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.