto mechanic. They returned to Burke County in 1968 where they lived in a log cabin near Valdese. He died in 1983 of lung cancer.

Footnote
[1] Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the pitching stars of baseball’s Deadball Era, won 373 games in a 20-year career that took him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Dizzy Dean, another Hall of Famer, was a four-time All-Star who led the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s.

References
[I] Hurwitz, Hy. “What About It.” Boston (MA) Globe, January 31, 1939.

[II] Ibid.
[III] Armour, Mark. “Woody Rich.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/woody-rich/.
[IV] Moore, Gerry. “Woody Rich Reminds Tom Daly of Old Alex.” Boston (MA) Globe, March 9, 1939.
[V] Cuddy, Jack. United Press International. “Young Tar Heel Arrives in Big City and – Garsh.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), April 21, 1939.
[VI] Armour.
[VII] Cuddy.
[VIII] Armour.

 

 

 

Bradley, Tom

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Asheville

First, Middle Names: Thomas William
Date of Birth:  March 16, 1947
Current Residence: Barboursville, WV

High School: Falls Church High School, Falls Church, VA
College: University of Maryland, College Park, MD

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 180
Debut Year: 1969       Final Year: 1975          Years Played: 7
Teams and Years: California Angels, 1969-70; Chicago White Sox, 1971-72; San Francisco Giants, 1973-75

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
183    55      61        2          3.72     1017.2 691      10.1

Tom Bradley is almost certainly the only major-league pitcher who could read The Aeneid in its original Latin. He could also speak Greek and was such a nonstop conversationalist in his native English, always buzzing about looking for someone to talk to, that his teammates once playfully waved flyswatters at him in the clubhouse as if warding off a bothersome insect.

In a sport where most players don’t attend or finish college, Bradley was a scholar, but he was also a pretty decent pitcher. The big righthander was a durable workhorse, logging more than a thousand innings from 1970-73, his most-productive seasons. His 3.72 lifetime earned-run average, or ERA, is 19th among North Carolina pitchers with at least 500 innings in the major leagues. Had he played for better teams, Bradley would have likely ended with a winning record.

His playing days cut short by injury, he spent almost 30 years as a collegiate manager and minor-league coach. Even in retirement, he helped coach his son’s high-school team.

Born in Asheville in 1947, Thomas William Bradley was an infant when his parents, Dorothy and Claude, moved to Falls Church, Virginia, where they worked for the federal government. Claude, an accomplished amateur pitcher, became his only child’s primary instructor when the youngster started Little League. Bradley played in the youth leagues and at Falls Church High School.

He entered the University of Maryland at College Park in 1966 on a baseball scholarship and developed into one of the best pitchers the school has ever produced. He won 10 games in his two years on the varsity squad and his 1.32 career ERA is still the Atlantic Coast Conference record. As a junior, he stuck out 65 batters in 47 innings while leading the Terrapins to what was then their best record in school history (19-6-1). For the second consecutive year, he was named to the conference’s All-ACC first team.

Bradley was also a star in the classroom. He was the school’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1968 and would return to the university after his professional baseball career began to finish his studies. He graduated cum laude in 1972 with a major in Latin and a minor in Greek.

The California Angels drafted Bradley in the seventh round of the 1968 amateur draft and he spent the following season pitching for every team in their system, including a couple of innings with the parent club late in the year.

For most of 1970, he played for the Angels’ Class AAA franchise in Hawaii, compiling an 11-1 record with a 2.03 ERA on the pennant-winning Islanders. His manager, Chuck Tanner, took the helm of the Chicago White Sox later that year in what would be his first stop on a 19-year career as a major-league manager. One of the first things Tanner did was engineer a trade for his Islanders’ ace, whom he considered one of the best young pitchers in baseball.[I]

Tanner had his work cut out for him. Since their pennant-winning team of 1959, White Sox fans had little to cheer about at old, dreary Comiskey Park. A few teams since then had finished second or third, but most had been awful. The previous season’s version had lost 106 games, finishing at the bottom of its division. Its best pitcher had lost 17 games.

