Pitcher Dave Wickersham Discovered by Hall of Famers Branch Rickey, George Sisler

Pitcher Dave Wickersham’s career began with the greatest expectations. Instead of being promised the moon by some amateur scout, two baseball giants scouted the young hurler. Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler and fabled general manager Branch Rickey convinced Wickersham to try the Pirates organization, signing him in 1955.

Wickersham remembered:

“Branch Rickey started the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and had the best mind of anyone I’ve ever met. A wonderful man. I really did not get to know George Sisler. He seemed very humble.”

 The budding moundsman shared Rickey’s faith and beliefs. That translated to honesty and humility in every mound meeting with concerned coaches. Wickersham wrote:

Tomorrow: relive the epic FIRST-PERSON story of how an impulsive umpire deprived Wickersham of his only 20-win opportunity.

“I never argued with a manager. Sometimes, they would ask how I felt. It was always, ‘Good!’ Only once when I said that did we lose in late innings.”

George Kell Believed in Fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Branch Rickey

Back in 1997, I wrote to Hall of Famer George Kell to ask of two baseball personalities he befriended.

First, I wanted to know about his dealings with famed general manager Branch Rickey. I had read that Kell helped Rickey with the early formation of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A few players who faced contract battles with Rickey complained how hard-nosed “The Mahatma” was in negotiations.

Secondly, I praised Kell for being a role model for fellow Arkansas native Brooks Robinson.

Kell replied:

“Thomas — Mr. Rickey got me involved in the FCA back in the early ’50s, and I found him to be just what he was advertised to be — a fine, outstanding Christian gentleman.

If I had anything to do with the formation of Brooks Robinson, I’m proud and flattered. He comes from a great background and is a fine role model.

Sincerely,

George Kell”

Pirates Pitcher Ron Necciai Won’t Brag

READ MY BOOK, PLEASE!

I received those sentiments from Negro League great Buck O’Neill and basketball star Bob Cousy in response to questions.

Ron Necciai, the man who pitched his way to baseball history in 1952, isn’t bragging about it. I was stunned when his letter didn’t mention the book he stars in: Rocket Ron

That was my biggest question. On May 13, 1952, he struck out 27 batters in an Appalachian League game. The problem? In the days before ESPN or the Internet, how could the world know quickly of such a feat? How fast could word spread? I’ve seen some tiny minor league attendances, too. Imagine setting a record for only a few hundred people! Necciai’s only comment:

“Sporting News and most papers did cover story.”

The majors called. However, control problems limited Necciai to just one win. The last-place Pirates didn’t help. I found a loss and a no-decision for Necciai against Cincinnati in September (thanks, http://www.retrosheet.org/), in what might have been his finest outing of his one-season stint in the bigs.

“No particular game stands out. Good and bad all the same.”

How sad…

Lastly, I asked about his health. He coped with stomach ulcers. A rotator cuff injury ended his career. Has he wondered if his fortune would have been different with today’s treatments?

“Medical care given me by Pirates and Branch Rickey Sr. was finest available.”

Necciai closed on an optimistic note:

“Baseball is a great way to make a living. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Witty Wally Westlake

Wally Westlake’s major league career stretched from 1947 to 1956. The 1951 All-Star pounded 127 career home runs. Beginning with some dismal Pirates teams, Westlake endured a six-year stretch with six different clubs. Obviously, he did it with a sense of humor.

As a rookie, Westlake encountered future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in Pittsburgh at the end of his career. When Greenberg moved to the front office in Cleveland, he invested in Westlake’s potential. In Westlake’s note, he referred to Greenberg as “Big Hank, a great hitter, a fine person.”

Dealing with general manager Branch Rickey in Pittsburgh, Westlake summarized: “Rickey = tight with the money. It was all business.”

Rickey may have lobbied for Westlake to audition at third base in 1951 to increase his trade value. Westlake endured 12 errors in 34 games.

“I played third base briefly,” Westlake wrote. “I ranked among the top three = game’s worst.”

Westlake included a picture with an unforgettable notation. Being dubbed a “prime time dude” by a 1950s slugger is an honor I never would have imagined in Little League. I shall do my best to live up to the title, fellow dudes.

What’s the best autograph inscription you’ve ever gotten?

%d bloggers like this: