When he died in January of 2009, today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was 100 years old. He had become the oldest living MLB player and his book, Memories of a Ballplayer, co-written with baseball historian, Paul Rogers in 2001, represented his eye witness account of what playing in the big leagues was like back in the 1930s.
Werber’s Major League career actually began back in 1927, when he was a freshman at Duke University, where he was a brilliant athlete (the first Duke basketball player to be named All American) and a brilliant student (he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.) The legendary scout, Paul Krichell signed the first year collegian to a Yankee contract and had him spend a couple of weeks during that ’27 season sitting on the bench of the famed Murderers Row team to pick up some knowledge of the game. According to Werber, he hated those two weeks because everybody simply ignored him.
He didn’t make it back to Yankee Stadium until 1930 when he got called up in June and appeared in three games at short and one at third for Manager Bob Shawkey’s team. He went 2-3 in his first big league start and also became Babe Ruth’s bridge partner on the train rides during Yankee road trips. Werber and Ruth would play partners against Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey and Werber remembered in his book, how Babe used to drink a bottle of Seagrams during those contests, gradually getting drunker and nastier as the game progressed.
Werber spent the 1932 season back in the minors and then was promoted back to the parent club when the ’33 season started, but not for long. The Yankees had a ton of left-side infielders in their organization back then, so they sold the native of Berwyn, Maryland to the Red Sox. That was the break Werber’s career needed. By 1934, he had become Boston’s starting third baseman and that year he reached the 200 hit mark for the first and only time of his career and led the AL with 40 stolen bases while batting .321. He ended up winning a total of three AL stolen base titles. Werber played until 1942 and finished his 11-year career with a .271 batting average and 1,363 career hits. He won a World Series ring in 1940 with the Reds. He was instrumental in Cincinnati’s victory in that seven game Fall Classic, as he smacked ten hits and batted .370.
Update: The above post was last updated in June of 2011. Since that time I have learned that when Werber left baseball in 1942, he sold life insurance for his father’s company. He evidently was pretty good at it because during his first year in that new career he earned over $100,000. When he retired from his second career he was a millionaire. I also learned from an interview with Werber published in a 2008 edition of the New York Times, that he was not Ruth’s bridge partner on those long-ago Yankee train rides but instead it would be him and Dickey versus the Bambino and Gehrig. According to Werber, Babe and the Iron Horse weren’t too bright so he and Dickey would always win the $3.50 pot from card games. When Werber walked in his first ever Yankee at bat, Ruth came up behind him and hit a home run. Werber decided to take the opportunity to show his teammates just how fleet afoot he was and ran around the bases as fast as he could in front of Babe. When Ruth caught up to him in the dugout, he patted the rookie on top of the head and told him, “Son, you don’t have to run like that when the Babe hits one.
Here are Werber’s Yankee and career player stats:
|BOS (4 yrs)||529||2372||2045||366||575||130||25||38||234||107||268||154||.281||.367||.425||.792|
|CIN (3 yrs)||399||1847||1601||276||435||79||12||21||151||45||212||110||.272||.362||.375||.738|
|PHA (2 yrs)||262||1175||992||177||273||53||11||18||139||54||167||76||.275||.381||.405||.786|
|NYY (2 yrs)||7||19||16||5||4||0||0||0||2||0||3||1||.250||.368||.250||.618|
|NYG (1 yr)||98||429||370||51||76||9||2||1||13||9||51||22||.205||.308||.249||.557|
Del Paddock is one of two not-well-known former Yankee franchise infielders to celebrate their birthday on June 8th. Paddock played 46 games for New York way back in the 1912 season, when they were still known as the Highlanders. He could hit decently, averaging .288 for New York that year, which was higher than any of the team’s starting position players could manage except for outfielder Birdie Cree. Paddock’s problem was fielding. He evidently had hands of stone, committing 14 errors in 41 games.
Evidently, Paddock’s poor fielding wasn’t the only problem with the 1912 Highlander team. That squad ended up with the worst regular season record in Yankee franchise history, going 50-102 and finishing dead last in the league.
Paddock was released by New York after that one season. He would spend the rest of his playing career in the minors and eventually fight in WW I. Paddock died in 1952, two years before this one-time Yankee infielder who shares Paddock’s birthday was born.
|NYY (1 yr)||46||185||156||26||45||5||3||1||14||9||23||21||.288||.393||.378||.772|
|CHW (1 yr)||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000|
By the time the Yankees purchased Ernie Johnson off waivers just before June of the 1923 regular season, this Chicago native was already 35 years of age and had eight seasons of big league baseball under his belt. The Yankees were looking for a better offensive player to take over for Mike McNally as their infield utility guy and though Johnson was not a great hitter, he had averaged .295 as the White Sox starting second baseman just two seasons earlier.
He had then ticked off that team’s owner Charley Comiskey, when he demanded a salary increase, Subsequently, when his batting average fell forty points in 1924, he lost his starting job to a guy named Hervey McClellan and Comiskey gladly put Johnson on the waiver wire.
It actually turned out to be a great move for both the infielder and the Yankees. Over the two-and-a-half seasons he played for New York skipper Miller Huggins, Johnson appeared in 159 games and averaged a very robust .327. He also won his one and only World Series ring in 1923 against the Giants and scored the go-ahead run as a pinch runner in the final Game of that Fall Classic.
Its too bad Johnson didn’t get to put on the pinstripes much earlier in his career because by 1925, he had already turned 37-years-old. The Yankees decided to go with some much younger blood. The veteran infielder was one of three players New York traded to the St. Paul Saints in exchange for a 20-year-old shortstop named Mark Koenig. Johnson played four more seasons of minor league ball before hanging up his glove for good. He later became a scout for the Red Sox until he passed away in 1952 at the age of 64. His son Don followed the old man to the big leagues and was a starting second baseman for the Cubs during and after WWII.
|CHW (4 yrs)||319||1439||1311||190||355||47||11||1||113||45||73||66||.271||.312||.326||.638|
|NYY (3 yrs)||159||356||327||60||107||10||10||9||37||7||20||18||.327||.368||.502||.869|
|SLB (3 yrs)||183||539||469||64||112||16||5||2||39||30||42||41||.239||.309||.307||.617|
|SLM (1 yr)||152||581||512||58||123||18||10||7||67||32||46||35||.240||.305||.355||.661|