Chambers, Rome

Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Weaverville

First, Middle Names: Richard Jerome       Nicknames: Rome
Date of Birth: Aug. 31, 1875   Date and Place of Death: Aug. 30, 1902
Burial: Chambers Family Cemetery, Weaverville

High School: Undetermined
College: Weaver College, Weaverville

Bats: L Throws: L        Height and Weight: 6-2, 173
Debut Year: 1900        Final Year: 1900          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Boston Beaneaters, 1900

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
1          0          0          0          11.25   4.0       2          -0.2

Rome Chambers was the third North Carolinian to play in the major leagues and the first from the state’s mountains. His stay was brief, a mere four innings in one game in 1900, but his manager liked what he saw and thought he’d be back after a bit of seasoning in the minors. Chambers didn’t get the chance. Two years later, he was dead, a day shy of his 27th birthday.

Richard Jerome Chambers was born in 1875, the same year the small community of Reems Creek north of Asheville was incorporated and renamed Weaverville after a prominent local resident. His parents, Robert and Bathilda, raised five children on the family farm outside town. The oldest, Ogburn, would become a well-known dentist in Asheville whose passing would be deeply mourned in 1929 after he was struck by a bicycle on a city street.

There are a few tidbits here and there in the historical and genealogical records about Rome, the next in the family’s lineup of kids. Census reports indicate that he lived with his parents all his life, working on the family farm. It’s not known when he started playing baseball. We know he pitched a few innings for the Richmond, Virginia, Giants of the Atlantic League in 1897 and one season two years later for Weaver College, a local Methodist school.[1] He was described by his contemporaries at the time: “When the style for pitching balls with a steam engine or shooting them from a cannon to the batter comes in fashion, Mr. Chambers will lose his job, but not before. If he could write letters as nicely as he plays ball, he would doubtless hear from his sweetheart oftener than once a month.”[I]

Chambers traveled the 150 or so miles to Greensboro, North Carolina, in the spring of 1900 to attend a tryout camp sponsored by the Boston Beaneaters, one of the original members of the National League.[2] A few weeks later, on May 7, the “North Carolina mountaineer,” as the Boston’s newspapers called him, found himself on the mound at the Beaneaters’ South End Grounds for the 15th game of the new season. Manager Frank Selee sent the rookie in to start the fourth inning against the New York Giants. Chambers pitched four innings and gave up five runs in an 18-11 slugfest won by Boston, though he wasn’t credited with the victory.

A summation of his work that day resides in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York “He had speed and nerves but lacked control,” it says.[II] Selee was a bit more diplomatic three days later when he shipped Chambers to Toronto, Canada, in the Eastern League. He told the press that he had “great faith in Chambers becoming a good man after a year on a minor-league team.”[III]

Chambers never made it back. He died in Weaverville in 1902 of unknown causes. His will lists no heirs.

Footnotes
[1] Weaverville College was founded as a Methodist, coeducational academy in 1851 by the local Sons of Temperance. The school was renamed Weaver College 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 Boston Red Stockings were one of the charter franchises of the National League in 1876. Its name was changed to the Beaneaters seven years later. While colorful, the name always irked some Bostonians. After two  more changes, the “Braves” was adopted as the official name in 1912 when no one much cared about what Native Americans might think. Except for a brief sojourn as the Bees in the 1930s, the Braves name stuck. The team played in Boston until 1953 when it moved to Milwaukee. It now resides in Atlanta, where it’s been since 1966.

References
[i] Goode, Tyler Norris. “Rome’s Big Day.” Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times, May 7, 2006.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] “Rome J. Chambers Farmed Out to Toronto.” Boston (MA) Globe, May 10, 1900.

 

 

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.