The 26-year-old Bradley gave those long-suffering fans hope. He started the 1971 season with a flourish, tossing 20 consecutive scoreless innings at one point. Entering May, he was 6-4 with a 1.67 ERA for a team struggling to get out of the basement. Only Oakland’s Vida Blue, the league’s eventual Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player, was better. With a bit more run support and a couple of breaks here and there, Bradley could have easily won 11 games. “The one thing to remember about baseball is that it’s a team sport,” he noted philosophically. “The pitcher doesn’t really win or lose. The team does. It’s a team effort that wins.”[II]

In the end, his team wasn’t very good, losing four more games than it won. As its reflection, Bradley ended up breaking even at 15-15, but he was among the league leaders in games started (39), shutouts (6), innings pitched (285.2) and strikeouts (206).

Short of pitching in 1972, Tanner flaunted convention by relying on three starting pitchers, instead of the usual four. Bradley, Wilbur Wood and Stan Bahnsen started 130 of Chicago’s 154 games in a strike-shortened season.[1] They got three days’ rest between starts, though Bradley pitched with just two days seven times. An unproven Rich Gossage was one of the pitchers who picked up the slack when needed.[2]

Bradley roomed with the 19-year-old, rookie fireballer and gave him his famous nickname. “He pitched in a game early in the season, and I think he threw like two or three innings, and I looked at the scoreboard and said, ‘Look at all the goose eggs,’” he explained. “This was one of his first appearances in the big leagues. Rich kind of had a gangly motion, all elbows and arms and legs, which must have been awful tough on hitters, so I put two and two together and started calling him “Goose.”[III]

The three-pitcher strategy paid off. The White Sox won 20 more games than it lost and finished in second place, just 5.5 games behind the A’s. Bradley pitched more than 260 innings and won another 15 games.

That didn’t prevent Chicago from trading him for outfield help at the end of the season. Bradley learned of the trade to the San Francisco Giants while in the White Sox business office where he had volunteered to call potential season-ticket holders. “I come to work to sell tickets and before the cream was in my coffee I was in San Francisco,” he said.[IV]

Though blessed with sluggers Bobby Bonds, Willie McCovey and Dave Kingman, the Giants’ thin starting pitching consisted of a young Ron Bryant and an old Juan Marichal. “The way I see it,” a Jewish fan wrote in the local newspaper, “it’s the old ‘Spahn and Sain and two days of rain,’ only in this case it’s ‘Bradley and Bryant and pray to Mount Zion.’”[V]

Hobbled by an ankle injury that sidelined him for a month, Bradley won 13 games in 1973, but his ERA was a full run higher than it had been in Chicago.

In a windy, dank Candlestick Park on May 17 of the next season, Manager Charlie Fox called on Bradley in the ninth inning to finish a game against the San Diego Padres that his team was losing 5-3. Bradley had started two days earlier. He was ineffective, giving up two runs. Ominously, his pitching shoulder hurt after the game. “They asked me to pitch in relief and like a dummy I said yes,” he recalled years later. “I felt something pop in my shoulder and I wasn’t the same again.”[VI]

He kept pitching, changing his delivery to compensate for the pain. That led to a more-serious rotator cuff injury that would ultimately end his career.

Bradley was so bad at the start of the 1975 season that no team was interested in picking him up on waivers. Horace Stoneham, the Giants’ owner, told him he could go down to Class AAA Phoenix, Arizona, or be released. Bradley chose Phoenix. On the plane ride there he told a newspaper columnist: “It was a blow to my ego, my pride. But I realized it could have been a lot worse. I couldn’t even get picked up on waivers. The Giants could have released me. But Mr. Stoneham was willing to stick with me. He was very good to me.”[VII]

He was recalled in June and made his last major-league start two months later. He retired at the end of the season.

