Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Saddest Thing About Old Ballplayers is....they die!

I have interviewed 36 retired baseball players since 2002, and one thing they all have in common is that they're very old (average age probably 75). So, I am always depressed when I hear that one of them has died. Last night, my good friend Rod Nelson from SABR ( sent me this e-mail. I interviewed Bill Wight in 2003 in Sacramento and I remember that he was just a very sweet and gentle man. We talked for over an hour at an Applebee's restaurant and he ate his favorite thing -- a big juicy cheeseburger with avocado!

Bill Wight, 85, scouting great & former major-league pitcher dies

He discovered and signed some of baseball brightest starsBill Wight, a well-respected major-league pitcher and scout and an influential figure on Sacramento baseball, died Thursday morning from a heart attack in Mount Shasta. He was 85.
Wight, a resident of Carmichael since 1969, was vacationing with his wife of 60 years, Janice. In addition to his wife, Wight is survived by his son Larry Wight, a professor at Sierra College, granddaughter Susan Walters of Seattle and grandson Bill Wight of Orange County.

Funeral services are pending.As a left-handed pitcher in the American League, Wight played from 1946 through 1958 for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.In 1953, he battled for a spot in the Indians rotation that featured future Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Feller and Early Wynn. In 1958 with an aching arm, he wound up in the National League with the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. His career major-league pitching record was 77-99 with a 3.95 earned-run average.Wight debuted with the Yankees in 1946. His best year was 1949 with the White Sox, when he was 15-13 with a 3.31 ERA.Born in Rio Vista, Wight grew up in Oakland. He was signed to as contract with the Yankees by Joe Devine in 1941, according to a story published by The Bee in 1984. He broke in at Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League, pitched the next year for Binghamton, and in 1942, he entered the Navy at St. Mary's Pre-flight School where his manager-coach was future Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.After the war he made the Yankees' big-league roster as a reliever.
He had one of the best pick-off moves in the game, catching dozens of off-guard base runners during his career. Even as a young pro, he was so proficient with his move, he was asked to work with Yankees pitchers and base runners before the 1941 World Series."He had the best move I've ever seen," said longtime friend Ronnie King, who scouted for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies.
Wight played with Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra. He met Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig."He always kicked himself for not getting their autographs," said Bill Wight, his grandson.Wight sold real estate after his playing career ended before becoming a professional scout with the Houston Astros in 1962.Wight spent the next 37 year peering through backstops and filling out scouting reports, with the Astros for five years and with the Braves for the remainder of his scouting career.With the Astros, he signed Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and as the person overseeing regional scouts for the Braves, he signed two-time N.L. MVP Dale Murphy. He also signed Bob Horner and Sacramento-products Dusty Baker, Jeff Blauser, Rowland Office, Taylor Duncan and Andy Finlay.
Throughout his scouting career, he expended a lot of bonus money. "It has to be in the millions," he told Bee columnist Bill Conlin in 1984. "I've spent it in about every state in the Union."Conlin wrote: "When you spend that much of the bosses' money, you have to enjoy their confidence, which Bill plainly does."Wight was named Scout of the Year in 1992 and in 2005 was inducted into the San Diego Padres Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame. His plaque is next to Ted Williams at Petco Park in San Diego."Bill is one of the nicest guys I've ever met in the game," King said.
"He was some scout, too." --------------------------------------------------------------------------------By Mark McDermott - BEE SPORTS STAFF
Published 2:49 pm PDT Friday, May 18, 2007
The SABR Scouts Committee credits Bill Wight with this list of player signings:
1962 Houston Astros Ernie Fazio
1962 Houston Astros Joe Morgan
1963 Houston Astros Larry Howard
1963 Milwaukee Braves Walt Williams
1965 Houston Astros Keith Lampard
1967 Atlanta Braves Dusty Baker
1970 Atlanta Braves Taylor Duncan
1970 Atlanta Braves Rowland Office
1970 Atlanta Braves Jack Pierce
1974 Atlanta Braves Dale Murphy
1975 Atlanta Braves Glenn Hubbard
1977 Atlanta Braves Bob Porter
1978 Atlanta Braves Bob Horner
1980 Atlanta Braves Ken Dayley
1980 Atlanta Braves Brian Fisher
1984 Atlanta Braves Jeff Blauser
1984 Atlanta Braves Drew Denson
1985 Atlanta Braves Tommy Greene
1985 Atlanta Braves David Justice
1986 Atlanta Braves Kevin Brown
1986 Atlanta Braves Kent Mercker

*SABR member Ed Attanacio did an oral history interview with Bill on 9/11/2003 and I'll post a link to that later this weekend.

