Zack Wheat is elected to the Hall of Fame

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Alex Coffey

With his baseball career about three decades behind him, former Brooklyn Dodger Zack Wheat had embraced normalcy. He and his wife of 40 years, Daisy, ran a fishing and swimming resort at Sunrise Beach, along the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri. Wheat was frequently seen chopping wood, or driving his 1950 Ford pickup truck to do other chores around their 46 acre-property, staying active for his age of 70.

But the memories of his 19-years in left field that had since faded were about to come flooding back. With one phone call from J.G. Taylor Spink on Feb. 1, 1959, Wheat went from being remembered as a beloved Dodgers great to being immortalized in Cooperstown as one of best baseball players of all time.

In the 20th anniversary year of the Hall of Fame’s first induction ceremony, Zack Wheat would get his due.

“It’s the greatest thing that can happen to you in baseball,” Wheat told the Sporting News. “I feel a little younger, too, on being honored. I’m 70 years old, you know.”

The 84th member to be inducted into the Hall and just the second Dodger player to receive a bronze plaque, “Buck” Wheat was remembered by the Flatbush Faithful as a consistently solid line-drive hitter and a reliable defender over Ebbets’ left field. For his nineteen big league seasons, he compiled fourteen in which he hit .300 or better, including a National League-best .335 in 1918, and two consecutive seasons in which he hit .375 (1923-1924).

Referred to by former Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey as the “best outfielder Brooklyn ever had,” he averaged a .966 career fielding percentage, leading the National League two times (once in 1918 with a .979 percentage and again in 1922 with a nearly-flawless .991). He also led the National League in putouts as a left fielder seven times (1913-16, 1919, 1924-25).

A member of the Brooklyn Dodgers for 18 years, Zack Wheat (middle row, right) was a team leader within the organization. He was named team captain in 1919. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“Some years ago out in Kansas City a 10-year-old youngster used to hang around the baseball grounds, scurrying here and there in pursuit of stray balls which shot over the fences,” wrote Ford Sawyer of the Boston Globe in 1925. “Today this same Zack Wheat is setting an example for other eager youths by the manner in which he pounds the horsehide.”

Though Wheat’s career for the Dodgers – and one-year stint for the Philadelphia Athletics – spanned from 1909 to 1927, he still sits atop numerous records within the organization, including games played (2,322), at bats (8,859), hits (2,804), total bases (4,003), doubles (464), triples (171) and singles (2,038). But with his glory days in Flatbush far behind him, he found himself ready to grace the Induction stage, much like how he had graced the left field spot in Brooklyn for 18 years.

“This is one of the greatest moments of my life,” Wheat said on the day of his induction. “I’m here on my first visit and I saw a lot of things at the Hall of Fame which brought back memories. It is a beautiful setting for this sort of thing.”

Alex Coffey was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series