Zach Wheat is one of the best players ever and one of the best contact hitters ever. Wheat was born in Hamilton, Missouri in 1888. Wheat played semi pro ball in 1908 with Shreveport of the Texas League in 1908. He hit just .268 and moved to Mobile of the Southern League. He struggled again, hitting just .246. Despite the bad numbers, a Dodgers scout signed him which allowed the Dodgers owner to complain: "That's the trouble around here. We have too many .246 hitting left fielders." The scout indeed made a good find. Wheat hit .304 in 26 games as a rookie for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
That was a sign of what was to come.
From 1909 to 1926, Wheat was the Dodgers regular left fielder. He hit .300 or better in 17 seasons in 19 seasons in the majors.
His best year was 1922, when he had 16 home runs, 112 RBI and a .335 batting average for Brooklyn. Wheat had a very unintimidating personality.
He was described as 165 pounds of scrap iron, rawhide and guts. He was very quiet on and off the field, but let his performance speak for him. And his performance talked, all right.
Wheat had four different 20 game hit streaks, one lasting 29 games in 1916. From 1913 to 1927, his averages were incredible: .301, .319, .258, .312, .313, .335, .297, .328, .320, .335, .375, .375, .359, .290 and .324. In his last season, he hit .324!
What amazes me the most is his ability to stay away from the strikeout. In 19 seasons, he struck out 559 times, averaging 29.4 per year. In one year in which he played over 150 games, he struck out 22. He also walked more then he struck out, by walking 650 times.
Despite not being known as a huge power hitter, he was the Chase Utley of the early 1900's. Utley, a Phillies second basemen, hits a lot of homers, but isn't really a power hitter. He has a short, compact swing and he carries the ball a bit. Wheat didn't hit a ton of homers (132 for his career), but had an occasional power surge. He had 16 in 1922 and 14 in 1921, 1924 and 1925.
After leaving baseball, he was part of the Kansas City police force for ten years until 1936, when an accident in a patrol car forced him to quit.
He also ran a fishing camp. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1959. 13 years later, in 1972, he died.
Great manager Casey Stengel once said "Zack Wheat was the only great ballplayer who never got booed."
Touche, Mr. Stengel. Touche.
He has ranked first in Dodgers history (Brooklyn and New York) in hits with 2,884. That record has stood for 81 years. He has a career batting average of .317.
In 2006, the stretch of Route 13 that runs through Caldwell, Missouri was called the "Zack Wheat Highway".
Wheat had 132 career homers, 1248 RBI, a .317 batting average, 2884 hits. He also is on the list of ballplayers with 400 doubles, 100 triples, 1000 runs, 2500 hits and 1000 RBI.
Way to go, Zack. Way to go.