Wight, an unproven youngster in 1948, was halfway from California to the Yankees' spring training camp in Florida when he heard he had been traded to the White Sox. Chicago trained in Pasadena, CA; Wight had to turn his car around and head west. He became manager Ted Lyons's number-one starter but went 9-20 for the last-place club, walking a league-high 135 batters. He rebounded for his best season in 1949, going 15-13. In 1950, he went 0-for-61 at bat, an AL record for futility. Traded to Boston after the season, he pitched for six teams in the next seven years, never again winning more than nine. (RL)

FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY» February 24, 1948: In a key trade for New York, Ed Lopat goes to the Yankees from the White Sox in exchange for C Aaron Robinson, Bill Wight, and Fred Bradley. Lopat will star for seven seasons in pinstripes, winning 21 in 1951 and going 16–4 in 1953. Robinson's main value to the Sox will come at the end of the season when he's swapped for another lefty pitcher, Billy Pierce.

» August 20, 1948: The Indians draw record 78,382 for the largest crowd to attend a night game. The Indians go on to beat the Chicago White Sox, 1–0, at Memorial Stadium as Satchel Paige blanks the opposition on three hits for the 4th consecutive shutout by Cleveland hurlers. Bill Wight is the hard-luck loser. Besides Paige, Gene Bearden, Sam Zoldak, and Bob Lemon fired shutouts.

» May 15, 1949: White Sox hurler Bill Wight coasts to a 10–0 win over the Indians, and Al Gettel follows with a 2–0 whitewash of the Tribe.

» April 17, 1951: Rain cancels yesterday's presidential opener in Washington, washing out the debut of rookie Tom Morgan. Morgan would have been the first Yankee rookie ever to start an opener. Clad in an army uniform, Whitey Ford tosses out the first pitch today at Yankee Stadium, and Vic Raschi scatters six singles to shut out the Red Sox, 5–0. Bill Wight gives up all the Yankee runs, including a two-run homer to Jackie Jensen in the 3rd inning. Mickey Mantle, making his debut before 44,860, has one hit and scores a run. Also debuting is public address announcer Bob Sheppard.

» May 30, 1951: In a doubleheader loss with Boston, Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle strikes out three times in the opener, and twice more to start the 2nd game: Casey Stengel lifts the slugger in the middle of the game for Cliff Mapes. In the opener, Ted Williams scores from 2B on a sacrifice bunt, and then ties the game with a home run. Vern Stephens 15th inning homer off Spec Shea wins it for Boston, 11–10. Williams then ties the nitecap with a double and Stephens' single drives him home with the game winner as Boston triumphs, 9–4. Ray Scarborough and Bill Wight are today's winners. The loss drops the Yanks into 2nd place, where they'll stay for a month.

» September 7, 1951: The A's split a pair with the Red Sox, losing 8–5 to Bill Wight, before winning, 11–4. Billy Hitchcock has two triples and double in game two good for five RBIs. Bosox reliever Ellis Kinder makes his 54th appearance in the opener, breaking Wilcy Moore's club record set in 1931. Boston slips in the American League race to four games back.

» June 3, 1952: In a blockbuster trade between Detroit and Boston, the Red Sox send Walt Dropo, Don Lenhardt, Johnny Pesky, Fred Hatfield, and Bill Wight to the Tigers for 3B George Kell, Hoot Evers, Dizzy Trout, and Johnny Lipon.

» May 5, 1953: Pitcher Bob Porterfield of the Senators hits his first ML homer, a 4th inning grand slam off Bill Wight of Detroit, and the Nats add six more in the 8th to roll to a 14–4 win.

» July 13, 1955: The Orioles deal OF Hoot Evers to the Indians in exchange for P Bill Wight.

» August 31, 1955: Lefty Bill Wight of the Orioles gives up five runs in the first and then no-hits his former Indian teammates for eight innings. He loses 5-1.

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