Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dick Wakefield Holds Himself Out of Major Leagues

Dick Wakefield was a pretty darn good player in the forties, though you wouldn't necessarily know it from the press he received and, frankly, his own attitude at the time.

He received a big bonus to sign with the Tigers and  a generous salary for players at the time. He responded with a season in 1943 that saw him 6th in MVP voting, with a league-leading 200 hits and 38 doubles. In 1944 he got in just 78 games but hit a mighty .355, with an OBP of .464!

After coming back from the war year for him in 1945, he was still good, but not near that early great level, averaging .268 to .283 and still being productive.

In 1949 his productivity tailed off. Hitting just .206 in less than 60 games (though still with an OPS+ of 100 - measurement they didn't have at the time)  got him dealt to the Yankees for 1950. And, worse for Wakefield, a cut in pay from the money he got in Detroit.

The Yankees didn't hardly use him and the salary clash was a headline story, so they decided to deal him to the White Sox. Wakefield's transaction history on his Baseball-Reference page does not list his, and has his post-1949 career going this way:

Well, we have found that that's not quite accurate. First, Wakefield was dealt to the White Sox, this from the April 29, 1950 St. Petersburg Times:

“The Chicago White Sox yesterday announced a deal  for outfielder Dick Wakefield of the New York Yankees, involving outfielder Johnny Ostrowski of the White Sox and an unannounced sun of cash.”

“The White Sox said Ostrowski will report to the Yankees’ Kansas City Blues farm club.”

And report to Kansas City Ostrowski did. But Wakefield balked, saying he wouldn't go to Chicago unless they paid him what he was getting in Detroit. The White Sox weren't about to do that, so they tried to call the whole thing off. From the May 1, 1950 Spokesman-Review:

“Frank C. Lane, general manager of the Chicago White Sox, today (April 30) informed the New York Yankees he was calling off the trade of outfielder Johnny Ostrowski and cash in exchange for outfielder Dick Wakefield."

Well, the Yankees were not about to take back the trade, saying a deal is a deal.  

The whole matter ended up some days later in the lap of baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler, who resolved the situation. From the Milwaukee Journal of May 11, 1950:

“Outfielder Dick Wakefield Thursday (May 10) was declared to be the property of the New York Yankees by A.B. Chandler, baseball commissioner.”

Chandler said: “Neither of the proposed agreements were signed by both parties….Under the circumstances the commissioner has no choice but to have the situation revert to the status that existed before the telephone negotiations of Apr. 28. Wakefield’s contract is still the property of the New York Yankees, and Ostrowski’s contract is the property of the Chicago American League club.”

Ostrowski returned to the ChiSox without having played a game in Kansas City, and was traded within a month to Washington.

Wakefield was not going to ever put on Yankee pinstripes again, for sure, either way, and a chastened Wakefield was sold to independent PCL team Oakland soon after. From the New London, CT Evening Day of May 27, 1950...

“Dick (Wakefield) agreed yesterday (May 26)-still with some reluctance-to abide by the New York Yankees’ sale of his $17,000-a-year contract to the Oakand Oaks of the Pacific Coast League.”

Wakefield was quoted;”I’ll be back (to the majors), bank on that.”

But later; “They’ve seen me play a long time,” he said, now glum. “Apparently I’m not as good as I thought I was.” 

Wakefield would play out the season well for Oakland, and came back, famously, for a ONE DOLLAR contract. desperate to get back to the majors. The Oakland brass had changed though, and so did the team's need for Wakefield. From the April 10, 1951 Deseret News:

“The controversial left-hand hitting outfielder was given his outright release by Acorn Pres. Brick Laws Monday  (April 9)  after it was decided Wakefield ‘did not fit in with our (Oakland) plans for the season.’“

Wakefield didn't catch on with anyone the rest of the year, but was given a chance by Leo Durocher and the Giants the next season. Showing improved attitude, he made the squad, only to be dumped on cut-down day a few games into the season. Minneapolis signed him up, but he didn't hit well there.

He took one more chance in spring training for the Indians in 1953, behind the plate, stating he wanted to make the team any way he could. Certainly a change from his earlier holdout attitude, but it was too late for him and his career came to a halt.

Wakefield photo stolen from
Ostrowski taken from 


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