After a year as a pitching coach for a small college in California, Bradley became the head coach at Jacksonville University in Florida. He developed the school’s baseball program over the next 12 seasons, winning 432 games in the process. Three of his teams won 40 games and none won fewer than 30. He was the winningest coach in the school’s history at the time of his induction into its Hall of Fame in 1996.

When he wasn’t on the university’s ballfield, Bradley was back in its classroom studying for a master’s degree in athletics teaching, which he earned in 1980.

Coaching his alma mater was the next goal. He realized it in 1991 when he became the Terps’ head coach. He won a school record 29 games the first season, but it was downhill from there. The school didn’t renew his contract after 10 years and a losing record, though it would induct him into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.

Bradley ended his baseball career as a minor-league pitching coach, first for the Padres and then for the Toronto Blue Jays.

He retired in 2010 and lives with his wife, Kathy, a retired schoolteacher, in Barboursville, West Virginia. They have two children.

Footnotes
[1] The 1972 season was the first to have games cancelled by a player strike over pension and salary arbitration. The strike erased the first week and a half of the season, and the leagues decided to not make up the games..
[2] Rich “Goose” Gossage debuted with the Chicago White Sox in 1972 and would become one of the dominating closers of modern baseball. He saved 310 games in a 22-year career and was an All-Star nine times. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

References
[I] Borsch, Fred. “Bradley Writes Prize Thesis as Islander Pitching Scholar,” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 4, 1970.
[II] Munzel, Edgar. “Fast-Talker Bradley Silences Big Bats.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), June 26, 1971.
[III] Laurila, David. “Prospectus Q&A: Tom Bradley.” Baseball Prospectus, October 29, 2008. https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/8270/prospectus-qa-tom-bradley/.
[IV] Gabcik, John. “Tom Bradley.” Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/tom-bradley/.
[V] Twombly, Wells. “A Depressing Setting for an Opener.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), April 23, 1974.
[VI] Gabcik.
[VII] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

Wicker, Kemp

Positions: Relief, starting pitcher
Birthplace: Kernersville

First, Middle Names: Kemp Caswell
Date of Birth:  Aug. 13, 1906  Date and Place of Death: July 11, 1973, Kernersville
Burial: United Methodist Church Cemetery, Kernersville

High School: Undetermined
Colleges: Weaver College, Weaverville, NC; N.C. State University, Raleigh, NC

Bats: R             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 5-11, 182
Debut Year: 1936       Final Year: 1941          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: New York Yankees, 1936-38; Brooklyn Dodgers, 1941

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
40      10        7          1          4.66    141.0   27        -0.1

Though he pitched in the major leagues for parts of only four seasons, Kemp Wicker spent almost half his life in baseball as a player and manager in the minors or as a scout. He was a member of some of the great teams in baseball history.

He was born on a farm in Kernersville in eastern Forsyth County in 1906, the youngest of Jasper and Alice Whicker’s five children. Notice the spelling of the family’s surname. That’s how it appears in census records and on birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, and tombstones. It’s not known why the family’s only son chose the alternate spelling when he became a professional baseball player.

Wicker in 1926 pitched for Weaver College, a Methodist junior college in Weaverville, North Carolina.[1] Two years later, he was playing for North Carolina State College in Raleigh.

While at N.C. State, Wicker also pitched for minor-league clubs in Georgia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Over the next 27 years, he would play for or manage 20 different teams in the minors from Canada to Georgia.

The New York Yankees signed him in 1932, and he worked his way through their farm system, winning 20 games two years later for their Class A club in Binghamton, New York. He debuted with the Yankees in 1936 and spent three seasons shuttling across the Hudson River to and from their Class AA club in Newark, New Jersey. He won seven games and pitched 88 innings for the Yankees as a spot starter and reliever in 1937, his longest tenure in the majors. He also pitched a scoreless inning against the crosstown New York Giants in the fourth game of the World Series that year.

