Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mizzou Baseball History: A grandfather's shining moment

I received an e-mail a few weeks back, from a young man who is a freshman at Murray State. I won't tell his name, but here a few lines from his letter to me:
I was wondering if you reference James A. Waechter Jr. anywhere on your site. I looked briefly at the History blog but didn't look at everything. He is my Grandfather, or was. He was an All-American baseball player as well as a lefty quarterback for the football team. He died like 5-7 years ago at the age of 86. I can't remember the year he was born, but remember knowing that he was at Mizzou in early to mid 1930's.
. . .
My uncle has told me before that Bob Broeg (legendary St. Louis baseball writer) always said that my grandpa was the best baseball player to ever come out of St. Louis. He also told me that he got drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and a few other teams, but his mother unfortunately told him to get a "real job."

Because someone as qualified as Mr. Broeg said this, one would think that I would be able to find something on the internet about him, but I try to do my research but can never find anything on my grandpa and his successes at Mizzou.

I've always wanted to see stats or anything on my grandpa from his days at Mizzou, because I looked up to him so much, also partly because he fought in WWII. He was the coolest ever. One time, my family was over at his house, and he told me and my brother that he faced the great Satchel Paige and that he didn't get out. I think he said he walked or something. But he was the biggest MU fan I knew. We would go over to his house on Saturdays and watch football games. He had season football tickets for over 60 years, and every year, he would take me, my brother, and my dad and one of his friends to a game. My brother, a junior at Mizzou, and I are the Missouri sports fans that we are today because of him.

Being a sucker for anything related to Mizzou Baseball history, I started digging.

As it turns out, Jim Waechter played for MU Baseball in 1937 and 1938. In '37 he didn't play much at all, occasionally pinch hitting or playing a few innings in the field.

But in 1938, John "Hi" Simmons named Waechter his starting 1st baseman, and he played every game that season. For the most part Waechter's name appears seldom in the newspaper reports, just a name and numbers in the Box Scores. I was unable to find any final stats for the players that season.

I did, however, stumble upon a story about a remarkable game that involved Waechter and another very notable member of the Tigers, Carl Miles.

Carl Miles, whom I have met, is considered by some to be the oldest living Major Leaguer, even though he only played one season in the big leagues.

In 2006, Bill Clark wrote a column in the Columbia Daily Tribune championing Miles for inclusion in the MU Sports Hall of Fame, and wrote of this very same incredible game that also featured Waechter.

Miles deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame

The date: May 17, 1938.

The place: Rollins baseball field at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The situation: Oklahoma had come to town for the final two games of the Big Six Conference baseball season with a one-game lead over the MU Tigers. The Tigers needed to win both games to defend their conference title. Even a rainout would wash away the Tigers’ title hopes.

The rains had come early on the 16, and the field had to be burned to allow the series to begin. MU hung on to win 3-2 behind Charley "Smoke" Mason, bringing the season
down to the last game with MU and OU dead even.

Carl Miles, a smooth, hard-throwing lefthander from Cameron called "King," drew the crucial pitching assignment.

What followed was, without a doubt, the greatest performance in Missouri baseball history.

Bill Clark continues on to describe the game and Miles' life and career (LINK). But I'll pick up the story by quoting from the actual Columbia Tribune story about that game, which I dug up in the microfilm archives at the Columbia Public Library:

Mr. Warren Morris pitched a one-hit game for Oklahoma.
Mr. Carl Miles - his mates call him king - pitched a one-hit game for Missouri.

Missouri won the game, one to nothing.
. . .
The Tiger youngster turned back 25 batters without faltering in the first eight and one-third innings of mound duty. He had a one-run lead, four strikeouts to his credit and two more men to face, before writing up a perfect game -- no hits and not a man to first base.

Coach Jap Haskell of the Sooners called for a pinch hitter - Sam Blackwell. Blackwell popped back of first base and Jim Waechter raced into the crowd sitting on the grass to make the catch. Haskell sent another pinch hitter, Joe Craddock, to bat, and Craddock was already at the plate before Tiger players and Tiger fans learned that Umpire W.I. McBride had ruled the catch illegal because of a ground rule, and was ordering Blackwell back to the plate. The pinch hitter drove the next ball into center field - and there went Miles' perfect game. Craddock sacrificed, with Blackwell going to second, where he was stranded when Jeffrey Cross rolled out to Johnny Daleo.

Missouri had gained its winning run in the fifth when Waechter was sacrificed, and scored when when Cross heaved the ball into the crowd as he attempted to throw Jimmie Klaus out at first. Waechter collected the only hit off Morris in the seventh, but was forced at second by Daleo for the third out.

Jim Waechter is listed in the box score with 2 AB, 1 H, 1 R and 15 Put-outs at 1st.

The 1938 Tigers did end up winning the Big 6 Championship that year - partially helped, ironically, by a rainout of the final double-header scheduled against Kansas.

Carl Miles has attended various functions at Mizzou, and he has always been obliging to share a story about his days on the diamond, and his memories of John "Hi" Simmons, who was in his first two years as Missouri baseball coach in '37 and '38.

I never met Jim Waechter, unfortunately. From the description provided by his grandson, I'm sure he would have been a great man to get to know - certainly a hero, both as an athlete and as a soldier.

And, perhaps most important, as a grandfather.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your coverage of Dad's brightest moment at MU and that you feel he should be in the MU Sports Hall of Fame. I talked to Bob Broeg about the game during a phone conversation back in early 90s. Dad can be reached at 5 Miller Drive, in Columbia, MO, and signs free autograph requests about twice a month. At nearly 92 years of age, Dad is the 33rd oldest living major league veteran. Sincerely, Tom Miles (son)