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Dick Wakefield

Dick Wakefield
Left Fielder
Born: (1921-05-06)May 6, 1921
Chicago, Illinois
Died: August 26, 1985(1985-08-26) (aged 64)
Redford, Michigan
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
June 26, 1941 for the Detroit Tigers
Last MLB appearance
May 6, 1952 for the New York Giants
Career statistics
Batting average .293
On base percentage .396
Hits 625
Teams

Career highlights and awards

  • Named to 1943 AL All-Star Team
  • Finished 6th in voting for 1943 AL MVP
  • Finished 5th in voting for 1944 AL MVP
  • Led AL in Games (155), At Bats (633), Plate Appearances (697), Hits (200) and Doubles (38) in 1943.
  • Career On Base Percentage of .396

Richard Cummings "Dick" Wakefield (May 6, 1921 – August 25, 1985) was a left fielder in Major League Baseball for 9 seasons with the Detroit Tigers (1941, 1943–1944, 1946–1949), New York Yankees (1950), and New York Giants (1952). Wakefield was a tall, 6 foot, 4 inch, player who threw right-handed and batted left-handed.

Early years

Born in [1]

Wakefield attended the [3]

The first "bonus baby"

In the summer of 1941, Wakefield was a hot prospect who was invited for tryouts with Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit. Wakefield later recalled that his "criterion" in choosing the right team was "the highest offer." A photograph of a smiling Wakefield holding multiple "big league offers" is available from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.Walter O. Briggs, Sr. to give Wakefield an unprecedented $52,000 signing ($833,765 today) bonus and a car. (Donald Honig, "Baseball Between the Lines" p. 81.)

Wakefield was the first of the "Bonus Babies," and his bonus was "more than the aggregate amount that the entire starting lineup for many major league teams earned in a season." (Nemec and Zeman, "The Baseball Rookies Encyclopedia" p. 179.) From the beginning, Wakefield felt that he was treated unfairly by sportswriters, many of whom he recalled made only $8,000 a year. "Most of the resentment came from the newspapers. Fifty-two thousand was a sockful of money in 1941 and the papers made a big deal of it. They were writing about me every day." (Donald Honig, "Baseball Between the Lines" pp. 80–81.)

Wakefield brought some of the negative publicity on himself, as he developed a reputation for flaunting his money and not working as hard as other players. After receiving his bonus, he walked into a car dealership and bought a new Lincoln Zephyr even though he did not know how to drive. (Donald Honig, "Baseball Between the Lines" p. 81.) When he was threatened with a $25 ($401 today) fine for walking with his spikes in the locker room, he "peeled off the money for the fine while still walking." (Patrick Harrigan, "The Detroit Tigers: Club and Community 1945-1955" (Wayne State Univ. Press 1997), p. 52.)

A 20-year-old Wakefield signed with the Tigers in June 1941 and played in his first major league game that same month, on June 26, 1941. Wakefield went 1-for-7 in a brief stint in the big leagues. He spent the 1942 season playing with the Beaumont Exporters, where he was named Most Valuable Player of the Texas League.

Rookie season (1943)

Wakefield returned to the Tigers in 1943 and had a tremendous rookie season. At age 22, he was the starting left fielder for the American League in the All Star Game and had 2 hits, including a double off Mort Cooper (the National League's MVP in 1942) to drive in Ken Keltner for the game-winning run. He led the American League in 1943 with 200 hits, 38 doubles, and 633 at-bats, finished 2nd in the batting race behind Luke Appling with a .316 batting average, and was among the league leaders with 275 total bases (2nd in the AL), 91 runs (3rd in the AL), 53 extra base hits (4th in the AL), a .434 slugging percentage (5th in the AL), and a .377 on base percentage (6th in the AL).

As a rookie, Wakefield placed 6th in the 1943 American League Most Valuable Player voting, and Wakefield appeared to be on his way to a tremendous career.

Military service and 1944 season

In October 1943, Wakefield entered the U.S. Navy as an aviation cadet and was discharged in July 1944 when the cadet program was discontinued. Upon his discharge from the Navy, Wakefield rejoined the Tigers in mid-July 1944 and went on a tear, hitting .355 in 78 games and collecting an OPS score of 1.040. Wakefield was called back to the Navy in November 1944 and remained in the service until January 1946. In all, Wakefield missed half of the 1944 season and the entire 1945 seasons to military service.

While in the service, Wakefield met Ted Williams in Hawaii and bet him that he would top him in home runs, RBIs, and batting average when the war ended. They bet $1,000 on each statistic, with Wakefield losing on all three bets, as his post-war performance never returned to its 1943-1944 levels.(Donald Honig, "Baseball Between the Lines" pp. 80–81.)

Final years in Detroit (1946–1949)

Wakefield returned to the Tigers in 1946 but never regained the batting stroke of earlier years. From 1946 to 1948, Wakefield consistently batted between .268 and .283 and never again managed more than 106 hits or played in more than 112 games.

Even as his batting average declined, Wakefield remained a favorite of the owner's wife, Mrs. Briggs, whom Wakefield called "Ma." Mrs. Briggs would sometimes pick up Wakefield in her limousine on the way to the ballpark. In one history of the Tigers, Wakefield was described as follows: "Clearly out of the control of managers, disliked by his fellow players, and criticized in the press, Wakefield was an untouchable for many years because of his relationship with the Briggs family." (Patrick Harrigan, "The Detroit Tigers," p. 52.)

After Wakefield's batting average fell to .206 in 1949, even his relationship with Mrs. Briggs could not save him. Wakefield was traded to the New York Yankees in December 1949 for Dick Kryhoski.

By the time he left Detroit, he had clearly worn out his welcome. Time magazine reported shortly after the trade: "Wakefield has been successful only at driving his bosses to distraction. His teammates put him down as lazy and self-centered." [7]

Tigers General Manager Billy Evans admitted that relentless booing of Wakefield by Detroit fans prompted the trade. "Our Detroit fans were down on Wakefield so much that I felt sorry for the boy all last year. We liked Wakefield, but we wanted to trade him away from Detroit before they broke his heart." (Shirley Povich, "All Those Mornings...at the Post" (2005) p. 140.)

New York and Oakland (1950–1952)

Wakefield's problems continued in New York, where he had only 2 at-bats for the 1950 Yankees. At the end of April 1950, the Yankees traded Wakefield to the [8]

Wakefield was the Oaks' fourth outfielder in 1950, where he hit .293 with 7 home runs and 38 RBIs in 87 games. In 1951, Wakefield was given a limited role as a pinch hitter by Oaks' manager [9]

Wakefield attempted a major league comeback in 1951 and was picked up briefly in 1952 by the New York Giants, but he went hitless in 2 at-bats. Wakefield's baseball career was over at age 31.

Later years

After his baseball career, Wakefield worked in taxes, bankruptcy courts and the steel industry. [11]

Wakefield died in 1985 at age 64 in Redford, Michigan.

Career statistics

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG TB SH HBP
638 2132 334 625 102 29 56 315 10 17 360 270 .293 .396 .447 953 10 3

See also

Sources

  • Baseball Reference
  • BaseballLibrary.com
  • Find A Grave Memorial for Wakefield
  • New York Times Obituary
  • Oakland Oaks Biography and Photographs of Wakefield
  • Donald Honig, "Baseball Between the Lines"
  • Memories of Wakefield by Teammate Harvey Riebe
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