Summary

Birth:
23 May 1888 1
Hamilton, MO 2
Death:
11 May 1972 2
Mar 1972 1
Sedalia, MO 2
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Zachariah Davis Wheat 2
Full Name:
Zachariah Wheat 1
Also known as:
Buck 2
Also known as:
Zack Wheat 2
Birth:
23 May 1888 1
Hamilton, MO 2
Death:
11 May 1972 2
Mar 1972 1
Sedalia, MO 2
Residence:
Last Residence: Sunrise Beach, MO 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Missouri 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-4240 1

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Zack Wheat

Zachariah Davis Wheat was born on May 23, 1888, at his family's farm near Hamilton, Missouri, sixty miles northeast of Kansas City. Missouri was still a wild frontier then; just six years earlier, Jesse James was murdered by a member of his own gang in nearby St. Joseph. Zack was the eldest of three sons, all of whom played professional baseball. The middle brother, Mack, spent five years as Zack's teammate with Brooklyn, while the youngest brother, Basil, was a longtime outfielder and catcher in the minors. Their father, Basil Sr., was a descendant of Moses Wheat, one of the Puritans who fled England and founded Concord, Massachusetts, in 1635, and their mother was said to be a full-blooded Cherokee. Zack was reluctant to discuss his Native American background, but his heritage was well-known in baseball circles. In an era that also produced Jim Thorpe and Chief Bender, Wheat's Indian blood was thought by some to be the primary reason for his excellence. "The lithe muscles, the panther-like motions of the Indian are his by divine right," Baseball Magazine wrote in 1917. 

On the advice of scout Larry Sutton, Brooklyn purchased Wheat's contract from Mobile for a reported $1,200 on August 29, 1909, and that September Zack batted .304 in 26 games for the Superbas. "He is an Indian, but you would hardly guess it except from his dark complexion," wrote one newspaper shortly after Zack's arrival in Brooklyn. "He is a very fine fellow and a quiet and refined gentleman." In 1910, his first full major league season, Wheat finally became the offensive threat he had never been in the minors, leading the Dodgers with a .284 average while ranking among the league leaders in hits (172), doubles (36), and triples (15). "I was young and inexperienced [in the minors]," Wheat explained. "The fellows that I played with encouraged me to bunt and beat the ball out. I was anxious to make good and did as I was told. When I came to Brooklyn I adopted an altogether different style of hitting. I stood flat-footed at the plate and slugged. That was my natural style."

On May 13, 1912, Wheat skipped a game at Cincinnati to marry Daisy Kerr Forsman, his 25-year-old second cousin, whom he had first met only two months earlier when the Superbas played an exhibition series in her hometown of Louisville. When the Brooklyn players found out that the couple had eloped, they decorated a "bridal suite" on the team train to St. Louis. It was the start of a tradition: In later years, Wheat's family almost always accompanied him on train trips cities around the circuit. In marrying Daisy, Zach acquired not only a wife but an agent, as well. "I made him hold out each year for seven years," Daisy remembered, "and each time he got a raise." 

In the offseason Wheat raised stock -- during World War I he sold mules to the Army to serve as pack animals on the battlefields of Europe--and he used the second job as leverage in contract negotiations. "I am a ball player in the summer and a farmer in the winter time," he said, "and I aim to be a success at both professions." Unless Brooklyn met his demands each spring, Zack was perfectly content to stay on his farm in Polo, Missouri.

 

In 1927 the Dodgers decided they no longer needed Wheat. In recognition of his many years of service, the club released him rather than trade him so he could negotiate his own deal with whomever he chose. After being wooed by the Giants, Yankees, and Senators, Wheat signed a $15,000 contract with the Philadelphia Athletics and batted .324 in part-time duty there. In 1928 he signed with Minneapolis of the American Association, batting .309 before suffering a bruised heel that put him on the shelf for the season and, as it turned out, forever. Wheat decided to retire from baseball in 1929. At the time, his 2,884 hits were tenth on the all-time major league list, while his 4,100 total bases ranked ninth.

