Over the years, there have been some very gifted baseball players that never got their due recognition. Some labored in obscurity on bad teams, some were overshadowed by their own teammates, and some were just in the wrong place at the right time, making them known to the public for a reason other than their most worthy on-field accomplishments. Here we will examine three such men; Vic Wertz, Charlie Root, and Dale Mitchell, who became frozen in time not for their great feats, but for something else.
Vic Wertz played for five different teams in a career that ran from 1947 to 1963. Born in York, Pennsylvania on February 9th, 1925, the athletic six foot one 195 pound Wertz broke into the majors with the Tigers in 1947. He established himself as a slugger two seasons later, with a .304 average and 20 homers with 133 RBI in 1949. To prove he was no flash in the pan, Vic came back with a .308, 27,123 year in 1950. His numbers slipped only slightly in 1951, but he was traded to the depressingly awful St. Louis Browns in 1952. He put up as good a set of numbers there as could be expected of any batter for two years until 1954, when a couple of things happened. He fought through a bout of non-paralyzing polio and he was dealt to the Indians. In Cleveland, he played in the 1954 World Series and then had a pair of stellar campaigns in 1956 and ’57, rapping in over 100 men both years. He broke his ankle the next spring and wound up in Boston, where he had another strong year in 1960 with 103 RBI. He finished up his playing career in Minnesota after a short stint back with the Tigers, where he led the American League with 17 pinch hits in 1962. A powerful hitter from the left side, he could play the outfield or first base and once hit seven homers in a five game span. Lifetime, he wound up with 266 home runs, 1178 RBI and a .277 average. One could argue that Vic Wertz was a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, but his body of work in the professional game has largely been overlooked. Vic Wertz died on July 7th, 1983 in Detroit at the age of 58.
Charlie Root was a pitcher for the Cubs from 1926-1941. Root won 201 games over this period, and was a reliable right hander that the Cubs depended on for most of those sixteen seasons. He won twenty games only once, in 1927 when he went 26-15, but he won thirteen or more games ten times. He pitched in four World Series for the Chicago franchise, including the 1932 affair against the Yankees. He also belted 11 home runs over the years and still holds the Cubs record for most wins by a pitcher. Born on St. Paddy’s Day, 1899, in Middletown, Ohio, Charlie Root lived until he was 71. In 1969, he was selected as the Cubs all time right handed pitcher, although if that vote was taken today, the honor might fall to Ferguson Jenkins or Greg Maddux.
As a contact hitter, Dale Mitchell had few peers while he played. Hailing from Colony, Oklahoma, where he was born in 1921, this outfielder, although lacking a lot of power, hit over .300 six times and over .280 nine. He struck out an amazingly low 119 times in almost 4000 total at bats, making him statistically one of the hardest hitters to fan of his era. Dale played in three World Series, including the 1956 fall classic as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he was used primarily as a pinch hitter in his last season in the pros. Mitchell passed away on January 5th, 1987 in Tulsa, Oklahoma at 65.
These three very good players all share a common bond. If you are an astute student of the game of baseball you may already know where this is going. You see, these three men, who each had a career in the majors that anyone would sign for in a heartbeat, became simple footnotes in the sport’s grand history because of the results of one pitch for each of them.
On September 29th, in Game One of the World Series, Vic Wertz smashed the long drive that Willie Mays made his fantastic over the shoulder catch on. On October 1st, 1932, Charlie Root served up Babe Ruth’s “called shot home run” in Game Three of the Series. And on October 8th, 1956, umpire Babe Parilli called “strike three” on Dale Mitchell on the pitch that ended Don Larsen’s perfect game, the only no-hitter thrown in World Series play still. Mitchell went to his grave claiming that the pitch, which defined his career, was a ball, already knowing that his place in the game had been cemented, like Wertz and Root, for the rest of eternity.