Wicker rubbed shoulders with the immortals during his brief time in the majors. The Yankees of his time were one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history, winning four consecutive pennants starting in 1936. Seven players in the dugout with Wicker would end up in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.[2] As if that weren’t enough, Wicker also won seven games for the Newark Bears in 1937, considered to be the greatest minor-league team in history.[3]

Sold to the Dodgers in 1939, Wicker made a cameo appearance in Brooklyn two years later, but the rest of his career was spent playing or managing in the minors. He won back-to-back Sally League pennants as skipper of the Columbus, Georgia, Cardinals in 1946-47.

The fans were so impressed with his managing skills with that first team that they set aside a day to honor Wicker. The team won a pennant despite ranking seventh in the league in hitting and sixth in fielding and whose best pitcher won a mere seven games and whose best hitter batted just .298. “The fans figure the original Columbus had a cinch discovering America compared to Columbus Wicker’s discovery of first place,” an Associated Press reporter wrote.[I]

His last team, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, didn’t fare so well. It was mired in the basement when Wicker was fired in June 1954. He ended his baseball career as a scout for the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.

Wicker never left the Kernersville area. That’s where he and his wife, Wilhelmina, raised their three children. That’s where he died in 1973, five years after being diagnosed with  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The disease had killed his former teammate Lou Gehrig, who gave the grim illness its popular name.

Footnotes
[1] Weaverville College was founded in 1851 by the local Sons of Temperance. The school was renamed in 1912 to honor Montraville Weaver who donated land for the first buildings. The Methodist Church merged it with Rutherford College in 1933 to create Brevard College in Brevard, NC. (Hill, Michael, “Weaver College.” NCPedia, 2006. https://www.ncpedia.org/weaver-college).
[2] The Hall of Famers on the 1936-39 Yankees: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri, and Red Rolfe.
[3] The 1937 Bears took first place in the International League in May and never looked back, winning the pennant by more than 25 games. Though they lost the first three games at home, the Bears won the last four to take the Junior World Series. Twenty-seven of the 32 players who suited up for the Bears that season appeared in the major leagues.

Reference
[I] Fullerton, Hugh Jr. Associated Press. “Sports Roundup.” Nome (AK) Nugget, July 20, 1947.

 

 

Wade, Whistling Jake

Position: Starting pitcher, relief pitcher
Birthplace: Morehead City

First, Middle Names: Jacob Fields Jr.             Nickname: Whistling Jake
Date of Birth:  April 1, 1912   Date and Place of Death: February 1, 2006, Wildwood, NC
Burial: Bayview Cemetery, Morehead City

High School: Charles S. Wallace School, Morehead City
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh, NC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-2, 175
Debut Year: 1936       Final Year: 1946          Years Played: 8
Team(s) and Years: Detroit Tigers, 1936-38; Boston Red Sox, 1939; St. Louis Browns, 1939; Chicago White Sox, 1942-44; New York Yankees, 1946; Washington Senators, 1946

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
171     27       40       3          5.00    668.1  291      0.3

Johnny Allen had to be pleased when he saw who was the warming up in the Tigers’ bullpen to face him on what he hoped would be a historic October afternoon in Detroit for the last game of the 1937 season. The Tigers were sending out the whistling wild man, Jake Wade, the worst pitcher on the team, a guy who could be depended on to walk six or seven while giving up four or five runs. Allen had to figure this one was in the bag. Move over Lefty Grove.

 An orphan from Thomasville, North Carolina, Allen could be ill-tempered on the mound, arguing with umpires and brawling with opponents and teammates who made errors behind him. He was, however, a very talented pitcher. The ace of the Cleveland Indians’ staff, he had won 20 games the previous year and would have been even better in 1937 had he not missed almost the entire first half of season with appendicitis. He had not lost a game since coming back, however, and was looking for his 16th consecutive victory to tie an American League record held by league immortals Grove and Walter Johnson.

Standing in Allen’s way was a fellow North Carolinian, a 24-year-old righthander in his second year in the major leagues. There was no denying Jake Wade’s stuff – good fastball and a decent-enough breaking pitch.  If he could only find the plate. He had walked 107 so far during the season. Add the hits he had given up and an unwieldy 267 batters had reached base in only 165 innings of pitching. Little wonder, then, that when he took the mound that afternoon of Oct. 3, Wade had allowed an average of more than five runs a game and had lost ten while winning only six. His rookie year hadn’t been much better. No, he was no Johnny Allen.

