Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Series Special - Uncovering a Blue Demon Baseball Legend - Part I

Tonight as I sat watching the World Series, I thought how many major league baseball players had DePaul produced? Wouldn't that make a great blog entry or possibly a good trivia question on our Twitter account.

Little did I know what I would find with a little Google work.

In fact, DePaul University has had five student-athletes play major league baseball. My search began with pitcher Grant Bowler (DePaul 1927-31) pitched in 17 games in 1931 and 1932 for the White Sox. His best performance a September 17, 1931 complete game loss to the Cleveland Indians – his only career decision.

Art Bramhill (DePaul 1934-34) was an infielder that played in a “Moonlight” Graham-like two games with one single career at bat for Philadelphia Phillies in 1935.

When I saw Tony Murray (DePaul 1922-23) played for the Cubs in 1923, I knew my assistant Marge Mazik would be so proud when I returned with this gem in the morning. An outfielder, Murray played two games in the final two days of the 1923 campaign, but he did amass one career hit. Murray’s lone hit came batting ninth behind a young catcher Gabby Harnett who was batting eighth. Harnett would become a Hall of Famer. Murray would become a policeman and attorney.

Bill Steinecke (DePaul 1926-31) caught in four games in 1931 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately he went hitless in four at bats with a strikeout in his four-game major league career. Steinecke didn’t quit with his four at bats. Steinecke would become one of baseball’s lifers, toiling for a total of 23 years in the minor leagues as a player. He would then coach and serve as a scout for another 17 years.

I saw that Joe Wilhoit (DePaul 1906-11) was my final Blue Demon to play in the major leagues. His stats clearly indicated that he was going to outdistance his Royal Blue peers, having an accomplished four-year career from 1916-1919. The outfielder donned a uniform for four different teams (Boston Braves & Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Giants).

It wasn’t until I googled that I realized the treasure that I found – Joe Wilhoit.

My first gem was that he played in the 1917 World Series for Hall of Fame manager John McGraw – and of all teams, against the Chicago White Sox. Ultimately, Joe lined to “Black Sock” Buck Weaver to start a double play and earned a walk in two plate appearances in the Giants loss to World Series Champion White Sox.

The World Series info was truly just the beginning of the excitement. Wilhoit actually has the distinction of owning the longest hitting streak in the history of organized baseball, which includes major leagues, minor leagues and college. He is even featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!.

On June 14, 1919, playing for the Wichita Witches of the Western League, Wilhoit began the streak with an unassuming single. No one could have guessed that he would hit safely for the next 10 weeks – a total of 69 games. Only Joe DiMaggio would challenge his mark, hitting in 61 straight while playing for the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals.

Wilhoit was simply unstoppable during the streak, hitting .512 with 153 hits in 299 at bats. He didn’t set the record quietly, picking up two or more hits in 50 games.

This research on Wilhoit is just beginning. I have emailed Bill Rabinowitz, the researcher from the Columbus Dispatch, that scoured the papers of the Midwest to document Wilhoit’s exploits.

Then I found a website dedicated to the “Wichita Wonder”.

It was written by a relative David Wilhoit. Next step was finding this relative to see if I can find out even more about this new Blue Demon treasure. Little did I know that David is the CEO of Siltronic-Samsung Wafer in Singapore. A quick e-mail through LinkedIn hopefully will provide the next step in the fast-paced research.

Other Joe Wilhoit sites

I only wonder where this research will lead… stay tuned!