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.