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.

Burrus, Dick

Position: First base
Birthplace: Hatteras

First, Middle Names: Maurice Lennon   Nicknames: Dick

Date of Birth:  Jan 29, 1898    Date and Place of Death: Feb. 2, 1972, Elizabeth City, NC
Burial: New Hollywood Cemetery, Elizabeth City

High School: Elizabeth City High School, Oak Ridge Academy, Oak Ridge, NC
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh, NC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 5-11, 175
Debut Year: 1919       Final Year: 1928          Years Played: 6
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1919-20; Boston Braves, 1925-28

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
560     1760    513      206      211      11       .291     .247     .373     0.9      

Cornelius McGillicuddy, the manager and part owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, was a hard man to impress. Few men would ever match Connie Mack, as he was known to all, as a judge of baseball talent. He would remain in the game for more than 50 years as a player, manager or owner, acquiring nicknames along the way that reflected what his contemporaries thought of his acumen — The Tall Tactician, the Tall Tutor and the Great Old Man of Baseball.

Mack traveled down to Columbia, South Carolina, in June 1919 to check out a talented, 21-year-old minor-league first baseman. Dick Burrus got five hits that day and fielded his position with the grace that reminded Mack of Hal Chase, a peerless first baseman who was in the last year of a 15-year career. Reserved by nature and calculating in his evaluation of talent, Mack was reduced to a gushing suitor.[I]

“When I signed Burrus, I believed I was getting the greatest first sacker the Athletic club ever had,” Mack later remembered. “I said he wouldn’t be just a good player, but a player who will get big, black headlines.”[II]

Mack bought Burrus from the Columbia Comers in the Class C South Atlantic League for the unheard price of $5,000, or about $75,000 in current dollars. He later said he would have gone as high as $25,000, or almost $400,00 when adjusted for inflation.

It was real money, more than most men in Hatteras saw in a decade of fishing. Maurice Lennon Burrus grew up in the remote fishing village on an island of the same name that was a day’s sale from the N.C. mainland. Hatteras Island had yet to be marketed to the world as a part of the famed Outer Banks. Burrus would be the only person from the region to play in the major leagues.

He was the youngest of seven children. Their father, Capt. Dozier Burrus, was a well-respected elder who had been the keeper of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the mid-1870s, soon after it got its famous black and white stripes. Their mother, Achsah, died when Burrus was five. The family moved to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on the mainland in 1909 so that the kids could get a better education.

A teacher at the local high school, where Burrus first showed real talent on the baseball diamond, suggested he transfer to Oak Ridge Academy in Guilford County, more than 300 miles west. The private military school had become something of a cradle for major-league players.[1]

Burrus finished high school at Oak Ridge and received a partial athletic scholarship to attend what is now N.C. State University. He arrived in Raleigh in 1916 intending to study textile engineering, but World War I intervened. Burrus was drafted into the Army and spent two years at a base in Georgia.

He returned to State to play the last three games of the 1918 football season — he was on the team that Georgia Tech humiliated 128-0. Burrus played the entire baseball season the following spring and was signed by Columbia when it ended.

Within a few weeks of his signing, Dick Burrus from a far-off fishing village on the North Carolina coast, was heading to Philadelphia as a major leaguer. Mack wanted him at Shibe Park for the first game of a Sunday doubleheader, but Burrus got off the train at the wrong station and arrived during the second game. He walked into the A’s dugout just as George Burns, the team’s star first baseman, launched a deep home run. Mack intended to move Burns to the outfield to make room for his promising rookie.

“Burrus’ first words were, ‘What a hit that was. Who was the batter?’” Mack remembered. “When he was told the hitter was George Burns, the player he had been signed to succeed, his face fell. I will always believe that this entrance licked him. He had been signed to take the place of a man who in his first view of a major-league ball game had hit one of the longest homers he had ever seen. ‘What chance have I?’ he must have thought.”[III]

Burrus hit a respectable .258 that season for a hapless team that lost 104 games. His average, however, dropped more than 70 points after 71 games in 1920. Mack had seen enough and shipped Burrus back to the minors. “He was no more like the Burrus I saw at Columbia than a harmonica resembles a piano,” he said.[IV]

During the next four years, Burrus built a strong minor-league resume. His .365 average and near flawless play at first base in 1924 led the Atlanta Crackers to the Class A Southern Association pennant.

Having earned another shot at the majors, Burrus seemed to be reaching the potential that Mack envisioned. Playing in all 152 games for the Boston Braves in 1925, Burrus hit .340, ranking third in the National League. He rapped out 200 hits, including 50 for extra bases, and drove in a career-high 87 runs.

Hernias, not a destroyed psyche, stopped him. He played another three years in Boston, but hobbled by abdominal hernias, his playing time and numbers decreased each year. Though he hit .318 in 1927, Burrus played in less than half of the Braves’ games. He played two more years in the minors before being released in 1930. His .291 lifetime batting average ranks as ninth among North Carolina players with at least 1,000 at bats.

Burrus owned a restaurant in Atlanta for a time before moving with his wife, Beck, back to Hatteras. He was an oil distributor and fish dealer on Hatteras Island and was elected to the Dare County commissioners.  Burrus died of lung cancer a few days past his 74th birthday in 1972.

