Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bill Werber, Infielder Who Played With Ruth, Is Dead at 100

Every once in a while there is an obituary that jumps out; this is one.
The New York Times

Mostly a third baseman, Bill Werber played with the Yankees in 1930 and ’33.

January 24, 2009
Bill Werber, Infielder Who Played With Ruth, Is Dead at 100

Bill Werber, a link to the Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the leadoff hitter in the first major league baseball game to be televised and the oldest living former big leaguer, died Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. He was 100.

His death was announced by his daughter Patricia Bryant, The Charlotte Observer reported.

When he marked his 100th birthday on June 20, Werber was sought out for tales from the baseball world of the 1920s and ’30s, and he was happy to oblige.

He told of spending a few weeks traveling with the Yankees’ storied Murderers’ Row team of 1927, when he was attending Duke but had agreed to join the Yankees after graduating. The Yankees regulars never let him take any swings during batting practice, but three years later he made his debut at Yankee Stadium, and he treasured the moment.

In his book “Memories of a Ballplayer,” written with C. Paul Rogers III and published when he was 93, Werber recalled the afternoon of June 25, 1930, when he walked in the second game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns and then saw Ruth hit a home run.

“I decided to show off my speed,” Werber wrote, “and probably scored before Ruth, with his peculiar little jog, reached first base. I sat down in the dugout and Ruth soon joined me. He said, ‘Son, you don’t have to run when the Babe hits one.’ ”

Werber played briefly for the Yankees in 1930 and ’33, then joined the Red Sox. His best season was 1934, when he hit .321 with 200 hits and a league-leading 40 stolen bases for Boston. But he fractured a big toe kicking a water bucket in frustration over a play early in ’34, and the pain handicapped him for the rest of his career.

He played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1937 and ’38, then joined the Cincinnati Reds. On Aug. 26, 1939, when the NBC station W2XBS presented the first telecast of a major league game, with Red Barber at the microphone, Werber was the leadoff hitter against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

Werber played for the Reds’ pennant winners of 1939 and the World Series champions of 1940, hitting .370 in their Series triumph over the Detroit Tigers. He retired after playing for the New York Giants in 1942 and had a career batting average of .271 for 11 seasons, mostly at third base. He led the American League or tied for the lead in stolen bases three times.

A native of Washington’s Maryland suburbs, Werber became Duke’s first all-American basketball player in 1930, a 5-foot-10-inch guard, and he also played shortstop at Duke. After retiring from baseball, he operated an insurance company founded by his father.

In addition to his daughter Patricia, his survivors include his son, William Jr., and another daughter, Susie Hill.

Reflecting on scraps he got into on the ball field, Werber told The Associated Press in 2008 that “I was vociferous and cocky and if they wanted to fight that was all right for me.” But, he said, “I’ve mellowed somewhat.”

He was feisty enough in telling Commissioner Bud Selig what he thought of some modern-day ballplayers.

As he related it to The Palm Beach Post last June: “I got cured of watching television the year the Boston Red Sox won it and Johnny Damon was on television with a beard and Ramírez with dreadlocks. I wrote the commissioner of baseball a letter — ‘Get those guys shaved. Have them be a role model for young boys.’

“The commissioner wrote me a very nice letter, but he didn’t say anything. He toe dances around every subject.”

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