>Happy Birthday…

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Billy Werber!

Primarily a third baseman (and a good one), Werber put up a .271/.362/.394 line (97 OPS+) in the 1930s and early 1940s, and amassed a very respectable 25.6 WAR, comparable to the careers of more familiar names like Mo Vaughn, Tino Martinez and Marquis Grissom.

But there are things about Werber that are a lot more interesting than that stuff. Rather than give you a biography (I can’t tell you anything Wikipedia or Baseball-Reference’s bullpen can’t, and there’s this 2001 book by him and C. Paul Rogers III that I’ll have to check out sometime soon), here’s a more or less chronological list of those interesting things:

  • Werber is one of two notable baseball players ever to come out of one “Duke University,” which is a collection of nerds in North Carolina that I think is sort of famous for some other, lesser sport. Every hitting record is held by Dick Groat (who has most of them now, but didn’t debut until ten years after Werber retired) or Werber; Groat had 8179 big-league plate appearances, Werber 5845, and then you have to go all the way down to Quintin McCracken and his 2779. Only one active player went to Duke, Chris Capuano, who also heads the school’s history in many pitching categories (Scott Schoenweis, who pitched briefly in 2010 but appears to have retired, has most of the others).
  • Werber was signed by the Yankees while still a freshman at Duke, in 1927, and spent some part of that summer riding the bench with the club, soaking it all in and presumably learning a little something. Pretty cool experience. And then he could tell people, seventy or so years later, that he was the last living member of the 1927 Yankees, or at least the last living person associated with the 1927 Yankees.
  • He had one great year, 1934, his age 26 year with the Red Sox: .321/.397/.472 (119 OPS+), 6.1 WAR. He hit 41 doubles and led the league with 40 steals, though he was also caught 15 times (he was sort of chronically aggressive, leading the league in caught stealing in 1937 and ’38 before mercifully moving to the NL, where they didn’t keep track of those). He had several other good years, but would never reach that level again.
  • Werber is in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, which seems a bit odd, even though that particular Hall does have 78 members. Werber played with the Reds in only three seasons, though he had a nice comeback in the first two of them (1939 and ’40), probably his second- and third-best years. He didn’t have any sort of post-career involvement with the Reds; he became a (very successful) businessman. He’s most likely in the Hall simply because the Reds went to the World Series in both ’39 and ’40, and won it in ’40, with Weber batting .370/.452/.519.
  • As a leadoff hitter for the Reds, Werber became the first player ever to bat on television on August 26, 1939. (Or so says Wikipedia.)
  • Werber retired in 1942, after two horrendous seasons with the Reds and then the Giants, and, as I said above, went into business, running his dad’s insurance company, and was very successful, also writing a few books, like the one mentioned above. He eventually became the last living teammate of Babe Ruth, the last living opponent of Babe Ruth, and finally, the oldest living ballplayer. He died on January 22, 2009, aged 100 years, seven months and two days. 

So today, that would make him 103. Happy birthday, Mr. Weber! Time to order that book…

Bill

About Bill

Bill is an employment lawyer and baseball geek. Also a comedy geek, and just a geek generally.

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