Showing posts with label Earl Weaver. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Earl Weaver. Show all posts

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bob Wiesler, climbed the Yankee ranks with Mantle, passes away at 83

Bob Wiesler wasn't even 21 years old when he first stepped on the mound at Yankee Stadium on August, 3, 1951. Looking up at the large crowd, Wiesler admitted that his nerves had set in before he threw his first pitch.

“[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.”

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.
Bob Wiesler /

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.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Earl Weaver intense nature stemmed from his playing days with the Cardinals

Earl Weaver’s notoriety for his fiery temper long preceded his career as a Hall of Fame manager for the Baltimore Orioles. The 82-year-old Weaver, who passed away passed away early Saturday morning from an apparent heart attack while on a baseball themed cruise, was a fiercely competitive second baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Earl Weaver as a player and a manager
Weaver was signed by his hometown Cardinals out of Beaumont High School in 1948. His first destination was their Class D affiliate in West Frankfort, Illinois. Floyd Melliere, a pitcher who went 21-4 on that team, recalled in a 2008 interview that Weaver’s penchant for baiting umpires started very early in his career.

“We came up in West Frankfort in 1948," Melliere said. "He was a holler guy, a hustler. We had a play at second base that went against him. The umpire thumbed him out. Earl stayed in the game. When he came in the dugout, I asked him, ‘I thought the umpire threw you out?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he said I cussed him. He told me what he called him. I told him I wasn’t talking to him, so he left me in the game.’ I never saw that before.”

Standing only 5’7”, Weaver drew comparisons to Eddie Stanky, the All-Star second baseman who was revered for squeezing every ounce of his ability out of his slight frame, whether it was by razzing his opponents from all over the field, leaning in to a pitch to get on base, or sacrificing his body to get in front of a hot shot through the infield. Russell Rac, Weaver’s roommate in 1950 at Winston Salem, compared the two in a 2008 phone interview.

“You remember Earl Weaver?" asked Rac. "He was my roommate my first year in Winston Salem, NC. That was 1950, Class B ball. He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place at the right time all the time, backing up where you’re supposed to be, etc.”

Weaver didn't have to wait too long for their paths to cross, as Stanky was hired by the Cardinals as their player-manager in the 1951 offseason. A December 16, 1951 article in the Toledo Blade about Stanky’s hire referred to Weaver as, “the Eddie Stanky of the Cardinals organization.”

Weaver was a member of four straight pennant winning teams in their minor league system, and was offered an invite to spring training in 1952 prior to Stanky’s acquisition. He was given a brief trial at major league camp that spring, but didn’t make the cut. Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus highlighted one of Weaver’s 1952 spring training games, where he went 2-5 against the New York Yankees while sharing the lineup with Stan Musial, who in a sad twist of fate, passed away the same day as Weaver. Whatever momentum Weaver built within the organization came to a halt with Stanky taking over the reserve infielder spot, as he could not crack the ranks with both Red Schoendienst and Stanky in front of him.

Weaver never reached the majors as a player, becoming a manager in the minor leagues in 1956, working his way up the ladder the same way he did as a ballplayer. He took the reins of the Baltimore Orioles from Hank Bauer in 1968 en route to a World Series championship in 1970. Weaver spent 17 seasons at the helm from 1968-1982, and again from 1985-86, compiling a 1480-1060 record with four American League pennants to his credit.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, and while his intense battles with umpires are etched in the memories of baseball fans everywhere, his spirited displays date back to his travels through the back roads of the Cardinals farm system. Harland Coffman, Weaver’s teammate in Omaha in 1951 captured his nature most succinctly in a 2008 interview.

“He was a real competitor," Coffman said. "He was looking for ways to beat you no matter what it was.”