Tuesday, September 29, 2009
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE GEORGE WERLEY?
George William Werley was born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 8, 1938. The six-foot two-inch, one hundred and ninety-six-pound pitcher, just out of high school, made his only appearance in a major league game for the Baltimore Orioles on September 29, 1956, just three weeks after his eighteenth birthday. In one inning of work, George gave up one hit, two bases on balls, and one earned run for a career earned run average of 9.00. He would never set foot on a major league mound after that Saturday afternoon in Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C..
The Orioles offered George, the 1956 Missouri American Legion Player of the Year, a contract. The agreement, which was offered exclusively by the Orioles in an attempt to sign more players, guaranteed that the player would see action in the major leagues in their very first season with the organization. And, sure enough, George signed the contract on September 2 and was playing in the big leagues less than four weeks later.
Baltimore manager Paul Richards called his phenom into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. He figured there was nothing to lose since the sixth-place Orioles were being shut out 6-0 by Washington, first in the hearts of their country and usually last in the American League. George, wearing his gray #15 road jersey, walked from the bull pen to the mound. Everything was going well in the beginning. George got lead off hitter, the Nationals second baseman Herb Plews, to ground out to the first baseman Bob Hale, who tossed the ball back to George for the first out of the inning. Next up was catcher Ed Fitzgerald, who grounded out to shortstop Billy Gardner. With two out, Werley walked Pete Runnels, a journeyman first baseman. Roy Seivers, the 1949 Rookie of the Year and who played for the St. Louis Browns, the forerunner of the Orioles, also walked, forcing Runnels to second.
Worley still had a chance to get out of his first inning with no damage. With two on and two out, Jim Lemon, a future All Star outfielder for the Senators, singled to right plating Runnels to send the Senators ahead 7-0. George shook off the butterflies and bared down on the next hitter, third baseman Harmon Killebrew, a young struggling slugger and who thirteen years later would be named the American League Most Valuable Player, grounded out to Gardner to end the inning.
Neither George n or the 1,129 or so fans in attendance at the game didn't know it at the time, but his last pitch to the future thirteen time all star would be his last in the major leagues. The Senators held on to win the game, 7-1.
In Orioles history, the game was significant, but not because it was the game in which the youngest Oriole hurler appeared in only a single game. The little noticed milestone came in the final stanza. The Baltimore nine scored their sole run of the game in the top of the ninth when the young third baseman for Birds in only his nineteenth game of his career stroked his first major league home run to break up the shut out of Cuban-born pitcher Evelio Hernandez, who in his fourth appearance in the big leagues won his first and only game of his career. That young third sacker, who played the hot corner better than anyone else in baseball history, was none other than nineteen-year-old Brooks Calvert Robinson, Jr., an American League all star from 1960 to 1974. Brooksy was the 1964 AL MVP and a winner of the Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente Awards.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Werley "nevertheless showed a good fastball and considerable poise in his one-inning trial." George reported to spring training in 1957, but was assigned to the Fitzgerald Pioneers of the Georgia-Florida League, where he pitched in 21 games under the tutelage of player-manager Earl Weaver. George didn't fair well in Fitzgerald with the Orioles posting a 2-4 record and an ERA of 7.95, but he did earn a call up to the Class C team in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he appeared in only two games.
The year 1958 would be George Werley's best season in professional baseball. He rejoined his manager/second baseman Earl Weaver with the Dublin Orioles, a Class D farm club of the Orioles. In Dublin, George had a respectable year going 16-10 in thirty-five appearances. While his ERA was 4.28, he was second on the team in that category among the starters, ahead of Steve Barber, who would later become one of the Oriole's best left-handed pitchers of the 1960s. In the batter's box, George was the team's best hitting pitcher with a mark of .228 for the season.
One of George's highlights of the 1958 season was a 3-2 extra innings victory over the Waycross Braves on May 20th. George went the entire thirteen stanzas to garner a hard-fought victory.
For all of you sports trivia fans, George Werley is the answer to one of the most obscure questions about Dublin minor league baseball. He won the last game ever played by the Orioles in Dublin, a 15-4 victory over the Brunswick Phillies. George also pitched in the first Oriole game ever played in Dublin. He pitched very well, but got a no decision in the opening game loss to the Albany Cardinals. In another bit of trivia, the first Orioles game was umpired by John Kibler and Bill Haller, two long time veteran umpires of the National and American Leagues.
After a promising start in the 1959 season with the Pensecola Dons of the Alabama- Florida League, George was shipped off across the country to the Stockton Posts in California, and back to the Pheasants in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where his professional career ended.
Fifty years after his debut in the major leagues, writers for The Baltimore Sun attempted to contact George to get his feelings on his all too brief major league career. Werley, a Missouri businessman and president of the Wenzel Tent and Sleeping Bag Company, refused to talk, according to the sports department, about the long ago day when he walked to the mound in his first, and only, major league game. So, on the fifty-third anniversary of your making it to the big show, where have you gone, George Werley?