Wheat turned to farming full-time after leaving baseball, but the Great Depression lowered prices so dramatically that in 1932 he was forced to sell his 160 acres for just $23,000. He moved his family to Kansas City, Missouri, where he operated a bowling alley for a time before becoming a patrolman with the Kansas City Police Department. He nearly died on Easter Sunday 1936 when he crashed his patrol car while chasing a fugitive, suffering a fractured skull, dislocated shoulder, broken wrist, and 15 broken ribs. After five months in the hospital, Wheat moved with his family to Sunrise Beach, Missouri, a resort town on the shores of the Lake of the Ozarks, to recuperate. As it turned out, Wheat spent the rest of his life in Sunrise Beach. Always an avid hunter, he opened a 46-acre hunting and fishing resort, which became a popular destination for ex-ballplayers. One of his favorite activities was turning on his radio and television simultaneously to listen to two different ballgames at once. Occasionally he and Daisy drove to Kansas City or St. Louis to see a game in person.

Zack Wheat died on March 11, 1972, at a hospital in Sedalia, Missouri. Shortly before his death he was asked if he had any advice for youngsters with ballplaying aspirations. "Yes," he said. "Tell them to learn to chew tobacco."

Zack Wheat

e Gallery The New York Times, Sunday, March 12th, 1972

Two Hall of Famers the Dodgers forgot Zack Wheat and Dazzy Vance, stalwarts of the Brooklyn era, deserve to be recognized at Dodger Stadium.