His daughters, Dixie Burrus Browning and Mary Burrus Williams, are prolific writers and artists. Dixie Browning has written more than 100 romance and historical novels, mostly about life on the Outer Banks. The sisters have collaborated on several works of fiction under the pen name Bronwyn Williams, a combination of their married names.

Footnote
[1] Oak Ridge’s Coach Earl Holt had already sent pitchers George Suggs, Dixie Davis and Jakie May to the majors. Wes Ferrell and his Hall of Fame brother, Rick, would come later.

References
[I] “Mack Very Fond of Dick Burrus.” Charlotte (NC) News, June 23, 1919.
[II] Ison, Wade. “The Isonglass.” Charlotte (NC) News, April 6, 1931.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.

 

Brown, Jimmy

Position: Second base, third base, shortstop
Birthplace: Jamesville

Full Name: James Roberson  

Date of Birth:  April 25, 1910 Date and Place of Death: Dec. 29, 1977, Bath
Burial: Brown Family Cemetery, Jamesville

High School: Jamesville High School 
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh

Bats: Both                   Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-8, 165
Debut Year: 1937       Final Year: 1946          Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1937-43; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1946
Awards: All-Star, 1942

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
890    3512    980    465      319      9          .279     .326     .352     8.6

There was a time in baseball when players like Jimmy Brown were called pepper pots. Such players were, like the 5-8 Brown, small in stature but scrappy in nature. Like him, their uniforms were always dirty, and their shirttails were usually hanging out. Also, like Brown, they played aggressively, attacking every pitch and diving for every ball. And they were loud. Brown’s rapid-fire chatter in the infield was once compared to one of those tobacco auctioneers back home.

Brown anchored the pre-World War II infield for the St. Louis Cardinals for seven years, playing every position but first base. One of the toughest batters to strikeout in the National League, he usually led off and hit .300 or close to it most seasons. His .279 career batting average ties for 20th place among North Carolina players with at least 1,000 at bats. He was an all star one of those seasons and a Word Series victor.

Mike Gonzalez, a Cardinals’ coach, once said this about the team’s spark plug, as relayed by a sportswriter trying to mimic his Cuban accent: “I satisfy if I have nine Jingy Browns. I do win plenty pennant and make many buckerinos.”

Brown grew up on a small farm along the Roanoke River in Martin County. Tragedy struck when Brown’s father, Archie, was killed in an accident when Jimmy was a teenager. His mother, Dare, struggled to raise her nine children.

A pitcher and shortstop at old Jamesville High School, Brown could throw effectively with either arm. A natural right-hander, he had taught himself to throw left handed after breaking his right arm as a child.

Brown was in and out of N.C. State College, probably because his money kept running out, and he left for good before the end of his senior year in 1933 to sign with the Cardinals.

After struggling at the plate during his second year in the minors, Brown learned to switch hit and batted .309 in 1936. He was in the majors the following year.

Brown was one of the leaders of the 1942 Cardinals team that closed a 10-game gap and overtook the first-place Brooklyn Dodgers by winning 44 of its last 53 games. The team included fellow North Carolinian Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, playing his first full year, in the outfield. They went on to beat the heavily favored N.Y. Yankees in the World Series.

 That was also the year that Brown was selected as an all star, though he hit just .256, the lowest in his major-league career. He did, however, knock in 71 runs from the leadoff position.

Drafted into the Army in 1943, Brown spent the war coaching baseball and basketball teams at a base in Tennessee.

The Cardinals sold Brown for $30,000 to the Pittsburgh Pirates when he returned to the majors in 1946. The layoff had eroded bis batting eye and age – he was 36, old for an infielder –had sapped his speed. He hit .241 that season as a part-time player. He was credited, however, in helping defeat another union attempt.

Robert Murphy, a Harvard-educated labor lawyer from Boston, formed the American Baseball Guild in 1946 to unionize major-league players. It was at least the fourth attempt to organize players against the tyranny of team owners who controlled every aspect of a player’s career. Murphy wanted the teams to set minimum salaries for its players, provide for arbitration to settle salary disputes and grievances, and allow players who are sold to get a share of the purchase price.

Murphy chose the Pirates for the union’s first test because of the city’s large union workforce. He claimed to have induced most of the players to join the guild, but William Benswanger, the team’s owner, wouldn’t negotiate. Murphy called for a strike on Friday, June 7, a night game at the Pirates’ Forbes Field. Two-thirds of the team had to approve the strike.

At a tense, players-only meeting on the day of the game, support for the strike collapsed after fierce opposition from Brown and pitcher Rip Sewell. The vote fell four shy of the required super majority. Fans booed the home team when the Pirates took the field that night. About a month after the vote, four men attacked Brown outside the ballpark. He said the men were drunk and that he didn’t know the reason for the attack. Brown wasn’t badly hurt.

Brown never publicly explained his opposition. He was among the highest-paid players on the team. He also was at the end of his career and from a state where unions weren’t popular.

In any case, Brown retired as an active player at the end of the season. Maybe as a reward for his loyalty, the Pirates gave him the managing job at their top farm club in Triple A. That began a 13-year career as a manager in the minor and winter leagues.

 Brown left baseball for good in 1964, and he and his wife, Sarah, lived the rest of their lives on a farm in Bath.