Managers, however, usually don’t quickly give up on youngsters with hop on their fastball. They hope that they’ll one day learn how to control it. The Tiger skipper, Mickey Cochrane, had to wince, though, when Wade walked the second batter in the game after getting the first to pop out. Here we go. The kid, however, threw the third strike past the dangerous Earl Averill, and catcher Frankie Pytlak’s strong throw nabbed the runner trying to steal second. Double play. Inning over. Cochrane exhaled.

Tigers’ slugger Hank Greenberg singled in a run in the home half of the inning, and Wade retook the mound with the slimmest of leads. None of the 22,000 in Navin Field figured it would be enough.

Jacob Fields Wade Jr. was born on April Fool’s Day in 1912 to what would eventually become a small tribe of Wades in the house on Fisher Street in downtown Morehead City. He was named after his father, a commercial fisherman. To everyone in town, his mother, Lorine, was Lovie. Her eleven children would always win the church prize for the largest family in the congregation.

Like his two brothers, Wade excelled on the baseball diamond. His elder brother Charles Winfield – some called him Winny, but to most in Morehead City he was Croaker – would play and manage in the minors. His baby brother, Ben, would pitch for five years in the National League. The Wades are one of three sets of North Carolina brothers to pitch big-league ball. The others are Tom and “Tobacco Chewin’“ Johnny Lanning of Buncombe County and Gaylord and Jim Perry of Williamston.

Wade played first base, like Croaker, when he entered old Charles Wallace School in Morehead City, but his coach quickly made him a pitcher. Opposing batters complained that he often loaded his pitches with saliva and other substances. Though unsavory, such doctoring was legal at the time. After high school, he pitched for three years, starting in 1929, for what is now N.C. State University in Raleigh.

He made his pro debut in 1931 for the Raleigh Capitals in the Class D Piedmont League. The Tigers bought his contract the following season, and Wade spent the next four years in their farm system, walking more than five batters a game. He made his major-league debut on April 22, 1936, lasting one inning in which he gave up three runs on five hits. The Tigers sent him to their double A team in Montreal, Canada, but called him back in late July because of injuries to their pitchers. Wade ended his first big-league season with a lackluster 5.29 earned-run average, giving up 93 hits and walking 52 in 79 innings.

Given that history, Wade may have been the most surprised guy in the park when he took the mound that day to open the seventh inning. He had walked only two batters, struck out four and had not given up a hit. He was pitching the game of his life. Allen had been almost as good, allowing that first-inning run and no more.

The magic, though, may have run its course. A walk, a single and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. In spots like these in the past, Wade crumbled under the pressure and started walking everyone in sight. “He got nervous and excited and tightened up in tough going and the going on this afternoon was tough, if it ever was,” a sportswriter noted at the time.[I]

But on that October day, Whistling Jake induced Bruce Campbell, the Indians’ right fielder, to lift a harmless fly to left for the final out. “Inning after inning, the chance of Allen winning 16 in a row became more and more remote due to the hurling of Wade, the one pitcher on the Detroit staff Cleveland felt sure of beating,” that sportswriter observed.[II]

About that nickname.. Some at the time said Wade acquired it because of his knack for imitating bird songs. This account left by a Detroit newspaper columnist suggests there may have been more to it. “A lot of fellows like to whistle, but they can take their whistling or let it alone. Not so Jake,” he wrote when Wade joined the Tigers in 1936. “He practices whistling like a Paderewski would practice on the piano.[1] A couple of hours a day. And make no mistake about it, Whistlin’ Jake really can whistle.”[III]

A roommate in the minors reported that Wade would sit in front of a mirror for hours whistling at his image. “This Wade is a screwball or I’m a goldfish,” the roomy told the newspapers.

