“[I was nervous] in front of all of those people!” Wiesler said to Kenneth Hogan in Batting 10th for the Yankees. “We used to have 1,000 in the minors. In Kansas City, we‘d usually have about 4,000. In Yankee Stadium they used to almost have full houses.”
|Bob Wiesler / Lonecadaver.net|
Wiesler, who went on to enjoy six seasons in front of those packed crowds with the Yankees and Washington Senators in the 1950s, passed away August 10, 2014 at his home in Florissant, Missouri, just three days shy of his 84th birthday.
The 6’3” lefty pitcher was a star at Beaumont High School in St. Louis, the same school that also spawned major leaguers Roy Sievers, Bobby Hofman, and future Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Many clubs aggressively pursued Wiesler in high school, but his admiration for Lou Gehrig drew him to the famous pinstripes.
“I read the book Pride of the Yankees and from that point Lou Gehrig was my idol,” he said. “I had the same kind of deal with each [team] so I picked the Yankees.”
He was assigned to their Class D team in Independence, Kansas, and was joined by another local sensation, Mickey Mantle. They played together for two seasons, working their way up the ladder of the Yankees system.
“He came out of high school in 1949 and joined us in Independence,” he told me in a 2008 interview. “He had a pretty good year, but in Joplin, he was tearing the ball up. [He] hit like .380 or .390, something like that and had a fabulous year.”
Wiesler did well himself at Joplin in 1950, going 15-7 with a 2.35 ERA. His performance attracted the attention of the Yankees management, earning him an invite to a special rookie school with Mantle for further development.
“Mantle and I, and quite a few others that they called prospects were down there in Arizona,” he said. “I impressed them that much to go to spring training in Kansas City and I stayed with them.”
With only two years under his belt, Wiesler was one step away from the major leagues in AAA with Kansas City. He continued to harness his control while in AAA, testing his stuff against those who had major league experience.
“There were some good ballplayers there,” he said. “There were a lot of veterans that were up.”
About halfway through the 1951 season, Mantle and another young pitcher Tom Morgan were not progressing fast enough at the Major League level as the Yankees desired. Looking for a change, the Yankees recalled Wiesler who was among the league leaders in strikeouts.
Playing for the division leaders, Wiesler only had the opportunity to pitch in four games, including an 8-0 loss in his debut against the St. Louis Browns. Forcing the Yankees hand was Mantle, who hit .364 in 40 games with 11 home runs. The two switched places again on August 21st.
“They sent me back down in August,” he said to Hogan, “but they did send me a little check at the end of the year after they split the World Series money.”
Wiesler had little time to enjoy his World Series share, as he was activated from his National Guard service in November. He was sent to Fort Allen, Vermont, where he spent the entire 1952 season on active duty.
After working his way back into playing shape with a full season in at AAA in 1953, the Yankees gave Wiesler another shot in 1954. Just as he was getting his footing in the major leagues, the rug was abruptly pulled from beneath him.
“I had won three games for them,” he said, “and I was supposed to pitch on a Sunday [against Baltimore]. They signed Ralph Branca who was released; he traveled with us and threw batting practice. George Weiss decided to sign him and sent me back down. I wasn't too happy about that.”
Displeased with the decision, Wiesler begrudgingly accepted his demotion. He worked his way back to the Yankees in 1955 and lasted the entire season, en route to a World Series showdown with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He did not pitch in the World Series, but was on the roster to unfortunately witness Johnny Podres help the Dodgers take Brooklyn’s only championship.
Wiesler was selected to go on a tour of Japan with the Yankees after the season, playing in Hawaii and Manila en route to the Land of the Rising Sun. That trip was the last time he wore a Yankee uniform. Early in spring training, he was involved in a seven-player trade with the Washington Senators that included Whitey Herzog. He took the baseball elevator all the way to the proverbial basement.
“I went from a first-place club to a last-place club. It was kind of disappointing,” he said; however, the move did have a small advantage. “I got to pitch more at Washington— I got to start every fourth day.”
He did the bulk of his pitching with Washington in 1956, appearing in 37 games, starting 21, but was plagued by a lack of control. He walked 112 batters in 123 innings on his way to a 3-12 record. It was his last season as a regular in the major leagues, save for cups of coffee in 1957 and 1958.
He finished his playing career in 1961 with Dallas Fort-Worth, ending with a 7-19 record in 70 major league games. He went to work for Anheuser-Busch, and stayed involved with baseball by pitching batting practice for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1964-1968. It didn’t take long for him to reconnect with his Yankee roots.
“I started throwing batting practice for the Cardinals in 1964 and here I am pitching for them and they’re playing the Yankees in the World Series!”
* Note - Wiesler played in Independence, Kansas, in 1949, not Missouri as originally reported.