Zack Wheat is remembered frequently in a town in the middle of Missouri, his great-grandson often pulling out a Bull Durham cigar pin bearing the likeness of the most prolific hitter in Dodgers franchise history. "He was such a kind man, such a great man, and he always considered the Dodgers his family," Zack Alan Wheat said. Dazzy Vance is remembered frequently in a town in west central Florida, a photo of him standing in Ebbets Field hanging proudly in the middle of his grandson's living room. "Grandad loved the Dodgers, he lived for the Dodgers, that's who he was," Chuck Williams said. They are two Hall of Famers whose names fill the Dodgers' record books, whose Cooperstown plaques bear Dodgers caps, whose accomplishments are celebrated as Dodgers history seemingly everywhere but the place that mattered to them most. Zack Wheat and Dazzy Vance have somehow been forgotten by the Dodgers. There is no trace of them among the outfield pavilion display of the team's 10 retired numbers, which include nine Hall of Famers plus Jim Gilliam. Their jerseys are not among the framed Hall of Fame jerseys that line a corridor outside the Dodgers' clubhouse. There is no sign of them amid the giant number statues outside the entrance to the upper deck. While Vance's 1924 most-valuable-player award is replicated in a collection of Dodgers honors outside the dugout club, there is no individual memorial for him or Wheat anywhere in the stadium. The only other Dodgers Hall of Fame player or manager missing from Chavez Ravine is Leo Durocher, but he won more than 500 games with three different teams and is remembered mostly for managing the New York Giants. Wheat and Vance earned their immortality strictly through the Brooklyn Dodgers, putting up numbers over 30 combined seasons that are still stunning today. Wheat, an outfielder from 1909-1926, has played more games than anyone in Dodgers history and remains the franchise leader in hits, doubles, triples and total bases. Vance, a Dodgers pitcher from 1922-1932 and 1935, ranks in the team's top five in wins, strikeouts, complete games and innings pitched. He also led the league in strikeouts for seven consecutive seasons, a record that probably will never be broken. They are players who helped once carry this Dodgers franchise, yet they are players whose memories can no longer call it home. "The Dodgers moved to California, my great-grandfather died, and they forgot him," said Zack Alan Wheat. The Vance family hurts perhaps even more because, after Dazzy died in 1961, his wife Edythe burned most of his memorabilia in a backyard bonfire during a grief-stricken rage. "We really don't have that much left of Grandad's stuff," Williams said. "It's sad. I wish people knew more about him." A cheeky explanation for the Dodgers snub is that they couldn't retire Wheat and Vance's numbers because they played before baseball uniforms began containing numbers in the mid-1930s. Yet four other teams have all honored ancient Hall of Famers with no numbers by simply putting their names and team abbreviations on outfield walls. If the San Francisco Giants can celebrate Christy Mathewson, why can't the Dodgers honor Wheat and Vance? This question actually took current Dodgers officials by surprise, as some of them were not even aware Wheat and Vance were in the Hall of Fame. They eventually said they would honor them, but stopped short of promising a place in the outfield. "The Dodgers recognize the importance of the rich history of this organization — one of the enhancements this year is the various displays in and outside the stadium recognizing our history and Dodger greats," said Lon Rosen, the team's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "We hope to one day have a Dodger Hall of Fame here at Dodger Stadium; Zach Wheat and Dazzy Vance were great Dodgers and they certainly will be recognized." Why not do it now? Why not do it where it counts? There is room for at least five more numbers under the roof of the outfield pavilions. Why not do it there? Heck, how did they ever slip through the cracks in the first place? The history of Dodgers number retirements dates back to 1972, when the numbers of Jackie Robinson (42), Sandy Koufax (32) and Roy Campanella (39) were retired in an emotional Dodger Stadium ceremony. "It just seemed right that those three would be the first ones honored," said Fred Claire, the former Dodgers general manager who worked in the marketing department then. "At that point, we didn't think of going any farther back in time." Eventually the Dodgers adopted an unwritten rule that a player's bust must first be installed in Cooperstown before his number is placed in their outfield. The only exception is Jim Gilliam, whose number was emotionally retired two days after his unexpected death before Game 1 of the 1978 World Series. This rule is the reason players such as Don Newcombe, Fernando Valenzuela, Maury Wills and Don Newcombe have never had their numbers officially retired. But this is also the reason that Wheat and Vance belong. Zack Alan Wheat remembers someone from the Dodgers showing up at his family home to pick up a uniform for a future team Hall of Fame in the late 1980s, but he said nobody from the family has heard from them since. Dodgers officials from that era do not remember any such visit. Wheat, who had 2,804 hits as a Dodger, was the sort of gritty player who would have been beloved here. He hated to bunt because he loved his swing. He bragged that smoking and chewing tobacco actually helped his game. He was so content spending his off-seasons raising mules on a Missouri farm that Brooklyn had to give him substantial raises every winter before he would return to the team. "I'm so disappointed that my great-grandfather has been so completely forgotten by the Dodgers because he played such a big role there," Wheat said. "He was literally with the team until the day he died." Indeed, Zack Wheat caught pneumonia at Vero Beach during a spring-training visit in 1972 and died shortly after returning to his Sedalia, Mo., home. He was 83. Today there is an American Legion post in Sunrise Beach, Mo., named in his honor even though he was never in the military. There is also a Zack Wheat Memorial Highway that runs through Caldwell County in Missouri. There's no brick building or concrete route named after Vance. There is, however, a Dazzy Vance Field for kids in Homosassa Springs, Fla., that perfectly fits his playful image. He would purposely pitch while wearing a tattered long-sleeve undershirt that would distract batters. He was also once part of a legendary baserunning gaffe in 1926 in which three Brooklyn players ended up on third base at the end of play. "He was one of those people, you meet him, five minutes later you think you've been best friends with him all of your life," Williams said. Vance was an outdoorsman who eventually built and marketed fishing lures. He once took his grandson into the woods with some advice that Williams remembers today. "He told us what to do if we ever got lost," Williams said. "He told us to make a mental picture of where we were, how we got there, and use that picture when we were coming back." The Dodgers need to now follow that advice. They need to take a picture of these two Hall of Famers, remember how they were once cornerstones of this franchise, and figure out a way to bring them home. bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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