Wade didn’t deny it. “I just like to keep my lips limbered up,” he said. [IV]

The kid better known for his whistling than his pitching breezed through the last two innings without giving up another hit. He won 1-0, denying Allen a place in the record books. “That’s the way I should have been pitching in April,” Wade said after the game. “I do everything backwards.”[V]

It would be wonderful to report that on that day Jake Wade became the pitcher that all his managers hoped he would. That’s not how it turned out. He went to and from the major leagues for seven more years and would never again pitch like he did on that Sunday afternoon in October. In fact, the Tigers lost faith that Wade would ever find his control after he walked 48 in 70 innings of relief in 1938. They traded him to the Boston Red Sox. Wade was even worse, allowing 105 runners in less than 48 innings pitched. Boston sold him to the St. Louis Browns during the 1939 season.

“I woke up one morning in the spring of 1940 at the Browns’ training camp with a sore arm,” he explained. “I kept right on trying to pitch the soreness out, but it was no use.”[VI] Wade spent the next two years in the minors trying to find his way back.

He was pain free and pitching for the Cincinnati Reds’ farm team in Indianapolis to open the 1941 season, but he had nothing on the ball. He returned home after appearing in seven games. “I went back home to Morehead City entirely satisfied that I was washed up,” he said.[VII]           

Wade settled in for a life without baseball. He had married a local woman, Rosalie Watson, in 1937. They had moved to Wildwood, a small community west of Morehead City where they would raise five children. To support that growing family, Wade pitched for minor-league teams in New Bern and Greensboro, North Carolina, and worked as a laborer and truck driver at the Marine Corps’ air station in nearby Havelock, North Carolina.

The following spring, however, Rosalie found him packing his bags. She asked where he was going. To Florida, Wade said, to find a real job in the big leagues. He tried to audition for a number of clubs at their training camps, but most wouldn’t even give him a tryout. With his money running out, Wade returned home when the season opened. Maybe, it really was over.

Hundreds of miles away in Chicago, Jimmy Dykes, the manager of the White Sox, was fretting about his faltering pitching staff. He summoned Wade in mid-June. “It (the salary) wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m back in the majors and after all, what more could a fellow ask?” Wade said after signing.[VIII]

In his first outing, he took over for the starter in the first inning and hurled eight scoreless frames, giving up three hits. He pitched two more scoreless innings three days later. In his first start a week after that, he mowed down the Philadelphia Athletics on three hits. He beat them again 12 days later.

Wade had his best years during the early 1940s. Playing for three American League teams, he pitched mainly out of the bullpen to lineups largely depleted of major-league caliber players because of World War II. While the walks were still high, Wade managed to limit the damage and became a serviceable reliever.

He joined the war effort by enlisting in the Navy in 1945 and spent a year pitching for base teams before being discharged. He played in his last major-league game in 1946 and retired from baseball after pitching four more seasons in the minors.

Wade returned to Wildwood and became an electronics repair technician at the Marine air base. He retired in 1976.

He died in 2006 at the age after suffering a stroke several years earlier.


Footnotes
[1] Ignacy Jan Paderewki (1880-1941) was a Polish composer and pianist who was a favorite of concert audiences around the world. A spokesman for Polish independence, he became prime minister in 1919 when the country was created after World War I.

References
[I] Fuqua, John. “Jake Wade.” Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/jake-wade/.
[II]Salsinger, H.G. “Jake Wade, Who Snapped Allen’s Victory String, Keep Knocking at Front Door, Entering at Back.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), January 13, 1938.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ward, Charles P. “Ward to the Wise.” Detroit (MI) Free Press, August 3, 1936.
[V] Ibid.
[VI] Holst, Doc. “Wade Beats Allen on One Hit; Goslin Released.” Detroit (MI) Free Press, October 4, 1937.
[VII]  Farrington, Dick. “Everything Turned Out Jake in Wade’s Comeback Hop, But Not Until He Whistled Long and Loud for Chance.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), December 2, 1942.
[VIII] Ibid.